You can see our other Nightmare on Elm Street lists here. Today, it’s time for Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987), aka, the one where Freddy kills Nancy.
Although Elm Street 2 ended up grossing more than the first Elm Street, New Line was not happy with the artistic direction they had gone with it. Wes Craven had warned them their screenplay was crap. So, they brought him back to set things right. Then they threw out almost all of his ideas and had two other guys take over. Classic New Line.
Suddenly, Freddy was funny, and the imagery far more fantastical and imaginative. Though that would ultimately undo the franchise and doom it to regrettable camp, it was a stroke of brilliance at the time, delivering easily one of if not the best installments in the Nightmare on Elm Street series.
1. Why did Wes Craven come back?
As would be their custom with every Elm Street sequel after Freddy’s Revenge, before starting Part 3 New Line asked Craven if he was interested in coming back. Unfortunately, they caught him right as he was in the middle of pre-production on Deadly Friend. Directing Part 3, then, was out of the question, but he did take them up on their offer to write the script, which he ultimately co-authored with Bruce Wagner. It’d be nice to report Craven’s reason for returning was to right the ship and right the wrong that had been Part 2, but it was much simpler and far less noble than that. He needed the money, late admitting, “It was important for me in a business sense that I was able to negotiate a percentage point in the sequels I didn’t have from the original film.”
2. Wes Craven’s original pitch was mostly what he ended up doing years later in New Nightmare
Pre-dating Kevin Williamson’s meta-cinematic masterpiece Scream by a couple of years, 1994’s Wes Craven’s New Nightmare was a little too ahead of its time, alienating audiences with a Nightmare on Elm Street movie which was quite literally about the Nightmare on Elm Street movies. Its plot features Heather Langenkamp playing a fictionalized version of herself opting to return for another Elm Street film with Wes Craven as director only for Freddy to begin haunting their dreams, the fictionalized Freddy from the films turning out to have simply been containing a very real and far scarier dream demon of sorts.
However, if that was too much for audiences in 1994 what about 1987? Craven originally pitched the basic concept of Freddy invading the real world and haunting the actors and crew responsible for the Nightmare on Elm Street films for Elm Street 3. New Line wasn’t ready for that level of crazy yet, and based on the dismal box office for New Nightmare seven years later fans in ’87 definitely wouldn’t have been ready either.
3. Approximately 70% of Wes Craven’s original Dream Warriors screenplay was re-written because it was way too dark
Craven and Bruce Wagner created the concept of the Dream Warriors as well as all of the film’s primary characters, but New Line was not happy with it, as Craven later explained:
“I took an executive producing credit. My understanding was that I would be asked about things all along. I would be brought in to casting and have a real creative part in the picture. The reality was that New Line Cinema never really contacted me again after they had the script. They changed it quite drastically in some ways. The director (Chuck Russell) and a friend of his (Frank Darabont) rewrote it and changed the names of all the characters, and included several key scenes of their own.”
More written by Wagner than Craven, the original Dream Warriors script centered on Nancy’s search for her father, who had become obsessed with finding and burning Freddy Krueger’s birth home after the bastard killed his wife at the end of the first Nightmare. At the same time, teenagers were being compelled to travel to Freddy’s birth home as well and commit suicide, with dreams of Freddy being the common link between the victims. All of the teenagers at the Westin Hall psychiatric hospital would only be there because they were among the few whose suicide attempts had failed.
While searching for her father, Nancy would happen upon Westin Hall and form an instant bond with the troubled patients, diffusing an out of control Kristen by finishing the Freddy nursery rhyme she’s singing, a scene which is completely unchanged in the final film. The beleaguered hospital staff would hire Nancy on as an assistant.
However, the script was too dark (Nancy’s father cuts off his own eyelids in front of her during the opening dream sequence), needlessly profane (Freddy threatens to shit on Nancy’s corpse), too expensive (the Freddy snake appears twice in the first 34 pages) and undisciplined (there’s no limit to Freddy’s powers). More than just that, the central focus on suicidal teenagers seemed destined to court controversy.
When Russell/Darabont came along, they turned African-American characters Caucasian, put one character into a wheelchair, had Kristen stay in the institution for the whole story rather than leave halfway through, and spared several characters (Joey, Kincaid) Craven/Wagner originally killed. Plus, Nancy’s backstory was completely changed. You can actually read Craven/Wagner’s first draft as well as the Russell/Darabont script at NightmareOnElmStreetFilms.com.
4. The psychiatric hospital setting was inspired by real-life institutions which claimed to be able to fix troubled teens
According to Craven, the idea for the mental health facility treating the Dream Warriors was not just some riff on One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, “At that time there was kind of a movement of such places that even advertised on television, ‘Send us your troubled child and we’ll make them okay.’ And, essentially, they were like prisons, or insane asylums.”
5. Ken Sagoes was cast as Kincaid because he cussed out the director
In the script, Kincaid is described as “enormous and powerful,” and the actor who eventually portrayed him (Ken Sagoes) didn’t quite fit the profile. His agent convinced him to audition anyway, but on the day of the audition, he had to walk through heavy rain to catch a bus. So, he showed up completely drenched, and they made him wait for hours because they were behind schedule. When he finally got into the audition and the director told him, “Do whatever you want to,” Sagoes’ frustration boiled over. He told him, “Fuck you!” and cussed him out. They liked it so much they hired him.
6. That pig was real, and boy did it ever stink
They actually roasted a pig, let it spoil, and prop guys puppeted it from beneath. The poor guy who was actually behind the camera, cinematographer Roy H. Wagner, claims the pig’s stench was so overwhelming he can still smell it to this day.
7. “Welcome to Prime Time, Bitch!” was ad-libbed by Robert Englund
Elm Street 3 is really where the franchise took Freddy’s one-liners and ran with it, giving us one of his most memorable ones when he bellows “Welcome to Prime Time, Bitch!” before crushing Jennifer’s head through a TV. The actual scripted line was, “This is it Jennifer, your big break on TV!” Rogert Englund delivered it as scripted in the first couple of takes, but then improvised, “Welcome to Prime Time, Bitch!” Chuck Russell decided to use both the scripted and improvised lines, editing the two together.
8. Dick Cavett picked Zsa Zsa Gabor because she deserved to die
Well, maybe not “deserved to die.” However, for the dream sequence in which a Dick Cavett interview is interrupted by Freddy Krueger Cavett was actually allowed to pick the person he’d be interviewing. He picked Zsa Zsa Gabor because he thought she was the dumbest person he’d ever met in his life, and he’d never have her on his show in real life. So, if there was one person he’d want to see killed by Freddy it would be her. Who knew Cavett was so dark (and secretly awesome)? One assumes this particular bit of insight was not shared with Zsa Zsa.
9. The sex dream sequence was originally supposed to feature Freddy with breasts
If you are of a certain age there are specific film moments, mostly of the nude variety, which stick with you. Stacy Alden baring her breasts as Nurse Marcie in Dream Warriors is one such moment. It made sense in Dream Warriors‘ story – surely one of the male teenager characters is going to have a sex dream. However, while it turns into a nightmare for Joey when the nurse ties him to the bed with her tongue (S&M on a Elm Street level) it was originally meant to be a nightmare for viewers, with the nurse’s head turning into Freddy’s. So, you would have a topless Stacy Alden wearing a very convincing Freddy mask extending down to just above her breasts. A more confusing image you could not possibly imagine for a teenage boy in 1987.
They went so far as to film it with Alden in full make-up, but everyone looked at it and agreed it just wasn’t right. I shan’t traumatize you with it, but a quick Google Image search can easily take you to a photo of Alden in full Freddy make-up and mask on the Dream Warriors set.
10. The Freddy Snake originally looked like a giant penis
The “Freddy Snake” was originally pink, and basically looked like a giant penis swallowing Kristen whole. Some of the effects crew say this was intentional, others say not so much. Either way, once Chuck Russell saw it he was adamant they could not film the puppet in that condition, immediately instructing the crew to re-paint the puppet, adding in blues and greys, just anything to make it not quite so pink. However, they were pressed for time so they ultimately just covered it in a green goo.
The crisis was far from averted, though. Much like the prop shark in Jaws, the puppet, of which there were 3 different versions, never quite worked properly. So, they actually had to film the sequence backwards and play it in reverse. That means when Kristen is being swallowed by Freddy they started with her completely in the puppet and then slowly pulled the puppet off of her, playing it in reverse to mimic the appearance of being swallowed.
11. Patricia Arquette needed 52 takes to get through her first scene
Chuck Russell was making his directorial debut with Dream Warriors, but the script he and Darabont delivered called for a $20 million budget. The studio was only willing to give them $4.5 million. The result was an incredibly tense set, not a particularly ideal setting for Patricia Arquette to make her film debut.
On her first day of filming, the production was already so behind they didn’t get to her scenes until 4 AM by which point she had forgotten her lines! It took 52 takes of her feebly making her way through it before they simply fed her the lines via cue cards behind the camera.
12. Why did Nancy have to die?
Nancy’s death was in Wes Craven’s original Dream Warriors screenplay. So, even though much of the finished film had nothing to do with him you can’t blame Nancy’s death on anyone else. He created her in the first Elm Street, and he’s the one who killed her in Elm Street 3. Why, Wes? Why?
If you survived the original and appeared in a sequel in a horror franchise you typically didn’t make it to the end of the sequel alive, partially because such a character continually surviving potentially distracted from and weakened the true star – the killer. Plus, killing off Nancy raised the dramatic stakes because if she could die then all bets were off, as every single Dream Warriors survivor would find out in the opening kills of Elm Street 4.
13. It was banned in Queensland, Australia until 1990
Even though Dream Warriors was rated M15+ in other states of Australia, it was banned in Queensland due to its drug content until the Queensland Film Board of Review was abolished in 1990. You could still see it before 1990 – just not legally.
- Dream Warriors was made for $4.5 million, and ultimately grossed $47.2 million, which would be like making $91.1 million at current ticket prices. That’s $10 million more than the most recent Insidious movie (Chapter 2). Of the original Elm Street films, this makes Dream Warriors the second highest-grossing entry, behind only Elm Street 4.
Next time, we’ll tell you why Patricia Arquette didn’t return for Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master.