To celebrate Women in Horror Month, I will be highlighting some of my favorite undersung female characters in horror films each day this month. These posts will contain some spoilers, so if you haven’t seen the movies mentioned, do yourself a solid and check them out before reading all the way through.
Today I’m celebrating Taryn White from the 1987 A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. I know you might think, “well what happened to villains’ week?” And the long and short of it is I ran out of villains. I might do a list at the end of this month of the characters I almost included but didn’t. But the truth of the matter is, I’m not usually rooting on the villains in these movies. I’m rooting for the protagonists.
Which leads me to Taryn White.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors is filled with teenagers who realize they can fight against Freddy Krueger in their dreams. Most of them are suffering from severe traumas in both their everyday lives and their dream lives.
When we meet Taryn, we find out she is a recovering drug addict at the Westin Hills Psychiatric Hospital. The only major scene we see her in without the other teens is when a male nurse verbally abuses and intimidates her regarding her drug addiction. At first he is trying to encourage her to buy drugs from him, but when she tells him that part of her past is “ancient history” and threatens to report him, he reminds her that no one is going to believe a junkie.
Taryn lashes out for the same reason many Elm Street teenagers do – because they are scared. But this insight into her character reveals a tragic backstory as well as a desire to do better. It makes the way Freddy kills her all the more tragic.
When the teens realize they can lucid dream and thus fight back against Freddy, Taryn adopts a tough persona that helps shield the tender heart we know her to have.
“In my dreams I’m beautiful…” *brandishes switchblade knives* “…and bad!”Taryn
It’s a cheesy line but it is meant to be cheesy. Taryn is trying to make up for a soft, tender heart with a tough exterior she shouldn’t need to had because she is still a child like all the other “Dream Warriors”. She shouldn’t have to be a warrior, and yet she is.
Her death is heartbreaking and terribly abrupt.
She encounters Freddy in a seedy alley, and even gets some swipes in with her knives. But in this nightmare, Freddy is the persona of her addiction (as evident from the “Taryn + Freddy” graffiti on the brick wall), and her death fits this theme. His knives become heroin needles, and her heroin scars become eager mouths against her will.
It is assuredly an 80s anti drug message*, but it doesn’t make Taryn’s death any less tragic. All the characters in the film are punished for normal human weakness and desire. But Taryn’s desire to overcome an especially dark past lingers with me.
Hats off to you Taryn White. And for the record, you are forever beautiful and bad to me.
*Thinking about this more makes me imagine the impact this character could have had if Taryn had been a Black character struggling with addiction and written just as sympathetically, given the double standard we have seen over time when it comes to sympathy for crack addictions in the 1980s vs. opioid addictions in the 2010s.