Franchise Friday - A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge
Wandering from scene to scene, sometimes with little to no connective tissue.
In arthouse films, these can describe the works of surrealism, such as the films of Alejandro Jodorowski. In terms of Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge, you can’t help but wonder if this was intentional…or if the director, editor and writer simply didn’t know what they were doing.
Sure, this sounds like a brutal takedown of the film…and in some ways, it kind of is, and truth be told, if any other entry in any other horror franchise (except maybe Hellraiser or Phantasm) had been cut like this, it REALLY wouldn’t work and would be completely worthy of such derision. However, we find ourselves in a horror series rooted in the world of dreams and a killer that stalks anyone who enters. In this context, while the effort here may or may not be successful, this is the perfect place to experiment with that. And speaking of experimentation, boy do we have some things to talk about here…but we’ll get to that after the synopsis:
Jesse and his family have moved into 1428 Elm Street. Five years prior, they say a girl went crazy when she saw her boyfriend being killed across the street. They say her mom committed suicide. The one thing they’re not talking about is the man behind it all: Freddy Krueger. He plans to change that. Hoping to take control of Jesse, paving his way to return to the land of the living, Freddy hopes to terrorize the children of Springwood all over again. Can Jesse, with the help of his girlfriend Lisa and friend Grady, fight Freddy back into his grave? Or will the master of dreams return once again to add to his lengthy body count?
As a kid when this came out in 1985 [Easy on the puns there buddy. – Ed.], it was easy to overlook what had to be one of the main themes, either intentional or otherwise…and simply see Freddy’s Revenge as a straight horror movie [What’d I say? – Ed.]. Many years removed and in our current level of societal acceptance, well, let’s just put it out there: this movie is very, very gay. It makes total sense, mind you, for several reasons: star Mark Patton was and is a gay man, so why shouldn’t the story lean in that direction? It is also worth pointing out that by 1985, the US was already four years into the AIDS crisis/epidemic and given that the disease had the stigma of only being contracted by gay men (leading to the initial name of GRID, Gay-Related Immune Deficiency), well, maybe it isn’t such a mystery why this film leans in that direction. After all, the main kills in the film are Jesse’s gym teacher, Schneider, and his friend (?) Grady, [Spoiler warning. – Ed.] the men we see the most in the film. While I won’t say no women die in the film (I’m sure some of the casualties at the pool party at the end of the film may have been women…but now that I really think about it…perhaps not…), the showcase deaths are those of the men Jesse is closest to. Given how disconnected Jesse’s father is from his son’s life and well, reality really, he makes it to the end credits just fine. Perhaps it’s because he spends his time carrying the torch of another Regan-era concern: constantly thinking Jesse’s on drugs. Still, I don’t want to reinvent the wheel here as there has been plenty of LGBTQ+ discussion on this film as it has been re-evaluated over the years. If you want to see an incredibly thorough discussion on this theme, I’d highly recommend Shudder’s documentary: Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street. It follows Mark Patton on not only his coming to terms with being a gay man but also fighting the stigmas attached to that and the film itself, ultimately leading to a confrontation with the film’s writer, David Chaskin.
Moving beyond this, and as I alluded to at the start of this review, there’s plenty of evidence in this film to interpret Jack Sholder’s direction as either being dreamlike…or, to kinda be mean, incompetent. There are a lot of scenes that feel like they had their connective tissue removed for the sake of keeping the film at a brisk pace, yet sacrificing any sensible storytelling. There are two scenes that spring to mind immediately. The first is an instance where the family notices something going on with their birdcage, housing two parakeets. It turns out that one of them has killed the other and then flies out of the cage to attack the family, scratching Jesse’s dad…only to blow up in a fireball in mid-air. The other leads up to the death of Schneider, where Jesse finds himself out in the rain walking, eventually leading to the gay bar that his gym teacher frequents and ordering a drink. When he gets caught, Schneider has him running laps in the gym before ordering Jesse into the shower. Of course, this is how Schneider meets his end…but there are A LOT of leaps in logic here and certainly enough to make the viewer question whether or not either of these scenes really happened or if they were dream sequences. In the case of the former, Jesse’s dad has a bandage on his face where the bird attacked him for the remainder of the film…so, yeah, that happened at least. For the latter though, we’re expected to believe that a high school student walked into town, in his PJs, bellied up to the local gay bar and ordered a beer (underage mind you)? The rest of the scene is hard to get one’s head around also, the gym teacher happens to be there? He’s got keys to get into the school to force Jesse into a physical punishment? Or, is this latter scene an artistic representation of when Freddy takes over Jesse’s body, thus making the events all the more dreamlike to not only us, but to Jesse as well? Such a confusing narrative like this would torpedo any other franchise and, looking at reviews at the time, certainly didn’t do this film any favors as it has been considered one of the weaker entries until its recent re-evaluations and rise into a cult classic. I’d argue that such a confusing narrative with surrealistic qualities fits right in with the franchise. It’s definitely a deviation from the storytelling of the first film though, which, again, likely rubbed fans the wrong way…and in some instances, possibly still does.
As much as I’d like to default to this artistic style of thinking, there’s one very real thing we need to consider. In 1984, fledgling studio New Line Cinema likely wasn’t equipped to deal with such a hit. They, like many other studios, including the more established Paramount when the Friday the 13th films took off, wanted another infusion of fresh cash and thus felt they needed to strike while the iron was hot. With Freddy’s Revenge coming out 50 weeks following the initial film, not even a full year, New Line certainly accomplished that. It does beg the question though, are we reading too much artistic expression in what was merely a brazen cash grab? Maybe. There is one thing in the writing of this film that leads me to think this may be the case and that is very simply the origin of Freddy himself. The first film suggests that his victims, both during his time alive and now in his phantom state, met their end in the school’s boiler room. After all, it’d be easy to lure kids there, right? In Part 2 here, we’re told that the boiler room is in the local steelworks, now abandoned, on the outskirts of town. This discrepancy may indicate a previous draft of Wes Craven’s script or, more likely, the writer and director given the character and choosing to do their own thing with him. Given the loose continuity of the Friday the 13th films, it’s not terribly difficult to imagine the latter scenario playing out.
Regardless of whether we’re looking at underappreciated art or meager cash grab, the cast here does their best with the material and are for the most part generally good. Of course Robert Englund brings it as Freddy, still not quite the joker we’re used to just yet (jokes are there though), but he does effectively convey a bit of desperation to the role. This is a monster looking for another chance at life and he’s willing to do anything to get it back. It certainly keeps Freddy edgy and he’s always a very tangible threat to the other characters, male or female, gay or straight. Mark Patton is a little uneven as Jesse. His scenes with actress Kim Myers, who plays his girlfriend Lisa, can be a little awkward at times, but given both Patton himself and the themes of the film, one can’t help but wonder if this is intentional, which would, in the end, actually elevate the performance. Myers performance as Lisa, and her confusion marching right in lockstep with the rest of the audience, well, it works as much as one would expect from an 80s horror movie. Sure, it’s not the greatest, but at no point does it derail the proceedings, so ultimately it gets a thumbs up. Robert Rusler’s Grady on one hand is your standard meathead bully…as every 80s horror movie needed one…but at times he’s appealing to Jesse for friendship. Frenemies, if you will, many years before the term even existed. You really can’t hold that against the actor though and as a typical 80s meathead, he’s pretty good.
Christopher Young takes over music duties from Charles Bernstein and turns in a fully serviceable horror score, but sadly, retained little, if any, of Bernstein’s themes. Given that these themes have gone on to become iconic in the franchise, it feels like a missed opportunity, but at the same time, given how close the two films came out in theaters, Young simply may not have had any of Bernstein’s music to draw from!
A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge is a difficult film to review. To judge it by typical movie standards, it doesn’t hold up well as many times it feels more like a compilation of scenes than an actual coherent story. But in a film series rooted in dreams, and we may be reading too much into it, but this disconnected narrative may actually serve to drive home the basic premise of the series. The biggest hurdle the viewer will need to overcome is the very present themes of homosexuality. Even as far removed from the 80s as we are, for some viewers this is going to be a very touchy subject. If you have an open mind or are a member of the LGBTQ+ community, there’s a decent movie here. Those with different outlooks or views however might find this a difficult entry to sit through. Dreamlike or not, and as interesting as it is to think that the director and writer intended it this way, the evidence of a hasty production and rushed writing, along with my own problems accepting many of the leaps in logic presented here really hindered my enjoyment of the film. I think that if watched in close proximity to Shudder’s documentary on Mark Patton’s struggles with the film, that would, and for me does, elevate the rating to a Happy Cat. However, I’m forced to evaluate the film on its own merits and the narrative issues force me to give it a Plain Cat. I will say this though, I’m a huge fan of how this film has been re-evaluated in recent years and the discussion surrounding it. For everyone involved in the film, this had to take some guts to put out there and I’m glad it is, at times, the center of some pretty important discussions in the modern day.