A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985)
Horror film sequel subtitles are never all that clever, but it’s odd that this is called Freddy’s Revenge considering these are all brand new characters that Freddy has no past history with to seek revenge against. Nor is there any theme or hint at a revenge ideal here. That aside, this is a peculiar film in this franchise. As is no surprise, it was a rushed production since the first film was so financially successful for New Line Cinema. So, it really does lack all of the brilliance of Wes Craven’s film, but what makes it peculiar is a certain subtext that many are aware of by now. There are certainly detrimental qualities to this first sequel, but it’s not a terrible movie. Still, that doesn’t mean it’s particularly good or memorable.
Five years have passed since Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) was sent howling back to hell. But now, Jesse Walsh (Mark Patton), a new kid on Elm Street, is being haunted every night by gruesome visions of the deadly dream stalker. And if his twisted soul takes possession of the boy’s body, Freddy will return from the dead to wreak bloody murder and mayhem upon the entire town.
The subtext in question is a rather obvious homoerotic subtext. It has been talked about at great length, and so, it’s nothing new I’m bringing up here. The 1980’s did have this bizarre homoerotic sensibility in the air, but this film, if any at all, seemed to have galvanized that all into a single 87 minute runtime. Screenwriter David Chaskin did write all of this into the script, but apparently, none were aware of it while making the film. There’s the constant bare-chested, sweaty scenes of Jesse every few minutes, there’s the S&M bondage club, the gym teacher getting stripped bare by Freddy, and the all too close relationship between Jesse and Grady. You’ve got, yet again, a bare-chested Jesse barging into Grady’s bedroom where he is asleep and mostly undressed to talk about Jesse’s sexual inabilities with Lisa. It is very obvious like a punch in the face, and that’s just the start of it. Jesse’s struggle with Freddy is supposedly a struggle with his own repressed sexuality. I will say it comes across loud and clear, but that’s not at all what Freddy is meant to be about. He’s not the manifestation of anything except your own fears, and this film doesn’t deal with that aspect of Krueger at all, ever.
I sort of like the idea of Freddy using someone else as a conduit into our reality. This is revisited in another way in The Dream Child and Freddy’s Dead, but it also doesn’t make a lot of sense for Freddy to transcend into our reality since he is essentially powerless outside of the dream world. The problem here is that Freddy kills no one in the dream world, and instead, goes after them in a slightly surreal waking world. Bringing Freddy into our reality, fully, feels wrong. The scene where he finally does this was so ridiculous to director Jack Sholder that he couldn’t direct it himself because of how hard he was laughing during it. The scene is not really scary at all, and is more silly than anything. Freddy just running around and randomly terrorizing teenagers at a pool party even sounds wrong in concept, and doesn’t work in execution either. Ideas like this are a big reason why Wes Craven stayed far away from this movie.
Even then, the kills are very forgettable and stock. One guy gets whipped to death, and another gets stabbed with Freddy’s razor glove. The rest are just slashed as the party. This grossly pales in comparison to the brilliantly imaginative kills in Wes Craven’s original. The innovative effects work created a darkly fantastical atmosphere of nightmarish deaths. That showed Freddy’s power and enhanced his menace. This film leans entirely on Freddy taking over Jesse as its sole hook of gruesome fantastical captivation, and it’s not remotely enough. There are a few nightmares, but there is not really any haunting or chilling imagery to crawl up under your skin.
What you absolutely have to credit this film with is holding true to the presentation of Freddy even if the concepts behind him are altered. Knowing how jokey and cheesy he became, it’s refreshing to see that this sequel didn’t start that trend. He’s still masked in shadows, and his voice still has that low, salacious quality. He feels concretely scary, and Robert Englund still puts his all into it. This is the most highly admirable aspect of this movie, and becomes more apparent in retrospect looking at the franchise overall. I just wish Englund had a better movie to complement that performance.
What make-up effects we do get are still great here. The best evidence of this is when Freddy crawls and tears his way out of Jesse in gruesome, frightening fashion. It is so excellently done. Also, the make-up on Freddy himself is still fantastic. Even in full light, it never appears cheap or rubbery like it would in later sequels. It’s all very admirable work that doesn’t slack off anywhere, and while there’s not much use of visual effects, they are of a comparable quality. I just wish there was a greater need for them to realize a more fiery imagination to rival the first movie.
The characters here are a divided issue for me. I do feel that Mark Patton does a fine job as Jesse. He’s fairly well written making him vulnerable and relatable. He’s definitely the kind of teenager that doesn’t quite fit in, and is easily picked on. Jesse has definite internal conflicts, but for a horror movie protagonist, he is terribly weak. He is both the intended hero and the main victim. That makes him difficult to invest yourself in because he is the furthest thing from a heroic figure. He is not strong willed at all, and essentially, is the polar opposite of Nancy Thompson. He’s not introverted like Tommy Jarvis in Friday the 13th, Part V, but it’s almost as bad having a main character who is nothing but troubled and full of angst when we’re looking for an inspiring hero. The fact that Jesse is absent from the third act, and it is his girlfriend who releases him from Freddy’s control shows how out of whack the concept here is. There’s really no one here to connect with as a hero or heroine.
Now, no one among this cast is really a poor actor, but the characters don’t really pop out at you. They are fine, but they don’t have that special quality of personality and chemistry to really come to vibrant life. Kim Myers is a potentially decent romantic interest, but despite a few moments of affection, she hardly feels like Jesse’s girlfriend and more like the best friend. There’s no hot spark between Patton and Myers to sell this the way it’s supposed to be by the time they’re making out at the party. The rest of the cast is essentially forgettable. They’re not bad performances, but it all does just feel flat and disposable all on its own. These just aren’t especially entertaining characters to spend time with.
The film deals with Jesse’s psychological elements very well. Mark Patton does put in a solid effort selling the terror and torment that Freddy puts him through. If this film kept true to Wes Craven’s ideas, I think it could have been a more effective and creatively satisfying movie. Making the struggle psychologically based could be very intriguing instead of a physical or ideological battle. Patton clearly showed he had the talent for the role, but even then, as I said, he’s never put into a position of strength to become our hero. He never really fights back, and is constantly running away from every confrontation with Krueger. Even at the film’s end, he’s still afraid and prone to Freddy screwing with him again.
Freddy’s Revenge is not a bad movie, and there are far, far worse entries in this franchise. However, it really is a misconceived sequel taking things in the wrong direction. It takes Freddy out of the dream world so much that you remove so much o the appeal of the original. All of the dream-like qualities are downplayed with only a few nightmarish images, and extremely few actually occur when someone’s asleep. The dream world is Freddy’s domain where he holds the power, and you want to see someone go into that world and battle Krueger on his own ground at his own game. This is Fred Krueger royally screwing with the film’s lead character, and turning him into his own puppet. That’s not very appealing. It’s just an example of rushing a film into production with talents that didn’t have much reverence for Craven’s material or ideas. It’s also not very pleasing that Christopher Young’s score does not include a single appearance of Charles Bernstein’s Elm Street theme, and is rather forgettable. Even if this was its own standalone movie, and not a sequel to a horror classic, I don’t think this would be regarded as very good, regardless.