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.
Urban legends in general are quite fascinating to me. I’ve spent many late night hours reading through whole websites dedicated to these modern day myths, and they are a fertile ground for an imaginative horror movie. Of course, this movie came out in the wake of Scream and does a lot to follow in that style. Unfortunately, it was an extreme rarity that any of those types of trend cash-ins were any good. I clearly remember seeing this on opening weekend and regarding it as not scary at all. In no way do I expect that sentiment to change after fifteen years. I’m reviewing this because it was high time I got back to some very critical reviewing, and nothing’s better than a disappointing post-modern slasher film for that task!
When New England college student Natalie (Alicia Witt) finds herself at the center of a series of sadistic murders seemingly inspired by urban legends. Natalie and her friends are all involved in the Folklore class being taught by Professor Wexler (Robert Englund). Wexler regales his class with urban legends, which include Pendleton’s own urban legend about a Psych professor who murdered six students at Stanley Hall 25 years ago. As the fraternities prepare to celebrate the macabre anniversary, and Natalie’s friends fall victim to this axe wielding murderer, she discovers that she is the focus of the crazed killer’s intentions in the ultimate urban legend – the story of her own horrific murder.
This is not a badly made movie. It has respectable, polished production values and top notch gore effects. Cinematography is wholly competent with solid compositions and smart camera moves punctuating the dramatic moments. The editing is mostly great, side from the gimmicky flash cuts. So, I think the problem with the effectiveness of this movie is that these urban legends are so terribly familiar to us that the movie becomes damn predictable. There’s little tension or suspense when you know how the kills are supposed to be plotted out. While playing them out verbatim perfectly fits in with the killer’s ultimate motives, creatively, it would have been more effective to put a fresh twist on them. Have them play out not exactly as you would expect them to, but still be evocative of the classic tales. Of course, the various false jump scares don’t help matters either.
The red herrings we get as to the identity of the killer are also quite underwhelming. They are dashed about as quickly as they are brought up. This sort of thing worked better in Scream where no one was ever entirely absolved of potential guilt in the eyes of the audience. Everyone was an equally viable suspect, but here, the suspects are not very credible nor are they main characters. They show up for two or three scenes total. The main characters are not implicated as the potential killer, and that evaporates a lot of heightened tension and paranoia that could have existed in the movie. As it is, there’s not much focus put on who the killer is, but more the methods that this killer uses.
And one last negative critique would be that the look of the killer is not all that intimidating. A relatively small statured person in a hooded parka leaves a lot to be desired in the realm of chilling imagery. All the great, iconic slashers have not only a instantly recognizable, unmistakable look to them, but they also have a distinct personality in how they move and act. This slasher, which doesn’t even have a name to its credit, comes off entirely generic with no distinct personality in its movements. This takes away a lot of the menace this killer could have had, and thus, further adds to the lack of effective horror in this movie. While Ghostface was a different person in each Scream movie, the image of Ghostface was iconic and carried a strong weight of horror with him. The Urban Legend slasher is just terribly forgettable. If this killer wasn’t wielding an axe, you wouldn’t feel any serious imposing threat from him/her at all. I think my critiques hold weight with the makers of the sequel Urban Legends: Final Cut since they entirely revamped the look of their killer.
Still, the film has a few exciting sequences such as when the killer is chasing Tara Reid’s Sasha. It’s fairly intense and suspenseful as Sasha tries to evade this axe wielding maniac. Shortly thereafter, the climactic chase sequence in the storming rain is pretty good with some good tension and strenuous physicality for Alicia Witt. Proving my point, this is when the killer turns away from urban legend themed kills, and just starts going after people full boar. These are the scenes that work because they’re not so predictable. They keep an audience more on edge in the midst of random peril. They’re surely not wholly original inventions in the slasher genre, but they are staples of it because they are effective. So, it is that final 20-30 minutes which actually become intense and suspenseful, but for a 100 minute horror movie, that’s not very adequate.
On the acting end of things, Alicia Witt delivers a solid leading performance making Natalie sweet, vulnerable, smart, and tough. I like when she punches Joshua Jackson’s Damon Brooks right in the face after a bad come-on in a parked car showing there’s some assertiveness in her. Witt is a strong actress with a lot of talent to her credit. Plus, she’s a beautiful redhead, and I absolutely adore redheads. Jared Leto has a decent performance here as college newspaper reporter Paul Gardner, but his character just doesn’t have much personality on the page to speak of. Paul’s constantly trying to pry information out of everyone for his news story, but he doesn’t come off as the least bit imposing or ethically objectionable as that statement would suggest. Rebecca Gayheart is a fine talent working well as Natalie’s best friend Brenda, but offering little more, initially, than the qualities of the supportive friend. The latter end of the film gives her a lot more juicy material to work with that she really sinks her teeth into, and does an excellent job with.
Now. Michael Rosenbaum is plain awesome. After seeing him for so many years as Lex Luthor on Smallville it’s great seeing his comedic charisma in full swing here as the fun loving Parker. He’s charged up with energy and personality to spare, but Rosenbaum has enough charm to shy it away from becoming obnoxious. Tara Reid has a great promiscuous role as the saucy, sexually charged radio talk show host Sasha. Halloween franchise alumnus Danielle Harris clocks in as Natalie’s Goth roommate Tosh. It’s a good minor performance, and she looks quite hot in all that black garb.
Urban Legend features some notable horror legends in Robert Englund and Brad Dourif. Both of which put in solid performances. Dourif portrays a stuttering gas station attendant at the film’s start, and he’s sufficiently creepy. Englund gives Professor Wexler plenty of dignity and a little bit of theatrical edge for a strong, respectable performance. Both actors put a good measure of enthusiasm and quality into their roles here, and are small highlights that gave this film particular notoriety upon release.
The film’s score is provided by Christopher Young, who also did the music for the first two Hellraiser movies and last year’s highly effective horror film Sinister. Here, he does a far more understated but still admirable job. It has plenty of strong, tense cues throughout, and is probably a notch above the standard slasher film fare.
Now, I do really like the dark, shameful secret that Natalie has in her past, and how it ties into the motivation of the killer. It is all smartly and realistically put together. It makes for a nice twist in the climax that does get setup from Natalie’s story earlier on. The climax itself is pretty decent and typical for a slasher movie, but it’s surely far from terrible. It delivers some satisfaction, but it’s nothing that will stick with you like the endings of Halloween or Friday The 13th. The somewhat quirky coda fits for the movie, but also, doesn’t make a lot of sense. It could’ve used a better resolution that was more pertinent to the actual characters and story. It kind of goes with the half-baked feeling of the movie. It had good ideas, but just didn’t do anything worthwhile with them.
Ultimately, this is a real disappointment of a slasher film that just isn’t scary at all. They had a very talented cast to work with, and a premise that could’ve worked very well if it injected some original thinking into it. Instead, it just comes off as generic and predictable. The killer is entirely forgettable, and offers no menace or threatening presence. Director Jamie Blanks does a respectable job with Urban Legend, but the script is just devoid of ambition. He handles his cast exceptionally well, knows how to shoot a film very cinematically, and shows some talent for suspense. Yet, the film fails because the script uses a gimmick purely at face value without trying to add anything fresh or innovative to it. A killer offing people using urban legends is a clever idea, but screenwriter Silvio Horta progressed it no further than that. I know Jamie Blanks can make a good slasher movie because he did it with his next film Valentine, which I think is quite underappreciated. Given a stronger script, he can certainly deliver a much more effective product. It certainly won’t hurt you to watch Urban Legend, but it’s nothing special you’re missing out on. It did spawn two sequels that really were rather horrible that I would strongly advise avoiding. I saw them each once, and that was more than enough for me. This film is decent enough if you just need a mild way to kill 100 minutes. It likely won’t make you cringe, depending on your slasher film tastes, but it likely won’t excite you either.