I was on assignment for JoBlo’s Arrow in the Head to edit a profile on Nightmare on Elm Street Actress Heather Langenkamp. I rented her movies from Classic Video (Nightmare on Elm Street 1, 3 and 7). Nightmare on Elm Street 2 and 3 happened to come in a two-pack. So after I completed the assignment:
I decided to review here Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge. The odd cash-in sequel that has none of the original creators involved. First sequels in horror are odd because they straddle the line between mimicking the first film yet are looking for their own identity as a franchise. This was the takeaway:
This is one gender flipping movie. One that works as a coming of age body horror about coming out. Welcome to Elm Street: The Sequel, where the girls are hornier than the men. Yet there are 3 men’s locker room scenes in this movie. This movie has as much interest in male bodies in motion as Claire Denis’ Beau Travail. More time is spent on boys wrestling each other and hanging out in locker rooms than actual ‘sexy time’. Any time the main character Jesse’s sexuality is brought up, he changes the subject or runs away. The dad thinks he’s on drugs and the mom thinks he’s mental. Though they are more present than other parents in the series, you have to admit the dad is a little dopey himself. He blames his son planting a cherry bomb on the pet bird spontaneously exploding. Jesse runs from his parents when they ask about his girlfriend. And after getting hot and heavy with her, he runs back to his boy friend Ron’s place. The protagonist spends much of his time running away from his girlfriend. As a Nightmare on Elm Street movie this fails, especially on the part of Freddy’s Revenge. But as a 1980s horror movie it’s unique.
Freddy’s Revenge keeps the setting, rather than the characters of the original. With a new family moving into the Elm Street home previously occupied by Nancy. The murder house trope has always been a weak narrative device. Given this film series kept New Line Cinema solvent, I’ll cut them some slack. Her diary discovered with an oddly scintillating entry that befits the tone of the film. The element of fear is the key to Freddy’s power and defeating him. Creator Wes Craven was right to keep the original characters out. Jesse’s main role occupies one often filled by women that he is referred to by many as a ‘final girl’. A snake drapes over him sleeping in anatomy class. Similar to Wes Craven’s earlier ‘Deadly Blessing‘. Where the snake threatens a sleeping female. Here as throughout the entire film it is gender swapped. The whole movie plays as Cronenberg-esque body horror. Jesse does a lot of stereotypically girly things; listens to love music in his room by himself. He echoes Tom Cruise in Risky Business from two years earlier. Grinding his butt up against the dresser, he enjoys his own company here more than that of his girlfriend the whole film.
He spends the film dripping in sweat. This is the most sweaty fit character I’ve ever seen that doesn’t go to the gym. Until his abusive leather clad gym coach randomly picks him up at a leather bar (you heard that correctly) and forces him to run laps. It’s hard to tell if this a dream or not. As big balls explode around the coach. The coach is then strapped, stripped, whipped naked before being slashed to death by a possessed Jesse.
Violent eroticism is familiar for 1980’s horror but it is not usually male-centric. Freddy’s Revenge stands out. Particularly today since violent horror tends to be less mainstream but more available. Screenwriter David Chaskin admitted these scenes with gay subtext were explicit. The lead actor Mark Patton was closeted at the time and had played an LGBTQ+ roles on Broadway. Chaskin deliberately invoked these texts and then denied it. Instead he blamed the gayness of the movie on the actor’s portrayal. As is the viral nature of Hollywood, it was one idea everyone making it latched onto likea parasite and started feeding off of. Today the film is accepted by the LGBTQ community. For me the gay subtext is what saves the film from being a total bore and waste of time. Despite their dream nature the nightmare films lack strong subtext or thematic focus. Out of all the films Nightmare 2 feels the most like it’s about something, even if it is incidental. Still it’s nice to see the film embraced by the community but its disturbing the road it took to get there.
If only there was more consequence to it. The final scene is a repeat of the first. Waving off the events of a murder spree the night before. Freddy in real life is a good idea as is the possession angle but it doesn’t actually suit the Nightmare series which was still figuring itself out. The ending lacks sense. Nothing is answered. The film is as confused as its main character. The climax can read either about rejecting your orientation or embracing who you are. The latter is a very empowering message. But it is undercut by the lack of follow through. The question I had after watching was when Krueger emerges into the real world, is he a possessed Jesse? He does kill a few people. When Lisa’s father emerges with a shotgun to kill Freddy the mother stops him from firing. The audience sees Freddy but is he understood to be Jesse? Or perhaps how a disassociative Jesse feels about himself. It’s odd, I don’t recall the main couple ever kissing on the lips. Lisa kisses Freddy knowing Jesse is underneath. And embracing the scary nature of what lurks inside is a very good adolescent theme. If the message of Elm Street 2 is whatever horror lurks inside can be understood, overcome and loved. Lisa through the power of love brings Jesse back and he becomes an equal member of society. It’s a great arc from the outsider he played at the beginning of the film. The horror happening to him isn’t as rejecting as he thinks. Do not fear the monster inside. If Lisa can see through Freddy’s evil form to embrace Jesse then there might be hope for all of us no matter how afraid of ourselves we all might be.
*Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge is available on Blu-ray combo pack through Amazon or your local retailer, Redbox or rental store. Rights belong to New Line Cinema a division of Warner Bros.