The Ten Day Nightmare: Day Two – A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge
My series of Nightmare on Elm Street reviews continues with a look at the truly odd first sequel – a film which forgoes many of Wes Craven’s original ideas, and tries to already put a new spin on the Freddy mythos. Was this a good idea? Well, I don’t want to spoil it…but no. No, it wasn’t. Why not? Read on to find out. And remember, SPOILERS AHEAD.
A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2: FREDDY’S REVENGE (1985)
Directed by: Jack Sholder
Written by: David Chaskin
It’s been five years since the events of the first film, and a new family has moved into Nancy Thompson’s old house on Elm Street. Their teenage son, Jesse, hasn’t been getting much sleep lately – it seems he’s being haunted by some familiar nightmares featuring a burned man in a red and green sweater. That’s right, Freddy is back…this time with a plan to take over Jesse’s body in order to wreak havoc in the real world.
Following the huge success of A Nightmare on Elm Street, it was only natural that the fledgling New Line would want to make a sequel as quickly as possible. There was only one problem with this, and it was a big one – series creator Wes Craven didn’t exactly share their enthusiasm over the idea. Craven never intended for his concept to turn into a franchise. In fact, the ambiguous cliffhanger ending of the first film was a compromise Craven was forced to make – he initially wanted a more positive “good conquers evil” finale that would have left no room for a sequel. I’m sure Craven was smart enough to see the business sense behind a follow-up, but he stuck to his guns and declined participation in the second film.
But this is Hollywood we’re talking about, and there’s no way a little thing like the non-involvement of the creator is going to stand in the way of money being made. And so, New Line went ahead with the project anyway, bringing in director Jack Sholder (who was coming off of the underrated 1982 thriller Alone in the Dark) and writer David Chaskin (who was coming off of, well, nothing). And while it’s tempting to believe the concept of A Nightmare on Elm Street is such that it shouldn’t be all that difficult to make a worthy follow-up, the end result was, in fact, a film that seemed to lend credence to Craven’s “this should be a stand-alone” assertion.
It’s a shame, too, cause things certainly start off promisingly enough. The nifty opening sequence involving a horrific nightmare bus ride is notable for two reasons – a brief non-Freddy-makeup appearance from Robert Englund (his first in the series), and a really cool visual of the bus precariously suspended on some rocks over a giant pit (a striking image that serves as a nice preview of the increasingly surreal effects sequences the series would soon start relying on).
It’s all kind of downhill from there, though, as Freddy’s Revenge proceeds to take the rules and concepts that Craven’s first film had established and essentially piss all over them. Now, I can understand why series like Halloween and Friday the 13th start wanting to experiment with their own mythologies as they get into the sixth or seven film in the franchise…but the second film seems a little early to seemingly lose faith in what made the original work, and to start trying to re-build the central concepts. You could argue it’s somewhat admirable; that perhaps they were trying to keep things from getting stale even at this early stage in the franchise. The problem with that argument is twofold – there was still lots of room left to explore in Craven’s original concept, and the Freddy’s Revenge filmmakers weren’t even smart enough to stay consistent with the new ideas they presented.
Instead of the dream-driven narrative of the first film, Freddy’s Revenge is essentially a haunted house/possession story. Oh, sure, Freddy does come to Jesse in his dreams, but only because for some reason Jesse is now the only person whose dreams he can invade. And his main motive – to take over Jesse’s body so he can kill in the real world – is an odd departure from his usual motive. Why would Freddy want to be in the real world? Isn’t the whole idea that he is most powerful in the dream-world? The other films usually show Freddy’s weakness as being his vulnerability whenever he is pulled into our world. Here, he’s actively working towards that!
Then again, that’s OK, because the movie kinda forgets/ignores the whole idea of Freddy having less power in the real world, anyway. Once he has crossed over, Freddy is still presented as some sort of supernatural being that can walk through walls and summon human-faced dogs (huh??).
In fact, Freddy consistently exerts his power in the real world throughout the film, even before he has fully taken Jesse over. You can’t help but wonder…why the hell does he even need Jesse, if he’s already powerful enough to blow up parakeets and demolish school gymnasiums all by himself? This isn’t the only film in the series to annoyingly depict Freddy as being able to influence the real world at will…but it’s certainly the biggest offender. Like I said, it’s just not very consistent with its own rules. You can sense that no one either cared or noticed these logical problems with the story during the quick rush to get this film written and released.
Beyond these larger problems, there all kinds of little things that bother me, as well. Like, take the scene where the kids at the pool party are patiently waiting for the parents of the house to go to bed. They stand watching the bedroom window, and the second the lights go out they start cheering, crank up the music, and bring out the beer. I guess this is supposed to be funny, but it’s so unrealistic it always pulls me right out of the movie – unless we’re really supposed to think these kids are stupid enough to believe that adults just instantly fall asleep once their room goes dark.
Alright, here’s another – there’s a sequence where Jesse falls asleep in science class, and we watch as a large python begins wrapping itself around him. We of course assume that this is Freddy’s doing…but nope! Jesse wakes up and we discover that the class snake has in fact gotten loose and latched on to Jesse. And somehow nobody in class – including the students right next to and behind him – noticed this! How is this possible??
My biggest nitpick, though, is the fact that Jesse and Lisa find Nancy Thompson’s old diary in Jesse’s closet while cleaning his room. I get it – the movie needed a way for Jesse to hear the details of the first film, and realize what he was up against. But could they have possibly come up with a lazier way? It’s not like they find the diary in some hidden compartment. It’s just sitting there, in the closet. At NO point since the last film – a five year time frame which would have entailed the Thompson’s moving out, the house sitting on the market for awhile (and I would imagine some open houses), and the Walsh’s moving in and being there for at least a few weeks – did anyone else notice this book just chilling there on the shelf. Really?
I could go on with more stuff like this, but I don’t want to keep you all day. Instead, let me try to get back to some faint compliments for the film. Amidst all the nonsense, there are a few fun little moments sprinkled throughout. The sequence where Freddy wreaks havoc on the pool party is admittedly pretty cool, even if it does tie in to that whole “Freddy in the real world” complaint from earlier. And then there’s the very awesome and very gory visual of Freddy literally ripping himself out of Jesse’s body.
Come to think of it, all of the good moments in this film have to do with Freddy. That’s not surprising, I guess, but it does point to another problem – there’s just not enough Krueger in this movie. Sholder and Chaskin obviously adhere to the “less is more” philosophy when it comes to movie monsters, which normally I’m all for. But, in this case, I think they might have gone a little too far with it. At this point, Freddy is already the clear star of the show, and keeping him off-screen for such long stretches of time only adds to the already sinking feeling of boredom.
At least when he does show up, Freddy is still quite the terrifying figure – thanks once again to Englund’s terrific performance. Not getting Craven back was bad enough…not getting Englund back would have been disastrous. Englund doesn’t get much to do in this one, but he still manages to bring his A-game, and is clearly further developing the Freddy personality which will finally fully surface in the next film. The Freddy make-up, this time handled by Kevin Yagher, is also noticeably better than in the first movie – maybe not as gross and scary looking, but certainly more detailed.
As for the other actors in Freddy’s Revenge, well, let’s just say acting isn’t one of the film’s stronger elements. Mark Patton is so-so as Jesse; there are moments where his anguish over what he is being forced to do is quite believable, but there are other moments where he veers over into laughable territory. Patton looks like Laurence Olivier, though, compared to the rest of the young cast. It is fun, however, to see Clu Gulager as Jesse’s dad, even if it is a thankless role.
Now, one thing you’ve probably noticed I haven’t brought up yet is the oft-discussed supposed homoerotic undertones of the film, with many claiming the movie is one giant metaphor about Jesse’s inability to come out to his friends and family. It’s not hard to see where this theory comes from. Patton himself is an openly gay man, and while I’m not trying to stereotype, it’s kinda tough not to notice his ultra-high-pitched screams, or that the script calls for him to show a noted lack of interest in Lisa, and to instead run to the bedroom of his often half-naked best bud Grady when in trouble. Chaskin has apparently said he didn’t intend for any homoerotic subtext, but it’s sorta tough to take him at his word considering the scene where Jesse encounters his leather-vest wearing gym coach at a gay S&M bar, or the next scene where Jesse/Freddy strips the coach naked and repeatedly smacks his ass with a wet towel (yeah, that happens).
Personally, I think if you want to read into the film that way, the material to do so is certainly there. I’m not even necessarily against the idea of the film tackling such issues – Craven’s original was intentionally full of all sorts of metaphors and subtexts, so there’s no reason the other films shouldn’t be allowed to follow suit. It’s an intriguing idea and, truthfully, looking at the film through that lens does make it a little more interesting. But, unfortunately, it doesn’t really make it any more entertaining, which is perhaps a little more important to Nightmare fans.
Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the ridiculous climax (so, needless to say, consider this paragraph heavy SPOILER territory). As if the rest of the movie wasn’t bad enough, the final confrontation between Lisa and Jesse/Freddy almost completely obliterates any goodwill one might have toward the story. If you thought Nancy defeating Freddy by simply turning her back on him was corny (and I did), you ain’t seen nothing yet. Here we have Lisa destroying Freddy by…kissing him. Yep, true love destroys our villain.
I can’t put it much better than the film’s original 1985 Press Kit, which explains: “She confronts Jesse/Freddy and offers her love to him. Jesse feels an inner strength of his own welling inside him. Freddy begins to weaken, and then gives up his possession. The horror is over, not with a bang but with a whisper.” Now, you tell me, should a film like A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 really be bragging about ending with a “whisper” instead of a “bang?” Do you see what I’m saying?
There’s no sugarcoating it – this is a bad movie. Sholder and Chaskin were given the keys to a fairly fascinating mythology that Craven had created, and to say they botched the job is an understatement. This is one of those frustrating movies that seems to make the wrong creative decisions nearly every step of the way. Looking back, it’s kinda surprising this entry didn’t just kill the franchise dead right then and there. The series did survive, but it was clear the next sequel would have to pull out all the stops to win back the trust of the fans. It would take someone special to pull that off…like, maybe the guy who started it all?
BODY COUNT: 6
I mentioned yesterday that the first film’s last scene is debatable as an actual kill, as it’s not clear whether it’s just a dream or not. That’s also the case with this film’s surprising last death, which is one of the film’s best moments, but I’m not exactly sure whether it’s just part of Jesse’s dream or is really supposed to represent Kerry’s actual fate. So I’m leaving it out. The final count here is also hampered by the pure chaos of the pool party scene – it’s hard to say just how many Freddy actually murdered here, so I’m only counting the onscreen deaths…one of which, it should be pointed out, is the result of a panicked stampede, and not actually performed by Freddy himself.
The aforementioned final kill, in which Freddy’s glove suddenly bursts through the stomach of Lisa’s best friend Kerry during another seemingly idyllic bus ride, is actually a pretty great capper…even if it’s tough to say whether or not it means Kerry actually died.
FREDDY’S BEST LINES:
“You are all my children now.”
“I need you, Jesse. We got special work to do here, you and me. You’ve got the body…and I’ve got the brains.”
FINAL SCORE: 1 out of 4 Razor Fingers
And let’s face it…we all know exactly which finger it is.
Posted on December 2, 2014, in A Nightmare on Elm Street, Franchise Post-Mortems, Reviews and tagged A Nightmare on Elm Street, Freddy Krueger, Horror Movies, Robert Englund, Slashers, Wes Craven. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.