During its franchise run, the second Elm Street movie was definitely known as the shit one. It was also known as the gay one, due to its homosexual undertones. Well, things seem different now… Maybe it’s just because there have definitely been some legitimately bad Nightmare on Elm Street sequels and one atrocious remake, or maybe it’s just in comparison to the nearly universally god-awful Friday the 13th sequels and various other diabolical horror follow-ups, remake and spin-offs, but Freddy’s Revenge is no longer shit. It is still incredibly gay, but that’s not a bad thing.
Picking up five years after the first film, it centres on a teenager, Jesse, who’s just moved into the house where all the bad stuff happened in the first film. Jesse becomes tormented by dreams of Freddy Krueger trying to enter the real world to continue his reign of fear, or at least get Jesse to do all his killing. It is never made entirely clear which is his aim. It’s a change from the usual setup, where he’s just trying to torment his victims before killing them in their nightmares. The idea of Freddy trying to be reborn into the real world (literally at one point, tearing himself out of Jesse’s stomach) seems like a foolish idea. Hiding in the shadows of someone’s nightmares appears much more sensible than exposing yourself to real world troubles, like hiding from the police or getting some good moisturiser for all those burns.
The strategy of having Jesse do all the killings for him is much more successful. When Jesse tries to hide from his own nightmares he turns to his best friend (and potential lover) Grady, rather than his cute and loving girlfriend Lisa (who’s gagging for him to lie on top of her). Locked up in Grady’s bedroom, his mate of course does the one thing he’s not meant to in an Elm Street movie: fall asleep. When the aforementioned Freddy birth results in Jesse surviving, but Grady being torn apart, Jesse is left holding the glove so to speak. Mark Patton, as Jesse, has had little credit over the years for what is essentially a role that demands him to play both victim and final girl, but here he portrays the horror of the crime he’s committed with unhinged sincerity.
In fact, considering the horror genre is often criticised for its misogynistic elements, it is a rare thing to find the lead protagonist/main survivor of a modern horror being male. I do not think the abundance of female leads in horror is for any reason as forward thinking as trying to redress the balance of male dominated Hollywood and is more because of the fact that filmmakers and audiences appear to prefer seeing a pretty young girl being chased around by a hideous monster than a pretty young boy. WhileFreddy’s Revenge does its best to work the other way, I think ultimately the filmmakers couldn’t create a male protagonist without making him “girl-like”. This is where a lot of the gay subtext comes about. Jesse behaves around Grady like a love-sick and desperate puppy, because that’s how the filmmakers would have written a female lead. Jesse even has a high pitched scream ‘like a girl’, as if he shouldn’t be frightened by Freddy’s nightmarish presence unless he has female traits.
Not that all the gay elements here are subtext. The whole thing with the PE teacher is utterly unsubtle. In one of his sleepwalking jaunts, Jesse ends up at the town’s gay night club. Here he meets Coach Schneider, who’s been tormenting him and Grady at school. For some reason Schneider is wearing a leather vest with studs, which apparently explains why he’s been hanging around the boy’s locker room a bit too much. Next thing you know, Schneider has Jesse back at the school gym for some late night punishment involving running around the gym and jumping in the shower. This seems like a career-destroying move on Schneider’s part. If you are really intent on having it away with one of your students, taking them back to your place of work after meeting them in a bar seems like a terrible idea. Not that Schneider gets to do much, before he can make a move his clothes are ripped off, he’s tied to a shower with skipping ropes and, before being killed by Freddy and/or Jesse, he’s butt-whipped with a wet towel. Why is this? To sexually humiliate someone who would have sexually humiliated one of his students? Perhaps. But it just seems like it’s there to fulfil the required nudity quote of a slasher movie, although this seems horribly misguided as I don’t think anyone wants to see an overweight middle aged man getting his bottom spanked. I might be wrong of course.
Freddy Krueger, out for revenge against some people who had nothing to do with his downfall in any way, is still pretty scary though. He is often kept in the shadows or back lit so you can’t see his face. There are few of the stupid puns and quips he would later use in further sequels, and although he does a lot of maniacal laughing for no apparent reason, some of this works pretty effectively. When Jesse finds himself standing over Grady’s corpse covered in blood and wearing the knifed glove, he sees Freddy in the mirror cackling at him like a mischievous imp. His laughter at how he has set up his victim as murderer is a reminder that Freddy is not just the ghost of a child-killer but also a malevolent spirit of old, like a twisted demon, manipulating the living for no other reason than to cause harm and suffering.
The whole tone of the film is pretty serious and rarely steps away from the focus of Jesse’s torment and descent into insanity. When the film does try to go for something light, it fails abysmally. There’ s an early scene where Jesse is forced to tidy his room by his grumpy, nagging father and so he puts on some 80′s pop tunes, a pair of shades, a backwards cap and dances around his room like he’s Tom Cruise in Risky Business. Except he’s not. He’s a man with no dignity. Even ignoring all the bits where he “pumps” a toy pop-gun until a cork bursts out and pushes his arse up against a draw to close it, by the time he’s wearing giant Elton John-like gold-rimmed sunglasses, this scene is a massive embarrassment. I was hiding behind the sofa at the cringing awfulness of it all.
Even in serious moments there are some terribly ill-judged ideas as to what makes a film scary – exploding budgies will never put the fear of God into people, Freddy appearing at a poolside teen party is just stupid and will only lead to stupid moments like exploding hot dogs and some chap overacting his death:
and the murder in the shower as mentioned above is just weird.
But a lot of the rest of the stuff is much better than I remember. The first and, until now, only time I’d seen Freddy’s Revenge was back in 1985 upon its release. It was a distinctly underwhelming experience. But since then we’ve had the low point of Part 4: The Dream Master, or was it part 6 with the stupid 3D ending, or all of the remakea. Here, there is some good imagery: the wide angled scope of the final setting at the abandoned factory, the baby-headed dogs, and Freddy’s arm tearing out of the girl at the end. Also the film still treats its main villain as a threat rather than a hero or a joke. So in the end, it may seem like faint praise but I mean it in the best possible way, A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2 Freddy’s Revenge: Not shit.