A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 – Freddy’s Revenge (1985)
Directed by: Jack Sholder
Starring: Mark Patton, Kim Myers, Robert Rusler, Clu Gulager, Hope Lange, Marshall Bell, Robert Englund, Melinda O. Fee, Tom McFadden, Sydney Walsh, Christie Clark
(out of 4)
Ah, Freddy’s Revenge, the red-headed stepchild of the Nightmare on Elm Street series. The flick has a bad rap, lambasted by critics and fans, mostly for deviating too much from formula. The idea that a long dead killer comes back to kill you in your dreams just turns people on more than the concept of the long dead killer who comes back to kill you in real life, which is the route that this first sequel chooses to take. Of course, you can’t stray too far from formula, so Freddy’s Revenge uses dreams as a jumping off point, as well as incorporating the iconic Elm Street house, former abode of the Thompson family and now lived in by the Walshes – high school teen Jesse (Mark Patton), his little sister (Christie Clark), concerned mom (Hope Lange, aka Mrs. Muir!), and overbearing daddy (the incomparable and awesome Clu Gulager). The thing is, after 25 years, this film is much more interesting to come back to than any of the increasingly silly sequels past #3, all of which kept returning to the same well over and over again.
Jesse is the new kid in town and he’s already burdened by horrible nightmares involving a burned up guy in a red-and-green sweater with a razor-glove on his right hand. His new friend Lisa (the Meryl Streep-looking Kim Myers) takes a liking to him, but he still needs to deal with asshole coach Schneider (Marshall Bell), who likes to tour S&M clubs by night, and rival/friend/rival Grady (Robert Rusler) who’s first encounter with Jesse involves pulling his pants down and wrestling with him in the dirt. Things get weird when Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) tells Jesse “We’ve got special work to do. You’ve got the body, I’ve got the brains” before ripping his own skull back and exposing a pulsating brain. Other occurrences include the family parakeet going berserk (in a nod to The Birds, but it reminded me more of something I’ve witnessed in cheesy Italian horror flicks) before bursting into flames, the toaster catching fire even though it’s not plugged in, and a constant temperature of 90+ degrees in the household. Clu thinks his son is either playing pranks or on drugs (it’s still the 80s, remember) – he’s great in the oppressive parent role. One night, Jesse sleep walks into a gay S&M club where he orders a beer (while wearing his jammies, but hey, he seems to fit in); Coach Schnieder (who likes to hang there, remember?) takes him back to Springwood High and makes him run laps as punishment. Then Schneider (still dressed in his leather gear) is assaulted by flying sports equipment, strung up in a shower, whipped on the ass with a towel, and slashed to death by Freddy, or perhaps Freddy using Jesse’s body. Basically, we’ve got a possession storyline grafted onto the Elm Street mythology (which is given a nod, ever so briefly, in Freddy versus Jason). Our other deviation from the norm is the use of a male as the central character, although this could be debated – one could easily see Myers’ character as the “final girl” and Jesse a simple medium for Freddy to do battle with her. Complicating matters, though, are the homo-erotic metaphors.
In addition to various shots of a semi-nude and sweaty Jesse, who’s friendship with Grady involves sports-field rivalry, some wrestling (but not backed by any malice, really), and locker-room bonding, we see Jesse in a kind of sexual confusion. He’s playing around in his room, gyrating to music, when Lisa walks in on him (A reading of this might be that he’s caught masterbating by his would-be girlfriend and his mom, horrors!); he starts to get it on with Lisa at a party before stopping at second base (Freddy’s long icky tongue taking the place of his own turns Jesse off, but Lisa never notices) – naturally, he storms out and right into Grady’s bedroom, leading in this exchange of dialogue:
Jesse: Something is trying to get inside my body!
Grady: Yeah, and she’s female and she’s waiting for you at the cabana. And you want to sleep with me!
There is, of course, the S&M club sequence and Coach Schneider’s domineering attitude towards Jesse in a metaphorical master/slave relationship. (Although, maybe you could make the case that Freddy made Jesse go to that club because he knew that’s where Schneider would be.) In any case, there’s this air of confusion where it seems Jesse is torn between feelings for Lisa and feelings for Grady. Freddy’s appearances could even be considered Jesse’s repressed homosexuality trying to get out (which bursts forth in Grady’s room in a particularly nasty way). I read one review that compared Freddy with Jesse’s “nocturnal emissions.” That’s probably a fair assessment, too. The weaknesses of Freddy’s Revenge turn up in silly campy bits involving attacking animals and inanimate objects, and an underwhelming love-conquers-all ending (Lisa helps Jesse vanquish the monster inside him by planting Freddy one on the lips). It’s as if the movie didn’t quite know how to end itself after blowing its wad on a pool party sequence where Freddy takes out a bunch of guests before exclaiming “You are all my children now!”
The main leads give good performances (and I gotta admit, Kim Myers is pretty hot). Also, to its credit, the movie wisely keeps Freddy in the background for the bulk of the running time (he still manages to get some one-liners out – after Dream Warriors there’ll be no shutting him up). The orchestral score (courtesy of Christopher Young) is also a bit of a change from the original, but it works well, and reminds me of the Hellraiser score he would do a few years later. Finally, the special effects are pretty inventive, the highlight of which is a transformation sequence where Freddy literally pops out of Jesse’s stomach before discarding him away like he’s simply taking off a suit. I also liked the beginning dream sequence involving a school bus and a desert setting which eventually peels away to reveal hell below. Freddy’s Revenge isn’t the masterpiece that the first movie was but it’s a much better film than people give it credit for, as long as you are willing to go along with the possession story and don’t get all worked up over mythology. I consider it among the best of the Nightmare sequels.
- Bill Gordon