A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge
(SPOILERS) The homoerotic one. Generally derided on release for its spurning of Freddy lore – his work ethic, even – A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge has gained cachet over the years for its not-so-much gay subtext as outright text. That doesn’t necessarily make it a particularly good movie, but it means that, in a genre where the thematic content tends to be overfamiliar and not-so rewarding, it actually has a few things going on under the hood, and plants a distinctive flag for itself amid the formula of the Elm Street series.
It seems a possession pitch was pretty much set as the driving plot device for the first sequel; Leslie Bohem’s pregnancy outline would later be realised with The Dream Child. Perhaps, then, Robert Shaye was influenced on some level by Craven’s disinterest in turning Elm Street into a franchise – New Line wanted to do something actively different to straightforward kills in terms of plotting, the dreamscape equivalent of Jason (which, give or take the series became, certainly in the public consciousness). Craven wasn’t keen on this as realised in Freddy’s Revenge, considering it a betrayal of the basic need to identify with the hero (or heroine). But again, that bucking of the inclination to formula could be deemed in its favour.
Five years on from A Nightmare on Elm Street, a new family has moved into Nancy Thompson’s home, and we follow gender-fluid in name Jesse (Mark Patton), screaming with the girlie best of them – Patton, after dropping out of acting due to Hollywood homophobia, made a 2019 doc entitled Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street, and seems to have fashioned a mini self-promotion industry based on his association Elm Street 2 – as Freddy beckons him in dreams, and he wakes up all sweaty. Jesse’s good looking but with a fatal touch of the Gary Numans. He doesn’t quite fit (as the opening, mocking bus trip nightmare illustrates, with a couple of teen girls shunning him, evidently conscious of more than he or the filmmakers were). He’s interested in a girl, Lisa (Kim Myers, more Natasha McElhone than Meryl, with hindsight), but more interested in the developing bromance/persecution with/from Ron Grady (Robert Rusler of Weird Science, Vamp and later Babylon 5).
The result of all this, a movie where a child molester – oh wait, he’s not that in the final movie, is he? – interferes with the “normal” sexual development of a teenage boy, attempting to take possession of him – “You’ve got the body. I’ve got the brains” – and so instilling pronounced homosexual angst – “He’s inside me. I’m scared!” – is the “gayest horror film of all time” (Village Voice, per director Jack Sholder). David Frankel would surely deliver a great remake (and a considerably funnier one; there are numerous occasions in Freddy’s Revenge where more wit wouldn’t have gone amiss. Curious, since Sholder’s subsequent The Hidden is often very funny).
From the first, Jesse’s uncomfortable masquerade as a normal teen is undermined, be it his family remarking that something is wrong with him (“Why can’t Jesse wake up like everybody else?”), to his attempts to impress the girl undermined by Grady (pulling his shorts down on the field and tussling with him); their relationship develops from there. Sharing push ups on the field. Jesse showing up at Grady’s room with his shirt open after failing to consummate with an understandably frustrated Lisa (and then, still in denial, savagely murdering Ron).
There’s also the little incident of his being taken back to the school gym for a shower after being discovered by his teacher at an S&M bar, one said teacher (Marshall Bell, of Aliens fame) frequents. The sequence leads to Coach Schneider’s naked buttocks being whipped by Freddy, prior to his meeting a decisive end (“Snyder got wasted last night!”) After all, he had to; he discovered Jesse’s dark secret (Snyder’s meanwhile, is a fairly open one (he “hangs around S&M joints down town” – presumably giving Jesse the idea of going there?)
The degree to which this is intention or “happy” accident is still debated. Future series director Rachel Talalay referenced the psychosexual crisis of the “shockingly homoerotic” movie. Sholder noted that Patton (Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean) was “very feminine” and "Looking back on it, there were a whole bunch of decisions, starting with casting Mark that really… If you look at some of the exegeses as to why it’s the gayest horror film of all time, some of it is people reading stuff into things, some of it was intentional and some of it was stuff that people added that fed into that idea".
At points, Sholder seems to be suggesting he was oblivious to the subtext, but he was clearly clued-in enough to observe the production team planting props that alluded to this subtext (the game Probe in Mark’s closet). One might surmise he didn’t think any such suggestions were any more than that, that this wasn’t the sum total of the movie, and it seems that for years no one involved was on-board with an intentional element to the subtext.
Later, you hear of performative intent (from Patton) and also writerly. Of the latter, David Chaskin eventually came out and said he had expressly written it that way. Really? Having previously laid it at Patton’s door for playing the part “too gay”? It sounds a little like he’s making the claim to capitalise on the hype. Sholder remains detached from an over-committal response: “Mark seemed obsessed with the idea that Dave Chaskin had written this gay subtext. And I was like: Who cares? Get over it. I thought it was funny that this was the way the film was being interpreted”.
The main thing to note here is that, regardless of the ins and outs of Jesse’s dread longings, Patton fails to do much with the part beyond a convincing line in perma-trauma. One might reasonably argue that was all that was required, but for the central idea to work effectively – possession and murder – you need to be more on side with the character (his “Kill me!” pleas under the Freddy makeup are about the extent of the pathos). Myers makes the less central and more one-note Lisa much more sympathetic. And its arguable that, given the actual real-world antagonist aspect here, it would have made more sense for the detective plot of the first movie to be transposed to this one (we never find out the repercussions of Jesse/Freddy’s murder spree, but maybe it was put down to a potty pizza-faced guy at a pool party).
Sholder mounted a defence of the movie’s egregious treatment of Freddy lore, that the series’ “logic is slightly tenuous anyway”. Which is true. Not being a particular aficionado, I have no strong feelings about the choice; I’m more concerned with how effectively the chosen avenue has been explored, and it’s undoubtedly patchy. For a prize hook – imaginative/gross dream sequences and deaths – largely eschewing them is a curious direction (aside from the bus bookend, dreams consist mainly of Freddy addressing Jesse). And I sympathise with the view that Freddy appearing at a pool party and cutting a swathe is a less than convincing method to elicit terror. Albeit, I don’t think he’s particularly terrifying in the original movie either. I’ll admit though, I enjoyed the incongruity of an attempt to maturely communicate with the bogeyman (“Just calm down… Relax. No one’s going to hurt you. I’m here to help you”) and the concise response (“Help yourself, fucker!”)
The picture isn’t then, one where you’re overly conscious of the effects work. The Freddy mask is redesigned and has more texture/grue (and it’s generally better lit too). Freddy bursting out of Jesse (and later, Jesse climbing out of the remains of Freddy) were doubtless memorable at the time, but are plain cheesy now. Likewise, Jesse’s overreaching tongue during make out. In that regard, the opener with the bus stranded on a pillar of hell is both striking and misleading (the poster I’m more familiar is the video release’s, with the bus on it, not the psychosexual mirror image).
There are moments here that suggest Sholder, if he’d had more prep time, could have made this much more fun. The opening sliced tomatoes gag – cutting from a Freddy dream – is very Joe Dante circa The Howling, but the picture too often settles on overwrought rather than layered. The Risky Business dance scene serves to emphasise misfit cred, but might have been better invoking the tonal quirkiness of The Breakfast Club. And the enraged parakeet is also a missed opportunity for twisted humour. The presence of Fu Man Chews in the same scene is, well… I’m not sure you could do that even in 1985.
Sholder suggested there are those who express themselves through the horror film (Craven) and those who express themselves in spite of the horror film (himself). A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge isn’t scary, but then, neither is the first movie. And while it may be Englund’s least favourite in the series, Freddy’s actually less silly in it (no wavy arms); even if making him corporeal is a fudge, his status is growing. Jeffrey Wells (Hollywood Elsewhere) makes an appearance in the DVD doc talking about how he based his publicity pitch on the iconic appeal (cool villainy) of Freddy. From here on, Kreuger will be ever more Bond-like in his quipster leanings.