REVIEW: A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge
Produced by: Robert Shaye
Written by: David Chaskin
Edited by: Bob Brady, Arline Garson
Cinematography by: Jacques Haitkin, Christopher Tufty
Music by: Christopher Young
Starring: Mark Patton, Kim Myers, Robert Englund, Robert Rusler, Clu Gulager, Hope Lange, Christie Clark, Marshall Bell, Melinda O. Fee, Tom McFadden, Sydney Walsh
A long time ago, back in 2011, I angered quite a few fans of the Elm Street series by taking a disliking to the original film. These fans had accused me of a great number of things, mostly for being ignorant, comparing it to Friday the 13th, and/or making errors regarding the number of movies in the film series. It may well have been fair, but it seemed like most of this was stemmed from the fact that, in the end, I did not like it. I gave it a 2 out of 5 score and even called the score “charitable.” Them’s fighin’ words, they thought, and so they slammed me on their forum. Justified or not in their anger (and they kind of were in some respects), a few allowed me to engage them in discussion, and we even came to a sort of understanding. Some of them urged me on and recommended two of the sequels: the third, which saw the return of the one beloved survivor of the original heading up a task force of troubled youths against the series’ baddie, Freddy Krueger, and the seventh, which was a sort of meta extension of the series that saw the actors dealing with Freddy in the real world, in their own lives. And, to be honest, I actually kind of enjoyed them. They weren’t masterpieces or anything, but, for what they were, they were certainly a lot more entertaining and whimsical than what I had perceived as a sort of ridiculous, self-serious franchise with the first film.
I’ve honestly not gone back to re-watch the first film since that time, however, but I did actually look into one of the entries that I had skipped over in the process of taking their advice. Freddy’s Revenge, the second film in the series, goes the route of doing away with everything but the villain and setting of the first film, but it introduces us to an otherwise entirely new cast, complete with a gender swap for the film’s new protagonist. Usually in film, the male is thought of as the main focus of the story, but horror is a genre that specializes in female leads, most likely because women are generally considered to be weaker and/or more vulnerable to the kinds of threats present in the genre, and if the audience can invest enough time and energy into the character and come to identify with those characteristics, then the film is all the better for it. So when I point out the fact that the second film pulls a gender switch on the protagonist, it actually is a pretty significant detail. Do you expect the new film to take a left turn into action territory because of it? Do you expect there to be a damsel in distress for him to save? It’s possible. After all, if the first film was a psychological horror “Hers” for the genre, then obviously the new male lead makes the second the gun-toting “His” counterpart, right?
Well, no. Not here, at least. As many of the films’ fans know already, the second Nightmare on Elm Street entry pretty much keeps the status quo, save for the fact that the gender of the protagonist really has no impact on the lead still being your typical “scream queen,” which even Mark Patton once described his character, Jesse Walsh.
Jesse is the new kid in town, moving into the former home of Nancy Thompson a few years after the events of the first film, with Jesse in Nancy’s old room (where she also apparently left behind a diary of her own ordeal with Freddy). Jesse’s a nerdy, whiny, wimpy guy who is frequently picked on by the other guys at his school, but at least he was quick to find himself a nice girl to be with named Lisa Webber, who also lives in Jesse’s neighborhood, and she seems to like him, too, though he has his issues. For instance, he’s kind of aloof in the affection department. Jesse seemingly has some inhibitions when it comes to having sex, and it doesn’t’ really seem to be because he’s a traditional guy, either. Jesse also comes with some baggage, as his family never seems to really understand what’s going on in Jesse’s life and mind, leading to a lot of dissonance between them – his father in particular. Oh, and another thing is that he’s become quite preoccupied with the fact that he’s been having visions of a scarred maniac named Freddy Krueger, who is making Jesse carry out his murderous bidding. Luckily, Lisa’s pretty game for helping him in that last area and isn’t too bothered about his family, but, man, that affection thing, right?
Yeah, so, it’s probably pretty clear what’s going on beneath the surface at this point, and that’s not even yet getting into all the nitty gritty details that inform the subtext of Jesse’s repressed sexuality. No matter what some of the filmmakers say or whether they admit that what they were aware of what they were making, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 is very clearly employing Freddy as a means of personifying Jesse’s own fears about being so obviously gay and what he might face and inflict upon others should he finally act upon his feelings.
This is most obvious in the way in which his relationship with Lisa is portrayed. The two obviously get along, but even when Jesse attempts to finally make the move that Lisa so clearly has been signaling for him to make all this time, Freddy pops up in the most awkward way possible, taking over Jesse’s body and causing it to do strange things when they finally try to get intimate. These issues lead to Jesse’s aborting the mission and heading over to his new buddy Ron’s house to ask him to watch over and protect him while he attempts to finally get some sleep without the fear of Krueger making a move. This, however, backfires greatly and triggers Krueger’s most aggressive act (not to mention the film’s best effects sequence). Jesse’s contentious relationship with his father and the bizarre, disturbing interactions with his bondage-fetishist gym teacher add further fuel to the fire typical in a narrative of a gay male needing some better straight male role models in his life, as well. [SPOILERS!] The film’s gender-swapped fairy tale conclusion, in which Jesse is pretty much completely taken over by Krueger and needs to be rescued by Lisa and, apparently, true love’s kiss pretty much puts a cap on the whole argument – clearly all that Jesse needs is to seal the deal with the girl.
It’s all very interesting in concept, and it’s pretty clear that there was a lot of intention on somebody’s part to put all this in, but even so, that can’t necessarily save the movie from ultimately being kind of lame. A concept can only go as far as its execution, and Freddy’s Revenge is pretty dull when it’s not putting some kind of horror spectacle on the screen. The actors are all pretty stiff, and Jesse is not exactly the most likable protagonist, himself – regardless of what he’s going through, he’s still kind of a snotty character. The friendship that forms between him and Ron is not exactly well developed, either. Come to think of it, it’s pretty hard to see what Lisa sees in Jesse, too, since he generally treats her so poorly, and only at his own convenience. As always, the most entertaining person to watch here is Robert Englund reprising his role as Freddy. Freddy, this time around, is a lot more campy (which is appropriate, I guess), but not even Englund’s zeal for the role can distract from the fact that it’s also never quite clear why he chooses Jesse as his avatar. That plot contrivance alone is enough to likely set some fans off since it violates the rules of how Freddy interacted with his victims the first time around. The big climax is likely to split audiences, depending on how much they care for creative liberties. Wes Craven, who refused to be involved, certainly wasn’t a fan, and, to be honest, it is pretty reminiscent of how Superman kept gaining new, random powers as the plot needed them in the Christopher Reeve movies.
Freddy’s Revenge, which doesn’t even really make sense as a title in the context of the new cast, is worth watching solely for the fact that it’s the movie between the first and the third. If you’re going to watch those, then you might as well watch this one. It’s not horrifically bad or anything, but it lacks the visual spark of the first (save for that one very impressive scene in Ron’s bedroom), and it lacks the fun of the third. It’s not even that scary – it’s almost as if the film just accepted this and halfheartedly went off into the realm of satire, where the only humor is derived from the blatant gay subtext throughout. If you’re going to go that route, though, then go with full gusto, I say. Have the decency to actually be funny, you know? Or even just fun. The remake of the original film was pretty abysmal, but here’s a film that would actually likely do better with a do over, especially in an era where such a subtext could be brought out more into the open. I don’t think that even the biggest fans of the franchise would necessarily take issue with that, right?
The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 1 / 5