Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Review: A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge (1985)

Today, we come to the second film in the series, and one that has quite a... reputation among fans.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge (1985)

Rated R

A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge is gay. Capital G-A-Y ghey. And I don't mean that in the insulting Xbox Live sense -- I mean that very literally. Entire (*ahem*) reams of essays have been written on how this is quite possibly the most homoerotic horror film ever made that doesn't explicitly feature an LGBT protagonist. Our main character, a teenage boy with shaggy blond hair and the unisex name Jesse who is frequently seen shirtless (or at least open-shirted) and sweaty, is trying to fight off attempts by Freddy (who the poster describes as "the man of your dreams") to "get inside him" and possess him. He has arguably more chemistry with his male friend Grady than with his canonical female love interest Lisa. One of the characters is a closeted gym teacher who goes to gay leather bars at night, and whose death scene involves him getting pelted with balls, bound, stripped, and towel-snapped before getting killed. Countless scenes and lines throughout the film are dripping with gay and/or sexual subtext. Many people involved in production noticed it -- the actor playing Jesse, Mark Patton, was openly gay and was cast mainly for that reason, Robert Englund referred to Freddy's Revenge as bisexual-themed in an interview with a British gay magazine, and the film's own writer admitted that this was what he was going for. I can hardly fault the makers of this film for trying something different -- after all, a huge part of the first film's success was in how Wes Craven took the tropes of two very different genres and melded them into something that worked even better than the sum of its parts, so when New Line inevitably ordered a sequel (without Wes Craven at the helm), the people they hired to make it likely wanted to do something equally shocking. And in the middle of the '80s, making such a film had to have been a very daring move.

What I can fault Freddy's Revenge for, however, is its incompetence. The acting from nearly everybody is laughable, the story goes completely insane, Freddy Krueger is at his least menacing until the later sequels, and the kills are weak. While it does get points for originality, the special effects (especially for the body-horror transformation sequences) and Englund's performance as Freddy are the only things worthwhile here, and even then, they barely save it. Looking back on it today, Freddy's Revenge is little more than a curiosity in the series' history due to its strange plot and its subtext.

The film takes place five years after the original, where a new family has moved into 1428 Elm Street after the events of the original film drove Nancy insane (giving us a definitive answer as to just what the first film's ending was about -- oh, and spoilers for the first film). Their oldest son, Jesse, is having strange nightmares involving our favorite child murderer, who soon reveals that he's trying to take over Jesse's body and use him to re-enter the world and start killing again. Jesse, with help from his friends Lisa and Grady, must struggle to control the monster inside of him and prevent it from taking over his life and going on a rampage. In other words, Freddy Krueger as a Jekyll-and-Hyde metaphor for being a closet case. One thing is clear: the best parts of the film were the ones where it was letting its freak flag fly. The film is dripping in gay subtext that I wished the film had the courage to run with, like Interview with the Vampire did a decade later, as we're given all manner of nods both subtle and blatant to Jesse's sexuality. At the very least, it gave the film a very memorable, "out-there" style, which makes me wish that they didn't drop all of this stuff in the third act and go for a more conventional approach. Now that's irony -- a film whose plot is a metaphor for sexual identity is itself too afraid to fully commit to its subtext and go all-out with it, resulting in it having a muddled identity of its own.

This hurts the film dramatically towards the end, when the plot collapses into a mess of holes as a result. I still can't quite understand why the powers Freddy has in the dream world suddenly start leaking into reality after he takes over Jesse's body. The whole reason why he can do all that stuff, like teleporting and creating pet monsters, is that it's the dreamworld, where Freddy is godlike. In the real world, he's just a guy with a Wolverine glove and an ugly sweater. And why isn't Jesse in prison at the end of the movie, given that there's a mountain of evidence to convict him on at least two murders? The only good things that came out of the ending were the grotesque scenes where Freddy fully possesses Jesse, represented by him literally bursting out of Jesse's skin. I applaud the special effects department for just how gruesome these scenes were. Unfortunately, this creates another plot hole: we're shown that Jesse's transformation into Freddy is extremely drawn-out, traumatic, and bloody, yet in other scenes, Freddy's able to switch between his Freddy and Jesse forms almost at will, taking only a few seconds to do it. The kills were also fairly weak, with only splatters of blood and quick shots of cuts with Freddy's blades. While I'll probably never forget the gym coach's death due to just how sexually charged it was, none of the others really stuck with me. Also, the actors were terrible. Mark Patton and Kim Myers were both wooden as Jesse and Lisa, their attempts to display emotion failing badly and coming off as laughable, and the rest of the cast didn't do much to impress either. Robert Englund was the only one who came out looking respectable, and even then, he wasn't nearly as scary as he was in the first film; chalk that up to him having relatively little screen time until the end while the possessed Jesse does most of the heavy lifting as the killer.

Score: 2 out of 5

Even as far as gay-themed horror films go, this is a pretty crappy effort that's only notable for its strangeness and its unique ideas that are otherwise poorly executed. Only worth a watch for those curious as to just how weird a Nightmare on Elm Street movie can get.

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