Director: Jack Sholder
Writers: David Chaskin, Wes Craven (characters)
Starring: Robert Englund, Mark Patton, Kim Myers, Robert Rustler, Clu Gulager, Hope Lange, Marshall Bell, Lyman Ward, Donna Bruce, Christie Clark, Sydney Walsh, Edward Blackoff, JoAnn Willette, Jonathan Hart, Robert Shaye, Robert Chaskin, Kimberly Lynn, Kerry Remsen
18 | 1hr 27min | Horror
Budget: $2,200,000 (estimated)
Wes Craven never wanted a sequel for what would become his most successful franchise.
As far as he was concerned Fred Krueger was a one-off nightmare, a character whose end would be swift and memorable. Others could not afford to be so romantic. Before Elm Street New Line Cinema was a small production company which could not match its expenses, and producer Robert Shaye – who had taken a chance on a screenplay which had been passed around with glib disinterest – was smart enough to realise that Craven’s brainchild was a goldmine, a fact that left the director indebted to him.
This led to infamous onset squabbles concerning the direction of the movie, and most notably the final scene. Businessman Shaye was beset on a sequel and needed an open ending to advertise as much. Craven instead preferred a subtler, dreamlike conclusion that would fit in with the overall tone of his once in a lifetime creation. Their compromise was to combine the two, resulting in a quite ridiculous twist which transformed a potential masterpiece into a flawed mainstream triumph. Of course, Krueger went on to become one of the most iconic figures in horror movie history, but over the years the character would lose its cutting edge, his farcical pop culture turn as much a tragedy as it was a commercial coup.
Freddy’s Revenge was an unbridled financial success, with a box office gross of $30,000,000 in the States alone. Craven would refuse to direct the picture, although he did devise the characters, which are perhaps the movie’s greatest strength. Not only did Wes take a backseat for Freddy’s second bow, but the great Robert Englund almost found himself surplus to requirements. Looking to cut corners in spite of the first movie’s monetary accomplishments, the money men figured they could get any bozo in a mask to play the part of Krueger, only to recant their suppositions after a single day of shooting. This speaks volumes about what the actor brought to the role. Englund and Krueger are indivisible, and never has he looked more terrifying than in Freddy’s Revenge.
Sadly, that is about as much praise as I can spare this first sequel. Nightmare 2 is a movie that I desperately want to like, that I sometimes almost appreciate, and every time I come back to it there is a renewed hope that it perhaps isn’t as bad as I first imagined. But the fact remains that it is. If one ingredient of a good sequel is to bring something different to the fold, then you could say that the movie succeeds, but when you toy with the fundamentals of a genre-changing concept you’re likely to do more damage than good – and that is certainly the case here.
The beauty of the original Nightmare was its seamless transitions from the dream world to reality, that sensory void captured through an almost illusory filter. This hypnotic ambiguity was a result of Craven’s technical mastery, but can also be attributed to Charles Bernstein’s original score, a scathing lullaby of chimerical highs and gut-wrenching lows. Director Sholder is no Craven when it comes to Krueger – that was only inevitable – but there is no excuse for disposing of perhaps the most memorable horror theme of the decade, one that would render the movie a dud by its very omission.
Still, worse is yet to come.
As a story Freddy’s Revenge is a convoluted mess as confused as its pasty-faced protagonist. Jessie (Patton) is new to Elm Street, and after moving into the infamous Thompson house a spate of nightmares lead him to the basement where visions of old fritter face threaten to unravel his sanity. Matters are further exacerbated when love interest Lisa (Myers) stumbles upon former victim Nancy’s diary, which features some rather familiar tales of razor-fingered stalkery. Since she is a longtime resident of the neighbourhood, Jessie looks to his potential beau for answers, but apparently those infamous murders were ‘before her time’ – a whole year by my reckoning.
Soon Jessie finds himself at the centre of a string of grisly murders as Krueger begins to use him as a symbolic gateway into reality, and this is where everything gets a little messy. For one thing, why would Freddy give up his dreamworld ubiquity, a realm in which he is invincible, beyond the law, and able to manipulate his victims in a way that satisfies his every whim? I mean, this is not Jason Voorhees we’re dealing with. Take away the glove and Krueger is one ass-whooping away from damnation.
Still, that remains his goal here, to return to a world that so cruelly laid waste to him. Don’t ask me how, but our ethereal friend somehow manages to do just that – at least I think he does – and after Jessie succumbs to the blundering intricacies of everyone’s favourite child killer it is up to the ever loyal Lisa to coax the youngster out of his ineptly plotted quasi-nightmare.
Much has been made of the notorious gay subtext prevalent throughout, something that writer Chaskin has been quick to refute, but more confusing are the alternating roles of Krueger and his transient incubator. Is Jessie dreaming? Is he possessed? When high school jock Grady (Rusler) is watching over our protagonist, how is he able to witness Freddy emerging from his torn carcass? When Krueger replaces Jessie and goes on a pool party killing spree, where does the kid disappear to? I mean, what in the hell is going on here?
The answer is: I really don’t know, and all of this leads to one of the most ridiculous and underwhelming finales you are ever likely to see from a horror movie with such an iconic mainstream presence. In the end, that is perhaps the film’s most telling of shortfalls, it’s inability to understand the true potential of its antagonist. Here we have one of the most terrifying creations in horror movie history, yet most of the running time is dedicated to malfunctioning toasters and exploding sausages, while panicked kids flee heated swimming pools with a nasty variety of boo-boos.
Having agreed to watch over Jessie while he sleeps, a formerly dismissive Grady has a change of heart when razors begin to protrude from his friend’s fingers. By this point it is too late however, and after watching Freddy shed the poor kid’s skin, Grady is pinned to the door with that infamous glove as his parents watch the grisly consequences out in the hallway.
Most Absurd Moment
Bumping into the sadistic coach Schneider at a late-night S&M club, the sexually ambiguous Jessie is dragged to his high school gym after hours for a bit of good old-fashioned domination. While the youngster is cooling off in the shower however, the old perv is attacked by a barrage of magically exploding sports equipment before being tied with jump ropes and whipped on the bare ass with flying towels. When Schneider is finally slashed to death, Jessie is left wearing the glove.
But who is the real killer?
I have absolutely no idea.
Most Absurd Dialogue
After fleeing his horny teenage girlfriend, a half-naked Jessie seeks out school buddy Grady, opening up to him in the privacy of his bedroom.
Jessie: ‘I’m scared, Grady. Something is trying to get inside my body.
Grady: Yeah, she’s female and she’s waiting for you in the cabana – and you wanna sleep with me?!
Gay subtext? In my movie? Never!
For a movie whose fear lies in the uncertainty of dreams, a little ambiguity can go a long way – or, in this case, so far that confusion replaces fear and disbelief enjoyment. Executed well, the glaringly obvious gay subtext may have proven successful, but in the end it becomes yet another distraction in a convoluted mess of half-baked concepts. Possession I can accept. A heavily contrived whodunit? Okay – this is a fictional story after all. But to suggest that Freddy and his victim can transmute back and forth like some kind of cyclical metamorphosis, without ever showing so much as a stretch mark…Well, I’m afraid there’s only so far one can suspend their disbelief.