Tagline: The Man of your Dreams is Back.
Director: Jack Sholder
Writers: David Chaskin, Wes Craven (characters)
Starring: Robert Englund, Mark Patton, Kim Myers, Robert Rustler, Clu Gulager, Hope Lange, Marshall Bell
18 | 1hr 27min | Horror
Budget: $2,200,000 (estimated)
Wes Craven didn’t plan a sequel for a movie that would forge his most successful franchise. In his mind, 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 A Nightmare on Elm Street New Line Cinema was a small production company living hand-to-mouth, and producer Robert Shaye — who had taken a chance on a screenplay that had been passed around with glib disinterest — was smart enough to realise that Craven’s brainchild was a goldmine in the making, a fact that left the director indebted to him.
This led to infamous onset squabbles concerning the direction of the movie — 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 that 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, and Craven certainly wasn’t complaining about the kind of turnover that made him a mainstream player, 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. Creatively, Craven would have no involvement with the picture, and it shows. In fact, Robert Englund almost found himself surplus to requirements too, something that Wes surely would have never considered. 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. There are some stand-out moments — an opening dream sequence involving a bus and a nightmarish canyon, and a quite startling practical effects sequence involving the death of our protagonist’s best friend, Grady (Robert Rusler) — but on the whole it is incredibly underwhelming, shedding the original’s game-changing concept for a seen-it-all- before tale of possession. If one ingredient of a good sequel is to bring something new to the fold, then you could argue that the movie succeeds, but when you toy with the fundamentals of such a winning formula you’re likely to do more damage than good, and that is certainly the case here.
The movie is far from dumb. In fact, its story of a boy struggling with his identity is both relevant and believable, as well as being the perfect bait for our sadistic child murderer, but ultimately it fails to fully understand (or at least utilise) the concept’s true power: the inevitability of dreams and our inability to control them. In the realms of his victim’s dreams, Krueger is an omnipotent force who creates his own rules, but take away that power and he is one ass-whooping away from eternal damnation. After all, this isn’t Jason Voorhees we’re dealing with. Yet Krueger seems to spend most of the movie attempting to return to reality, leading to a convoluted mess that never seems to fulfil the force of its conviction.
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 Lisa 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 just a little messy.
The beauty of Craven’s original film was its seamless transitions from the dream world to reality, that sensory void captured through an almost illusory filter. This 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. That’s not to say the score freatured in Freddy’s Revenge is bad. In fact, it’s quite the opposite, future Hellraiser alumni Christopher Young taking over compositional duties with a nerve-jangling classic, but that besides the point when a theme is so intrinsic to a particular character. Director Sholder is no Craven when it comes to Krueger — that much was only inevitable — but there is no excuse for disposing of perhaps the most fitting horror theme of the decade, nor was there any reason to mess with the fundamentals of a premise that would be explored so magnificently in 1987’s The Dream Warriors, a movie that would showcase Krueger’s true potential to mesmerising effect. I mean, why would Freddy willingly jeopardise 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?
Much has been made of the gay subtext prevalent throughout, Jessie becoming the sexually confused final boy of the series, his bromance with jock buddy Grady as prominent as his reluctant fling with female admirer Lisa. It was a novel concept at a time when final girls were the subject of widespread sexual objectivity, and Krueger is just the kind of sadistic scourge to take advantage of such sexual insecurities, but a great idea doesn’t necessarily make for a great movie. There is also the ludicrous and downright offensive shower scene with leather-clad sadist, coach Schneider, which is even more perplexing since director Sholder claims to have been unaware of such subtext, which would explain why the movie is often as confused as its protagonist. I mean, did he and writer David Chaskin even communicate during production? Was Sholder really so naive as to what was in front of him? The majority of his cast and crew also claim to have had no clue, and his job was to direct them. It makes you wonder what they could have achieved with everyone on-board.
Patton is fantastic in the role of Jesse. The fact that he was gay in reality no doubt helped. I mean, just imagine trying to get ahead on the Hollywood circuit as a gay man auditioning fpor straight roles in an AIDS obsessed climate. Pop star George Michael lived a lie for years trying to appeal to teenage girls when all he wanted to do was share his god-given talents, and he certainly wasn’t the only one to suffer such indignation at the hands of the corporate powers that be. Homosexuality was still a dirty word in 80s America, and the AIDS stigma only set us back in that regard. It’s with this in mind that you have to question the validity of Sholder’s claims. Perhaps his ignorance was in fact a simple case of denial at a sensitive time; after all, Chaskin himself didn’t admit to the validity of the subtext until 2010. In recent years, the likes of Eddie Murphy have apologised for promoting homophobic sketches as a part of his stand-up act, but for many that apology came decades too late. It is perhaps unsurprising that Patton would all but disappear from the industry following what should have been his breakthrough role. In short, the man deserved better.
The film itself falls apart as we flail towards a deeply muddled climax. Most mystifying are the alternating roles of Krueger and his transient incubator. Is Jessie dreaming? Is he possessed? When Grady is watching over our protagonist having promised to monitor his dreams, 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 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, its 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 movie’s 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 Freddy’s 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. Later, while the youngster is cooling off in the shower, the old perv is magically 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!