Saturday, 31 May 2014

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

A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985)
Directed by Jack Sholder; Starring Mark Patton, Robert Englund, Helen Langenkamp

Rating: 3/5

It’s been a few years since Freddy Krueger first returned from the dead and began killing teenagers in their dreams. Then he was defeated by Nancy Thompson, who pulled him into the waking world for a final showdown. Now he’s back for some… revenge?

Bizarrely, even though Freddy’s motivation from the get-go has been revenge and all the other films in the series are specifically about Freddy’s Revenge, this is the only one that isn’t. Freddy usually targets the Elm Street children, the surviving children of the parents who first killed him, but here he pick on the new family has moved into Nancy’s old house.

Still, this is a very minor gripe, as this is the first sequel and the series could have gone in any direction at this point. What the film makers decided to do with this one ended up being unique, and has a lot more going for it than your average slasher sequel.

Freddy’s plan this time is to inhabit the body of his primary victim, Jesse Walsh (Mark Patton) whose family has moved into the house. In his first face-to-face encounter with Jesse, Freddys says ‘I’ve got the brains, and you’ve got the body.’ Cue some classic Freddy body horror as he rips apart his skull to expose his brain.

This means that Freddy spends more time breaking into the real world to kill people in the flesh than he does setting up the elaborate and ironic dream sequences that would come to define the rest of the series. He slowly takes over Jesse’s body to achieve this, creating a more potent and personal journey than characters in other Nightmare films experience. This film is about Jesse’s dilemma, and his feelings of confusion and isolation.

Specifically, this is that Freddy’s manipulation of his body represents a latent homosexuality, which Jesse is confused and terrified by, and as a result resists. He exhibits self-hatred, and is continually torn between whether his actions are the result of an uncontrollable possession, or something else inside himself.

Certainly the openly gay actor Mark Patton and screenwriter David Chaskin have acknowledged these themes. Director Jack Sholder was apparently na├»ve to this, and unwittingly accentuated the subtext when surrendering to the movie’s naturally camp aesthetic.

There are many scenes in the film which suggest this, most significantly the death of Jesse’s gym coach, who he runs into in a leather bar. The coach comes across as very predatory, forcing Jesse back to school to run laps. Jesse/Freddy’s response to this is to strip ad whip the coach in the showers, before killing him with Freddy’s glove.

Not only is the main character in the film a male, but the only characters who die in this film are male. This is a significant reversal of the established slasher formula. The only major female character in the film is Jesse’s girlfriend Lisa. They never consummate their relationship the way they might in a bawdier slasher movie, although it is their love for each other which eventually defeats Freddy.

Another recurring motif is of heat, which could tie into the film’s other theme to represent an increasing heat of sexuality. During some of the film’s few dream sequences, Jesse experiences intense heat as objects in his room, such as vinyl records and candles, melt around him. The film is bookended by dreams where Freddy appears as a bus driver and drives Jesse’s school bus through the desert and into what looks like hell.

In the real world, the house’s thermostat is broken, and the toaster bursts into flames. Finally, in a hilarious and surprising real world event, the family’s lovebirds become crazed and cause chaos in the living room before exploding in a ball of flame.

A highlight of the Nightmare on Elm Street series is its role as an ‘80s time capsule, more so than other slasher franchises, and this instalment is no exception. Notable moments include Jesse’s room-cleaning montage wearing ridiculous sunglasses, and the pool party scene, in which Freddy appears to wreak havoc and terrorise the partygoers en masse. I also love Jesse’s car, ‘The Dinosaur,’ a beaten-up convertible that he has to hotwire every time he wants to start it. 

In conclusion, there is something very complex running through this film. The fact that such feelings manifest themselves as Freddy and are ultimately destroyed could be seen to undermine this film’s exploration of sexuality by suggesting it is something that is destructive and must be defeated. It could be that Freddy represents not overt homosexuality, but a general teenage confusion surrounding sexuality. Defeating Freddy therefore means Jesse has reconciled his confusion and acknowledged his feelings for Lisa.

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