The first Nightmare on Elm Street is one of those remarkably few Slasher films where tacking on a cliffhanger ending actually worked. It felt like a thematically appropriate way to end that story because, as Tommy Wallace said to Laurie Strode all those years ago, “You can’t kill the bogeyman.” And what else is Fred Krueger?
The makers of Freddy’s Revenge obviously had no idea. So they just ripped-off Amityville II. Because what else can you do when a two million dollar picture pulls in twenty-five million at the box office? If you’re New Line, you let the writer/director responsible for everything good about the first film escape the reservation to go make The Hills Have Eyes II. The job of directing this homophobic little adventure fell to Jack Shoulder, who – to put it politely – lacks Wes Craven’s visual style.
But before we get to that let’s meet Jesse Walsh (Mark Patton). From the title, we already know Jesse’s two foremost problems: his family’s moved in to 1428 Elm Street in the little town of Springwood, U.S.A….and he’s having nightmares prominently featuring a shadowy individual with knives for fingers and a dirty, Christmas-colored sweater.
Downstairs, Jesse’s sister Angie looks up from her bowl of Fuman Chew cereal to ask Mommy Walsh (Hope Lange) “Why doesn’t Jesse wake up like everyone else?” What is she, brain damaged? She’s never had a bad dream in her life? Now, I’ll buy she’s never woken up screaming and drenched in sweat, but sheesh. Do all kids in movies have to be stupid?
Take Jesse, for instance. He’s been driving Lisa (Kim Myers) to school every day now for…well, we never really learn how long it’s been…but he’s yet to put the moves on her. This has apparently caused no end of controversy around Springwood High. Both Lisa’s friend Kerry (Sydney Walsh) and Jesse’s frinenemy Grady (Robert Rusler) “politely” inquire about Jesse and Lisa’s relationship status during outdoor recess Gym class.
Also during and after Gym, we learn Coach Schneider (Marshall Bell) loves him some punishment…and, according to Grady, “hangs around queer S&M joints downtown.” Wait a sec…how big of a town is Springwood? I live in the city of 600,000 that George H. W. Bush once called “Little Beirut” and do you know how many queer S&M joints there are downtown? Zero.
Granted, I wasn’t around in 1985, so I can’t speak for that decade…and, granted, the private “biweekly pansexual play party” has become something of a civic institution now that rich, trendy people have invaded the S&M scene…the way they invade every other subculture, looking to fill the howling voids they carry around in place souls…and granted, I’m neither queer nor particularly into S&M, so I could just be talking out of my ass…but still, I find it really hard to believe Springwood’s large enough to support its own queer S&M joints. Just look at the size of the high school.
Wandering down a tangent this early in the film is always a bad sign. I almost missed the Ghost Ship Moment. After Gym, Grady tells Jesse the Sad Tale of Nancy Thompson, who’s home is now Jesse’s. “Her mother locked her in there and she went crazy. Watched her boyfriend get butchered across the street.” Jesse declares Grady a font of excrement…but that night he dreams the only effective dream sequence in the entire film. So effective, I don’t even feel like spoiling it. (Not that others on the internet haven’t already.) The man with the finger-knives once again makes an appearance. Jesse (once again) wakes up screaming. His parents want to call in some professional help, but Jesse steadfastly refuses…for some reason…dude, why? At least Nancy agreed…if only to shut her mom up.
The next day, Jesse falls asleep in Biology and almost dies via the school boa constrictor. His attempts to finally put the moves on Lisa (who’s family is loaded, by the way) are stymied by parental command to finish unpacking his room. He stomps back up stairs and has a teenage boy pout before slapping a tape of “Touch Me (All Night Long)” by Wish (ft. Fonda Rae) into his deck. “Oh, hell,” I said. “Here comes a montage.” From my lips to God’s ears.
And what a montage it is. If I were rich, I’d nominate this scene for the Apotheosis of 1985 Award and rig the vote so it would win. It easily trounces El Santo’s nominee (the Death of Violet from Friday the 13th Part V via a Jason Voorhees-wannabe running her through with a machete while she’s doing The Robot to Pseudo Echo’s “His Eyes”) by virtue of being a montage and a complete waste of film. It doesn’t even have the virtue of setting up a gratuitous kill scene. It’s just what Slasher movies needed more of: a Risky Business rip-off, setting up an embarrassing moment of “comedy” when Jesse’s mom arrives, a giggling Lisa in her train.
I have to admit, I love the Nightmare on Elm Street films more than all the other Slashers. Their sheer wackiness is a refreshing breeze compared to Friday the 13th‘s and Halloween‘s interchangeable murder porn. You’ll never see queer S&M joint-loving gym teachers in Crystal Lake and Haddonfield’s just a festering redneck colony. At least Springwood has some kind of communal memory.
For example: while cleaning, Lisa finds Nancy Thompson’s diary in the top shelf of Jesse’s closet. He (and we) learn that five years have passed since the events of the first film. (No way this is 1989, but whatever.) Jesse learns the name of his…ahem…nocturnal visitor: Fred. Guess Grady wasn’t so “full of shit” after all. And Jesse’s dreams have all but spelled out Freddy’s intention to possess Jesse’s body and make a triumphant return to the “real” world.
My only question is…why on Earth would Krueger want to do that? Wasn’t the entire resolution of the first film based around luring him into the so-called “real” world, where his powers of dream-manipulation would count for shit against a Final Girl armed with an aplomb for kicking ass and booby traps stolen from Last House on the Left?
Yes, but we might as well forget all that. Now, for some inexplicable reason, Freddy needs Jesse to kill for him…something Jesse proceeds to do, usually while sleepwalking. Ah, but every death only supplies Fred with more Evil Oil to grease the gears of his murderous machine. Soon, Krueger will gain the strength to live in Jesse’s body forever…then the teenage population of Springwood will have a new bogeyman to fear…mwah-ha-ha-ha (*cough* *cough* *hack* *spit*).
The film can’t decide whether Freddy’s a ghost in the walls of 1428 Elm Street, his old dream-demon self, or a full-on Body Snatcher. He ends up being all three as the plot requires it, evidence of a script that waved its pass at the guards and drove into the heart of this series before detonating an improvised explosive device of illogic. Craven may not be the best writer around but at least his background in psychology allowed him to construct a potpourri of lethally-recognizable dream imagery. In the hands of less-educated creatives, Part 2 becomes a sequence of staged special effects set pieces as we watch Jesse move through the inevitable stages of his transformation. Eventually this warps the very fabric of existence, gifting Freddy with more power than he ever evidenced in the first film.
This might’ve been a taunt examination of the unbearable horror that is American adolescence. The film skullfucked any chance of this by painted Jesse as a peevish dick. Mark Patton mistakes “scared” for “pissed off” and does a bad job blending the two. His Jesse ends up on the far side of unsympathetic, edging towards what I’ve come to call Shia LaBouf Country. Not only does Lisa do all the work of figuring out what’s going on, she ends up saving his dumb ass once Freddy takes full possession of him, ruining her pool party in the process.
That sequence, in which Krueger literally slices his way out of Jesse’s chest, is almost authentically creepy. It stands out here only in contrast to the generally lackluster dream and murder scenes that proceeded it, which all followed the same dull path: Jesse wakes up (but not really), goes somewhere, meets Freddy, someone else dies. Yawn.
Here, Jessie flees Lisa’s pool party to try and get help from Grady. Once Jesse falls asleep the well-meaning-but-dumb jock is easy pickings for Krueger. His rebirth from Jesse’s flesh is neigh-on Cornenbergian, easily the stand out scene in the film…and this is going to sound weird, but…it shouldn’t stand out. The entire film should be as stellar as this one bit. If the film had any real idea what it wanted to be, it would’ve been, and might then have succeeded on its own merits.
It’d still be vastly inferior to the original Nightmare, but at least it wouldn’t drag itself along, weighted down by the fact that everyone in the audience knows more than our main character from the start. Make Jesse a passive protagonist, by all means…but if you’re going to do that you could at least pay your Final Girl some courtesy. Give her a character arc, or give us some sense that she has a stake in this…other than her own survival. Why is she wasting so much time on Jesse? Sure, he’s her ride to school…but what else is he to her? What does she see in him, apart from the chance for a quick pity-fuck once she gets her own car? We get all of one scene with “normal” Jesse before sleep deprivation and Freddy-possession reduce him to a whinny milksop, snapping and screaming at everyone around him. It’s a wonder he has any friends at all.
It’s a wonder this film has any fans. Every character’s a bare sketch and, like those distorted portraits you get from sidewalk artists, everyone comes out looking like an ass. They all play Self Important Ass well enough, and I don’t blame the actors. They’re trapped in a quickie, cash-in sequel that can’t even be bothered to set up its own Climactic Battle correctly.
Seriously: Lisa (somehow) manages to escape the colossal wreck Jess/Fred makes of her pool party, her shocked and horrified parents, and the inevitable police response (none of which is shown). All so she can spend twenty minutes stumbling around the burned-out factory where Fred Krueger met his original end at the hands of Springwood’s parents. All so the Healing Power of Love can rescue Jesse from his paranormal imprisonment…unless, of course, this whole thing was all a dream, too. Just like last time!
“Ha!” says the film. “Bet you didn’t see that coming!”
You’d have to be blind not to. And you’d have to have your cortex crushed under the weight of less-mainstream Slasher fare to consider this any kind of genre stand-out. Its story is the worst kind of speculative fiction, unconcerned with following the rules of its own universe. Its characters are unsympathetic to a man, woman and child and its directing is lackluster, proof enough Jack Shoulder deserves his fate directing TV movies and shitty original series for the “SyFy” channel.
The best thing you can say about Freddy’s Revenge is that its financial success led to Nightmare on Elm Street 3…but that’s a nightmare for another time. Unless you’re so bored with the adventures of Jason Voorhees, Leatherface and Michael Myers that you’re ready to go on your own killing spree, skip Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2. If, however, you’re one “I’ll be right back” away from carving your friends up like foodstuff, Freddy’s Revenge‘ll give you a non-human target for your rage. Besides the neighborhood pets, of course.