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

Although the budget is higher and the acting a tad better, Freddy’s Revenge lacks the imagination and better horror direction of the original A Nightmare on Elm Street.  Obviously, much of the reason stems from the lack of involvement by Elm Street creator Wes Craven, here replaced by relative newcomer director Jack Sholder (The Hidden, Wishmaster 2) and screenwriter first-timer David Chaskin (I Madman, The Curse).  Although it is a sequel to the first movie, taking place in the same house that Nancy lived in and incorporating her diary, the entire set of characters (save for Fred Krueger) is different this time around.  As such, and because none of the future entries in the series refer back to Freddy’s Revenge, some fans of the series consider this to be more of a spin-off than a sequel, and usually don’t bother lumping it with the others in terms of continuity.  It also is much lighter in tone (almost a comedy), with vibrant color schemes and an entirely different score than the others (it is the only entry in the series to not use Charles Bernstein’s theme music in the score). 

Though this film came out only a year after the original in theaters, the setting is five years after the events in A Nightmare on Elm Street.  No one has taken residence in the barred-up house that was the home of the Thompson’s since the mother (reportedly) killed herself and the daughter went crazy.  The new family to move in there are the Walshes, Ken (Gulager, The Return of the Living Dead) and Cheryl (Lange, Blue Velvet), and their teenage son, Jesse (Patton, Come Back to the Five and Dime Jimmy Dean Jimmy Dean).  It doesn’t take long before Jesse starts having some terrifying nightmares, all of them involving a strange scarred-up character named Fred Krueger.  Krueger doesn’t seem out to kill him, but rather, he wants to use Jesse to do his dirty work, requesting to take over his body and kill others for him.  Try as Jesse might to fight it, Freddy’s powers overwhelm him, and people start dying.  Jesse has no one to turn to but the girl that he has been seeing, Lisa (Myers, Hellraiser: Bloodline), who knows that Jesse is a good person that just has to be stronger than Freddy to stop the madness.

Though they has a bit of a contentious relationship during the making of the first film, producer Robert Shaye had been half hoping for a return directorial effort from creator Wes Craven, even if he was not involved with the screenwriting chores.  It was not to be, as to Craven, who had to give up his creative rights to his ideas to New Line as part of his deal to get the film made, didn’t like the possession aspect of the story direction, thinking someone other than Freddy should not be committing the murders, and asserted that his film had never been meant to have a sequel.  Shaye and company ended up reluctantly hiring a director a little over a month prior to principal filming.  Jack Sholder would ‘shoulder’ the load of the burgeoning franchise, with more money for effects work this timeout (but not much more, with a reported $3 million to work with over the predecessor’s $2 million).  The film is much gorier than the first entry, despite its lighter tone, with body horror moments such as Freddy peeling back his scalp to expose his brain, a scene where claws develop out of Jesse’s hands and then his arm disintegrates horrifically, and a memorably gruesome scene where Freddy emerges as if digging his way out of Jesse’s chest from within.

While Freddy’s Revenge isn’t really in keeping with the first film in the nature of Freddy, whose powers seem to now come with the house, it still has an interesting premise and at least takes a direction that makes it less of a rehash of the first film than other slasher film sequels have been.  As different as it is from Craven’s vision, it is still marred by being derivative of other horror films, especially in The Amityville Horror, The Exorcist and Carrie.  At its core, it is still the same demonic possession movie we’ve seen before and know quite well, and by instead of moving forward in the genre like the first entry, the series takes a step back to old school tactics and the film just has a feel that’s too familiar to drum up high entertainment.

By today’s standards, Freddy’s Revenge is also the most dated of the series, stemming firmly in the style of film-making that ran rampant in teen films of the 1980s, with feathered hair, bright colored collared shirts, tight blue jeans, lip-synching musical interludes, homoeroticism, and dumb schoolhouse humor.  It is probably the only film in the series that deliberately appeals only to those that like teen films and horror flicks, instead of just the latter, so the result feels much more juvenile and less scary.  Despite its teen flick leanings, and that the film is set in high school, all of the cast members look like they should be on their way to graduate school.

The sexuality is a bit stronger, merging the slasher film with the horny-teen movies of the era, though, as I mentioned, there is a bit of a gay subtext that some viewers have picked up on within the story, starting with plenty of shirtless male photography and tighty-whitey briefs on display.  An early scene has Jesse dancing by himself seductively (albeit comically, a la Risky Business) when he’s burst in upon by his mother and the potential love interest as he holds a pop-gun in the most phallic of fashions.

One could read into Jesse’s plight as struggling with being the person that Lisa wants him to be, i.e. her lover, but he has an inner desire telling him his impulses lie elsewhere, becoming a tug of war between his would-be girlfriend and the older male figure Freddy to tell him what to do.  The gym coach picks up on Jesse in a gay bar and takes him back to the school’s boys shower room for a rendezvous (assuming it isn’t all a dream), only for Freddy to put the coach in bondage, spank his bare bottom with a towel, and then put a gruesome end to it all.  A make-out scene between Jesse and Lisa ends abruptly when he is repulsed by his own nature, in which is body undergoes changes he can’t control, and she will likely die as a result.  In the end, despite her feelings and his conflict within, Lisa takes charge to try to help Jesse be the person he was meant to be by helping him to destroy the hatred he has for himself (embodied by Freddy Krueger), to which some have championed the film to cult status due to its underlying message.

Mark Patton, who plays Jesse Walsh, came out as gay years later.  Patton beat out future stars like John Stamos, Brad Pitt and Christian Slater for the role, as well as Michael J. Fox, who was too busy to consider the film seriously due to his work on Back to the Future and Teen Wolf.  The film is an outlier in the series, not only because it has more comedic elements than any of the rest of the films, but because Mark Patton is the only male lead in any of them, a rarity for the slasher film genre in general during the 1980s.  Though Revenge is in the title, there isn’t really a revenge plot hashed in the film, as the vendetta against the offspring of the people who burned and murdered him for his child-killing ways is not exacted upon anyone who has any relation to them here.

Just as with the first film,  the makers were going to go with a stuntman in the role of Freddy, then pulled in Robert Englund, who had initially asked for more money than New Line felt they needed to spend for the role, to return due to acting demands of the role.  The role is, again, a minor one in terms of screen time, at only thirteen minutes, but that’s nearly twice as many minutes as he had in the first entry.  Freddy is also shown in much more lighting this time out, and out and about in the “real world”, which breaks a basic rule for the series, and also lessens the mystique and nightmarish qualities that Craven has harnessed so effectively.  The presumption is that Freddy is weakened still from his experience five years prior, and that he only has the power to manipulate one person’s dreams, that being Jesse, and that in order to gain strength, he must make Jesse the murder to feed his hunger until he can regain his former prowess.  Its an angle that is unique to this entry in the series, with every other chapter choosing to emulate Craven’s vision rather than anything new introduced in this follow-up.

Despite Wes Craven’s departure, and despite having no bankable stars, Freddy’s Revenge would prove to be a big hit at the box office domestically, garnering $30 million off of that budget a tenth of that take.  Internationally, it was also better received critically by those moviegoers who enjoyed the daring nature of its sexual themes that flew over the heads of most American audiences who weren’t accustomed to any deviation from the norm in these matters.

All in all, the film still doesn’t really encroach as bad until Freddy is finally unleashed, becoming a cheap slasher movie that makes little sense.  Although it has been established that Freddy is a master of the dream domain, somehow those powers seem to come with him to the “real world”, and Freddy doesn’t seem to dispatch many, if any, in the nightmare realm.  As bad as these scenes are, they are still far better than the film’s climax where Jesse’s girlfriend Lisa assumes the role of the hero by using love to thwart Freddy’s rampage and try to strengthen Jesse’s resolve to fight him.

Freddy’s Revenge isn’t the worst of the Elm Street films, but it is the least necessary.  You can skip it altogether and it wouldn’t make much of difference. Unless you’re rabid for all things Freddy Krueger, there’s really not a compelling reason to watch it other than curiosity of because you are a completist.  Think of this more as a “What If” film than as canon and perhaps you will be able to overlook the fact that this has very little association with the others.

Qwipster’s rating:  D+

MPAA Rated: R for gore, disturbing images, nudity and violence
Running Time: 87 min.

Cast: Mark Patton, Kim Myers, Robert Englund, Robert Rusler, Clu Gulager, Hope Lange, Marshall Bell
Director: Jack Sholder
Screenplay: David Chaskin