JUNE 6, 2009
Even when I first saw it as a kid (I was about 9), I thought Nightmare On Elm St 2: Freddy’s Revenge was a bit weird. It wasn’t so much the whole “Freddy in the real world” thing that struck me as odd, but more the “Why is this high school kid going to a gay bar? And what IS a gay bar?” feeling. As I got older, and things like homoerotic subtext became a bit easier to spot, I realized that the movie was just one of what would ultimately be, uh, one horror franchise sequels that seemed more interested in presenting a metaphor for suppressing one’s homosexuality than killing, scares or even bothering to function in any meaningful way as a sequel (Freddy is only in like 10 minutes of the movie, and his role is essentially a metaphor for a man who is no longer able to suppress said urges).
Some folks (including the director) claim that they had no idea about the subtext when they were making the movie, but I find that hard to believe. I mean, for Christ’s sake, the only real kill setpiece in the whole movie finds a man stripped naked, tied to a wall, and then whipped for a while before being clawed. There is also the scene where Jesse rebels against his father (Clu Gulager) - who doesn’t understand him! - by singing and dancing around his room to a song sung by a woman. And who can forget this exchange, between Jesse and his best friend/enemy, Grady:
Jesse: Someone is trying to get inside of me!
Grady: Yeah, and she’s waiting for you in the cabana, but you want to sleep with me!
Confusing sexual positions aside (how does a girl get inside- oh never mind), this sums up everything you need to know about the movie. Their friendship is particularly odd; they meet during a baseball game, and almost instantly begin fighting, which results in Grady pulling off Jesse’s pants. Then they bond when the S&M loving coach makes them do pushups for hours. Later that week, Grady invites Jesse over for pizza, which I guess is still OK with his parents, who have grounded him for throwing his grandmother down a flight of stairs. I’ve been friends with some dudes for years and they still haven’t invited me over for dinner. And since Grady can’t be bothered to put a shirt or pants on when his male friend comes over, “Freddy” is once again unable to remain inside of Jesse’s body and kills him as well. So far this movie has had two deaths, both males without any clothing on.
But enough of all that. The real issue here is that screenwriter David Chaskin clearly didn’t have the slightest clue as to what made Freddy so interesting. Since Jesse is the only character that has nightmares (the opening one, on the bus, is easily the best scene in the film), Freddy’s not really much of a threat, because Jesse won’t die anytime soon. It’s the friends that need to be put in danger, but Chaskin’s script never gives any of them a scene to themselves. Patton is in all but two scenes in the film, making it seem like the other characters don’t even exist unless he’s around. And even when Freddy breaks into the real world, he’s not really concerned with racking up a body count; as countless victims run around him, he swipes at some flowers and overturns a table. Scary!
To be fair he does kill two or three people during this sequence, but with at least 20 of them all trapped inches away from him, it still feels like a giant missed opportunity (not to mention how he just leaves by walking past them all; he could have taken a few more out on the way). And the finale is incredibly weak; Jesse’s beard goes to the factory where Freddy took all of his victims (where the hell did this plot element come from?), and the gay metaphor comes full circle, as she is able to kill (suppress) “Freddy” once and for all by repeatedly assuring the man inside (which would be "Jesse", the straight part of him) that she loves him, and thus the tables are turned and now Jesse forces himself out of Freddy’s body. Yikes.
For all its faults though, I’ll still take it over the later entries (5 and 6 particularly), as at least Freddy isn’t just making wisecracks the whole time, and the film is at least trying to tell a story instead of showcasing the FX work of whatever artists/groups were working on it. In fact, the body count is rather low (5?) and the deaths aren’t particularly gory. Ironically, had Wes Craven been involved, it might actually be quite good, as he is well versed in psychology and philosophy, two areas any film about a guy struggling with his identity would have to explore by default. Hell, even the exact same script, stripped of any reference to an established franchise, could have made an interesting and unique film. I wouldn’t be surprised if was actually written as something else and turned into a Nightmare script, as there’s no way I can believe that a quickie sequel (this movie came out less than a year after the original) would keep its main draw offscreen for so much of it had it been designed as a sequel from the get-go, especially when he was the only returning character (unless you count the house itself, which Jesse resides in, a fact that is unceremoniously revealed to the audience).
When I got home I put on, for the first time ever, the “Bonus Disc” from the Nightmare DVD boxed set. I had heard that the thing is impossible to navigate, but I found the stuff on Nightmare 2 pretty easily. All that’s there is the trailer and four short interview pieces with Robert Englund, Bob Shaye, director Jack Sholder, and Rachel Talalay (who was a PA on this film and moved up to direct Freddy’s Dead). She’s pretty up front about the gay stuff, but Sholder is not, and it’s a shame that Haskin or any of the actors couldn’t be enticed to speak their mind on the matter. Still, there’s some interesting stuff in there, and I’m sure New Line will eventually re-release each disc with the relevant material included.
Of course, all of the anomalies and “uh...” moments made for a terrific viewing experience at the New Bev. Every weird line and double entendre was greeted with appreciative laughter, and Freddy’s signature line from the film (“You are all my children now!”) got a big applause as well. Plus, Clu and Robert Rusler (Grady) were there for a Q&A, always a nice addition to the viewing (especially considering the lack of insight on the disc itself). It just proves, once again, you don’t need a great movie to have a great time at the theatre.
What say you?