Sunday, November 9, 2014

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

A Nightmare On Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge
Director; Jack Sholder
Starring:  Mark Patton, Kim Myers, Robert Rusler, Robert England, Clu Gulager, Hope Lange, Marshall Bell
Rated: R

There is no Jesse!  I'm Jesse now!
           ~Freddy Krueger

BEFORE WE GET STARTED:  If you're wondering why this piece is void of all the subtext about Jesse's sexual orientation, its getting its own article.  So don't fret.

At the end of the first Nightmare film was a crossroads on the production.  Wes Craven wanted a happy ending.  He felt that this movie was a one and one story.  Bob Shaye, head of New Line Cinema, disagreed.  Correctly, he saw a cash cow and a bigger universe to be explored.  Shaye got his way and the first film featured a Twilight Zone type ending with the possibility open that Freddy would return.  And you know, sequels coming or not, it was even the right move.  Part of the fun of horror, especially at this time, is to leave the audience exiting the theater believing the evil is still out there.  These endings typically aren't meant to be like "SEE YOU IN PART 2!", they are meant to be like "Muahahah I'm still out there, have fun going to bed tonight!".  But, MANY MANY MANY fans/audiences over the years always mistake this kind of technique as setting up for a sequel.  Halloween wasn't supposed to leave you with that, Friday the 13th wasn't supposed to leave you with that.  Its just one last scare.  But, in Elm Street's case, it was intended to at least be open for a sequel should success come about.
Freddy's second haunting was rushed right into production the minute success was sniffed.  They wanted and got a film in theaters almost exactly a year later.  The film was so rushed into production that when they were making the film, Shaye and company didn't really know or understand what they had with the first one yet.  Meaning, they kind of went into it, not understanding what it was that made that first movie tick.  Part of this, is that Craven immediately abandoned the project.  He was offered to return, but stuck to his guns.  Hypocritically he went and made the sequel to The Hills Have Eyes.  It's a movie so bad, he's completely disowned it.  Despite starring 80s horror hunk Kevin Spirtas, this movie really IS that bad.  If you've not seen it, let me just give you one kernal about it, the film features a dog's flashback.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Instead, New Line brought in Jack Sholder, who had done a film they picked up previously called Alone In The Dark, which was enough to prove he had promise to handle this (He also had worked on another classic slasher, The Burning).  
Robert England was wanting a little more money to return and New Line wasn't really going to bend, so they said "To hell with him" and recast Freddy Krueger.  England knew how Freddy was a special being, and couldn't just be handed off stuntman to stuntman and be successful.  After shooting a few days and looking at dailies of a robot and wooden Freddy Krueger, New Line realized the error in their ways and paid England to return.  There's still one shot of the replacement Freddy in the film (his face is in the shadows), but my oh my in just one quick movement, you can see how it just does not work at all.  Realizing their mistake of not bringing England back right here was possibly the most important moment in the entire original series.  Who knows how long Freddy would have lasted.  He definitely would never have risen to the pop culture heights he did if it wasn't England every time.
Another missing aspect of the film is the score.  It is totally different and the most unique in the entire series.  The film features zero of the music used in the original.  The franchise's signature theme is even missing.  Instead, this one's score is its own beast.  The music isn't bad and there are some definite highlights.  And a lot of people probably won't realized what's missing from it until you point it out to them after the fact.  I myself went many years before I noticed that the main theme from A Nightmare On Elm Street wasn't present at all.  This isn't horrible, its just going to show that they really didn't have an idea what they had with this series when they ventured in the making the follow up film.
This is often seen as the black sheep of the franchise, and mainly because of how different it was.  But, I argue this film wasn't that "different" until the original canon had sort of run its course and you have an overview of the entire Freddy Krueger saga.  In order to appropriately view the film, you have to take it as a sequel to the original.  You can't sit and pick at it for things that came after it.  Those don't exist yet with Elm Street 2.  In terms of rushing a sequel, they did what a lot of sequels will do when exploring this new ground.  Freddy's Revenge took the original and flipped everything.  Instead of a female protagonist, we get a male hero.  If in the first film Freddy was trying to lure his victims into the dream world and kill them, in this one he would be wanting to return to the physical world to continue his slayings.  Many think this is against the rules of Elm Street, but in fact its really not at this point.  Its going against the grain to give you a different experience in a similar world as the first one.  If there's one of these films that clearly isn't like the rest, its easily this one.  And because something is different always has horror fans not caring for it.
Mark Patton and his character of Jesse Walsh are a huge point of discussion for the film.  We'll get into the subtext of his character's journey next time, but I want to talk about his performance.  Many, many folks will laugh at or with Jesse in this film.  According to Jack Sholder, Patton beat out Brad Pitt for the role of Jesse Walsh.  And I think there's something people aren't noticing here, and aren't able to see to give Patton credit.  This guy is fully committed here.  And as one of the people who truly understood the material in the film, he was able to dive deep into this.  However, aside from he and Kim Myers, the rest of the cast and characters in the film are cooky and weird.  Almost cartoony.  Its a lot of fun, honestly.  Clu Gulager is pretty terrific with what he's doing.  But, Mark Patton is giving a very deep and real performance.  When you mix him in with a bunch of oddballs, he stands out.  Though, take another look at his performance.  His screams, yes, they seem silly, but Patton is actually not wrong in what he's delivered.  A man, screaming in sheer terror would probably ACTUALLY sound like that as opposed to the machismo ones we're usually given.  Patton is also highly emotional and fully embracing of what he's given.  Its just his surroundings and some of the silly dialogue he's having to deliver (expertly) makes for some attention.  
Another under looked aspect on the film is that we actually have a scary Freddy again.  His behavior and dialogue feel much in sync with the first film than what would come next.  His makeup looks like a creepy witch and is actually an improvement upon the last film.  Good execution or not, its also a pretty scary tale of Freddy possessing Jesse and being at odds with him.  This goes into the dream sequences of the film.  The lines are even more blurred in this film between what's really a dream and what is Jesse as Freddy's avatar, merely sleeping walking in the conscious world.  There are times where you assume its a dream, but then you realize "wait a minute, this is really happening!"  Prime example being when Jesse goes to the gay S&M bar, where he is not only served by Bob Shaye, but runs into his coach as well.  That whole thing seems too strange to be going on, but its all legitimately happening.
Not only is having Jesse be the 'Final Girl' (Patton loves to be referred to as a Scream Queen) something unique for the slasher film, but its climax presents a unique situation as well.  Kim Myers, who yes...resembles Meryl Streep, plays Jesse's girlfriend Lisa.  Once Freddy fully takes over Jesse, he escapes to his original boiler room, which is something like a sequel would do in showing up where Freddy came from that was mentioned in the prior film.  It also has a money shot of Lisa overlooking the place that's one of the best in the series.  The point being, we actually get the female to go after and save the male character, no sweat off her back.  In fact, both Elm Street films up to this point have had their female heroes no just victims running from a killer that luck out and finish him or are saved last minute by a male character, they actually actively pursue their tormentor and embrace the fight.  Its something you don't see very often (If at all) and Elm Street 2 is one of the first if not last places you'll find this happening.
A fun side note.  The film's star, Mark Patton, actually got me to attend a horror convention.  I never usually go to those sorts of things.  I'm in a weird state of conflicting social standards when it comes to them.  I used to live in Los Angelese, and there's an unspoken rule to not bother a celebrity or notable face when out in public and you know, treat them as a human being.  And I totally bought into all that, but at these things you're supposed to interact, but you don't know if you're bugging the person or overstaying their know.  Well I happened to see the guest list for the Famous Monsters Of Filmland convention for Indianapolis back in 2010 and Mark Patton was on there.  For some reason, it was calling to me like "I CANNOT PASS THIS UP!".  Patton famously disappeared from Hollywood and everything shortly after Elm Street 2 came out.  At the time I went to the convention I hadn't seen Never Sleep Again yet, so I didn't know his story.  Elm Street 2 had long been a popular film among my friends and I and all through college (more on that in the next paragraph).  We just HAD to go see him.  For instance, Jamie Lee Curtis came to one a few years ago, and I PASSED.  Mark Patton came and I frickin' ran to it!  He sat there, all alone at his table, and hell, I'm not one to get star struck, but I was nervous approaching him.  However, within seconds, he was clearly just as interested in meeting his fans as we were him.  We sat and talked with him at his table for maybe 30-40 minutes before pressing on.  He was nothing but a saint, discussing with us his story and then really interested in ours.  This was his first circuit of these conventions, and the guy has since elevated to rock star status among the convention folk and is beyond popular now on social media.  Mark is now working on completing the documentary on his life's story called There Is No Jesse, which I think will transcend the genre of movie docs and tell a more important story regarding Hollywood.  It took a few years for me to get back to a convention, and Mark wasn't at this one, but they've since turned into such a money grubbing affair that its sort of off putting and what I had thought they were beforehand.
Through my analysis, I'm not trying to say Elm Street 2 is some sort of unheralded masterpiece.  I'm just trying to outline a lot of the merits of the film that get overlooked.  Time has been much more kind to it, and the next essay we'll cover the more notable aspect.  It has seen an uprising in popularity in recent years (with many thanks to Patton's resurfacing and promotion of the film).  Almost so that its now either hated or seen as greatness.  I think its probably somewhere in between that.  The film has a really goofy and silly execution in addition to some good horror stuff that make it a perfect midnight movie candidate.  And that's where its sort of sat with me since high school.  In college and after my friends and I would love to gather and view Freddy's Revenge.  The film lends itself to that with its quirky characters, scenarios and some of the way the sexual undertones are presented.  I mean, how can you not have a blast with the parakeet scene.  The film also has some good humor of its own, with the push up sequences and some of Grady's antics.
I've had a weird relationship with this movie.  Its gone from being a film I just didn't care for, to one I thought was entertaining for the wrong reasons, to finding a lot of merits in the film to just enjoying it as one whole unit for a myriad of reasons.  There's a lot of things you can say about Freddy's Revenge, but one thing you cannot say is that the film is not entertaining.  There is a lot of fun to be had in Jack Sholder's film whether its for unintentional reasons or not.  Among the whole Nighmare legacy the film does stick out among the rest, but I really don't think in this case that its at all a bad thing.  If there's something you're not seeing covered from the film that you were hoping would be discussed...don't worry, its on the way :)

NEXT TIME:  Welcome to television from 8pm-11pm, female dog!

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