Monday, November 10, 2014

Why A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge is the Best Sequel (Guest Article)

Returning for another spectacular piece at Naptown Nerd is author and fellow Elm Street enthusiast Randy Shaffer.  I was ecstatic when he chose to lend his expertise to Nightmare 2's intended to be subtext, but moreso blatant sexuality.  Also below check out his books which you can grab from Amazon in the link below!

A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge is often considered the black sheep of the early Nightmare movies, and with good reason. After all, the first sequel to Wes Craven's enormously popular slasher, A Nightmare on Elm Street took off without it's principal leader at the helm. According to cinema lore (aka IMDb), Craven refused to return on the grounds that he never wanted his original film to continue beyond the first entry.

Because money, New Line Cinema promptly ignored Craven and moved forward on the second outing with a new director (Jack Sholder) in tow. Only Robert Englund returned, which left a sequel that is merely tangentially connected to the original's story. Also strange was the decision to cast a leading man as Freddy's rival. While the series wasn't yet established as a female-centric franchise, it was pretty common practice to cast a scream queen, not a scream king. Add in a sometimes wobbly script from a freshman writer, some very dated '80s style and a whole lot of homoerotic subtext, and you have one of the strangest entries in the entire Nightmare franchise.

But it's also the last of the truly scary Nightmare films before Freddy becomes an almost plucky pop culture icon. Because of his ironic popularity among younger viewers, Freddy found himself getting toned down with each passing sequel, serving as a murderous comic foil for the stereotypes the films passed off as real teens. This was a far stretch from the brutal child molester/murderer Freddy's origins suggest.

Despite being one of the scarier Freddy movies, Nightmare 2 still garners a lot of hate from fans. While the film is most certainly flawed at times, it is a great piece of psychological horror that attempts to be different from the original while still paying off on what made A Nightmare on Elm Street work so well.

In fact, Nightmare 2 introduces a lot of great ideas to the franchise. Freddy's makeup is scarier than ever. The opening bus sequence is one of the most memorable nightmares of the series. The idea of how Freddy injects himself into the real world is both original and terrifying. The film's final set piece, a wonderfully photographed abandoned power factory lit in red and green, is creepy as hell. And the pool battle between Freddy and the hapless partying teens is quite possibly one of the franchise's most iconic moments.

The film also adds plenty of eerie atmosphere and dread, even when our main characters are wide awake. Much of this is thanks to director Jack Sholder, who gave us the incredibly underrated 1982 slasher, Alone in the Dark (no relation to the games or the terrible Uwe Boll film). If you haven't seen that hidden gem, give it a watch. Sholder is great at infusing tension into even the smallest of scenes, and he rarely shies away from a moment to get under your skin.

Before we dive too deep, a little plot for those late to the party. Nightmare 2 revolves around a new family who have moved into 1428 Elm, the old household of Nancy Thompson, the first teen to take on Freddy. The film is set five years after the events of the original 1984 Nightmare, setting this 1985 slasher in 1989, making it an accidental sidequel to Nightmare 5, which also takes place in 1989.

The androgynously named Jesse (Mark Patton) finds himself haunted by Freddy (Robert Englund). The dream demon seems to be luring Jesse toward a path of darkness, seducing him with his beloved knife-laden glove, torturing him with visions of murder, and making the young boy feel as though he's going insane. This, of course, causes problems between Jesse and his family, who think he's “on drugs.” It also causes trouble with his new girlfriend, Lisa (Kim Myers). Jesse is disconnected and uninterested in her sexual advances, instead retreating to scummy S&M bars in the middle of the night, and to the home of his new-found boy friend, Grady (Robert Rusler).

Eventually, Freddy grabs hold of Jesse and uses him as a vessel to exit the dream world and enter the world of the living. Chaos ensues.

If that plot synopsis sounded a little weird to you, that's because Nightmare 2 is one wacky movie that intentionally blurs the line between what is real and what is dream, perhaps even more so than the original film. It tries to tell a deeper story within the film's wicked dreamscape. As such, the story is a vehicle for teen angst and sexual awakening, specifically feelings of homosexuality. Throughout the film, Jesse says things like “something is inside of me and it's trying to get out.” This is certainly less suggestive of Freddy's “revenge” and more suggestive of Jesse's closeted feelings.

Curiously, the film kinda sorta turns on itself, though, suggesting that Jesse's homosexuality is, in some way, a curse – something vile and evil. On one level this could be seen as a betrayal of the film's subtext. Director Jack Sholder claims that he was unaware of the homoerotic undertones of the script (even though it's painted on with bright colors) and that could explain why the film never steers its strongest themes into a concise, clear direction.

But the final act could also be perceived as a metaphor for how people in the '80s viewed homosexuality, and how homosexuals viewed their naysayers. With this in mind, the narrative makes more sense. Jesse isn't a demon and he isn't evil. Rather, he's just driven to think he is because of how he feels and how people treat him because of it. And ultimately (spoilers here), it takes his once girlfriend to show Jesse that the simple act of loving him frees him from the demon's grip. The demon, in this case, is not homosexuality. The demon is oppression.

That's an awful lot of real psychology for a crummy sequel to A Nightmare on Elm Street, right? That's because Freddy's Revenge isn't so crummy. It's a wonderfully woven, seductive thriller that pokes and prods at the audience in completely new, daring ways. The film is rich with hypnotic music (from composer Christopher Young), outstanding visuals and a dreamy tone, all while piecing together the series' most complex emotional puzzle.

Naturally, Freddy's Revenge isn't all serious. In fact, it gets pretty darn goofy in some scenes, mostly thanks to Clu Gulager's campy performance as Jesse's almost hilariously unsympathetic father. But that's what drives the moody atmosphere and themes of this sequel. You're aware of when things are off because the characters are acting off. And as the narrative strings slowly tie themselves up, you become less sure of what is real and what isn't.

Nightmare 2 is, perhaps, the only film in the series where the characters feel genuine and fleshed out beyond just a few minor characteristics and traits that Freddy exploits in the dream world. Take, for example, this scene:

This little nugget of film weirdness is laden with equal parts hilarity and sexual subtext, but I'd be lying if I told you I didn't dance like a total dork while cleaning my room at least once during my lifetime. This is a wonderful example of how Nightmare 2 captures real moments, where teenagers actually do silly things that teenagers do.

Even the film's producers seem to harbor some level of shame over Nightmare 2, and that's unfortunate. The film took chances, played with dream logic and toyed with our psychology in unique ways. It introduced genuine characters and gave them real world problems to grapple. And it dared to differ from the original, resulting in some truly frightening moments and a scarier interpretation of Freddy and his powers. What could have been a simple cash-in on a successful first entry ends up being something far more. Sure, Freddy's Revenge isn't perfect. I'm not here to defend it as some flawless masterpiece. But I am hoping fans and newcomers will approach the sequel with the respect it deserves. 

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