Monday, September 28, 2009

A Nightmare on Elm Street, Part 2: Freddy's Revenge (USA, 1985)

In retrospect, it seems almost unbelievable that Wes Craven needed three years to find a producer for the original Nightmare on Elm Street (1984/trailer). A year before the concept even entered the vocabulary of the general public via the publication in 1985 of Stephan La Berge's study of the subject in his (aptly titled) book Lucid Dreaming, Craven took the basic concept one horrific step further and created the immortal character Freddy Krueger, a dead child molester inhabiting the dreams and killing the children of the adults that had secretly burnt him to death in retribution for his horrendous crimes against nature. As everyone knows, Craven's film was the beginning of a horror franchise rivaled only by those begun by John Carpenter with Halloween (1978) and Sean S. Cunningham with Friday The 13th (1980). And like those two series have already had, Craven's character is due for a revamp soon...
But before that happens, let's take a look at the least successful entry in the original franchise: A Nightmare on Elm Street, Part 2: Freddy's Revenge, the second feature-length film of b-film stalwart director Jack Sholder, who went on to lense such faves as The Hidden (1987/trailer) and Arachnid (2001/trailer).
Whatever the unknown reason might be — a bad contract, probably — Craven was not part of this film, the second of way too many films as well as a short-lived television series (and, as mentioned before, an upcoming revamping of the franchise). The then relatively inexperienced Jack Shoulder was pulled in to direct instead, despite his rather inauspicious debut three years earlier with Alone in the Dark (1982/trailer), a film whose cheese factor has helped it age well enough. The scriptwriting chores of Freddy's Revenge were handed over to the likewise inexperienced David Chaskin. The end result: an early entry of the franchise that is generally considered the worst in the series — and in many ways, it is. In the end, the failure of the film didn't really hurt Shoulder's career as an exploitation and straight-to-DVD director, but Chaskin disappeared from the industry despite his later "better" film scripts for the entertainingly artsy Tibor Takics film I, Madman (1989/trailer) and the equally entertainingly but hilariously trashy The Curse (1987/trailer).
Although made a mere year after Craven's classic slasher, the events in Freddy's Revenge unfold five years after the demise of Langenkamp, Depp, et all. The Walsh family has moved into the house on Elm Street, and the teenage son Jesse (badly acted by Mark Patton), wearing much too much eyeliner and spending a noticeably extreme amount of time in ugly underwear, is suffering from nasty nightmares. Mommy Webber (Hope Lange, who dealt with a much friendlier supernatural entity in the old television show The Ghost and Mrs. Muir) is at a loss about what to do, while the incompetent Daddy Webber (Clu Gulager) is simply convinced that his son is a drug-taking delinquent. Along the way, aside from an uncontrollable heating system that keeps them sweating, the family suffers such terrifying events as a spontaneously combusting toaster and rabid, exploding love-birds. It seems that Freddy (Robert Englund, of course) is out to possess Jesse's body so that he can crossover into the real world and kill anyone and everyone. As Freddy says to Jesse in one of the film's few truly scary scenes, "You've got the body, I've got the brains." Eventually, Jesse/Freddy slices up the school's decidedly S&M oriented gym teacher (Marshall Bell) during a steaming gym shower scene and, after trying to broaden Jesse's concept of cunnilingus, Freddy eventually cubes Jesse's washboard-bellied buddy Ron Grady (Robert Rusler) before attempting to boil some dozen teenagers in a swimming pool. Jesse's gal Lisa Webber (Kim Myers, who looks like a young Meryl Streep but lacks the latter's thespian abilities) runs off after her possessed heartthrob and, in the end, love prevails and all is well that ends well — or so it seems until the final expected twist ending.
A lot has been made in the past about the supposed homosexual undercurrent of Freddy's Revenge, and though the filmmakers have supposedly gone on record as saying it wasn't on purpose, one tends to think that they are lying. Not only is there a remarkable dearth of jiggling babes for a teen-oriented horror film of the time, but the undercurrents are obvious everywhere. From the Coach's obvious sexual predilection to the constant scenes of young men in underwear and manly buns to the unidentified small carton seen briefly in Jesse's closet with the word PROBE printed on it, much in this film exhibits a preference for the backdoor rather than the front. Likewise, it is easy to interpret Jesse's slow possession as symbolizing the gradual realization of his own sexuality, and his flight from his horrific first sexual encounter with Lisa as a personification of the horror many a young homosexual feels when they first try to fit in the sexual boundaries of heterosexual middle-class America. Moreover, when Jesse flees from Lisa, he goes straight to his good looking (and boxer-clad) pal Ron, asking if he can spend the night there. Regrettably, any interpretation of Freddy's Revenge in this regards reveals a rather homophobic stance on part of the filmmakers, be they themselves gay or not. Jesse's sexuality is a killer monster out to destroy everything and everyone, almost a 3-D personification of AIDS as a walking and talking but deadly creature — hardly a positive presentation of alternative sexualities. (No wonder the filmmakers deny any homosexual subtext.)
Actually, undercurrents and interpretations aside, to simply say that Freddy's Revenge is a bad film is taking the easy way out. Much like Halloween Three: Season of the Witch (1983/trailer), the film isn't really as thoroughly gawd-awful as it is out of place. Had either films been made separately from the respective series they were tied to and without the name association, they might have been enjoyable for their own merits. As it is, stuck solidly amongst the other films and, at least in the case of Freddy's Revenge, utilizing some of the same characters, the films stick out like leprous thumbs and bomb accordingly.
Still, there are some good scares to be found in Freddy's Revenge. The one in which Jesse awakes tucking-in his little sister only to discover that he is wearing Freddy's glove is a shock, and the scene in which Freddy pops out of Jesse's stomach is, well, nicely gut wrenching. Likewise, everyone has to cringe when the monster tongue pops out of Jesse's mouth while he's slowly kissing his way down Lisa's stomach towards her love box. And, of course, the bus ride which opens the film is hilariously enjoyable, even if it doesn't scare much. Unluckily, most of what happens in between is rather uninteresting or badly dated — the hilarious dated bar scene (it screams "This is the 80s!!!") being the best (worst?) example, the pool party being the worst (best?).
Still, if you are one of the few, the odd, the queer who haven't yet seen a Nightmare film, there are many better ones in the series, the first one still remaining the best.
For the best on-line presentation on the sexuality of this flick (which I discovered long after I wrote this review, and from whence the photo to the left was borrowed), see the entry at Freddy In Space. OK, the article does reek slightly of unacknowledged homophobia, but face it, most heterosexual men have an illogical fear of gaydom that brings out this attitude. Well, my brethren breeders, just so you know: banana might not be as much fun as tuna with a side of melons, but it is better than an empty plate.


Herb stryker said...

I guess I am in the minority of those who think this was a great entry in the series. It always interesting to hear other people's opinions on films. Thanks for posting.

Abraham said...

I saw it when it came out, having been bowled over by the original first entry. I was highly disapointed. I've only come to enjoy Part II with the passing of time. Many of the later entries, on the other hand, I've come to dislike over the years... I'm sort of happy that the reboot failed, saving us from another endless stream of obvious product.

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