Mr. Knives Go Poke Man
A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge
Famously, Wes Craven didn't want A Nightmare on Elm Street to have any sequels. Nancy was supposed to defeat Freddy, freeing the teens of Elm Street, and that would have been that. Of course, then the studio made the director film a twist ending (a really stupid one, to be frank), all with an eye to future installments in the series. And then Wes Craven washed his hands of any potential sequel development and moved on. Oh, if only the studio had listened to him...
Instead, a mere year after the first film was released, we have the sequel, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge. Instead of focusing on Nancy, the sequel looks at other kids that live on Elm Street, all from the perspective of Jesse, the new kid to live in Nancy's old house. It's also, honestly, one of the dumbest films in the entire series, and that says a lot considering how bad later sequels could get. Seriously, Wes Craven knew what he was doing when it took a break from the franchise.
It's been five years since the horrors on Elm Street (although at the time of this film's release, it's had been only a year in the real world since the first movie came out). Since that time Nancy, the Final Girl from the first film, went crazy and her family moved out, putting the Elm Street house up for sale. After a long time on the market, the Walsh family became the "lucky" owners (picking up the house for a song) and immediately moved in. Soon, though, weird things start happening to main character Jesse (Mark Patton) as he begins having horrible nightmares about a burned and scarred man with knives for fingers. Jesse starts losing time, waking up to find Freddy's glove on his hand, and he thinks he might have even killed people. Has Jesse gone mad, or is there something more sinister at play in the house on Elm Street?
Well, of course Freddy is back. Although some slasher series have found ways to continue the franchise after their main killer is dead and buried (using a relative of the main killer, or fame seeking glory hounds, etc.), the Nightmare series is all about Freddy Kruger (Robert Englund). Freddy is and always will be the the bad guy of the series, so it's not as if audiences could have been all that shocked to see him pop up for this second outing. If there's was to be any mystery to it at all, that mystery was ruined by the title of the movie, Freddy's Revenge. The characters, of course, don't know what's going on, but we in the audience know and all we want is to get to the scares and the killing, something the movie is in short supply of for much of its run time (there's only one kill at the end of the first act and no more until most of the way through the last act).
Although the original film was a tale of creeping dread, Freddy's Revenge is more akin to the idyllic, after-school special version of being a teenager in the '80s. We get a long setup of Jesse, his sorta-friend/sorta-bully Ron Grady (Robert Rusler), his potential girlfriend Lisa Webber (Kim Myers), and all the rest of the characters in the film. While we have all these characters, none of them are developed at all -- only Jesse has any kind of actual character development, and that's just because he's the center of the movie. Everyone else is cookie-cutter fodder for Freddy to eventually burn through (you know, late in the film, when the slashing finally begins to happen).
Per the logic of the film, Freddy needs to regain his power (after dying in the first film), and in the process he wants to get out into the real world (for reasons that aren't really ever made clear). To do that, he starts taking over Jesse, using the kid as a host for his evil. By causing enough terror, Freddy can physically manifest in the real world, fully subsuming Jesse in the process. While this certainly gives us some creepy scenes of Jesse, armed with knife-gloves, stalking people, it doesn't really build to anything until the last act. Most of the movie is Jesse whining about his bad dreams while everyone around him ignores the clearly disturbed kid. Nancy's parents in the first film may not have been winners, but their inability to deal with their own past sins is at least understandable and certainly better than the cold indifference Jesse parents regularly exhibit.
Of course, then all hell breaks loose in the las act and we finally get some over-the-top action. Well, sort of. The issue here is that the action isn't really well filmed. There's a lot of vague killing when Freddy finally manifests, stalking the kids at a packed pool party. And yet, for all the potential victims running around in this set piece, barely anyone dies. What we have is a slasher film without much slashing, all build up and no release.
In a way, maybe that makes sense if we run this film through a deep cinematic analysis. In this sequel Freddy is less the villain of the piece and more a metaphor for puberty. Essentially, Jesse moves to a new town, is the odd-kid-out, and is trying to find a way to fit in. He meets a girl, develops a crush, and right around the time where everyone is talking about getting busy with members of the opposite sex (or, maybe, the same sex), that's when Jesse starts to lose control of his body. You know, like puberty. So maybe, in a way, Freddy's inability to actually do anything once he gets the chance is a sort of metaphor for teenagers not being able to fulfill their new, base urges when they want to. Or maybe the director just felt dirty filming killing sequences.
But then, maybe Freddy's Revenge it's also about homosexual feelings. It's certainly the case that there's a low, homo-erotic vibe playing throughout the movie. Jesse sings along to female pop-stars as he grooves in spangly (Elton John-esque) sunglasses, thrusting his crotch around to the beat. All the male characters are seen regularly shown without their shirts on and there's plenty of rough-housing and dudes-in-locker-room scenes. Honestly, if you gender flipped all the characters in the movie, you'd have the male-gaze sexual voyeurism of the first Slumber Party Massacre flick. I found this portion interesting if only because you don't normally get homo-eroticism in slasher flicks since straight males are the usual audience for this fare, and all they want to see are naked females.
Sadly, whatever ideas or metaphors the movie wanted to push are largely shoved aside by the time the last act starts up. Jesse gets back-burnered for all the (mediocre) Freddy action, and his girlfriend, Lisa, becomes the de facto Final Girl of the film. The movie stops being so weird, stops toying with metaphor and subtext, and just becomes fairly rote and tedious. We get the big (and lame) pool party sequence, and then the final showdown is between Lisa and Freddy, with Lisa talking Freddy down via the power of love, letting Jesse break back through and subsuming Freddy once more. All the weird, unrequited feelings and homo-erotic ideas are brushed aside for a girl. The movie sells short all it's grand ideas for a cheap, dumb ending. And since Freddy so easily broke through once before, I'm not certain that we can even really call this a victory.
Maybe better acting would have helped sell the shifts and twists in the story, but the only really good actor in the batch is Jesse (at least when he's not screaming -- the dude is no scream queen, that's for sure). Most of the performances, such as Myers's Lisa, are flat and unremarkable, like the actors didn't really know how to convey emotion. Other characters, like Jesse's dad (Clu Gulager), are hammy and over the top. I wonder if there was a reason for the adult males being so over-the-top, especially with the homo-erotic themes at play, like the producers were trying to play on the "hysterical queen" trope, but, you know, subtly. It was too subtle if that was the goal, that's for sure.
Of course, Robert Englund is great as Freddy, for what time we get to spend with him -- this movie wastes the actor, only using him for a few, brief scenes before the big climax. It would have been better to give us more Freddy so we could enjoy Englund's sinister performance. Or, hell, just make a different movie out of the first half of this film instead, something not connected to the Nightmare series. Maybe a solid after-school special, perhaps?
Honestly, I didn't hate this movie as much this time around as I did when I first viewed it years ago, but it definitely not among my favorites of the genre either (as clearly illustrated by the preceding review). It's a mess of a movie that really could have used a bit more focus (and better actors, for sure). It's chock full of weird ideas that don't go anywhere, and characters that never appear in the series again. Considering the direction future films would go in the series, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge is the least essential entry of the entire run. Maybe you'll enjoy watching it once, just to see how odd it can be, but don't say I didn't warn ya.
The Killing Floor:
No real sin happens this time around to lead to the killing. There's a bit of school bullying, and then one kid almost drinks a beer, but the killing begins without much need for sin this time around.
Although a couple of birds explode (they were asleep and Freddy felt like it, I guess), the first real kill happened 36 minutes in, and it's the school coach, not any of the teenagers. It's a weird person to kill as, normally, Freddy prefers to go after teens near-exclusively, but then he did kill birds in this movie, so maybe Freddy just felt like branching out.
Final Body Count:
Six (maybe seven), plus two birds. Most of the kills happen at a pool party late in the movie, and while the movie implies more died here, their bodies aren't shown, so those don't count. Then there's a kill during the twist ending that may or may not happen (as with the twist in the first movie) so who really knows?
Also, really, the birds probably didn't deserve it.