Sunday, October 7, 2012

A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge Movie Review

Mostly I remembered this as being a kind of stupid sequel that didn't exactly fit in the series. I always had this innate sense that it was just a sub-par effort and it turns out I was always right. This one had much less effect on me as a kid than the next in the series.

Click here for a list of all other films reviewed and considered for this October 2012 series of horror reviews.

For A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, New Line Cinema didn’t manage to bring back anyone from the first film except Robert Englund as the burned and scarred dream tormenter Freddy Krueger. Without the creative mind of Wes Craven, who created the character and the first story, this sequel just goes straight to pot. It’s clear they wanted to try something slightly different without repeating the formula, but in a story that involves a teenage boy who is, by all evidence, possessed by Freddy and doing his killing, there is mostly chaos and confusion with scant narrative cohesion.

The film never really makes it clear if the murder victims are killed in their dreams by Freddy or if it’s the teenage boy Jesse with his hand being guided. His first victim is his high school gym teacher (Marshall Bell), a hard-case overgrown jock who doesn’t tolerate weakness. The opportunity is there to play with multiple personality in Jesse’s mind and really make the audience guess as to the nature of the crime. Is the coach murdered because Freddy wants to kill or because Jesse doesn’t like him? The sequence of the coach’s death is also unclear as to what is dreamed and what is real.

It begins with Jesse going to a leather bar in the middle of the night, where he encounters the coach, apparently a regular there. They go back to the school where Jesse has to run laps before showering. The coach is tied up in the steamy shower room, lashed with a wet towel like a locker room prank and then slashed by the signature razor glove. Though the body is found in the school, it’s never certain whether the scene in the bar really happened. Perhaps that’s done intentionally, but it leaves too many questions to be provocative.

One of the few interesting things working in the film’s favor is its insistence on homoeroticism as its driving force. The horror genre is renowned for its displays of female flesh and for punishment of young hetero couples engaging in sexual activity. But the only naked flesh exposed in A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 is the naked rear end of the male gym teacher, whose entire murder setup is loaded with homoeroticism.

Having the main character be male is already a major departure in a genre that always relies on the vulnerability of young females. As such, our protagonist Jesse is played by Mark Patton, an actor with delicate, almost feminine features. His first altercation in school is with another boy who pulls his pants down, exposing his rear end to his classmates. As the two boys roll around wrestling, the coach breaks up the fight, after which the two boys bond through physical activity and locker room chatter. Later, when Jesse’s impotence to control his Freddy impulses threaten his girlfriend Lisa (Kim Myers), their first sexual encounter is subject to something close to coitus interruptus and Jesse runs out. Where does he go? To his best friend Grady’s bedroom for comfort.

But screenwriter David Chaskin squanders this element which had the potential at the time to turn the genre on its head. He chickens out, or maybe he and director Jack Sholder never realized what they had. Could the level of male erotica in the film be nothing more than a subconscious accident?

At the very least the film has a strong lead actor in Patton. His previous experience included portraying James Dean on the stage and in a Robert Altman film (even his previous acting role lends to the homoerotic theme). His acting holds the crumbling film together. With the wrong actor it could have been an unmitigated disaster. Instead it’s just a partial failure. He registers clearly on his face the agony and terror of an adolescent boy coming to grips with a changing body and a mind he has little control over. If the first film was about our inability to control our subconscious fears during sleep, then this one is about the conflict between subconscious desires and bodily efforts.

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