Release Date: November 1, 1985
Director: Jack Sholder
Writers: David Chaskin (Screenplay), Wes Craven (Characters)
Starring: Mark Patton, Kim Myers, Robert Englund, Robert Rusler, Clu Gulager, Marshall Bell
WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW
In 1984 movie audiences were introduced to a new form of terror. They were introduced to a character who killed his victims in his dreams. They were introduced to Freddy Kruger in A Nightmare on Elm Street. It made over $25 million dollars in the United States box office alone and turned Freddy Kruger into a new horror icon. Despite the instant success which launched the careers of Wes Craven, Robert Englund and yes Johnny Depp, fledgling studio New Line Cinema didn’t make a profit off the film. They were still in the red and desperately trying to stay afloat. New Line Cinema Founder and CEO Robert Shaye decided to take a gamble and make a direct sequel to “Elm Street” in the hopes of creating some cash flow. Nearly a year after its initial release, New Line released the follow up film, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge.
Instead of a direct continuation of the first film, the second film follows a whole new cast of characters, but the setting of Springwood, Ohio remained the same. The film focuses on Jesse Walsh, a new resident of Springwood who moves into Nancy Thompson’s old house along with his family. Shortly after moving in, he is visited in his dreams by Freddy whose goal is to takeover Jesse’s body so he can return to the physical world. The film was another financial win for New Line which got the return they were expecting plus more and thus a franchise was born. Despite the success, the film itself received mixed reviews calling it a weak retread of the predecessor and a rushed film that has poor acting, poor dialogue, and not enough scares.
I loved the original Nightmare on Elm Street film. Recently, I watched all the sequels in the franchise (except for the 2010 abysmal reboot). After a Saturday film festival at my home I started to evaluate the sequels. It was a mixed bag. Some of the sequels I enjoyed and some I didn’t. Part 2 was the one that really stood out for me for many reasons, which I’m about to get into.
The film is good technically. The picture seems to be grainy. Not sure if this is due to Jack Sholder trying to make a grittier version of the film. In the same documentary, Sholder admits that he wasn’t a fan of the first film and his objective was to not follow the template of the first film and make something completely different, which he did. Except for one scene, there aren’t that many creative kills that you saw in the first film or the sequels that will follow this one. The concept is bringing Freddy into the real world. You can’t do a lot of supernatural things in the real world (although coming into the real world for Freddy is supernatural). Like its predecessor, the cast is made up of some relatively unknown character actors with the exceptions of Hope Lange and Clu Gulager who played the parents. Both have a combined sixty years of acting experience. I felt each actor fit their roles perfectly, especially Mark Patton. It’s incredible who Patton beat out for the lead role (see trivia below). Looking at that list, Patton was the right choice. Although Patton had a few acting credits before doing this movie, this film is really an introduction of who Mark Patton the person is. The chemistry he had with Kim Myers who plays Lisa, his close friend and love interest is strong, and they balance each other out (Patton and Myers remain close friends to this day and travel to Horror Conventions together).
The opening scene of the film is Jesse and two girls sitting in a school bus on his way to school. Suddenly the bus driver speeds up and plows through a desert where the ground begins to crack and sink and Freddy appears as the driver. This film tells you from this opening scene that Freddy is about to take Jesse for a ride and you the audience are going to be there with him. That opening shot is a credit to Sholder’s visual technique that you will see all throughout the film.
Nightmare on Elm Street 2 is regarded as “The Gayest Horror Film Ever Made.” And there’s truth to it. The film is known for its notoriously homoerotic subtext. You see it throughout the entire film from the characters to the props and the story. The writer of the film David Chaskin was working at New Line Cinema in another department and had written a treatment for a potential sequel that dealt with the paranoia of AIDS and homosexuality and incorporated Freddy Krueger as the disease. New Line Cinema chose his script and got the ball rolling on production. If you watch the series documentary Never Sleep Again, the crew from the film and even Robert Shaye talked about how they never intended it to be a gay film. Even director Jack Sholder didn’t admit that he didn’t have the self-awareness to believe that anything they were doing would be interpreted as being gay. One production designer said in best in the documentary, “We were all incredibly naïve or all incredibly latently gay!” I enjoyed this film due to the fact they were able to take a real issue in society and create a narrative that was shocking and scary.
The film primarily focuses on Jesse and Freddy’s relationship to each other. Mark Patton, who plays Jesse in the film was openly gay in real life (although he had not mentioned it to anyone on the set) and incorporates the struggles of his sexuality into Jesse. Jesse becomes attracted to both his male and female close friends in Lisa and Ron Grady. Lisa is obviously attracted to Jesse, but throughout the movie, Jesse seems timid and shy around her, but when it comes to Grady, he instantly clicks to his bad boy persona (which most girls in society today seem to be attracted to). Meanwhile Freddy is trying to convince Jesse to kill for him. Freddy represents the self-hatred that one might have of the thought that they may be homosexual. Robert Englund does a brilliant job of using seduction and manipulation to get to Jesse and use him for his own desires. This is relatable to what is going on in society today with the sexual abuse allegations and the Me Too movement. Men using methods of persuasion to get to the body of a woman. The victims in the movie are a threat to Freddy in a way that is considered jealousy. He is removing obstacles so that no one interferes with Freddy’s impending host. Finally, the sequence of Freddy tearing through Jesse’s body can be interpreted as Jesse “coming out”.
The props and scenes in the movie heightened the narrative. When Lisa is helping Jesse unpack his belongings and puts some things in his closet, you can see a board game titled “Probe”. In Jesse’s room he has a sign on his front door that says, “No Girls Allowed”. I don’t think you see a lot of teenage boys have that kind of sign in their room. In one of the night sequences when Jesse is getting out of bed, it is so hot in his room you can see his candle melting and shaped like a part of the male genitalia. If you look closely in the shower scene, the shower heads are phallic shaped. In the scene where Coach Schneider is attacked by presumably Freddy, tennis balls are popping out of their cans, Schneider is tied up in the shower by jump rope and flying towels begin to snap at his bare bottom. There was something Freudian going on in that scene.
Finally, Nightmare on Elm Street 2 has a fairy tale side to it, which involves Jesse and Lisa. Because she is in love with Jesse, Lisa is trying to save him from Freddy but doesn’t know how. She pleads with Jesse to let her help him, but he pushes her away. When he transforms into Freddy and escapes, she chases him down and continues to plead for him to come back to her. In a ‘Beauty in the Beast’ moment, she says she loves him and the beast (being Freddy) dies and out of the ashes comes the beauty (Jesse). They hold each other in their arms and embrace that their nightmare is over….or is it?
To recap, I strongly affirm my opinion that Nightmare on Elm Street 2 is the strongest of the sequels in the Nightmare franchise. Unlike the latter films which were comical and cartoonish, this film feels real and authentic. This movie still holds up thirty five years later and it is a social film that can be explored, enjoyed and talked about for many decades to come. I would also recommend checking out the new documentary about Mark Patton and his experience on Nightmare on Elm Street 2 titled Scream Queen: My Nightmare on Elm Street, which is currently streaming on Shudder.
TRIVIA (Per IMDB)
- New Line Cinema originally refused to give Robert Englund a pay raise, and an extra was cast as Freddy at the start of production. The extra appears in the shower scene where Jesse turns into Freddy, He simply wore a rubber mask and moved like “Frankenstein”. After two weeks of filming, director Jack Sholder convinced New Line Cinema CEO/Founder/Executive Produce Robert Shaye that this was a terrible lapse in judgment, and Shaye met Englund’s demands to return for the sequel.
- The only “Nightmare” film in which the lead character is male.
- Mark Patton beat out Brad Pitt and Christian Slater for the role of Jesse.
- Apart from Robert Englund, this is the only film in the franchise to neither feature an actor from a previous film, nor have one return in a sequel.
- New Line Cinema CEO/Founder/Executive Robert Shaye wanted to play the character of Grady’s father. However, director Jack Sholder told him that he “Needed a real actor to play that role.” Fearing that he would be fired after the comment, Sholder cast Shaye as the bartender in the S&M Bar that Jesse visits in the film.
- Special Effects man Rick Lazzarini created a “demonic parakeet” puppet for the scene in which the Walsh’s pet bird flies around and explodes. His puppet was not used because the filmmakers wanted to use a regular looking bird.
- Kevin Yagher replaced David Miller as the makeup effects artist. Studying pictures of burn victims, Yagher redesigned Freddy’s look to bring out the facial bones and more scaring. He would go on in his career to create the Chucky doll in the “Child’s Play” franchise.