By John Baggett
PSDC Pop Culture Guru
Project Shanks Monday Night Movie: A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge
Rating: **** (out of 5)
Okay, before I get into this week’s review I have to acknowledge a couple of things. The first is that June is Pride Month. The second is that I had planned to do something special for this month, by doing 30 reviews of LGBT related cinema. I even went so far as asking my LGBT friends for movie selections, compiling a list of well over thirty films. And as you can see, now that it’s eight days into the month I have done nothing. Why? Because I’m a terrible, no good, very bad person who asked for all of this help and before I could even start I screamed, “Oh, fuck! Homework!” and then I passed out on the couch in the fetal position. Sorry, LGBT friends and allies, but I did the exact same thing three years ago declaring twice I was going to read all of the A Song of Ice and Fire novels before season three of Game of Thrones, but in my defense those books are really heavy.
So, after 30 plus suggestions, nine of which are readily available to me to pop on my TV at any time, as a good ole boy in the south might say, “I ain’t did shit.” I can come up with excuses – I had a sinus infection, I went to see Rush, work, I’m tired, blah, blah, blah. Admittedly I’ve been kinda busy but I feel like shit by not delivering on my promise. I do fully intend to do something. Starting tonight I’m kinda sorta making up for it.
And I’m also kinda sorta ignoring every single film suggested to me. Why? Because I had to start this at the last minute, so I went with something I’ve seen a gazillion times, BUT also fits in the theme of LGBT cinema. This week I am taking on the criminally underrated A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge.
In 1984, New Line Cinema had its first commercial success with Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street introducing the world to Freddy Krueger, a notorious child murderer (possibly molester) responsible for the deaths of children in Springwood, California…I mean, Illinois. It’s totally Illinois and in no way does Illinois look at all like southern California. (*crickets*) The film was so successful New Line became known as the house that Freddy built. In the years that followed Freddy Kruger became a pop culture icon, spawning six sequels, one crossover film with Jason Voorhees, comic books, toys, and, dear god, an album. (You google that on your own. I refuse to help you with that one.) There was just one little stumbling block in all of this and it’s 1985’s Freddy’s Revenge.
The film picks up five years after the events of the first film and the home formerly occupied by Nancy Thompson and her mother is now occupied by the Walshes, a nuclear family of father Ken (Clu Gulager), mother Cheryl (Hope Lange), daughter Angela (Christie Clark), and teenage son Jessie (Mark Patton). The film opens with Jessie riding the bus to school only for the bus to be hijacked by Freddy (Robert Englund). But it’s only a dream, as Jessie wakes up screaming, to no reaction other than Angela asking if Jessie’s always going to do that.
Jessie heads to school with Lisa (Kim Myers), his crush that he’s way too shy to ask out. At school he gets a bunch of shit from sadistic gym coach Schneider (Marshall Bell). He also has a antagonistic friendship with classmate Grady (Robert Rusler), who after one fight and punishment from Schneider the two become buddies. He’s even getting crap at home, but mostly from his father demanding that Jessie finish unpacking since they’ve been in the house for about a month.
But Jessie has bigger problems that a mean gym coach and unpacking. There’s a burned up dude in his dreams that seems to want to take possession of Jessie’s body. After a Lisa comes over and catches Jessie unpacking / super awkawardly dancing, she helps him finish putting his stuff away and in the process comes across the diary left behind by Nancy, where he learns she was having similar nightmares.
Other things start going wrong around the house – appliances catching fire, the pet bird explodes. All of which is blames on Jessie by his father. Jessie’s nightmares start getting worse and Freddy starts getting stronger. After almost attacking his own sister, Jessie leaves his house, possessed by Freddy, and winds up in a leather bar where he runs into his gym coach. Schneider takes him to the school where he makes Jessie run laps. As Jessie is made to shower, Schneider is attacked by jump ropes and balls only to be drug into the showers by an unseen force where he is stripped naked, whipped, and then slashed. Jessie runs away and is brought home by the police.
The next night Jessie attends a pool party hosted by Lisa, and as soon as their romance is about to begin, Jessie runs away to stay with Grady. He tells Grady that something is trying to possess him. Grady laughs it off, until Freddy literally tears himself out of Jessie and kills him. Freddy then attacks the pool party, leaving Lisa alone to track down and defeat Freddy and bring Jessie back to life.
Freddy’s Revenge was something of a problematic film. First, Wes Craven had passed on doing a sequel, leaving the studio to do whatever they wanted. They also went into production with a stuntman playing Krueger until they realized that wasn’t working, ultimately bringing England back. The film is also pretty much ignored through the remaining continuity of the film, allegedly ignoring the rules of the franchise. But the franchise didn’t really exist and, for lack of a better phrase, got back on track with my personal favorite of the series, The Dream Warriors, which managed to find the balance of horror and comedy before the series became a goddamn cartoon. Yet, I think Freddy’s Revenge is unfairly treated. Yes, it’s nothing really like the other films, but it makes it unique.
Now, I can hear you saying, “John, what does this have to do with Pride Month?” Good question. I chose this film because this film is pretty gay. And I don’t mean “gay” in a insulting manner but in a “there’s loads of homoerotic content in this film.” Screenwriter David Chaskin admitted that he put in what was supposed to be homoerotic subtext in the film, something all of the people behind the camera claimed to have not picked up on until years later. Chaskin even admitted he used the terror of being possessed by Freddy as a metaphor for a young man wrestling with his own sexuality, which is fucking clever if you ask me. The film even ends up on a lot of top ten lists for Top Gay Horror Films or Unintentionally Gay Horror films, or however its spun.
The subtext is all over the place. Like Jessie’s dance while unpacking, a game called Probe in the closet, Jessie going to a leather bar, the death of Schneider riddled with shades of BDSM, and this exchange between Grady and Jessie:
Jessie: “Something is trying to get inside my body.”
Grady: “Yeah, and she’s female, and she’s waiting for you in the cabana, and you wanna sleep with me.”
Other unique twists for this film include the fact that instead of the damsel in distress is not a female, but rather a male. It’s not unique that the film comes to a head with a female taking down Freddy in the end (spoilers for a now 30 year old film), but instead of a male hero coming to rescue a woman we have a female putting herself in danger to save the man she loves. It’s a cool twist and I really like it. Patton, who plays Jessie, is an openly gay man and sadly due to the homophobia of the times retired from acting but is thankfully still doing the convention circuit. This film made him a horror icon and he wears it as a badge of honor and remains one of my favorite, pun totally intended, Scream Queens.
Patton is great in this film and I wish he had more credits to his name, his other big film being the Robert Altman directed Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean. I do understand why he stopped acting, but it sure hasn’t held him back from being an icon in the genre and having fans all over the world. Myers is great here too. Englund did his best with the material given to him and despite this being one of my favorite Freddy films it has nothing to do with Freddy. Rusler is fantastic too. But the real scene stealers are Clu Gulager, who is just as insane in real life as he is on screen, and Bell as Schneider. I can only imagine how much fun was had on that set.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 is a very different film from the rest of the series, which in some cases is a very good thing. In the balance of horror and comedy this film very much remains on the side of horror, something that really kind of changes after part 4. The first three entries in the franchise are my absolute favorites. It could easily get passed off as just a dumb slasher film but it really isn’t. It’s a fun take on the mythology of Kruger and is just as fun as the films that came before and after.
Stay tuned as I give you some more entries from the world of LGBT cinema. As Freddy would tell me, “I’ve got special work to do here.”
Follow John on Twitter: @TrapperJohn1210