A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge
For those of you who haven’t read my review of the first film, you can check it out here.
One thing that’s come clear to me over the years is that my sense of taste is often wildly different from the tastes of critics and the masses. This shouldn’t be surprising since I’m far less critical than many of my fellow movie lovers and I enjoy regular forays into cinema’s more terrible or terribly silly offerings. I hated the largely critically acclaimed Melancholia because it was too bleak, its characters were too flawed to like, and because the physics depicted in the film was laughably broken; the beautiful visuals were not enough to make me love that movie. Of course, I’m sometimes surprised when the critics and I agree. Sucker Punch has a few ardent supporters, but for the most part it’s critically reviled and in my opinion that’s with good cause; the trailers led me to believe the movie was going to be about female empowerment via a kind of Alice in Wonderland fantasy that involved swords and big guns; I was disappointed. One of the movies I love that no one else seems to like is A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge. Although its predecessor is the superior piece and the comparison between the two is inevitable, it’s a good movie because it further explores Freddy Krueger’s powers and even his motivation for continuing to slaughter teenagers. I think the film deserves far more credit than it’s traditionally been given.
First and foremost, this film explores Freddy’s power to possess people, namely the main character Jesse. Jesse has just moved into the house on Elm Street where Nancy Thompson, the previous protagonist, lived. He has a couple of dreams about Freddy before he finds Freddy’s glove in the furnace, where Nancy’s mother had stashed it. It’s at this point that Freddy confronts Jesse and talks to him, telling him that he’s going to take over Jesse and use him to kill people. I’ve been debating about the significance of the glove, whether it is symbolically conferring Freddy’s murderous nature upon Jesse when he wears it or whether the glove has some residual psychic power imbued by the multiple murders committed by Freddy that allows him to remain tied to the physical plane. I also considered that Freddy might be controlling Jesse using the glove, but it seemed more likely that Freddy was controlling Jesse through his subconscious. In the first film we learn that Freddy’s attacks in the dream world yield physical results on his victims’ bodies, including something as powerful as levitation. We also learn that someone can grab Freddy and bring him out of the dream world into reality by waking up. I think Freddy’s power of possession is an extension of these two abilities. Freddy controls Jesse physically until Jesse wakes from his reverie, so to speak, and realizes what he’s done. He also uses Jesse as a gateway into reality, tearing from inside of Jesse and hunting people down; instead of being involuntarily grabbed from the dream world, he uses Jesse’s body on purpose to force his way into the real world.
Freddy’s new power of possession is ultimately what makes A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 horrifying. Jesse isn’t afraid because a monster is chasing him. He is the monster. Worse, he repeats over and over that Freddy is inside of him and warns that Freddy is going to come out. This idea is taken to the distressing logical extreme when we see Freddy’s eye looking out of Jesse’s throat and he starts to push his way through Jesse’s flesh to burst out and kill Grady. Jesse is dealing with the same fear and guilt that Dr. Jekyll feels for secretly being Mr. Hyde or a man might feel for being a werewolf. While Freddy and Jesse are ostensibly separate beings, one can’t physically exist while the other does and so they take turns ripping out of each others flesh on different occasions; that’s why I feel I have recourse to describing their relationship as a kind of duality, like the human/werewolf relationship. However, it’s not a strict duality because Jesse can fight against Freddy, just as Freddy can fight to take over Jesse, and ultimately Jesse’s love overpowers Freddy’s desire to kill Jesse’s sister or his lady friend Lisa. Freddy and Jesse are not strictly compartmentalized beings when Freddy takes over Jesse, which adds to the creepiness of what’s happening because it’s unclear who’s in control when the killings happen. Although Jesse is the good guy, the people he kills as Freddy are also the ones he might want revenge against: Schneider the evil coach, Grady the sort-of friend who fights with Jesse, and the many other teens who were probably the ones that laughed at him in class. Freddy departs from his methods of killing people in dreams, but the power of possession he uses in this film is interesting and scary in its own right.
Speaking of dreams, the dreams were not as cool in this movie and much more of the movie seems to take place in reality. The key word there is ‘seems.’ At the end of the film, Lisa goes to save Jesse from Freddy Krueger by going to the old factory Freddy was burned in. She encounters a couple of visions that turn out to be fake. There are the ants crawling in her ankle-wound that she scratches at furiously before they disappear and she realizes it was just a vision. She also has a vision where she’s falling through the walkway, but it turns out the walkway is still intact. While these seem insignificant, it means that some of the things that happened in the film could have been illusions. Jesse might have just imagined that he turned into Freddy and slashed up Coach Schneider; Grady may have just imagined that Freddy burst through Jesse’s skin. However, there are other events that had to have been the work of Freddy’s powers, most notably the scene at the pool party. While it’s possible Freddy could have made all the kids hallucinate, the fires he caused most assuredly weren’t just hallucination because they persisted even after he left. Freddy does a lot more running around outside of the dream world, but these kind of ambiguities reinforce the ambiguous nature of reality and dream from the first movie.
One of things I find fascinating about this movie is the homoerotic subtext to a lot of the scenes. I didn’t notice it the first time I watched the movie, but I read reviews and interpretations of the movie pointing it out and upon a second viewing I understood what they meant. In retrospect, I feel like I should have seen it the first time, what with Jesse and Grady wrestling after Grady pulled Jesse’s pants down or Coach Schneider wearing bondage gear and visiting an S&M club filled with drag queens. I like the idea that A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 is exploring issues of troubled sexuality; I haven’t seen it in many/any of the other horror films I’ve watched. Jesse has an intimate relationship with Lisa, one that ultimately saves him from being possessed by Freddy forever. However, he also walks into an S&M club in pajamas, knowing that it’s a place his very probably gay coach likes to frequent. He also visits Grady in his bedroom when he abruptly stops necking with Lisa and runs away. Admittedly, he did get a Freddy Krueger tongue when with Lisa, a sign that he might be dangerous to her if he hung around much longer. Nevertheless, Jesse seems to be coming to grips with his sexuality, which is not helped by Grady teasing him for not having sex with Lisa; Lisa gets the same treatment from her friend. Although I think Jesse ultimately proves to be straight, since he’s saved by his love for Lisa, Jesse is a more complex and interesting character because of his sexual vulnerability, but also more realistic because he portrays a confusion many young people face.
However, I’m reluctant to view Jesse’s sexual discomfort or confusion as the point of the movie. I’ve read interpretations that suggest the movie is about Jesse’s homosexual repression; the repressed desires manifest as Freddy, the monstrous entity that lashes out at the objects of his repressed sexual feelings, Coach Schneider and Grady. The gripe I have with that interpretation is that it turns the film into a very bad morality tale. Although feelings of fear and monstrousness may attend repressed sexual homosexual desire in real life, the film is implicitly critiquing those desires when it portrays homosexuality as embodied by a child molester/murderer. Furthermore, the moral of the story seems to be that someone can be “cured” of homosexuality, if we take the idea that far, and Jesse is “cured” by loving a woman. It’s possible to interpret the film as being about repressed homosexual desires, but I fear the implications are really unsavory.
Finally, I have a few miscellaneous things I liked and disliked about this film. As I mentioned before, this film has a great opening and ending; it’s the one thing this film does better than the first. I liked the heat and fire motif throughout the film. Since Freddy was burned to death, it makes sense that he would take revenge by heating up and burning people; I also liked that no one clogged the narrative by explaining all that. I liked the bright red and green lights at the factory. They help set the tone of the factory and they are the colors of Krueger’s iconic sweater. Finally, I was amused by Jesse’s dance in his bedroom; it’s so ridiculous, so 80s. The only things that I strongly disliked were the animals. As amusing as the killer parakeet was for taking a cue from The Birds, as amusing as it was to watch a parakeet explode for no reason, it took me out of the movie when I kept pondering why Freddy would and how he could take over a dreaming parakeet; the parakeet was sleeping, so it was obviously inteded to be a display of Freddy’s powers. I also couldn’t understand the monster puppets of the rat and the cat in factory; they were silly looking. But the worst animals of them all were the two dogs with baby face masks. I know that they were going for “hideous chimera” rather than “my dog in a Halloween costume,” but they were just the goofiest looking things.