A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2: FREDDY’S REVENGE; Or, A Nightmare of Repressed Sexuality

A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge. 1985. Directed by Jack Sholder. Screenplay by David Chaskin.
Starring Mark Patton, Kim Myers, Robert Rusler, Clu Gulager, Hope Lange, Marshall Bell, Sydney Walsh, & Robert Englund.
New Line Cinema/Heron Communications/Smart Egg Pictures.
Rated R. 87 minutes.

posterThe original A Nightmare on Elm Street always rocked me, from the first time I saw it to today. Lurking amongst dreams, Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) always upset me because the way he haunts leaves people so defenceless. This sequel to the first film is usually deemed unworthy, that it goes against the rules set out in the original. Moreover, some just think it’s a bad movie. Not me. Before even trying to suss out any of the homosexual underlining in the screenplay this flick freaked me out. So what Freddy attacks people later in the film outside of dreams? So what? Did you watch the rest of the movie?
Jesse Walsh (Mark Patton) denies his homosexuality to an oblivious extent. Having Freddy possess him, killing anybody that gets too close, is a symbol of this repressed sexuality. Literally, denying his sexuality is killing him. And others.
With a couple of my favourite Freddy scenes, apart from the first film, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge is at once an allegory about the dangers of being forced to repress your sexuality, and also a fun mix of Freddy’s nightmare world with his newfound ability to literally possess those whose dreams he infects.
pic1pic2Following suit with the first, screenwriter David Chaskin begins the sequel with a nice dream sequence. Having a bus driver run off renegade with a few high school kids still in tow is horrifying enough. The fact Englund plays the driver, without the Krueger makeup at first, makes this scene much scarier. This is also, obviously, the first Krueger-infused nightmare. From there it’s a double-edged sword through Chaskin’s script. We get doses of Freddy along with the layout of Jesse as a character. He’s challenged constantly to be “masculine” – what society sees as masculinity, anyways – and at the same time the writing points out all sorts of homoeroticism in high school, the sort of stuff young men aren’t readily willing to admit. Jesse doesn’t play baseball as well as the other guys. He then gets pantsed by Ron Grady (Robert Rusler), which leads into a wrestling match. So, simultaneously the screenplay has all these instances of perceived masculinity where Jesse doesn’t match Grady specifically, then they’re rolling around, pressing bodies together, and things only get more overtly homoerotic from there. Later, Grady asks Jesse about Lisa Webber (Kim Myers), whether he’s “mounting her nightly,” and it’s suggested that if not there’s a problem. The way Jesse reacts suggests not that he doesn’t wish to divulge information, but that he’s afraid to admit not having sex with her; either because he can’t get there, or maybe doesn’t want to do that. Masculinity is played up amongst the high school males yet there’s this juxtaposed homoerotic undertone to so much of it. Perfectly written by Chaskin. To act outside the supposed norm is to be ostracised and ridiculed. So, Jesse, like a lot of gay men in the ’80s, is locked in the closet.
Everything gets cast in a slightly sexual light. Coach Schneider (Marshall Bell) tells the boys to “assume the position” and wears them out with push-ups, lording over them. Then all the boys are forced to get in the shower after gym, something I always found strange about school. This means boys like Jesse are forced to get comfortable naked around peers of the same sex while likely struggling with their sexuality. Not to mention masculinity’s at stake if you don’t quite… measure up. The homosexual undertones of the story come out plenty with Coach Schneider, who frequents a leather bar and may just be a nasty paedophile, which is why he enjoys exerting power of the boys so much. His kill scene involves a creepy bit of S&M.
pic1Many instances of powerful horror imagery. The Schneider sequence after Jesse meets him in the leather bar is especially eerie. School at night is spooky, even when I was young and going to a school dance it always unnerved me. Seeing Jesse start his lap, he and Schneider all alone together, is spooky. Almost drenched in fog. The wide angle makes the gymnasium feel particularly stark. We follow Jesse around the gym until seeing Schneider again, sort of like Jesse runs to him; an act of power for the coach like when he takes pleasure in working the young boys during school.
Throughout the franchise, little girls skipping rope crop up. Over and over. One of the more creepy images to me, as it invokes Krueger’s past. Added to that, little kids in horror work well when used correctly. How we see the skipping girl show up here is amazingly executed. Jesse walks into a room, we see his face and the rope flipping around before actually seeing the girl. She repeats the famous nursery rhyme. Great, haunting scene.
Maybe the greatest of any scene outside the original is when Jesse goes to Grady, in a strange mood after having ran off from Lisa when they decide to make out. Slowly, Freddy starts emerging from inside Jesse; literally. The blades squeeze out of his nails, his arm becomes the infamous red and green shirt, an eye peers from far back inside Jesse’s throat. Then he slices his own chest to let Freddy out. Gruesome, excellent effects, gorgeously disturbing. Another unnerving moment is when Lisa is going to find Freddy’s hideout, she passes two human-faced dogs. They’re like the hounds guarding the entrance to hell, Freddy style. These are the two scenes I find best on the practical effects and terror.
In terms of the embedded homoerotic content, the famous dance scene is one perfect symbol in the dark. This is the only single time we see Jesse being himself. Every other scene he’s either only comfortable when around Lisa, or we find him uncomfortably trying to fit in with the other guys in high school posturing themselves as masculine creatures. Here, by himself, Jesse gyrates, he sings into a microphone and then strokes it like a phallus, he dances on the bed moving his body like a woman might. In these moments there is a hidden sexuality in how he moves, yearning to come out. The scene feels off to many, misplaced, like it belongs in a goofy teen comedy. I beg to differ.
pic2pic3I love this movie! It isn’t perfect, it has flaws. But the big mistake people seem to make concerning its plot is they bash it for not following Craven’s rules from the original. Fair enough. Only if you look closer, there’s reasoning to it. Freddy is only able to actually enter the real world after he finds the path of least resistance. Early on, he haunts Jesse in dreams. Not long later he explodes the bird, he starts seeping into reality. It’s only after he’s killed the true object of Jesse’s affection – Grady – that Freddy is allowed power enough to enter the world in full form. Freddy breaking through Jesse’s skin literally is the allegory, boiled down to metaphor, concerning how dangerous denying one’s sexuality can be ultimately.
This is a 4-star bit of horror. The ’80s were a heyday for the genre. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge gets unfairly lumped into the worst of the decade. My feeling is that, upon retrospect, this sequel needs a revisit, by many. During Halloween season, pop in the original then follow up with this one. They’re very different, and still serve much of the same purpose. After awhile, it isn’t scary to me that Freddy is in dreams. He has to get bigger, scarier. Later in New Nightmare, through metafiction, Freddy becomes more a part of the real world. People loved that one. My guess is most don’t understand, or dig, the homosexual subtext (a.k.a totally out in the open for anyone not blind) and therefore the rest of the film falls flat. If you look at it the right way, Freddy’s Revenge is more Jesse’s Dangerous Repression. If you can see it in that sense, you may get into it differently.

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