So, the legend has it that, because strong word of mouth made A Nightmare on Elm Street a sleeper hit, Robert Shaye and the other folks at the burgeoning New Line Cinema asked Wes Craven for a sequel. Wes, being a smart guy and wanting to pursue other things, basically said, “I’ve said what I have to say in this world right now. Thanks, but no.” New Line was all like, “Well, we’ll do it without you, sucka.” And they did. To teach Wes a lesson, they hired an incompetent writer and worse director to make the movie.
Okay, some of that history is made up. Craven had originally wanted A Nightmare on Elm Street to be one film with a happy ending and New Line, which was trying to actually get off the ground, wanted that last frame Boo! so they could have a sequel. When Craven passed on a sequel, Robert Shaye went to David Chaskin, who’d been working at New Line while writing screenplays at night, to write the screenplay. Chaskin wrote the screenplay and handled rewrites and New Line tapped Jack Sholder to direct.
This was the second half of the double feature on HBO in the fall of 1986 that introduced me to Freddy Krueger. Even at nine, I didn’t like the movie very much. I say it’s the second worse of the series (stay tuned for what I think is the worst!). So, let’s get into it.
Kim Myers as Lisa. I’m not sure why, but I liked Myers as Lisa and still do. To be superficial, she’s not the most beautiful woman in the Nightmare movies, but there’s always been something about her that I found appealing. That, and I think she did the best acting work in the movie, except for maybe Robert Englund, but he doesn’t count. Considering the material, she did a pretty good job conveying the sort of emotion required to tell Jesse-in-Freddy, with a straight face, that she loves him. It is something that would challenge even Meryl Streep (whom Myers resembles) but she managed to pull it off. If Freddy’s Revenge had been as good as the original, she may have had a chance at being as well thought-of as Johnny Depp. Except that she probably wouldn’t have gotten on the cover of Tiger Beat, or the lead role in 21 Jump Street, or been Tim Burton’s alter ego. But still, she’s good.
Robert Englund. Kinda goes without saying, yes? Englund’s portrayal as Freddy Krueger is still scary. He still plays with his victims a bit, though this script doesn’t allow it much. I’m still a little disturbed by the scene after he comes out of Jesse (Mark Patton) in Grady’s bedroom. Grady (Robert Rusler) is lying in a heap by the door and Jesse is crying, bloody, in front of a full-length mirror. Instead of Jesse seeing himself, though, he sees Freddy, who is laughing and taunting him. It’s a fairly disturbing scene in a fairly milquetoast movie. He’s fun to watch in the infamous pool party scene, too. While the scene will be spoken about in further detail later, something about Freddy running rampant through the pool party is funny, and Robert Englund does his best to make it scary. He does an okay job.
The 1980s cheese factor is something that took twenty-eight years for this movie to achieve. When the movie came out, it was just lame. Now to look at it is to see why this movie, more than Craven’s original, is a sample of 1980s teen cinema. It was trying so hard to appeal to teenagers. While Craven’s movie was about telling a good, scary story (with some subtext below the surface), Sholder’s movie is an attempt to get teenagers’ money. From the outdated eighties fashions and music, to the stereotypical way in which the parents and the children interact, it makes the movie fun to watch. The effects are cheesy, the clothes and music are cheesy, and it all makes me think 1985 in big, neon-colors with a checkered backdrop. It actually makes the movie charming now, no small task for this turkey. Too bad it took nearly thirty years.
Its length. At 90 minutes, it’s too long, but at least it wasn’t two-and-a-half hours like Transformers. The movie is over before you know it, like a shot from the doctor.
The exploding parakeet. Just kidding, that’s one of–
I’m going to try to keep this brief. Good luck with that on this turd of a movie, the second worst Nightmare movie of the franchise (see how I do that? Now you really have to keep checking back!).
Most of the cast. Mark Patton and Robert Rusler do the best they can as Jesse and Grady, but they belong on a sitcom, not in the follow-up to one of the best horror movies of all time. Clu Gulager and Hope Lange as Jesse’s parents are appallingly bad. They would be parents on a failed ’80s sitcom. Marshall Bell as the gay, sadistic gym teacher does what you’d expect for a role that is nothing more than a stereotype. And that’s one of the issues with this movie, almost every role in this movie is a stereotype. Jesse is the Hero, and New Teenager At School And Is Misunderstood. Lisa is the Girl Who Too Quickly Falls For The Hero/Rich Girl Who Isn’t A Bitch. Grady is the Enemy-Turned-Friend/Overprivileged Kid. Mr. & Mrs. Walsh are the Suburban Dad (Who Knows Best) & Mom (Who Puts Up With Dad). The kid sister is, well, the kid sister. Again, it’s a testament to Kim Myers that she made Lisa live as well as she did.
The story. In this interview, David Chaskin defends his work on A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge. You can’t blame the guy. He probably did the best he could and, for him, it was just another horror flick. It was a follow-up to a movie that was doing well for New Line (to everyone’s surprise) but not the iconic film it has since become. But the story is flawed. According to Chaskin in the interview linked above, “I’ve heard a few complaints that we strayed too far from the formula (i.e., bringing Freddy into the material world) and that somehow, the syntax didn’t jive with the original, although I’ve yet to hear an example that holds up to scrutiny.”
True. Craven brought Freddy into the material world when Nancy first plucks his hat off his head while Roger Rabbit is running his tests, and again at the end for the Looney Tunes segment of the movie. I’m sure in Chaskin’s mind bringing Freddy Krueger into the material world (Madonna had said it was so just the year before) via his possession of Jesse wasn’t much different. But here’s an argument he can scrutinize: If Freddy had the power to possess someone and come into the waking world to gain his revenge against the parents who burned him, why bother with the whole nightmare thing? Why not just possess Nancy in the first movie (or Glenn, for that matter)? The answer is because it’s called A Nightmare on Elm Street, not A Possession on Elm Street. Or if you really want Freddy in the real world, maybe have poor ol’ Freddy stuck in the real world ever since the events of the first Nightmare and he’s trying to get back into the dream. He’s effectually powerless here and wants his power back. But even that idea has holes.
The wise thing would have been to truly built on Craven’s concept, explore Krueger’s history deeper, see if Heather Langenkamp would return as Nancy, and perhaps go even more fantastic.
Let’s not forget that Craven did the smart thing by making the female lead the hero of the movie. To make Mark Patton’s Jesse the hero is sort of a slap in the face. First, the actor is too weak. Second, the idea that the female lead was more than just a girl to be chased by the villain and to bare her breasts was something pretty cool, not even Jamie Lee Curtis was as forceful in fighting Michael Myers, but Jesse’s possession doesn’t do much for him as the main character. It is up to Lisa to save Jesse, which shifts the focus onto her, who is not the narrative center of the story until the pool party. Shifting focus isn’t necessarily a bad thing–Hitchcock does so in Psycho and even Craven did it in the first Nightmare (it’s easy to forget, but Amanda Weiss’s Tina seems to be the lead in the movie until she dances on the ceiling)–but in the last third of the movie? I don’t know….
The director. In an interview on the 1999 Nightmare DVD set, Jack Sholder comes out and says (I’m paraphrasing) that some directors use horror movies as an art form to release their own fears while other directors make horror movies to be fun. He implied Craven was the former and he was the latter. Sholder got some good, creepy shots in the movie. When Jesse notices Freddy in the basement cooking an arm in the furnace, struggles with the basement door with Freddy on the other side, then turns to find Krueger standing there, it’s scary. At the pool party (still coming to that, too), there’s a shot of Freddy looking back at Lisa, and he’s lit with the flames, making him creepy. But Sholder seems too willing to cop to what he thinks the teenage moviegoer in the mid-1980s wanted to see rather than making a scary movie that would match the original. Some of the “scares,” including the exploding parakeet, a creepy rat in an old refrigerator, and the dog with the human face all fall flat. The allowance of the majority of the actors to be rejects from bad sitcoms is another problem with his direction. And there’s more, so much more….
Freddy’s new look. In the first nightmare, the character is Fred Krueger. In one scene, while Nancy is being chased by him, she runs into her house and closes and locks the door. She starts up the stairs and her feet sink into them. Then the glove crashes through the window in the door and Krueger appears with a mask of Tina’s face. In Tina’s voice, he says, “Help, Nancy! Save me from–” He rips the mask off and, in his own voice, finishes: “–Freddy!” That’s the first time he’s called Freddy. If memory serves, that’s the only time in the first movie that he’s called “Freddy.” Of course, that name is in the title of this movie, thereby making him Freddy Krueger forever after. And if that wasn’t enough of a change, for whatever reason, Sholder (or the producers) decided to change the way Freddy looked.
For starters, they gave him stronger cheekbones. They also placed a hook on his nose, a nod to the Wicked Witch of the West. They also thought he’d look older with brown eyes instead of Robert Englund’s green/blue. Because Freddy possesses and comes out of Jesse, his knives come out of a burned hand in some scenes and the traditional glove in others. Lastly, his outfit is different. He’s still wearing a fedora, though it’s a different shape. And he’s still wearing a dirty red-and-green sweater, though this one is more form-fitting and has stripes on the arms. The makeup would change with each new director, but the basic sweater and hat would remain the same. The sweater with the solid red arms that appeared in the first movie wouldn’t be seen on Freddy again.
Is this a minor gripe? Sure, but why mess with something that worked so well before.
The pool party. Yes, there’s a 1980s teen movie pool party in the middle. Lisa’s holding a pool party at her big friggin’ house (apparently, Elm Street is one of those streets that has a lot of social classes living on it, from the lower classes [think Rod Lane and some of the kids from the third movie] to the middle [Nancy, et al] to the upper [Lisa, Kristen in the third movie]) and invited Jesse, who is depressed and a bummer to be around. She finally confesses her interest in him and they make out, ready to go further when a large, greenish tongue comes out of his mouth (Freddy’s tongue, which we saw a lot of in the first one, always looked relatively unburned).
Jesse does what any boy with a weirdly long tongue and half-naked girl in front of him would: Run to his friend’s house (and we’ll get to that soon enough). Well, when he returns to the party with his now-dead friend’s blood all over him, freakin’ out about how “He’s inside me” (yes, I promise, soon), Lisa continues to tell him how great he is and…well…Freddy pops out again.
Not only does Freddy come to kill Lisa, and tells her in Jesse’s voice that he loves her or something like that, but he apparently freaks out with the knowledge that this nerdy kid is now in him, too, and he leaps out of some French doors, disappearing in mid air.
Waitasecond, the nine-year-old Billy thought. If Freddy is in the real world now, how can he vanish in mid air? The answer: Bad writing. But that’s just the beginning. Because then the pool begins to boil, and the hot dogs explode and catch on fire. The teenagers take care of it and seem like everything’s cool–until Freddy pops out of the ground and starts chasing them. Kids are running to a chainlink fence, where they burn their hands when the links get red-hot. Fire erupts around the edges of the yard as the kids are trampling other kids. And then there’s the future psychologist, who tells Freddy, “It’s all right, man. No one wants to hurt you.” Then Freddy introduces the douchebag to his claw. Oh, and there’s the eruption of flame that backlights Freddy with his arms out, Christlike, to give the message, “You are all my children now.”
All these silly antics in the movie could work, if they were in another movie, or if it were someone’s nightmare. But since it’s established that Freddy is now in our world, the waking world, how does all this happen?
The homoerotic subtext to the movie. I’m not against homosexuality in movies. In 1985, we were still five/six years away from Tom Hanks winning an Oscar for portraying a gay man dying of AIDS in Philadelphia. It would have been interesting to have an actual gay character in the Nightmare series. Imagine the horror Freddy could have provoked on him on a psychological level? And it would have been a great way of humanizing, in a popular franchise, something that was still the butt of too many jokes. In the interview I linked to previously, Chaskin says there is a definite homosexual undercurrent running throughout A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge. Jack Sholder, the great intellectual director, says there’s no such thing. Who to believe? Well, there’s that line: “He’s inside me.” Guess we know.
But that’s not where it stops. Let’s say that, on an intellectual level, Jesse is uncertain of his sexuality and he’s torn between feelings for Lisa and Grady, you have the makings of an interesting horror film that could have seriously tackled a topic that many young people deal with. Instead, we’re given the coach, played by Marshall Bell, who turns up when Jesse finds himself in a leather bar. Basically, the old gay/leather bar schtick from the Police Academy movies. The coach takes Jesse back to the gym to make him run laps, and then go into the shower. Of course, Freddy pops out and kills the coach.
Actually, it wasn’t Robert Englund in the scene. Unable to film it for some reason or another, a stuntman played Freddy in that scene, with all the spunk that the stuntmen playing Jason often had. In other words, none at all.
Instead of seriously and maturely handling a controversial topic, they do it with “subtlety” and stereotype.
Yeah, I can see how David Chaskin would think that Nightmare fans don’t have an argument that holds up to close scrutiny. And how Jack Sholder can sit in his interviews and smugly speak about how Craven did his thing and Sholder did his own. Seriously, guys!
Of course, Chaskin and Sholder are so original, they decide that they will kill Freddy with…love. Lisa tells Freddy she loves him (well, she’s talking to Jesse, who she believes is in their somewhere) and then kisses him. Yeah! Freddy gets it on! Well…almost. Fire comes from nowhere and Freddy gets burned…again. Leaving wimpy Jesse behind.
And then there’s the essential “Boo!” ending, with Freddy’s glove coming out of Lisa’s friend’s stomach/chest on a school bus, etc. & so on.
The town where Elm Street is located is given the name Springwood in this movie. It has been said that they were originally going to call the town Springfield, but New Line’s legal department was worried considering how many Springfields there are in the U.S. and how many of them have Elm Streets. I like that Wes Craven never specifically mentions the town; this could be happening anywhere.
The Morning After
Love runs deep, but hatred deeper. I spent about 1,600 words on A Nightmare on Elm Street, a film I love, and 3,300 words on A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, a film I hate. Weird, huh? Look, it breaks down like this: With a little thought, with a director who cared and a writer who cared, New Line Cinema could have followed up Wes Craven’s movie with another classic horror movie, the best horror movie sequel since The Bride of Frankenstein. Instead, we’re given a typical 1980s teen schlockfest. The ideas are boring, the story is silly, and the acting is terrible. I hit on what I feel are the major points, but I could go on for another 3,000 words.
Still, this movie helped me fall in love with horror, and made me a fan of Freddy Krueger. After watching these two movies when I was nine, things were different. I found a new path that diverged (yet in many ways followed) the path set before me by the Star Wars movies and superhero comic books. So imagine my surprise when Dad took me to see Sylvester Stallone in Over the Top and, in the theater lobby, I saw a huge cardboard display for A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. That’s more of a memory of that day than the Stallone vehicle. I was on the road for my first horror movie on the big screen, and a seat to witness the birth of an icon.
Freddy must be pissed off at me. While I was writing the first draft of this essay, Pamela was preparing food for some company and cut herself badly. She says the knife sucked and blamed that. The knife has a skinny, curved blade, much like what one might find on a claw. I’m blaming Freddy.