Monday, 8 October 2012

A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge

1985
Dir. Jack Sholder

Five years after Freddy Krueger was seemingly defeated by teenager Nancy Thompson, a new family move into her house on Elm Street. Jesse, the teenage son, begins to have terrifying dreams of a horribly burned man with knives for fingers who wants to possess him in order to continue murdering the children of Elm Street.

The man of your dreams is back!

While he was attempting to find a studio to back his script for A Nightmare on Elm Street, director Wes Craven was financially destitute. He lost his savings and his house, and his marriage fell apart. To make ends meet he worked as a script doctor, and when New Line offered to produce A Nightmare on Elm Street, Craven was so broke he had to sign over all the rights to the studio who eventually insisted upon an open ending to the first film in order to set up a sequel. As an indication of what to expect from the Elm Street sequels, just consider that head of New Line, Bob Shaye, famously likened the process of putting together a horror film franchise to making a good cheese burger – all you need are the right ‘ingredients.’ As imaginative as some of the dream sequences in the later sequels would be, there’s no escaping the fact that these films were basic production line horror; assembled specifically to earn big bucks, to hell with originality or innovativeness. To be fair to the Elm Street series though, it does manage to boast more imagination than some of its peers. Yes Friday the 13th, I’m talking about you. To his credit Shaye actually approached Craven to direct the follow up, but the filmmaker declined because he disagreed with the direction the story took: instead of Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) terrorising the protagonist in his dreams, the film veers down a more body-horror orientated path, with the child killer attempting to possess the male lead and emerge into the waking world.



The continuity of the Elm Street films was much more succesful than the likes of Halloween and Friday the 13th. Nancy’s presence is still felt when her diary is discovered by Jesse (Mark Patton) and Lisa (Kim Myers, looking like a young Meryl Streep), but as a direct sequel to A Nightmare on Elm Street, this film is not entirely successful. While the filmmakers tried to do something a little different with the body-horror elements, none of the surreal dream sequences or queasy tension from the original film appears here; though the opening scene with Krueger driving a school bus to hell (Bob Shaye's suggested ending for the original film) is nicely realised and pretty taut. What the film does get right, to an extent, is its depiction of Krueger – who had yet to become the clownish figure he was in later sequels – as an unsettling and dark presence. The shot where he emerges from the steamy shower room is one of the most hauntingly effective of the film. The screenplay by David Chaskin has more humour to lighten the mood – New Line always thought the first film was too dark – and director Jack Sholder, who had previously directed the slasher movie Alone in the Dark and would go on the helm decent sci-fi thriller The Hidden – creates a stifling atmosphere and on occasions a palpable uneasiness. These aspects are diluted by inexplicable and ludicrous moments however, such as the scene in which the family’s pet parrot explodes!



The first A Nightmare on Elm Street film unfurled as an updated fairytale in which a group of youngsters realised, to their horror, the fallibility of their parents. They had to use their own resourcefulness to survive attacks from a bogeyman who stalked them in their dreams. As mentioned, the sequel takes a new direction with the revelation that Freddy wants to corrupt the mind and possess the body of the new kid in town so he can manifest himself in the real world and continue his vengeful killing spree. Curiously, the most interesting, and unexpected, aspect of this film is that it is rife with a subtext of homosexual anxiety and repression. While the filmmakers initially claimed this was all unintentional, as the story progresses it becomes more difficult to view it any other way than that of a violent ‘coming out’ parable. Mark Patton, an openly gay actor, portrays Jesse as a confused and sensitive young man. Jesse is an interesting substitute for the typical Final Girl, right down to his unisex name. He’s not your typical teen horror hero. Various campy, blatantly homoerotic moments occur when Jesse and his friend Grady wrestle each other in the locker room, while Jesse’s pants are around his ankles, his buttocks are out for all to see and the rest of the class stand and watch, for a little too long; and when Jesse falls asleep in class and dreams that a huge snake wraps itself around his body (phallic symbol alert!) awakening to realise he isn’t dreaming, and there is an actual snake that has escaped its tank in the science room.



Jesse comments that he is having nightmares about a man who wants his body, and exclaims such subtextually loaded lines as ‘Fred Krueger! He's inside me, and he wants to take me again!’ (paging Dr Freud! STAT!). As a stand alone film, Elm Street 2 can be viewed as the story of a young man’s repression of his homosexual urges, the anxiety and panic he feels and the eventual nervous breakdown he suffers. There are also several scenes that depict Jesse’s fraying relationship with his family and friends, in which his mother and girlfriend plead with him to talk about what’s troubling him. These scenes are highly reminiscent of any ‘coming-out’ movie. Due to Krueger’s evil, hellish presence, the Walshes' home becomes unbearably hot. Cue lots of shots with Jesse waking up soaked in sweat, his flat chest glistening in the moonlight. One other telling and rather homophobic scene occurs when Jesse wakes up after a nightmare and decides to go for a walk to clear his head. Where does he go? Somewhere that looks suspiciously like a gay leather bar! And who should appear leering over his shoulder, but his predatory gym coach, decked out in leather. Later that night the coach forces Jesse to run laps in the gym before ordering him to hit the showers. While Jesse is getting clean in the steamy shower room, the coach wanders back to his office and is attacked by an unseen force that hurls soccer balls at him, ties him up, strips him bare and whips his arse with a towel before slashing him to death. Conjuring all manner of S & M connotations, and rife with the homoerotic imagery of young men flicking each other with towels in a steamy locker room, this has to be one of the more bizarre deaths in the series. And that’s saying something!

If one is to read this sequel as a Queer horror film, that must mean Freddy is constructed as the repressed desires of a young gay man that have become destructive and lash out at those he is attracted to. Interestingly, there are no female victims in this sequel – they’re all male, which adds credence to the theory that the whole story is a thinly veiled metaphor for homosexual panic. Freddy seems to emerge from Jesse’s body when he’s in sexual situations, as when he and Lisa are making out in her pool house and a long forked tongue protrudes from his mouth. It’s not difficult to read these moments of 'Freddy manifestations' as Jesse’s sexual anxiety. He views his sexuality as monstrous and he struggles to repress it. Perhaps the most unsettling example of this is when Jesse flees to Grady’s house and asks to sleep there. Freddy begins to rip his way out of Jesse’s body and advances towards a half naked Grady, slashing him to death and pinning him to the bedroom door. Some urges just can’t be repressed for long I guess. Being with Grady in his bedroom obviously stirs Jesse’s urges to the point of which there is no return. Robert Englund commented on the homoerotic nature of the film, stating "... the second Nightmare on Elm Street is obviously intended as a bisexual themed film. It was early '80s, pre-AIDS paranoia. Jesse's wrestling with whether to come out or not and his own sexual desires were manifested by Freddy. His friend is the object of his affection. That's all there in that film. We did it subtly but the casting of Mark Patton was intentional too, because Mark was out.”



What saves Jesse in the end is the love of a woman. Director Sholder apparently saw the film as a love story, a sort of reworking of Beauty and the Beast. Even though Jesse is possessed by Krueger, Lisa still loves him and stands by him. While editing the film, Sholder opted to tone down a lot of Kevin Yagner’s (admittedly impressive) SFX to try and focus more on the story. While most slasher movies contain the underlying notion that sexuality is dangerous, none do it as blatantly as this one, and the homoerotic undertones are what make this otherwise mainly lacklustre sequel so engrossing. As an Elm Street movie it is an odd but interesting one – along with Part 6 it’s the only one not to feature recurring teen characters from the series. While it is probably rather underrated, coming in the wake of the original, it’s just a bit too uninspiring.

4 comments:

Pete Turner said...

So gay and that makes me appreciate it a hell of a lot more. Very original horror film when you think about THAT subtext and actually one of the better sequels. Shame they had so many silly scenes like Freddy at the pool party that didn't work so well. Loved the opening bus ride dream though. Freddy was still pretty terrifying at this point in the franchise.

James Gracey said...

You know something Pete? I think I have developed a soft spot for this one over the years. The subtext makes it; if it weren't for all the towel whipping and obvious sexual angst, this would be a very bland sequel indeed. And I agree with you about Krueger - still a very creepy and menacing figure at this stage. Not for long though!

Thanks for stopping by.

MrJeffery said...

i remember being so afraid of the school bus scene as a kid!

James Gracey said...

The only Elm Street movie I saw as a youngster was the first one. And even then it was only bits and pieces at a cousin's house; my aunt realised what we were watching and ordered me out of the room. I was about 8 or 9. I remember the bath scene and the moment when Marge tells Nancy about Krueger and shows her his claws. Which she just happened to have in her boiler. I was horrified!

The bus scene in Part 2 is well staged; I love how it becomes increasingly grotesque and nightmarish.