In Defense of… A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge
Happy October everyone!
The leaves have hit the ground, Starbucks is offering the Pumpkin Latte, and I have a stack of my favorite (and not so favorite) horror movies all set to marathon from now until Halloween. I can’t wait to celebrate the best holiday of the year, and am starting this season off right with a highly underrated title: A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge!
In fact, ANOES2 is actually my favorite of the sequels. This may come as a surprise to some since it is considered by many fans to be the “black sheep” of the Nightmare movies. It does not add anything of canonical significance to the series (they say… I disagree, more on that later) as part 3 follows part 1 pretty well. If one were to skip part 2, nothing important to the overall story would be missed, since it is very much like a stand-alone movie.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 2, to the disdain of many hardcore fans, abandons the expected shtick of Freddy killing people in their dreams. Instead, Freddy takes possession of “the new kid in town,” Jesse Walsh and forces him to kill those around him. However, it’s not a complete deviation from the series, as Freddy is only able to take full possession of Jesse if he falls asleep.
The other big criticism against A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 was that it simply is not “scary.” Granted, a lot of the scares do fall flat, but it delivers in terms of atmosphere and Freddy, even detractors admit, is at his darkest and most brutal in this movie.
Lastly, the big elephant in the room if you’ve ever seen this movie, is the prominent homosexual overtones. Jesse Walsh is written as a straight character, complete with an attractive female love interest. However, Mark Patton, the actor that played Jesse, is gay in real life… and it shows just a little bit here… and leads to a few awkward situations…
However, despite what one may think, imagining Jesse as a closeted homosexual/bisexual character actually ENHANCES this movie. In fact, there are a number of scenes that take on more meaning and make more sense if one thinks of Jesse that way.
Before we get any further, now would be a good time to warn about incoming spoilers! I will defend this movie, explain why I like it so much in more detail, and hopefully help others gain a new found appreciation for it. To do that, I need to get a bit specific, and if you haven’t seen the movie yet (it came out in 1985! Get to it, it’s good I promise) then proceed at your own risk.
If you’ve already seen the movie, feel free to skip “The Plot” and go directly down to “So there aren’t ANY links from this movie to the rest of the series?”
Five years after the events of the first Nightmare on Elm Street, a new family moves into 1428 Elm St – The Walshes. They appear to be the ordinary all-American family, complete with a stay-at-home mother, two kids (boy and girl), and a father that enjoys getting his hands dirty with fixing things around the house. The father, by the way, is played by none other than famous B-movie legend: Clu Gulager, whom you may also remember from such classics as Return of the Living Dead, I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, and the Feast series.
So the all-American family moved into the all-American suburb of Springwood, what could go wrong? Well.. this town has a deep dark secret, that has been dormant, rotting, and waiting for five years to surface again. Before Jesse has even managed to fully unpack, he is already assaulted with violent dreams of a strange burnt man in a dirty striped sweater with a filthy homemade razor-glove. In his most intense nightmare, this monster commands Jesse to “Kill for me!”
As Jesse is tormented nightly, he starts to lose his sanity. He appears constantly tired, antsy, and with heavy bags under his eyes. His waning mental health and changing demeanor creates tension between him and his parents, as they are unable to understand what their son is going through. His mother, Cheryl, believes it’s something that needs medical attention, while his father, Ken, is worried that he’s taking drugs.
Indeed, their home life is taking a drastic turn for the worst, as is their, well, home itself. Inexplicably and suddenly, the temperature in any given room would leap by 30 or more degrees. Appliances, that aren’t even plugged in, randomly burst into flames. Their pet parakeet violently kills another bird in its cage before escaping, attacking the family and finally bursting into flames.
The only person Jesse fully confides in is Lisa, whom has been carrying a torch for him ever since he moved into town. While helping to clean his room, she discovers Nancy’s old diary in Jesse’s closet, which provides Jesse with some answers at last as to what’s happening. He now has a name for his fear: Fred Krueger, and knows that it is his fear that’s giving this undead child-murderer power over him. Together they also discover that Fred Krueger, when he was alive, murdered dozens of Springwood’s children in a factory he worked at. It was there that the disgruntled parents of Elm Street found and murdered him.
Unfortunately, this knowledge is too little, and too late. Jesse has a rather odd dream, in which he goes to a S&M leather bar and runs into his gym teacher, Coach Schneider. Schneider, being a responsible adult (we hope!) stops Jesse from drinking, and takes Jesse back to the school for some discipline in the form of laps around the basketball court.
After running, Jesse heads to the showers to wash up. However, his dream actually becomes a bit weirder,and much more sinister, as his coach is dragged, against his will, by some unseen force into the showers next to him. It is then that Freddy Krueger fully takes over, and makes Jesse claim his first victim. Jesse then awakes in the shower, covered in blood, over the body of his gym teacher.
At school, his friends are completely unable to help, and Lisa dismisses Jesse dreaming about the real murder of Coach Schneider as supernatural “psychic signals” from his home. He does his best to deny his own knowledge to the contrary, and trusts her. He even makes an effort to be social for a change, and goes to Lisa’s big party that weekend. However, being awake for so many days, he feels himself starting to slip… He decides to run for it, Lisa is in danger the longer he’s with her. Maybe his buddy, Grady, will understand afterall, or at least do his best to keep Jesse awake one more night.
Sadly, Jesse succumbs to sleep, and it isn’t long before he’s covered in blood again from one of the most stark, brutal, and horrifying kills in the entire Nightmare on Elm St. series. Grady’s dead, having been skewered very violently. With Grady’s parents outside the bedroom door, and police on the way, Jesse runs back to Lisa.
Despite being drenched in blood, Lisa still does not want to believe what’s happening. That is, until Jesse transforms again into Freddy and goes on a maniacal killing spree of party guests. This is pretty easy for Freddy, since he maintains some “dream powers” through his animated host, so he’s able to supernaturally lock doors and bring the pool to scalding temperatures. To the surviving teens, Freddy bellows “You are all my children now!” after giving them plenty of nightmare fuel.
Back at the abandoned factory, Lisa confronts Freddy and defeats him with the power of love. Freddy, being unable to hurt those closest to Jesse’s heart and having lost his grip, is defeated. Jesse is now free from Freddy’s control, and is able to sleep soundly once again…
Or does he…?
And with that confusing last scene of Freddy’s claw bursting through Karen’s chest to the horror of Jesse and Lisa, the movie ends. The fate of Lisa and the Walsh family remains a mystery. There isn’t a single mention of them in part 3, nor any of the other sequels. 1428 Elm St. is completely abandoned and run-down in the third movie, suggesting that the Walshes either moved or died.
So there aren’t ANY links from this movie to the rest of the series?
Well… not OVERTLY, but there are some that can be teased out. First of all, and most obvious, is the fact that the door to 1428 Elm St. in the first movie was blue. However in part 2 it is red, and stays red for the remainder of the series. This helps establish that Part 2 is canon and not in a separate universe.
According to actor Mark Patton, he has insisted in interviews that “Jesse lives.” If this is true, then where the heck did he go? Some fans, like myself, think there’s a small hint in ANOES 3 tucked away in a brief line of dialogue. In one scene, Nancy and Dr. Gordon are discussing the surviving teens of Elm Street, and Gordon mentions that they, “Lost a kid to Fairview after he cut off his own eyelids to stay awake. We don’t know where he got the razors.” Can it be that this is Jesse? This seems very possible, considering that the last time we ever see the glove in the real world (and not the dream world in Freddy’s possession) is in part 2. If anyone had the glove, it would be Jesse, since he was the last one to have it. This would explain where the “mysterious razors” came from.
Lastly, two characters from Part 3 make an appearance in Freddy’s Revenge! Well…sorta… The characters Will Stanton and Taryn White each have people in the background that look a lot like them. First Will:
Hmm.. it is close… Up next is Taryn:
What’s that? You’re saying you don’t see the resemblance? Well, keep in mind Taryn’s backstory from the third movie and ask yourself, does she seem like the type that would frequent sketchy clubs in the seedy underbelly of Springwood?
Also, remember Freddy’s killing spree at the end of the movie? Critics HATED that, claiming that it seemed more like something out of a dumb slasher movie, than something Freddy would do.
However there may be a method to the madness…
My interpretation is simply that Freddy’s goal, his true “revenge” all along if you will, was NOT to turn Jesse into the new Springwood Slasher. Oh no. He merely wanted Jesse to help carry the fear of Fred Krueger into the next batch of Springwood children.
You see, at the end of Nightmare on Elm Street 1, Freddy is stuck. Nancy, using hypnocil, no longer dreams when she sleeps, and he already murdered all of the other kids of Elm Street. Five years later, there aren’t any kids that remember nor have any reason to fear this deceased child killer. He is completely without power, and no longer able to murder people in their dreams…
However, he still haunts Nancy’s home… and when Jesse’s family moves in, he puts his plan into action. He haunts Jesse’s dreams, relentlessly tormenting him and feeding off of his fear. As he wears away at Jesse’s mentality, it becomes easier and easier to take control of him while he’s sleeping. Before taking the next step, killing, Freddy tests this out on the family parakeet. This is why the bird goes crazy, kills the other bird in the cage, and attacks the family. After that little “dress rehearsal,” Freddy tries it with Jesse, making him kill Coach Schneider, and later Grady. However, Freddy is unable to make Jesse kill Angela (his little sister) or Lisa.
Not happy with that, Freddy says to himself “F-this” and proceeds on an all-out killing spree. He purposely lets about half of the kids at the party live, telling them “You are all my children now!” before leaving…
Right there, you know darned well that those kids will have nightmares for weeks. And everyone at school will be talking about it. Fear of Freddy will rise, and allow him to kill kids in their dreams again. His “Revenge” has started…
So what’s so great about this film?
If you believe that Freddy Krueger should act like a Joel Shumacher Batman badguy, and have wacky, over the top, kills and “hahalarious” one liners, look elsewhere. This is not the Nightmare for you, try Part 5 or 6. However, if you’re like me and prefer villains to be, you know, villainous, and prefer the “dark” Freddy to the sillier one, then this is perfect. As the movies gained in popularity, the Fred Krueger character was sanitized more and more, and made to be more “marketable.” Part 2 is actually the last time we see Freddy as a full-blown menacing figure. After this, he’s popping jokes after every kill and getting too much screen time. Here, it’s just right, as he comes across as a menacing and mysterious boogie-man. Sure he does laugh here and there, but it is always at the expense of his victims, taunting them and their helplessness before going right in for the kill.
As I mentioned, this movie features my favorite kill in the entire series. Yes, I rank it even above Johhny Depp’s famous “bed-blender” death, and even higher the fan-favorite “Welcome to Prime-Time, bitch!” from NOES3. The kill I’m referring to is Grady’s death which, as I see it, has three parts to it, all of which make it absolutely brilliant. These parts are: The Transformation, the Kill, and the psychological impact.
It begins with Jesse doubled over in pain, sobbing at how Grady failed him and let him go to sleep. Grady, concerned, moves to his aid but quickly backs off once he sees razors appearing from under Jesse’s fingernails. Jesse lets out repeated screams of agony as his flesh is ripped, revealing Freddy’s arm underneath. Grady runs to his door which won’t open, as Freddy keeps it firmly locked in place. Meanwhile, on the other side, his father struggles to open the door to no avail, and repeatedly demands that Grady let him in. Jesse continues fighting a losing battle against Freddy’s control, as he helplessly reaches out to his friend from across the room (a neat call-back to Part 1 alla Tina’s death scene.)
Freddy rips and claws his way out of Jesse’s flesh, finishing the transformation, and sizing up Grady before the kill…
Freddy grabs him by his throat, and violently skewers him. His father, on the other side of the door, watches in horror Freddy’s blades appear from the wood, drenched in his son’s blood. I find this to be incredibly symbolic of how Freddy normally operates – killing kids in their dreams. There, parents are completely unable to protect them. The only thing they can do is watch in horror as Freddy takes away their children, one by one.
Jesse then wakes up, covered in his friend’s blood, and with Freddy’s glove on his hand. In the corner of the room, Freddy appears in a mirror, cackling in delight at Jesse’s sadness and fear. Choking back tears of anger, fright, and sorrow, Jesse spits out “You killed him you son of a bitch!” In any other NOES sequel, Freddy would reply here with a stupid joke, probably something like “Why must we always hurt the ones we love, hmm?” and “Hey, I hear police. I’d run if I were you!” However, here Freddy doesn’t say a thing. Instead, he just keeps on cackling evilly. Jesse takes off the glove and throws it at the mirror, shattering it. Still, through the cracked visage, Freddy remains laughing…
The Little Things…
Part of what makes Freddy’s Revenge so good is the attention to detail. With a careful eye, upon rewatching this movie one will see something new. These small details can result in the viewer having a completely new perspective of a scene, and perhaps a different interpretation of what’s happening.
The early NOES movies often deliberately inserted the colors Red and Green together in scenes, as subliminal warnings that something important/horrifying is about to happen. When you saw these colors, you knew stuff was “about to get real.”
These are the colors of Freddy’s famous sweater, and chosen not because of Christmas, but because Red and Green are on opposite sides of Newton’s color wheel. This means they are an unpleasant to the eye when used together. This is used in movies, not just in NOES, to help subliminally convey distress or alarm.
In NOES2 I found a few instances, most overt being in the scene where Lisa helps Jesse pack his things.
Here she’s putting away a red sweater, and a green sweater. Get it?
Another instance of Red and Green being used as a warning to the viewer are the striped towels in the background, right before Jesse and Lisa start making out.
Sharp-eyed viewers caught this visual and, if they were wise to this trend, knew that Freddy was mere seconds away.
There are a few more instances of red and green being deliberately paired together in this movie, and I will leave you to find them upon rewatching.
Despite being the only NOES without the iconic theme music, its score is very very good. Also Kevin Yagher’s makeup work here is absolutely outstanding. Freddy’s makeup changes from movie to movie, with each diehard fan having their own favorite version. My favorite is, of course, here. They purposely elongated Freddy’s nose slightly to give him more of a sinister “witchy” appearance. His eyes, as you’ve already seen, are pure evil.
Speaking of Freddy’s appearance, his sweater also changes slightly between movies. Here, he finally has the red and green stripes down his sleeves, and it would remain that way throughout the rest of the series. In part one, his sleeves were just red.
And the big elephant in the room…
If one looks up comments on this movie, the word “Gay” repeatedly appears again and again. As I said before, Jesse was scripted to be straight, but this movie is still filled with homosexual overtones. If one looks at the character of Jesse as someone that is straight, then a number of scenes don’t really make a lot of sense.
Freddy takes control of Jesse when he falls asleep. The “straight” interpretation would have us believe that Jesse was forced by Freddy to sleepwalk to the “queer S&M joint” that Grady joked about earlier in the film. There, Fred remained in control as Coach Schneider took Jesse back to the school, and forced Jesse to dream about his Coach being bound in the shower, stripped naked, and spanked with towels, before being stabbed to death.
This really does not make much sense. Why would Freddy want to kill Schneider, a full-grown adult? Why would Fred bother with the shower shenanigans before the kill?
The way I see it, is that Jesse is actually a closeted homosexual and, at this point in the movie, Freddy is not able to completely control Jesse just yet. Jesse dreams about going to the bar, seeing his coach, and then fantasizing about him in the shower. Freddy just made it all a reality and put his own dark, twisted, and murderous “spin” to it.
There’s a few other small things that suggest Jesse isn’t straight:
His on-screen chemistry with Grady appears a lot more natural and relaxed than his connection to Lisa.
He falls asleep while spending some “alone time” with Lisa at her pool party, allowing Freddy to take over.
He cleans his room like this… although what 80s kid doesn’t?:
And lastly, his entire situation can be seen as a metaphor for a teen grappling with their sexuality. Like Jesse, a kid going through that begins a journey of rediscovery, as they feel themselves questioning who they really are. They may “demonize” certain elements about themselves, make them appear uglier or more monstrous than they really are, and feel like they’re developing a “split personality.” Their parents, being from another generation (especially if we’re talking about a kid in the 80s) will be concerned with their child’s change in demeanor and try to help. However, the more they help, the more damage they inadvertently do as it becomes more and more clear that they are completely unable to understand. This can result in shouting matches at home, a fractured psyche’, and years of mental and psychological issues. Again, like Jesse, the madness will only end once the kid is able to see themselves for who they really are, and affirm their individuality.
Despite doing things differently, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge succeeds in giving us the following:
A truly “dark” Freddy
Excellent musical score
Fantastic gore effects and makeup
A small tidbit of backstory about Freddy when he was alive, but not enough to kill the character. (That wouldn’t start until Part 3, and continue getting worse until 6)
And can be seen as a metaphor for adolescent development regarding sexuality – very ahead of its time.
While I consider NOES 1, 3, and 7 to the definitive “trilogy” (fans should understand seemingly odd numerical order,) NOES 2 is an excellent sequel and works as a standalone movie. It is on my Halloween marathon list, and should also be on yours!
So until next time, pleasant nightmares…
– Furry Senpai