A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985) **
The Nightmare on Elm Street series was the last of the major 80’s slasher franchises to get up and running; the first movie didn’t appear on the scene until after the decade’s initial worldwide outbreak of mania for maniacs had already run its course. As a consequence, it was the only one of the bunch that I was in a position to be a fan of from more or less the very beginning. I first saw the original A Nightmare on Elm Street on cable about a month before the first sequel hit the theaters. I was very excited when I heard about A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, and it was the first movie that I can remember going to a video store to look for specifically. Those of you who’ve seen the movie have doubtless already surmised that Freddy’s Revenge also taught me one of my earliest lessons regarding unwarranted expectations of sequels. Let that be a warning to all would-be sequel-mongers: It doesn’t take a lot to impress a sixth-grader— if you can’t do that, you really shouldn’t bother making a movie at all.
Actually, up until about the half-hour mark, Freddy’s Revenge looks as though it’s going to be a more than worthy continuation of the Nightmare on Elm Street tradition. Five years have passed since Nancy Thompson and her friends faced off against the living nightmare, Fred Krueger (Robert Englund again), and theoretically destroyed him. A new family has moved into 1428 Elm Street, however, and their teenaged son, Jesse (Mark Patton), has begun having dreams which suggest that Nancy’s victory was not nearly as complete as she might have believed. Jesse may not have any idea who the gravelly-voiced burn victim with the knives on his fingers is, or why he keeps showing up in the boy’s dreams, but we in the audience sure as hell do. The funny thing is, even though Krueger sets himself up any number of opportunities to stick his knives into Jesse, he never so much as lays a hand on him.
Scary as the Freddy-related dreams are, though, they’re far from the only troubles Jesse has to keep him occupied. His home life is, shall we say, a bit difficult. Jesse’s dad (Clu Gulager, from The Return of the Living Dead and Hunter's Blood) tends toward the Unreasonable Petty Tyrant school of parenting, and no amount of intervention from mom (Blue Velvet’s Hope Lange) seems to be able to reign him in much. Then there’s the school front. Being the new kid in class is never easy under the best of circumstances, and the positive influence of Jesse’s budding friendship-and-possibly-more with Lisa Webber (Hellraiser: Bloodline’s Kim Meyers) is more than counterbalanced by what the boy has to deal with in gym class. His relationship with jock stud Ron Grady (Robert Rusler, from Vamp and Sometimes They Come Back) could go either way— they might become friends, or Grady might decide to spend the rest of the year making Jesse’s life miserable. There’s no question what Jesse can expect from Coach Schneider (Marshall Bell, of Total Recall and Cherry 2000), however. Schneider is, not to put too fine a point on it, a chickenhawk, and according to Grady, “he likes pretty boys like [Jesse].” All in all, it means Jesse has an awful lot on his plate by the time Fred Krueger finally lets on about what he’s really up to.
The revelation comes, naturally enough, in a dream. Jesse leaves his bedroom and goes down to the kitchen in search of something to drink. While he’s at it, he sees movement in the trees outside, subsequent investigation of which will lead him to discover that the furnace in the basement is turned on, and that a strange man is feeding what look like human body parts into it. When Jesse runs back into the house, Krueger corners him at the bottom of the stairs. “I need you, Jesse,” he growls. “You’ve got the body... I've got the brain.” And with that, the undead psychopath peels the flesh from the side of his head, revealing the usual pulsating mass of cortex. Jesse doesn’t seem to have grasped the point of the nightmare, so maybe you and I can help him out; “Hey, kid! Krueger wants to possess your body so that he can come out into the world and kill again, just like he did before the concerned parents of Elm Street burned his ass up all those years ago!”
Jesse comes a step closer to figuring it all out when Lisa finds Nancy Thompson’s old diary on the top shelf in the closet while she helps him unpack the contents of his bedroom. Jesse had already heard from Ron Grady that the previous owners of the house had been a woman and her teenage daughter, the former of whom committed suicide and the latter of whom went insane after seeing her boyfriend butchered by a psychopath across the street. The diary— which mentions Fred Krueger by name— is Jesse’s first hint that there’s some truth to the story after all. Fascinated by what Nancy wrote five years ago, and disturbed by Jesse’s claims that he has been having the same dreams as the former tenant of his room, Lisa does some research at the library, and brings to light the entire story of Krueger, his killing spree, and his eventual fate. Proceeding from the hypothesis that Jesse is receiving some kind of psychic signals from the house, Lisa takes him to the derelict power plant where Krueger committed his crimes, in the hope that exposure to the scene of the real action will trigger a similar response in the boy. It doesn’t. That night, though, Jesse has his most vivid and frightening dream yet. Again he goes down to the basement, and this time, he looks inside the furnace, where the dead killer’s homemade knife-glove is still hidden. Then Freddy appears to him, invites him to try on the glove, and explicitly exhorts the boy to kill for him. When Jesse awakens, he really is in the basement, and the deadly glove really is on the floor beside him.
Even worse happens the following night. Jesse dreams that he leaves his house and heads over to the gay bar where Coach Schneider hangs out. Schneider is there, and Jesse allows himself to be picked up and taken to the high school. A somewhat disorienting edit takes us into the gym, where Schneider tells Jesse to hit the showers; it may be that the transition was made confusing on purpose, so as to create the implication that the coach has already had his way with Jesse while simultaneously burying that plot point too deeply for the rather literal-minded MPAA ratings board to find it. In any case, while Jesse showers, Coach Schneider is suddenly attacked by his own gym equipment, dragged into the shower room and strung up by a pair of jump-ropes, and then murdered by Krueger. But when Jesse wakes up, he’s still in the high school shower room, Schneider’s naked, mutilated body is still hanging from the overhead pipes, and Krueger’s blood-smeared glove is on his own right hand. The police pick him up on the street a while later; Jesse’s father is convinced he’s on drugs when the cops bring him home. Schneider is far from the last person Krueger will kill while borrowing Jesse’s body, too. In fact, the party Lisa plans on throwing that weekend— and which Jesse plans on attending— is going to offer up a veritable smorgasbord of potential teenage victims. Nancy Thompson was able to defeat Krueger by drawing him out into the real world; what the hell is Jesse going to do now that the killer’s periodic presence on the material plane is precisely the nature of his problem?
One difference between A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge and its predecessor is immediately obvious. The first film was a labor of love on Wes Craven’s part, something he’d been struggling to create for years. Freddy’s Revenge, on the other hand, is a labor of profit, pure and simple. Hell, New Line producer Robert Shaye went so far as to entrust the drafting of the movie’s screenplay to David Chaskin, a rising star within the studio’s marketing department! Craven, who had sold out his rights to the series to Shaye in 1984 in order to pay off his looming personal debts, turned down the offer to direct the first sequel once he’d had a chance to read over Chaskin’s script. The problem, as Craven saw it, was that Chaskin had completely abandoned everything that had made the character of Freddy Krueger distinctive and frightening in the first place. By bringing him out of his dream universe, Chaskin was turning Krueger into just another slasher. I would disagree with that assessment, but there can be no question that the new movie takes a very different approach to Krueger from the original, and that most of Chaskin’s innovations come nowhere near working.
It didn’t have to be that way. In fact, a premise not dissimilar to that which Chaskin actually used would flow logically from the conclusion of A Nightmare on Elm Street. Assume that Nancy’s climactic confrontation with the dream killer, while not destroying him, had robbed him of so much of his power that he is no longer able to do anything more than show up in some kid’s dreams and scare the crap out of him. Assume further that Jesse Walsh is especially vulnerable to Krueger’s subconscious intrusions because the stresses of his home life, the move, and the confusion about his sexuality which Chaskin hints at repeatedly (but backs off from every time) have left him psychologically and emotionally exhausted. A weakened Krueger might still have the strength to force a sleepwalking Jesse to act as his surrogate, provided that he concentrated on victims whom the boy already had reason to hate. This is almost the premise behind Freddy’s Revenge, but Chaskin and director Jack Sholder clutter it up with so much extraneous crap that the central thread gets lost amid a welter of “hey, wouldn’t it be cool if we did this?” moments. For example, Krueger now can apparently cause toasters, tennis rackets, and parakeets to spontaneously combust, and has the power to create little pockets of dream reality around himself when he’s using Jesse’s body. These are totally new abilities, far in excess of anything he could do last time around, and his possession of such skills would seem to undercut the rationale behind his “partnership” with Jesse entirely. Then there are the awkward facts that Jesse physically transforms into the killer’s likeness whenever Krueger takes control of him, and that the boy doesn’t even need to be asleep for Freddy to exert that control. Simply put, none of this makes any kind of sense, and it was obviously written into the screenplay solely to provide excuses for big, attention-getting special effects set-pieces. What’s more, by including them, Chaskin and Sholder efface all of the benefits they stood to gain by dragging the story even further away from the standard slasher formula. I don’t share the commonly held opinion that this is the worst of the Nightmare on Elm Street films (just wait ‘til I get around to talking about part five!), but nevertheless, it represents an exasperating waste of a good idea, and is markedly inferior to what came before it.