Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985)

After years of the place standing empty, the Walshs move into the Thompsons’ old house. That seems to be enough to get Freddy Krueger (as always Robert Englund) going again, and soon Walsh son Jesse (Mark Patton) is plagued by nightmares and grows whiny and sullen, the air conditioning seems to go crazy because Freddy’s new thing is heat, and later a toaster will burn and a budgie will explode.

Eventually, Freddy manages to take control over Jesse’s body from time to time, using it to kill his S&M loving (with more implied) teacher (Marshall Bell) and later on just bursting out of Jesse’s body in what is a at least a fun special effect to do a bit more killing. Will Jesse’s new girlfriend’s Lisa (Kim Myers) manage to save him by talking about love?

At the beginning of its life, this very quickly shot sequel to Wes Craven’s best film (and true classic) got a particularly bad time; years later there was a minor critical reassessment thanks to some critics reading the film as being about the horrific experience of growing up queer in the 80s in the US. I think there certainly is something to be said about that reading, but I don’t think the film applies the subtext all that successfully, consequently or coherently, which only leaves us with an at best mediocre sequel to a film that actually knew what it was doing.

Ironically, it would be just as easy to interpret the film as using Freddy Krueger to tell us a warning story about the perceived evils of homosexuality, something that can only be cured by a good woman, giving the whole thing a particularly unpleasant conservative bend. That both interpretations fit the movie points at one of its core problems as a film actually being about something behind people getting killed by Freddy: that neither director Jack Sholder nor writer David Chaskin seem to be willing to commit to the subtext and their supposed themes, to think through what they are trying to say, instead of just adding signifiers but then not do enough (or anything) with what could be.

Not that not doing enough is a problem only with the film’s subtext. Textually, it’s an indifferent sequel to the first NIghtmare at best, blunderingly replacing that film’s strongest elements (Freddy only being able to act through dreams) with some random stuff about possession and exploding budgies, either not realizing or not caring that this turns a unique and individual supernatural menace into some random slasher with equally random super powers. From time to time, the film stumbles upon a potent nightmarish and potentially meaningful image like Freddy’s birth out of Jesse’s body but never really arrives at the point where these things become more than just interesting images. A lot of the film’s better effects are just random, like the human-faced dogs guarding Freddy’s home base from intruding girlfriends. These things sure look impressive but they have no connection at all to anything else in the movie and can’t even be excused as being random dream flotsam because they don’t appear in a dream. As you can see, the film never bothers to really establish the connections between nightmare and real world as well as the first one did, either.

The same goes for the film’s final confrontation between Lisa and Freddy where the power of love – I suppose – wins the day, I assume because love totally works against nightmares? Seriously, I don’t have the faintest idea what the mechanics of the climax are supposed to be, or how they relate to anything the film established (or tried to) before. In the end, while it’s no Halloween: Resurrection in badness, it’s difficult for me to see anything more in Freddy’s Revenge than a film made by people who didn’t at all know what they were actually trying to achieve and consequently ended up making very little but promises.

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