Friday, October 23, 2009

A Frank Review of "A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge" (1985)

The Short Version? Kill for Freddy, boy!
What Is It? Horror.
Who Is In It? Nobody, really.
Should I See It? Yes.

Five years after the events of A Nightmare on Elm Street, the Walsh family move into Nancy Thompson's old house. Not long after, troubled son Jesse starts having terrible nightmares about the bogeyman Freddy Krueger, and this time, one night of playing with a teenager won't be enough. No, Freddy wants Jesse's mind, his soul, and most especially his body.

The much maligned Freddy's Revenge, easily the least applicably named of the series, has a special place in my heart. It was the first Nightmare I ever watched from beginning to end (and on video, after having caught part of Dream Warriors while theater hopping.) I was raised by women to be a pussy, but was unyoked from that fate by reuniting with my father and brother, after never having much of anything to do with one another. Aside from turning my head a few times when there was advance notice of gore, it was one of the first unedited horror movies I ever saw, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Though I always retained a fondness for it, I doubt I saw Revenge again for a couple of decades. Revisiting it for this review was quite an eye-opening experience.

Compared to the original, the entire opening sequence of this first sequel is marinated in loss. The music is generic. The second title logo looks like a sticker off a cheap '80s skateboard, while the "Freddy's Revenge" subtitle is written in a metallic blue, as if Krueger were a crime lord in a lousy cop movie. In a poor attempt to reflect some "first day at school" anxiety on the part of the protagonist, he's depicted here (and nowhere else) as a flat-haired nerdy creep. There's zero tension, and the first two (offscreen) kills are faceless preppies who may be entirely imaginary. The visuals are way over the top, as though these schoolkids had ventured after Taylor and Brent into the Forbidden Zone. It even ends on a stupid pseudo-hip transition to the kid's mom slicing tomatoes.

The thing is, the movie gets better from there. The troubled protagonist is developed throughout the picture, and in fact may the most conflicted and complicated character in the franchise to date. His proposed love interest is also among the most sympathetic and simply human of the series. His supposed buddy is... well okay, he's an even more shallow version of Rod from the first film, and the kid's family is comparatively lame, and there are plenty of other flaws. Regardless, it's still a pretty good horror movie, and amongst the better sequels. Still, it's hated a lot more than other slasher flicks that aren't half as good. Where is the love? Ah, but I believe that's where the problem lies. The love in this movie is of the sort that once few would dare speak of by name, and will deny you marriage rights in most states. You see, "Freddy's Revenge" is queer as fuck.

Aside from a handful of appearances, Mark Patton's acting career seems to have begun and ended as Jesse Walsh. I know nothing about his life afterward beyond that he directed theater for some time. If Mark Patton himself isn't gay, Hollywood lost a real talent, because Jesse Walsh couldn't be a more obvious closet case. His inflection... hand gestures... feminine scream (yes, scream)... emotional outbursts... posture... physique. There couldn't be less sexual chemistry with his beard. He's that special, undeniable form of homosexual-- theatrical, emotional-- your basic tormented drama queen.

Then you look at what Jesse Walsh gets up to in this feature. He's constantly in a state of undress, usually briefs or less, and typically saturated by sweat or water. When a bully pulls down his pants at a ball game (*ahem*,) Jesse tries to strip the dude right there on the field. I'd guess Jesse willfully misinterpreted the gesture, because the two become close friends, and Lord knows he wouldn't be the first sister with the hots for a fit breeder. Speaking of which, he's close friends with the rich girl on his street, whose own friends tease her for the undeniable lust in her eyes, while Jesse seems far more concerned with snails than oysters. Early on, Jesse looks through a window outside his house and sees a raging fire in its cellar furnace. He tries to investigate, but once he opens the cellar door, he can't close it again to escape from its overwhelming heat. He calls out for his father, who never comes, and instead meets Freddy. Letting out a squeal, he awakens to the comforting arms of his mother. Or there's the dream he has in science class where he sleeps, blissfully unaware of the snake encircling his body. Or his fixation on Nancy's little pink diary. Or his giving his father comeuppance of a vague sort by cleaning his room while listening to pop-infused R&B, wearing silly Elton John sunglasses, and bumping his butt against drawers. In that same sequence, he brings a phallic toy to his mouth as a "microphone," then drops it to his crotch for a sexual pantomime. There's the time he almost has sex with a girl, where his pants never come off, and ends with him repulsed and the babe frustrated. There's the late night visit to the leather bar. I could go on and on, with much better, spoilery examples.

Finally, there's the movie itself. The evil gym coach who's a sadistic leather queen, and finds himself stripped fit-middle-aged-bare-assed-naked, assaulted by his own gym equipment (watch out for that barrage of balls!) There's the frequent male semi-nudity in general. There's the shift from a male-female competitive dynamic to a male-male/dominant-submissive relationship (more than one, in fact, as Jesse is the bottom to most every other male in the film.) Not only is this film brimming with gay subtext and homoerotic imagery, but it's fetishistic to boot! I can't believe critics largely missed this in the '80s, but it's all over the internet today, though there is one factor that I haven't seen addressed: this is a gay horror film. By that I mean that, taking all things into account, the movie is incredibly homophobic. Jesse's hardly ambiguous issues are associated with the perverted, demonic child murderer struggling to be set loose on a rampage. Nothing comes of Jesse's releases of the "deviance" inside him but violence and heartache. Hardly an advertisement for Exodus International, regardless of Jesse's attempts to suppress the terrible urges inside him and live a proper life, he has been irredeemably corrupted, and it would be better for everyone if he just killed himself. Whether you're a homophobe or a homofan, this movie has something to trouble you, and offers far more material to consider and debate than any other in the Nightmare series. Comedy exists to say things otherwise unmentionable through humor, while great horror films confront you with things you'd rather not face. In that case, Freddy's Revenge is pretty great.

Aside from fag fear, another point of objection for some is the liberties taken with the premise set forth by Wes Craven's original film. Personally, I've always been of the school of thought that if you've made a great film, a sequel should strive to match its quality, not slavishly recreate it with mild variations. The unoriginal path led to increasingly bland and repetitive installments in this franchise, the same fate suffered by all the other slasher series. Meanwhile, Freddy's Revenge maintains its antagonist's viability, as well as important features from the previous film related to the dreamscape. Then it goes off into uncharted territory that could stand on its own as a totally unrelated movie. The film has striking visuals, a more proper budget, and far better acting. It lacks for mood at times, is blandly shot and scored, and has a protagonist many found unrelatable. You take the bad with the good, and I'll call out the naysayers to state my case that Revenge was in fact the best Freddy sequel precisely because it breaks the rules in such a surprising fashion.

I picked up the 4 Film Favorites edition, which offered early, stripped down DVDs in a single affordable case. Slim extras came with the savings.
  • Theatrical Trailer Pretty damned basic, right?
  • Cast and Crew Bios from the 1985 press kit. Whoopee.
  • Audio and Scene Selection bullshit

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