Directed by Jack Sholder
Written by David Chaskin
Original Release Date: 1st November, 1985
The second entry of the Nightmare on Elm Street series is perhaps one of the most talked about instalments of the franchise to the extent that it has invited much analysis and debate, as well as a documentary centered on its star Mark Patton entitled Scream Queen.
The debate surrounds the film’s gay subtext, although in all honesty it feels more like actual text than any hidden meaning placed there by director Jack Sholder or writer David Chaskin.
Released in 1985, one year after the critical acclaim and commercial success of the first film, it was very much an attempt by New Line Cinema to strike while the iron was hot. Sequels that follow so soon after the premiere of the previous film are not ones that have been made with much care to the original, but more in an attempt to make whatever money they can in order to cash in as quickly as possible on the popularity of the film that came before.
This has always been something of a thing with horror sequels. Paramount Pictures had pretty much put the Friday the 13th movies into a one film per year cycle (there were some gaps here and there admittedly), while in later years the same studio would effectively do the same thing with the Paranormal Activity series. In the 2000s and 2010s, the Saw series of films would similarly be put into a one film per year cycle and be something of a golden goose for Lionsgate, eventually giving them the clout to produce The Hunger Games and become a major Hollywood player.
The way Lionsgate would capitalise on the success of Saw to turn themselves into a powerhouse could be seen as being similar to how New Line Cinema became something of a major Hollywood player on the back of the success of Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street. Founder of the studio Robert Shaye would refer to New Line as the ‘House that Freddy built’.
The 80s was a decade when the sequel became a major commodity in Hollywood. Certainly there had been sequels before, the 80s was by no means the decade that invented them, but it was the first decade where it felt as if Hollywood started to rely on continuations to hit movies more than ever before.
By 1985 there had been fourteen James Bond films, three Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark had given way to Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom, but it was really with the success of Sylvester Stallone who made sequels to Rocky and then subsequently First Blood that Hollywood studios could see that there was money to be made in adding roman numerals to film titles.
It used to be the case that sequels cost less than the film before because they weren’t expected to make as much as the previous film, but come the 80s sequels were starting to actually outgross previous installments. Not for nothing was James Bond at that point a twenty-three year running film series, while by 1985 Rocky was up to his fourth film.
Long story short, the sequel as we know it today has its basis in how Hollywood approached the artform in the 1980s than it had done in any other era. Sequels to hits such as Beverley Hills Cop, Ghostbusters, Gremlins, Indiana Jones, and anything that hit big at the box office was fast tracked as soon as the box office dollars to the first film came in.
Sometimes these movies came out two or three years later, sometimes it took longer (Gremlins and Ghostbusters were the biggest hits of 1984 but it took five years for the latter and six years for the former for their follow-ups to make their way to the big screen), and other times it was in the space of a year as was the case with the most notorious sequel of the era, Electric Boogaloo: Breakin’ 2 which followed nine months after the unexpected success of Breakin’ (showing just how quick to make a buck Cannon studios were) and eventually Freddy’s Dead, which followed a little under a year after the premiere of A Nightmare on Elm Street.
Craven opted not to return to the director’s chair who didn’t like the direction the sequel was taking, so in stepped Jack Shoulder whose previous credits included Alone in the Dark, an 80s slasher movie that was amongst the first films to come from New Line, and who would subsequently direct 1987’s cult favourite The Hidden, an enjoyable piece of genre cinema which gave Kyle McLachlan a chance to flex his quirky muscles as an FBI agent a good few years before he would do it iconically in Twin Peaks.
When it came to Freddy’s Revenge, Sholder and writer David Chaskin took the series in a different direction somewhat, with a film that had a different set of concerns than the first film did. The set of Nancy’s house is retained, and would do so for so much of the series becoming a recurring symbol of sorts that would connect each film, as well as the discovery of Nancy’s diary, but apart from Krueger himself (now re-christened as the more friendly sounding Freddy here and not Fred as he was in the first film), there is a differing vibe and set of ideas here than what Craven had explored with the first film.
Where so many horror films had as their central character a female lead, as did the first Nightmare with Heather Lagenkamp as Nancy, the second Nightmare immediately felt different than so many slasher/horrors of the era with its choice of male lead. The fact that male sexuality would factor into the film would make it something that would stand out from so many horrors of the era and it’s those explorations that gives this a different feeling to so many other films of the genre.
It’s not subtext, it’s very much there in the forefront of the plotting, dialogue and character development even if the words gay, queer and homosexual are never uttered. If screenwriter David Chaskin thought he was being subtle, then he was very much wrong about that.
Years after it release, is themes and ideas would attract more attention and given that the slasher genre has forever been one that has elements that make it weirdly conservative and heteronormative, Freddy’s Revenge comes across as something of a rarity in mainstream horror cinema from the decade; a homoerotic slasher film.
Whether or not it utilises these themes in a good or bad way is a subject worthy of much debate. On the one hand, to see a genre film like this explore a story and character like Jesse makes it stand out in a sea of slasher films that revelled in female nudity and heteronormative sexuality, even if those having sex would be punished by the main killer of the franchise; it’s one of those things that makes slasher films weirdly liberal and conservative at the same time, in that they want to push the envelope of content in a way that feels left-leaning and anti-censorship and yet the themes and ideals they are dabbling in feel like conservative messages about abstinence that would make Stephanie Meyer proud.
In the end it doesn’t fully commit to those ideas and themes. Central character Jesse still ends up with female lead Lisa (Kim Myers), and it’s her love for him that ends up saving his life when Freddy tries to exert control over his body. Freddy using Jesse’s body as a proxy with which to escape into the real world gives the film a Cronenbergian feel towards the horror of the body and biology. The sequence were Freddy literally rips his way out of Jesse even has the feel of something from John Carpenter’s remake of The Thing, even if it never tips its way into extremity in the manner that film did so memorably, or as thematically intense as Cronenberg did with so many of his earlier Canadian body horrors.
In the end, though, it doesn’t have the conviction to stick to that course and ends up falling into the realm of standard stalk and slash by the time the final act comes around.
It’s perhaps the biggest failing of Freddy’s Revenge that it can’t help but not only bring Freddy into the real world, but also have him slash his way through a pool party which goes against the nightmarishly dreamy set-pieces that made the first film such an entertaining and original one.
It was this image that made Craven realise that the sequel was a bad idea and why he baulked against doing it and he was correct.
It ends up being the biggest disappointment of the film, that for taking the character and series into the direction of something approaching body horror, it resorts to a type of movie, at least for a section of its running time, that so many slasher movies of the period were lazily offering.
In the long run, though, it remains one of the most fascinating horror sequels of the 80s. A mess for sure, but one that has ambitions that go against just repeating the same tricks as last time.
The biggest obstacle facing it turns out to be its biggest success. In having a new lead character with their own set of story concerns, it can at least be driven by a different set of story ideals, even if in the end it cannot help but resort to standard formula by the time the end credits come about.