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Dustin Putman

Dustin's Review

A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2:
Freddy's Revenge
3 Stars
Directed by Jack Sholder.
Cast: Mark Patton, Kim Myers, Robert Rusler, Clu Gulager, Hope Lange, Marshall Bell, Sydney Walsh, Robert Englund, Christie Clark, Melinda O. Fee, Tom McFadden, Lyman Ward, Donna Bruce.
1985 – 87 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for violence, sexuality and language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, October 2008.

Jesse Walsh:
Something is trying to get inside of me.

Ron Grady:
Yeah, it's female and it's waiting for you in the cabana, and you want to sleep with me.

As is the prevalent case with most sequels, "A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge" is inferior to its predecessor. It is still very, very good, however, more so than most viewers give it credit for. And, in its own way, it is just as groundbreaking, as thematically loaded and downright courageous as any horror film released in the mid-'80s. Taking over for Wes Craven, director Jack Sholder (1982's blessedly Uwe Boll-free "Alone in the Dark") and screenwriter David Chaskin (1987's bizarre water-contamination thriller "The Curse") opted to not repeat the formula of "A Nightmare on Elm Street," but take it in a notably different direction. It still has Freddy Krueger as its central opposing figure, but otherwise is the "Halloween III: Season of the Witch"-style black sheep of the series. Its moment in the spotlight is long overdue.

Set five years after the events of the first film, 16-year-old Jesse Walsh (Mark Patton) has moved with his family—iron-fisted father Ken (Clu Gulager), doting mother Cheryl (Hope Lange), and precocious little sis Angela (Christie Clark)—into the residence on Elm Street formerly lived in by Nancy and Marge Thompson. Freddy Krueger's infamous memory would seem to have faded completely if not for one hitch: tossing and turning in an overheated sleep state brought about by the house's faltering air-conditioning system, Jesse has begun to dream about him. Itching to break free into the real world, Freddy wants to take over Jesse's body and have him do his murderous bidding. Without a detectable way of stopping him, suddenly no one in Jesse's life—among them, friends Lisa (Kim Myers) and Grady (Robert Russler), and hardass gym teacher Coach Schneider (Marshall Bell)—is safe from Freddy's wrath.

"A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge" opens with a stunner of a prologue, as Jesse and two catty teenage girls are terrorized on a runaway school bus with no way of escape after the ground falls out from beneath the vehicle. This is all just a dream, of course, but the first to signal to Jesse that something strange is afoot. As his nightmares intensify and the mystery surrounding Freddy's identity and past are clarified through a diary written by Nancy that Lisa finds in his bedroom closet, Jesse is faced with the frightening realization that he may no longer be in control of his body.

It is at this point that the film itself goes down a path far removed from simple, cookie-cutter horror fare. Jesse's friendship with Lisa—"he's just my ride to school," Lisa defensively says when pal Kerry (Sydney Walsh) presses her on their relationship—appears to be building toward a romance, but it is one that Jesse doesn't seem all that interested in. He is more in his skin when hanging out with hunky male classmate Grady, whom he semi-regularly shares afterschool detention with on the sports field, lorded over by the skeevy Coach Schneider. Plagued with bouts of sleepwalking, a partially-clothed Jesse leaves his house in the pouring rain and ends up having a drink at the local gay bar. It is here that he runs into leathered S&M enthusiast Coach Schneider, who bizarrely takes him back to the high school to run laps. In the locker room showers afterwards, Freddy enters Jesse and serves up a set-piece that is unmistakable in its homoerotically-charged inferences. Seeking safety from all forms of balls telepathically flying his way, Coach Schneider runs into the locker room, where he is stripped down, tied up with jump ropes, and bloodily whipped on the bare backside by towels.

Keeping in mind all the evidence in between and what has come shortly before this curious sequence—Jesse dances in his bedroom to "Touch Me (All Night Long") by Wish (feat. Fonda Rae), the sign on his door reading, "No Out-of-Town Chicks"—and it becomes obvious that the film isn't really about Freddy Krueger at all, but about a confused teenage boy unsuccessfully trying to come-to-terms with his sexuality. At the pool party Lisa throws in the third act, Jesse feels out of place and seeks refuge in the cabana. Lisa comes in to comfort him, and they have an awkward sexual encounter that abruptly ends when he runs out on her and heads to Grady's house. Here, Jesse pleads for Grady's help—"something is trying to get inside of me!"—his friend more than a little confused why Jesse has abandoned Lisa and shown up to spend the night in his bedroom.

The picture eventually returns to its horror roots, with Jesse (in the form of Freddy) attacking Lisa at her home before crashing the party out back—in an ominous segment, Freddy raises his arms before a crowd of scared teens and says, "You are all my children now." The climax culminates at the creaky abandoned factory Freddy used to work at before his death, with Lisa following Jesse there and adamantly telling him that he has to fight to stop the urges inside him. In the end, a surprising shock that harkens back to the school bus opening confirms that Jesse's fight with Freddy (symbolic of his homosexual urges that are a part of him, and that he cannot run away from) is far from over.

Viewed strictly on the surface, "A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge" is a well-made and suspenseful possession-laden thriller that drops some of the rules distinguished by the first "A Nightmare on Elm Street" in order to avoid being a mere lazy redux. Performances from Mark Patton, strongly cast as protagonist Jesse, and Kim Myers, emanating sweetness and light as Lisa, help to make accessible the story's leaps in logic. For all of this, the movie is more than admirable. For its underlying message about sexual oppression in a cynical world, though, the film endeavors to go one step deeper. Psychology majors could have a field day with "A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge." So much is left to open-ended interpretation that it couldn't have possibly been by accident that the picture plays not only as slasher fantasy, but as poignantly-felt coming-of-age story in which the hero's complicated struggles to find himself and be accepted by others aren't so easily wrapped up with a tidy ribbon.
© 2008 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman