Wes Craven was smart enough to come along and revitalize American horror three times by the 1990s. That third time in ‘96 was with the self-aware slasher homage ‘Scream’. Craven’s film scripted by Kevin Williamson dissected the elements of the sub-genre that the director had a hand in influencing with its forerunners of ‘The Last House on the Left’ (1972) and ‘The Hills Have Eyes’ (1976) and would significantly contribute to in 1984 by taking its template conventions and doing something with it bold and groundbreaking. This was with the unique surrealist dreamscape terror of ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ that told the story of teenagers killed in their dreams resulting in their deaths in reality. As well as this interesting new take on a formula that was becoming so stale at this time the director also unleashed upon screens one of the most iconic movie villains of all time Freddy Krueger; a highly original and unforgettable antagonist that would soon decline into cartoonish self-parody.
It became a surprise sleeper hit on an estimated budget of just $1.8 million with over a $25.5 million domestic gross. After its opening weekend take, producers and distributors New Line Cinema quickly green lighted an immediate sequel with the terribly unimaginative subtitle ‘Freddy’s Revenge’. Wes Craven, now firmly cemented as a horror auteur was not involved whatsoever with the production. Never wanting his film to spawn a franchise in the first place, he had signed over all the rights to New Line’s Robert Shaye, which was a foolish financial decision on Craven’s part. He disliked the rushed nature of the production feeling that the movie was not allowed the time to grow creatively. Shaye was betting his company’s future on the success of this sequel with the obvious intension of it leading to further instalments and a lucrative cash cow for the then fledgling studio. This would pave the way for more original productions and ‘Lord of the Rings’ fans should really give a big thanks to the success of the Nightmare series.
Wes Craven also disliked the screenplay’s idea of bringing Freddy into the real world to do his killing, which is actually something his own film unintentionally sets up at the end with its heroine Nancy Thompson bringing out Krueger from her dream into reality. The writer of this follow-up David Chaskin took this as the jumping off point with Freddy Krueger learning from this. It is just that why would he want to get back out into the real world anyway? In the dream world, he is invincible and always resurrected. In reality, he can have physical harm done to him. This is something he did not learn from his showdown with Nancy. Another issue Craven had was with Freddy using the protagonist Jesse Walsh (Mark Patton) as a vessel into the real world and manipulating him into doing his murderous deeds. Krueger’s taking over of the young man’s body is part of the movie’s much analysed homosexual sub-text.
While ‘Freddy’s Revenge’ is obviously an inferior piece of horror cinema compared to its superior predecessor, it is not without its moments of highly creative nightmarish entertainment. Even though it is easy to ignore it and jump over to the series’ best sequel ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 3: Dream Warriors’ (1987) which could have easily been the second instalment in continuity this first attempt at franchising Freddy Krueger is definitely a good time as a stand-alone addition to the series. It is best viewed this way if you are going to take in the positive aspects offered in abundance here amongst some cringe making flaws. It does follow on from the previous story but the protagonists here never return in future entries; never again are they mentioned with no references to the events here whatsoever. It really does not take the Elm Street mythology anywhere, which is exactly what ‘Dream Warriors’ does. While not corrupting it and sticking faithfully to its roots, it elaborated on the mythos and also Freddy’s dark humour while employing imaginative and very well executed dream set-pieces incorporating the victims’ characteristic traits of their dream powers and fears. However, ‘Freddy’s Revenge’ contains some highly memorable sequences itself.
The opening dream scene is one of the best beginnings ever in the franchise. A pale and withdrawn looking Jesse sits alone with bad posture at the back of a crowded school bus amongst the noisy and misbehaving other students with the camera also focusing on a couple of girls sitting in a seat in front of him in the other row to his right. When the rest of the teens get off and only Jesse and the two girls remain, the nattering girls begin to make fun of the shy and awkward young man. When one of the girls gets up to get off at her stop the bus instead begins to speed up and drives the kids into a desert wilderness. As the frightened girls scream at the bus driver we see that he has suddenly changed with a close-up shot of Krueger’s razor gloved right hand on the gear stick. Actually look at the very start of this sequence and you will see that the actor playing the bus driver is none other than Freddy Krueger himself Robert Englund.
As the bus comes to a sudden stop, the ground begins to slowly collapse around it and caves in until the vehicle is just balancing on two pillars and surrounding it is a hellish looking void. The setting has now turned to night with thunder and lightning strikes. As Freddy gets up out of the driver’s seat and lets out his trademark devilish laugh the petrified kids move to the back and tip the balance of the bus backwards and the front pillar falls away. As Krueger moves closer to them, he runs his razor sharp claws over the back of the seats ripping them and making a chink sound as they touch the metal rim that surrounds them. Terrified the three teens move to the back of the bus as it tips back and forth. As Freddy Krueger moves in for the kill, he runs the blades of his glove along the roof of the bus making that unnerving screeching sound and when he finally reaches them, he brings his arm down and starts to slice away with one swift strike. This is a tense and thrilling scene.
Just as Freddy is about to go in for a second slice the camera abruptly changes from his close-up to the Walsh’s new family home (Nancy’s old house from the original) and as Jesse’s mother, father and little sister have breakfast at the kitchen table they hear him let out a loud scream after waking up. Unlike Nancy Thompson, whose parents were divorced Jesse comes from a happy family environment but his father (Clu Gulager) is not the most understanding of people. Seeing Jesse for the first time in the real world as he wakes up in a hot sweat he no longer looks like the pale, withdrawn, shy and awkward weird kid we saw just previous in his dream. This is a sign of his own insecurities as how he is portrayed in that dream is an inferiority complex of how he sees himself in real life as a nerdy outcast. He never appears this way again though in any other dream sequence.
In Wes Craven’s first film, we had an intelligent, sensible, strong and resourceful female protagonist. Opposed to this here we have a male hero but considerably weaker in comparison lacking most of these qualities with a shy sensitive nature, and he screams like a girl! His immense vulnerability allows Krueger to take over his body with such ease. It is only when Jesse’s love interest Lisa Webber (Kim Meyers) forces him to fight that he grows strong enough to try to force the dream demon out. The female lead is still the stronger character here. Therefore, what we have here is a role reversal with Jesse being the damsel in distress and Lisa really being the hero that saves him. Strong heroines are a staple of the Nightmare series.
Lisa’s love for Jesse proves to be Freddy Krueger’s undoing with the relationship between the two teens forcing him out. Freddy’s taking over of Jesse’s body is the embodiment of a bisexual metaphor. Krueger represents the frustrations of a young man struggling within as he battles repressed homosexual thoughts as he gets romantically involved with a woman and forms a relationship with another male Ron Grady played by Robert Rusler. An old-fashioned love conquers all horror story might come across as a bit sappy but here it is given an updated makeover with homoerotic overtones. ‘Freddy’s Revenge’ was made during the time of a newly post-AIDS America and a lot of the blame of the disease’s cause was laid upon homosexuals by a collective of narrow minds making gay men to proudly come out all over the country in marches and parades. According to screenwriter Chaskin in the 2010 documentary ‘Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy’, he wrote the script with intentional focus on these themes taking the idea of men not sure about their sexualities and injected it as sub-text into his screenplay.
Nobody though working on the movie had any idea about the underlying gay messages contained in his script except Chaskin himself. What is hilariously funny about this is that while it is never specifically addressed the homoerotic imagery on screen is just so blatantly dangled in our faces (cheeky pun there). Director Jack Sholder said himself in ‘Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy’ that he unknowingly directed many pivotal scenes that heightened the homosexuality. The film is just chock full of gayness. Jesse makes out with Lisa at her pool party only to be interrupted by Freddy Krueger’s repulsive huge tongue coming out of his mouth. This leads him to go to his male friend Grady’s bedroom - Jesse: (afraid) “Something is trying to get inside my body”. Grady: “Yeah and she's female, and she's waiting for you in the cabana, and you wanna sleep with me!” Now Freddy completely consumes Jesse and comes out to Grady making for a good case of repressed homoerotic thoughts being realized only to be buried by the blossoming love between Jesse and Lisa.
There are other nodding gay moments throughout. After a restless night, Jesse goes out and enters a gay sleazy S&M leather nightclub, and after the underage kid orders a beer from the unpleasant looking barman (an embarrassingly amusing cameo from Robert Shaye), he is caught by his sadistic and that way inclined P.E teacher Coach Schneider (Michael Bell) dressed up of course in leather. Schneider’s following death sequence involves him tied up by his arms, dragged into the men’s showers, stripped completely naked of his leather outfit and having his arse whipped by towels. There is also of course Jesse’s famous dance while he is tidying his bedroom, which you can see below. Actor Patton is actually gay having just come out to his parents around this time. He was chosen for the lead role without the casting director’s knowledge of this and it remained unknown throughout the production. Mark Patton channelled into his performance his own experiences in what he was going through in real life. Capturing this effectively it really comes out on screen.
Homo-erotica aside now, there are many other interesting aspects to this perfectly solid follow-up that deserves attention as well as that hell ride of an opening sequence. One of those aspects is Freddy himself and not only is it the last truly dark and mean spirited performance by Englund before the franchise would descend into campy slapstick but his turn here gives us probably a nastier and even more vicious portrayal of Krueger than in the original all in just around a measly thirteen minutes. Whenever he is on screen, he means business and it makes for some very memorable moments in some very striking scenes of horror. After that opening sequence, a dripping atmosphere of dread is maintained throughout - a twitchy underlying unease that is played out through subtle moments of creepiness when Freddy Krueger is not on screen. Nothing major happens as it is all planted there as a precursor to what is teasingly in store for us - Freddy is coming! That uncomfortable feeling is maximized when Krueger makes his appearances that are sprinkled throughout the 87 minutes runtime.
One of the highlights of ‘Freddy’s Revenge’ is the villain’s actual appearance. Kevin Yagher’s SFX makeup job for Krueger’s grotesque burnt visage is arguably the best of the series. It is a bonier more witch like look with the use of yellowish amber red contact lenses that really puts the look of a demon into this dream demon as opposed to Robert Englund’s natural green eyes in the original.
Freddy Krueger’s ghastly appearance graces the screen in some very memorable scenes. In one of Jesse’s early dream sequences, seemingly after another restless night he goes downstairs to the kitchen to get something from the fridge. The house is extremely hot as the heat from Freddy’s boiler room is another sign of him breaking through the barriers of the dream world into reality. This is the transitional period. Having an accident when a glass of orange juice falls out of the fridge and drops onto the floor breaking, as Jesse reaches for a kitchen towel he sees through the window Krueger outside quickly ducking behind a bush. Going around back where he disappeared Jesse peers into the basement seeing him take out his razor glove from within the flaming furnace. Going back inside the house Jesse opens the basement door under the stairs. Looking inside the basement lit only by the fire of the furnace supplemented by a ghostly sound he sees Freddy Krueger’s shadow fall across the stairs and with fright he steps back out shutting the door and calls for his dad. The door then suddenly starts to pull back and we hear the nasty sound of Freddy’s growling and with the force of the pulling too strong Jesse let’s go to runaway towards the direction of the front door bumping into Krueger blocking the hallway by the staircase.
“Daddy can’t help you now!” Freddy Krueger tells Jesse and as he backs away from him he grabs Jesse’s t-shirt pulling him back towards him as he puts the index blade of his glove over Jesse’s lips - “Ssh” he says to him. Freddy then puts his middle blade up wiping it across Jesse’s brow as he then starts to explain with the camera then going to an extreme close-up of those demonic yellowish amber red eyes: “I need you, Jesse. We got special work to do here, you and me.” He then slams Jesse against the wall tilting his head towards him as he starts to explain further, “You've got the body...” then taking off his hat and digging the fingers of his left hand into his head minus a skullcap he continues saying “…I've got the brain” as he rips the skin open to reveal his pulsating brain. Jesses then screams with absolute terror (like a girl) as Krueger laughs maniacally. This is one of the scariest nightmare scenes in any of the movies of the franchise. From the subtle touches that Sholder employs to Englund’s full on nasty performance as Freddy Krueger to the horrific sight of the dream demon exposing his beating brain this sequence executed with efficiency highlights upmost creativity in executing frightening horror set-pieces.
A visually stunning display of special make-up effects ingenuity can be seen in the as before mentioned transformation scene when Freddy breaks out into the real world through Jesse’s body leading up to Grady’s death. Although not quite as cleverly executed as Rick Baker’s work in the transformation sequence in ‘An American Werewolf in London’ (1982) it is still a gloriously delightful achievement in practical effects and the result on screen is spectacular. Jesse is sleeping on Grady’s bedroom chair by his bedside as Grady sits up in bed watching TV as he has made a promise to Jesse to look over him to see if anything happens again. Just after Grady turns off the bedside lamp and calls it a night Jesse suddenly wakes up in pain. Grady turns the light back on and gets out of bed in concern. We then see Krueger’s blades slowly come out of Jesse’s fingers on his right hand and then the flesh of the front of his forearm split open to reveal Freddy Krueger’s red and green jumper. As Jesse turns his arm around, we see the flesh of the back of his hand and forearm break open with yellow pus bleeding out of his hand. Grady tries to open his bedroom door to escape but finds that it will not open and screams out for his father to help.
Jesse then gets up staring at his transformed arm backing into the wall behind him and lets out a loud painful scream and we go to an extreme close-up of Jesse’s opened mouth to reveal inside one of those demonic yellowish eyes of Freddy. As a terrified Grady looks on, Jesse slides down to the floor and as Grady still tries to get the door open banging on it screaming out for his father, Krueger’s head starts to push through Jesse’s stomach. As he reaches his right arm out to Grady in a plead for help we can now make out the full face of Freddy Krueger sticking out of the skin of Jesse’s stomach. Freddy now forces Jesse to slice open his stomach with his blade fingers and we start to see Krueger’s head come out as he pushes himself all the way out of Jesse’s body. As Freddy Krueger comes out into full view Jesse’s ripped open body falls to the floor off Freddy’s back as if it were a coat as Grady continues banging on the door.
I will leave Grady’s death part of the scene alone to stay on the focal point of the execution employed in achieving Krueger’s breaking out into the real world. According to its creator SFX artist Mark Shostrom in ‘Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy’, he had little to go by when reading the script. He covered Patton in prosthesis to create a very realistic looking life mask that was included in that extreme close-up of Jesse as he is screaming and when we see Freddy Krueger’s eye, which is actually the eye of Yagher’s girlfriend wearing a contact lens with her head inside the dummy head of Mark Patton. With the rest of the special makeup department, they took a stonking eleven weeks to build the set-piece going through several various concepts worked out on storyboards.
One of the most infamous sequences in ‘Freddy’s Revenge’ is the pool party massacre. It offers a mixed bag of iconic Freddy moments and just downright wrong decisions that illustrate one of the big problems with the film in its lack of respect to the dream rules established by Craven in his original movie. After Jesse’s transformation into Freddy and his murder of Grady and now returned temporarily to his true physical self he goes back to Lisa’s house. After a confrontation with Lisa, when returned back to his Krueger state he jumps out of the nearby glass doors that lead out to the pool… and disappears into thin air. This happens even though Freddy Krueger is now psychically in the real world inside Jesse’s body and robbed of his dream manipulating powers. Freddy then magically reappears bursting out of a manhole cover in front of the pool and proceeds to slash away at the huge crowd of teenagers. One of the many truly unique aspects of Wes Craven’s film was that Krueger could easily stalk his victims individually in their dreams and not be seen in the real world but here he is reduced to being just like any other horror movie slasher maniac going on a kill crazy rampage.
It is Robert Englund though that saves the scene from being a complete disaster by delivering one of his most memorable phrases of the series in simply put such an effortlessly cool way. Craven said in ‘Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy’ that it was not in the screenplay and that Englund improvised it all really tapping into his character’s psyche. As the terrified teens look on Freddy Krueger grabs some dumb do-gooder throwing him against the barbecue knocking it over to let out a large tall flame from the gas pipe. Freddy then stands in front of the flame looking at the crowd of young adults, holds his arms out from a crossed position and says in such a creepily sinister way, “You are all my children now.” Lisa’s father then takes a shot at the fiendish child killer with a shotgun and then Lisa and the Jesse/Krueger hybrid stare into each other’s eyes before he leaves making his way through the teenage crowd walking through the garden fence and disappearing in flames. This is the real world so again this idea is completely redundant.
This leads us to the equally mixed bag finale in which Lisa knowing where he will be goes after Jesse/Freddy Krueger in the old abandoned power plant where Freddy worked and took the children he murdered and was burned alive by the angry mob of their parents. The real location setting of the iron foundry for this power plant though is fantastic. Line producer Joel Soisson said in ‘Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy’ that they could not afford enough lighting on such a low-budget to light something so big. However, this and what with the patches of red and green lighting and the huge use of steam in this night setting only add to the sequence’s eerie atmosphere. A great crane shot of the iron foundry that lasts for about 35 seconds perfectly sums up all of this as Lisa enters the building finding her way around.
There is the continued use of illogical dream induced frights but even worse than that it is the absolutely cack handed execution employed to achieve those so-called scares. When Lisa approaches the entrance of the power plant, two guard dogs with the laughably stuck on masks of deformed children’s faces confront her. This canine hybrid looks like it has genes of some kind of demented version of a Cabbage Patch Doll. There is some shoddy animatronics work here too when Lisa comes across a mutated rat attacked by a bigger cat mutation. While not being the most awe inspiring piece of SFX especially when comparing it to the epic ripping apart of Krueger from the inside by the souls of his child victims (an idea introduced in ‘Dream Warriors’) in the climax of ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master’ (1988) there is a simplistic but respectable effort here. This is in Lisa’s final confrontation with Freddy Krueger to get Jesse back with their love for one another bringing forth the dream demon’s destruction. A robotic wax bust life mask of Freddy was heated with hairdryers to achieve the effect of Krueger melting away from the flames of the power plant set off by his weakening powers from the even more horrid sight of Lisa and Freddy Krueger having a good kiss.
There are two scenes earlier in the movie that really could have done with being omitted. Probably the most pathetic unintentionally hilarious moment in the entire franchise is the attack by a parakeet on Jesse and his family in their living room. The tiny little bird is driven mad by the heat and kills the other parakeet in its cage. When Jesse opens it, it flies out trying to attack everyone biting the face of Jesse’s father (Gulager). This serves as further emphasis of Freddy gradually breaking into reality but it could not be more out of place. Yet another scene to foreshadow Krueger’s impending arrival that could have done with ending up on the cutting room floor is when Jesse is sleeping in a biology class at school and a huge lab snake that has escaped slithers up his back and wraps itself around his neck with Jesse then waking up and letting out a huge scream. Although I understand what screenwriter David Chaskin was doing, the execution of the idea is just laughably bad. Snakes and dreams are closely related as they are a symbol of the unconscious and this snake here can mean a few things. When dreaming of snakes it can mean the person is going through changes (Jesse’s gradual transition into Freddy Krueger), the snake can represent a part of a person that has yet to be seen (Freddy inside Jesse) and according to Sigmund Freud the snakes in dreams represent a phallic symbol (Jesse’s struggle with his sexual identity). These are nice sub-texts but the execution here has no business being in an Elm Street film.
There is a sequence though that does work very well in signalling off the warning that Krueger is on his way. A fluid POV steadicam shot lasting approximately 46 seconds starts from the basement of the now Walsh’s house making its way up the basement steps as soon as the furnace fires up where Freddy Krueger’s gloves are kept. It comes out of the basement door into the hallway going up the staircase right up to the bedroom door of Jesse’s sister and opening it stops at her bed where she is sleeping and as soon as the camera reaches the bedside we hear Freddy say to her creepily “Wake up, little girl.” Half-asleep, she faces the camera and asks what time is it in which the camera now goes to a medium close up to reveal the person to be Jesse whom replies, “It’s late. Go back to sleep.” The camera now goes to a mid-shot of the bed as Jesse is about to pull the duvet over his sister only with his left hand only to reveal when his right hand comes into view that he is wearing Freddy’s glove and when he touches her with it he then quickly pulls it away from her. This is chillingly effective stuff.
If there is one element of consistent quality during the entire course of the movie then it is Christopher Young’s completely original musical score. This is the only entry in the Elm Street canon never to use Charles Bernstein’s theme from the original or any variations of it. Like the film as a whole Young’s score is criminally underrated. It oozes an out-worldly atmosphere with its surreal sounds and I will even go as far as to say that it is one of the great cinematic horror soundtracks. You can hear it below...
So there we have it. The film has its fair share of stare inducing nonsense with some truly off the wall decision making in the writing disrespecting the mythology innovated by Wes Craven that results in some abysmal out of place moments. Plus there are just some outright goofy scenes. However, on the other hand there is a lot to admire here for the fans of the franchise and horror enthusiasts in general. The characterization gives us really likable sympathetic characters and the provocatively interesting homosexual sub-text captures perfectly the time frame of this point in 80’s America’s sexual awakenings. The direction is solid and the acting is very capable especially from the lead Mark Patton and Robert Englund gives us one of his very best ever Krueger performances. On the whole the special makeup effects are brilliant, there is some terrifically creative stand out dream set-pieces, the kills are memorably nasty and the fantastic musical score is supremely composed.
‘A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge’ is in my opinion the fourth best of the series behind respectively the original movie, ‘Dream Warriors’ and ‘New Nightmare’ (1994). Many believe it is one of the very worst of the franchise but it is a better effort than the mediocre ‘The Dream Master’ and is a helluva a lot better than the god awful ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child’ (1989), ‘Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare’ (1991) and the 2010 remake. This is indeed a nightmarishly underrated sequel.
*** out of ****
Dave J. Wilson
©2014 Cinematic Shocks, Dave J. Wilson - All work is the property of the credited author and may not be reprinted or reproduced elsewhere without permission.
©2014 Cinematic Shocks, Dave J. Wilson - All work is the property of the credited author and may not be reprinted or reproduced elsewhere without permission.