Fans of the series often criticise A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge for sticking out like a sore thumb, but I find it important to remember that, at the time, the bigwigs at New Line Cinema had yet to establish the narrow formula every subsequent sequel would follow. Setting aside the fact that nothing in the film contradicts the overall myth as we know it today, Freddy Krueger’s modus operandi seemed oddly focused in the original A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), as if tailored to Nancy’s unique psyche. As such, it makes sense for the monster to switch things up a bit, if only not to repeat himself.
Five years have passed since the events of the first movie, and another family has moved into the house on 1428 Elm. Stuck there for whatever reason, Freddy (Robert Englund) hatches a plan to possess the new resident teen, Jesse (Mark Patton), taking his body for a murderous stroll every night. The whole thing ties into the boy’s burgeoning romance with Lisa (Kim Myers) somehow, prompting viewers to ask what any of this has to do with nightmares or revenge. Granted, A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge plays less like a slasher sequel than a haunted house flick akin to 1982’s Poltergeist (just listen to the soundtrack). However, its themes are consistent with that of the original.
In A Nightmare on Elm Street, Wes Craven used Freddy as a metaphor for the fears we empower by running away from our problems, bringing up issues of denial and detachment. A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge tackles a different form of avoidance: sexual repression. Consider the first victim (Marshall Bell), whom our hero spots at an S&M club, or, better yet, the aborted sex scene with Lisa. Just as things start to get hot and heavy, Jesse loses control of his body, his eager tongue morphing into that of our titular baddie. The film is littered with carnal imagery of this sort, from the giant snake in biology class to the ejaculating beer cans to the characters’ incessant double entendres: “Assume the position!”
Many have reinterpreted A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge as a gay parabola on account of its lead actor’s sexuality (which does colour his performance) and the prominent bromance between Jesse and Grady (Robert Rusler). Indeed, you might kill yourself if you take a shot after every instance of unintentional homoeroticism: “He’s inside me, and he wants to take me again!” Screenwriter David Chaskin has even admitted that he’d intended this reading all along, though I find his claim dubious, given that the climax rests entirely on our hero’s heterosexual love interest. Really, the movie works either way, and I find comfort in the notion that a teenager’s sexual awakening can be treated in the same manner regardless of orientation.
You see, I care about these kids, which may constitute the greatest achievement of A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge. I like, for instance, that what starts out as a clichéd bullying rapport between Jesse and Grady becomes the basis for a genuine friendship, once the former shows he can both stand up for himself and take a joke. Also of note is the fact that Lisa proves more sexually aggressive than her beau, a dynamic often true of real life if perhaps not Hollywood pictures. These characters have genuine personalities beyond the usual slasher archetypes, which makes it all the more tragic when Freddy inevitably guts a third of the cast.
It’s worth noting that A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge features the lowest body count in the series, unless you factor in Lisa’s pool party, wherein the titular ghoul slashes his way through a bunch of extras while flaming hot dogs spontaneously explode on each other (drink up). Truth be told, a lot of the scares fall flat, despite makeup artist Kevin Yagher doing a terrific job on Freddy’s imposing new design. For every fantastic set piece such as our villain crawling out of Jesse’s chest, we get a dud like the family canary flying out in a frenzy and catching fire. I suppose I’d be horrified if I worked in a coal mine.
Mind you, gore hounds patient enough to sit through these sequences will be rewarded with a spectacular final act on Freddy’s old stomping grounds. Pulling out all the stops in terms of grotesque imagery and general weirdness, director Jack Sholder regales us with surreal concepts like an Escher-style refinery, calcified human metamorphosis, and a demonic incarnation of Tom and Jerry. I also dig the way A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge reverses the genders on classic fairy tale iconography. Take, for instance, our villain’s witchy demise or Lisa’s curse-negating kiss.
My favourite element in this whole sequence, though, consists of the creepy human-faced pit-bulls guarding Freddy’s lair. Some of you may resent me for devoting an entire paragraph to such throwaway creatures. After all, Sholder and his special-effects team just strapped masks to a bunch of dogs, but I think the simplicity of the design makes them all the more haunting. I love those mutts, and I don’t believe I’ve ever seen anything like them before or since in a Nightmare flick. That’s the thing with A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge. The film gets a lot of flak for taking the franchise in an unexpected direction, but that, to me, only adds to its value.