On the recent subject of remakes we'd like to see, reader Matthew H. suggested an Alfonso Cuaron-helmed Nightmare on Elm Street, since that series generally served as a showcase for new directors. And he's right - taken as a whole, the Elm Street series is the strongest of the big three slasher franchises, largely because of each film's distinct personality. While some are better than others, they never become generic like the later Friday the 13th and Halloween sequels. Even the low point in the series, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge, is interesting, albeit for reasons its makers didn't really have in mind.
Part of the franchise's distinctive style can be attributed to New Line Cinema's protectiveness of what was, until Rush Hour and The Lord of the Rings, its biggest cash cow. Rumor has it that the company developed Freddy's Revenge and the far superior A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors at the same time, then rushed the former into production to keep awareness of Freddy high and put more time and effort into the latter. Whether or not this is exactly what happened, Freddy's Revenge, which opened just under 12 months after the first film, does feel like a rush job. The plot, which follows teen Jesse (Mark Patton) as he is possessed through his dreams by Freddy (Robert Englund), betrays a basic misunderstanding of what made the first movie scary and memorable. The atmospheric, Bunuel-inspired imagery of Craven's film is gone - here, the dream sequences amount to Freddy yelling variations of "Kill for me, Jesse!" while Patton emits high-pitched squeals. The biggest sequence in the movie takes Freddy into the real world to terrorize a pool party, but surrounding him with Tiki torches sort of downplays his fearsome persona. Director Jack Sholder made the entertaining slasher movie Alone in the Dark before Freddy's Revenge and followed it with the awesome alien cop movie The Hidden, but here his attemps at scaring us - a melting record, an exploding parakeet - mostly just provoke unintentional laughs. There are few mentions of Freddy as a child killer, and his creepy boiler room hangout is replaced with a dreary industrial park. And while it's not necessary for the lead in a slasher movie to be female, Patton's histrionic performance makes for an awkward Final Girl.
Of course, the performance makes sense if you accept the popular subtextual reading of Freddy's Revenge. It's been noted by many writers before me that Freddy's Revenge can be interpreted as the story of a teen struggling with his repressed homosexuality. It's not even subtext, really; the first time I watched the movie, when classmate Ron (Robert Rusler) pulls down Jesse's pants during gym and wrestles him to the ground, I thought to myself, "Don't be immature." When Jesse falls asleep in class and summons a python around his neck, I thought, "That wasn't supposed to be a penis." When Jesse sleepwalks into a leather bar and gets busted by his leather-clad gym teacher, I thought, "Okay, that's actually really gay." When Jesse, possessed by Freddy, ties his teacher up, naked, in the gym shower and violently towel-whips him - well, if that isn't gay, neither is Querelle. The filmmakers claim the subtext is unintentional, and though I find this hard to believe, it'd be amazing if, in the rush to get a sequel out, they accidentally made a movie where Freddy is the personification of one teen's confused sexual desire. Sidenote: my first boyfriend was a slasher film nut, but when I mentioned Freddy's Revenge's hidden meaning, he had no idea what I was talking about.
But whether one reads Freddy's Revenge as a progenitor of New Queer Cinema or simply a quick cash-in, it's worth watching for scenes so inexplicable that they're practically Lynchian (Hope Lange, who plays Jesse's mother, would go on to play Jeffrey Beaumont's mom in Blue Velvet the following year). There's the weird framing sequence that tries to make a bus ride into a hellish desert scary but instead suggests a bad peyote trip. Or the single silliest dance montage of the '80s (no small feat), as Jesse, cleaning his room, prances around like a hyperactive 8-year-old, at one point using a plastic cup-and-ball toy as a phallus. Or my personal favorite moment, the completely ridiculous scene after the bird explodes, as Jesse's dad (Clu Gulager) accuses him of somehow having rigged the bird to spontaneously combust in an attempt to tear the family apart. As I said before, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 is the more logical continuation of the series, and it's actually better than the original in some ways. But sometimes I find myself more in the mood to watch Freddy's Revenge - it's a sublime failure, one that does everything wrong in all the right ways.