Horror classic A Nightmare On Elm Street turned 35 years old this month. The inaugural entry in the storied franchise is considered great to this day, and not only brought new blood (no pun intended) to the slasher genre, but also spawned several sequels, many of which were successful in their own right. One entry that definitely wasn't highly regarded, however, was A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge.
The first sequel in the series was made in a bit of a rush given that its predecessor was one of the few films in New Line Cinema's early catalogue that actually had sequel potential. The resulting film made good money, but was regarded by fans and critics as being vastly inferior to the first. Seen as one of the worst films in the series, it has nevertheless become infamous for exactly how bad it is and how blatant its (for the time) taboo theme was. It's also because of the latter, however, that it has also come to be regarded as a groundbreaking horror movie.
ODD ONE OUT
The premise of the film involved Freddy Krueger attempting to gain entry into the physical world by possessing the body of teenager Jesse Walsh, whose family has moved into the former home of Freddy's nemesis, Nancy Thompson. This plan of Freddy's is, for the most part, incongruous with how he operates in the rest of the series.
It's also, unlike the other sequels, almost wholly unrelated to the mythology of the series. It's no wonder the film is essentially ignored by the rest of the series, as its events are otherwise superfluous. Jesse does find Nancy's old diary, but besides that, nothing really ties the film with the other movies.
More than its disconnect with the rest of the series, the movie is more well-known for its homoerotic elements, which become increasingly obvious as the story unfolds. At the center of it all, Jesse's confusion and insecurity about himself could easily be construed as confusion over sexual identity. While this might be a stretch on its own, the rest of the film more than justifies this reading.
In one scene, Jesse visits an '80s leather bar where he encounters his coach from school (whose own sexual identity could be questioned through this setting). Said coach is later killed by Freddy after being slashed to death while naked and having his butt whipped with towels. That's to say nothing of the fact that the lockers lose the coach's balls during the scene. In another, Freddy, when trying to possess Jesse, mentions that Jesse's "got the body, and he's got the brains." Freddy's subsequent taunting of Jesse by placing a blade in his mouth was also initially much more erotic that what was shot, according to Jesse's actor, Mark Patton. Other notable moments include lines like, "He wants to get inside me," as well as Jesse running away from making out with a girl to instead sleep in the same bed as his male best friend.
There's also the sexually ambiguous inversion of the "final girl" in the film -- swapping Nancy for Jesse. This trope describes the last surviving female character to escape the killer's wrath, and due to their penchant for ear shattering cries, they're also called "scream queens." Jesse is essentially the first "final boy" and male scream queen, and is even saved by his female love interest at the end.
Screenwriter David Chaskin recently commented in an interview that he deliberately inserted homoerotic undertones into the film, supposedly in an attempt add pathos given the homophobia of the era. But, considering the late hour of this admission plus the many years he spent denying it beforehand, it's a little hard to know whether this is true or not. It could be argued, however, that if the queer undertones -- well, overtones, to be honest -- were intentional, that Freddy could be seen in the film as a retroactive allegory for HIV/AIDS.
LIVING ON IN INFAMY
Another reason for the film's campy cult status is the pure awfulness of a lot of its scenes. These include the aforementioned naked coach scene, as well as Jesse begging to sleep with his friend. The most infamous of these, however, is a scene in which Jesse, still unpacking his belongings, engages in a horrible dance routine, itself laced with sexualized moves. The scene was obviously inspired by Risky Business, but whereas most other homages to that movie are simply trite at this point, Jesse's dance number was horrible even at the time. Patton himself hated it, and felt that many of the gestures were meant to once again negatively code his character as queer.
There's also the scene in which Freddy finally manifests himself in the real world, essentially breaking the biggest scare factor rule of the first movie. This is exemplified in how completely non-threatening the character becomes when taken out of his dream domain. Surrounded by rather buff teenagers and simply skulking around like a kid on Halloween, Freddy loses any and all sense of terror. It would be rather easy for one of the several muscular boys nearby to do away with Freddy, especially since his idea of terrorizing the youth's pool party is to simply growl and throw chairs into the water.
A CERTIFIED CULT HIT
The combination of campy scenes and almost laughably obvious homoerotic "symbolism" makes the film easy to pick apart and laugh at for horror fans and non-fans alike. However, there is perhaps a more serious reason for the film's more favorable reception in recent years.
As poorly done as it may have been, the queer coding for Jesse's character gave LGBTQ viewers a form of representation that was otherwise seldom sen in that era, let alone in the sequel to a highly successful movie. Due to this, Patton himself has become something of a gay hero, something that apparently shocks even him. It wasn't until he began going to horror movie conventions and hearing the stories of how gay fans reacted positively to Jesse's character that he realized how much the movie, warts and all, had affected the gay community through simple inclusion.
Patton had actually left Hollywood years ago, feeling that the production of Freddy's Revenge was actually homophobic and potentially damaging to his career. It's only with the more positive reflection on the film that Patton has returned somewhat to acting. Scream Queen, My Nightmare On Elm Street, a documentary chronicling the tumultuous effect that the film had on Patton, recently premiered at the Alamo Drafthouse.
Though it's by no means the best of the Elm Street franchise, and easily ignored by fans simply wanting to follow the series' continuity, A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge stands out among the franchise for tackling (however poorly) issues concerning sexuality and homophobia. It's a topic that hadn't really been done before or after in the genre, and it's part of what has made the movie surpass its initial reception.
It still can't live down the dance scene, though.
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