When discussing my love for Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), which I reviewed here, I was constantly warned by people that I should not bother with the sequels. They told me to either steer clear completely, or to focus on a couple of specific ones that were decent, generally those that Craven returned to direct. But I thought it would be fun to check them all out and track the evolution of the series, beginning with A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985).
Craven chose not to return for this sequel, passing on the film after reading the script. Some of his concerns that came through in the film include the trashing of the mythology around the character of Freddy Krueger that had been built in the first film. In the first film, Krueger can really only cause damage inside dreams, but in this second entry he seems to have attained the ability to leave the dream world and hit up pool parties at will. It is a frustrating dilution of part of what made the first entry such an original horror story. Missteps such as that are even more annoying because there are some very good ideas contained in the script. Much of it concerns Freddy attempting to recruit a the main character Jesse, through intimidation and trickery, into murdering on his behalf. As the deaths start piling up, so does Jesse’s mental instability as he becomes more and more convinced that he is the one doing the deeds.
The action starts out rather originally with a set piece involving a school bus and a bus driver who turns out to Mr Krueger himself. I was pretty hopeful at that point, but most of the film from there on out is content to just hit the same notes as the first film – falling asleep in class, a gory death or two, doubt over who is doing the killing, boiler room showdowns and so on. When the film does try and do something more original, it does not do it very well. I have already mentioned Krueger being able to escape dreams in the film, which just confuses his menace. Add to that the film’s most bizarre sequence where the teenage protagonist Jesse goes to a leather bar, sees his bully of a gym teacher and then gets invited back to the school. Whilst he is having a shower, Freddy Krueger appears and kills his teacher in a really homoerotic fashion. It is totally absurd. I am not sure if there was meant to be a little commentary in there, but it definitely did not come through clearly. Also, I really hope that every film in the series is not going to finish with the same lame little coda/epilogue style sequence. I don’t mind some ambiguity or sequel bait, but the first two films both end in cheap little scenes that add nothing to the film and just serve to undermine the satisfactory (sort of) resolution of the main narrative.
There is something pretty timeless about the first film in this series. In comparison though, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 is beset by 80s-ness. The wooden performance from Mark Patton as Jesse definitely plays into that. Luckily though both Robert Rusler as Ron and Kim Myers as Jesse’s love interest Lisa are much more comfortable and mitigate the bad acting somewhat. Actually the most surprising bit about this film for me was that the teen romance sub-plot between the two main characters was actually pretty decent. A shame it is wasted in this film. More disappointing than the poor acting is the change in genre. The first film was a really innovative mixture of supernatural horror and the slasher film. This film dumps all of that I think for what is basically a straight up supernatural film, with a few teen film subplots going on as well. Aside from a couple of moments, the stark and horrifying imagery that was all through the first film is also lessened a great deal here. Freddy still looks very cool and the scene where he bursts out of an old dude’s chest is satisfyingly gruesome. But there is nothing that really matches a couple of the great and gory kills that take place in the first film in the series. Especially not dogs with baby masks on. What the hell was that?
A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge has some really interesting ideas that if done right would have made this a worthy follow up to a true horror classic. Unfortunately though the film is not done properly and a combination of poor acting, the rubbishing of some of what made Krueger such a great villain and tamer kills make this pretty weak. Which is such a bummer, because the convergence of the characters of Freddy and Jesse is an idea that deserved to be pulled off much better.
Verdict: Schooner of Carlton Draught
I’m going to be reviewing one of the Nightmare on Elm Street films every week for the next little bit. So I hope you enjoy reading the reviews and looking forward to hearing your thoughts on all of these films if you have seen them.