Director: Jack Sholder
Cast: Mark Patton, Kim Myers, Robert Englund
Plot: Freddy Krueger (Englund) attempts to return from the dead by possessing the body of an anxious teenage boy (Patton).
The sequel to Nightmare on Elm Street was sold to me as a pretty naff movie. As I dove into watching it, I didn’t expect much. While the 80s were arguably the pinnacle of cult horror, they were also the very essence of the crap sequel. Friday the 13th is guilty of poor replication, so I assumed the same from Freddy Krueger’s cult vehicle. The difference is, while I found the original Friday the 13th pretty dull in itself, I am rather fond of the original A Nightmare on Elm Street. Would that make my appreciation for this series better? Or would its road to ruin feel even more heart-breaking?
In fairness to Jack Sholder’s Elm Street movie, it is nowhere near a carbon copy of the last film. In fact, it earns points for bravery right out the bat, by refusing to return to convention. The plot of most Nightmare on Elm Street movies goes as such: Krueger stalks his victims in their dreams, granted the power of butchering them while they sleep. It is a winning premise: your audiences are scared to death by the film and go home fearing sleep. It also creates this sense of helplessness in the characters in this movie. They are fighting the body’s need to go to sleep. It makes each hero feel interesting as they need to work around this basic function to defeat Krueger. However, the second film is set apart from the rest, because it doesn’t follow this pattern. Here, a new family, namely Mark Patton’s anxiety-ridden teenage boy, move into that infamous house on Elm Street and Patton finds himself the next target for Freddy. Freddy was killed off in the last movie, but as the plot reveals, he has the power to return to his murdering ways by living through Mark Patton’s Jesse. Cue Jesse slowly realising he is putting his friends and family at risk by being around them. Possession films are definitely not my cup of tea, as I find few options for the narrative to travel. However, with Kruger running the show, there are fresh visuals to keep the film ticking over. This major possession plot point is revealed, when Krueger appears to Jesse and peels off his own scalp in front of him. “You have the body! I have the brains!” Englund snarls, his own cranium pulsating on-screen. It is glorious, pulpy horror that feels indigenous to the 80s. From then on, Jesse tries to battle his own mind, as reality and dream cross over. Some scenes flop (apparently budgies make for terrifying killers), while others are mesmerising (Krueger crawls his way out of Jesse’s body!). A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 is definitely the more inconsistent of the two films, jumping from unevenly dull to inventively creepy. Most of your appreciation for this film depends on how much you buy into the two leads. Patton is an odd hero to follow, given a girly scream that is hard to take seriously, and mainly drifting through the movie with a grief-stricken look on his face. However, there is charisma buried underneath the character, when Sholder allows Patton to show it. Better is Kim Myers, landed with the crying girl role, but given enough grit, especially in the finale, which gives her a surprisingly prominent amount to do, to make her heroine stand out from the crowd. You either buy into their terrifying plight or simply enjoy watching Krueger terrify the crap out of them.
What really interests me about the second Nightmare on Elm Street movie is the homosexual undertones badly hidden in the script. While once it came across as just an 80s thing to do, looking back, there is a clear use of the fear of homosexuality. On one side, it is argued that Jesse is actually a closet homosexual and his anxiety is driven by that fear. A lot of the scariest moments come to Jesse when he is naked and vulnerable. Another scene sees Jesse finally get a kiss off of his female co-star, only to panic and flee to his male best friend’s bedroom. I found these arguments reaching somewhat, but there is room for argument, especially when the dialogue about Krueger crops up in the third act. “He is inside me, always there.” The entire movie is arguably about supressing the other man within him. While the idea of a gay horror movie hero this early in cinema is interesting in itself, perhaps the answer is simpler. The fear of homosexuality was rampant in the decade and the character of the gym teacher, rumoured to like young boys, suggests that the fear of homosexuality isn’t so much about Jesse himself, but others around him. Jesse arguably lives in fear of not the psychotic killer played by Englund, but the voyeuristic teacher who forces him and his fellow pupils to run around all day, working up a sweat. Is it another angle used by the director to find a new form of underlying fear for his movie? We could even argue that there must be some form of initial terror before Krueger for the undead killer to latch onto. Perhaps that is the gym teacher, suggesting some of the homoerotic imagery in this movie. Krueger could be tapping into the fear of gay sex, flaunting the creepy gym teacher in his nightmarish world. It is hard to argue that the iconic scene where the gym teacher is stripped and spanked in front of Jesse, arguably by Jesse if we follow the possession rule, needs to mean something other than eerie horror?
The difficult thing about discussing a Nightmare on Elm Street movie, or even liking a Nightmare on Elm Street movie, is that it is frustratingly tricky to pin down what Krueger is capable of. He suffers that 80s movie monster habit of not following any rules. In the first movie, we could vaguely keep up: he had unlimited power over people in his dreams, although that became sketchy in the final act. Here, the rules are thrown out of the window. Krueger has power in the dream world and then in reality, despite apparently being a weakened form of the killer in the first movie. A massacre at a house party is good slasher fun, the kind of scene where Englund just gets to be Krueger for five great minutes, but that scene is hard to fathom, because it seems to break its own cinematic rules. Wasn’t Krueger just vanquished? What part of him is Jesse and what isn’t? As Kim Myers takes on Krueger in a boiler room filled with baby-faced dogs and terrifyingly monstrous cats, the answer seems to be that Krueger is simply whatever he needs to be at the time. Does the movie need a jump scare? Krueger can now control exploding budgies? Need to ramp up the tension? Krueger can now lock doors and start fires. It makes A Nightmare on Elm Street 2, or the series as a whole, only vaguely scary, because the formula is played around with one too many times. And is the pointless and narrative-destroying jump scare at the ending of each Nightmare on Elm Street movie going to be a constant thing? I sincerely hope not.
Final Verdict: Not as bad as you expect it to be, but an inconsistent horror that is having too much fun to ponder too long on script.