A commenter on The Dissolve introduced me to the notion of the “perpendicular sequel” – a film that draws from but doesn’t interfere with the original, and launches off in a different direction. If ever there were a movie that fits the bill, it’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge.
For one thing, Freddy Kreuger, the child-killing villain from the first film who showed up in the dreams of the town’s youngsters to exact revenge for his own murder, is no longer interested in terrorizing all of them – he now haunts one boy alone. That boy, Jesse, is tormented by him, and it becomes clear that Freddy is some kind of manifestation of Jesse’s own turmoil. Sure, Jesse moved into the house across the street from where we watched another boy die in the first film, but there are other traumas at play.
This is a huge departure from the mythology that launched the series, not but one installment ago. It’s actually kind of amazing that this movie ever got made at all: Most direct sequels stick to at least the bare-bones structure of their predecessor. Not so here: Freddy’s revenge, such as it is, lands directly on poor Jesse, who is left to grapple with a whole host of identity issues, given that Freddy has now decided to literally live inside him. He’s a dark, threatening aspect of Jesse’s psyche (and, apparently, stomach), which must be repressed if Jesse’s going to fit in at school, get a girl, live a happy suburban life.
Some people say that this is the out-and-out gayest film of the franchise, possibly of all horror movie franchise entries in history. Those people are right. You would have to be willfully, steadfastly opposed to the obvious to ignore it.
This is a movie in which the gym coach frequents leather bars (or “S&M joints,” according to one character, who is made to do punishing laps and push-ups for the coach’s amusement – “That’s just how he gets his rocks off,” he points out; later, the same character mentions to Jesse that the coach “likes pretty boys like you”). Later, the coach is flayed to death with jump ropes in the school shower, naked and bound, after tennis ball canisters aggressively ejaculate in all directions. This is a movie where our protagonist runs away from the female love interest to hide out in his buddy’s bedroom, who incredulously, mockingly notes, “There’s a girl waiting for you and you want to spend the night with me.” This is a slasher movie in which only men die – is it the only one where this is true? – and, notably, only those men who embody either danger or desire for our Jesse. In case things weren’t clear enough for the audience, the filmmakers helpfully add this: As Freddy fights his way out of Jesse’s stomach (in one of the genuinely gross, fun scares in a movie that seems to have forgotten it’s supposed to include those at all), Jesse mournfully cries out, “He’s INSIDE ME, and he WANTS TO TAKE ME AGAIN.”
It’s all incredibly amusing and campy, actually, but the plot beats could be read in a deeply homophobic way. Does Jesse triumph over carnal desire by eliminating the boys he might kind of want to bang, and secure redemption from his terrible, terrible urges with the help of Lisa, who would in any other horror movie be the Final Girl? (Here, she’s simply a calm port in the storm, a promise of normalcy, and a possible salvation from Freddy’s torment.) Or, as Freddy cackles at him in the end, driving back into the desert where the movie began, has Jesse just postponed dealing with the embodiment of a power that can’t be willed away so easily?
Is this taking A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge a little too seriously? In a word, yes. But the film, like a lot of modern American horror, is a mythic treatment of adolescent confusion, played out for giggles and scares. It also has absolutely nothing to do with the A Nightmare on Elm Street series, and is sort of lovable for that reason alone. (Not to mention Jesse’s sweet dance moves.)
One thing is clear: there aren’t too many movies like it. And given the vehement, bordering on disgusted, rejection of it by the series’ fan base – who were decidedly less interested in a protagonist grappling with his sexuality than people being cut up with razor fingers or drowned in water beds – there probably won’t be another.