Thursday, October 3, 2019

Awesomely Shitty Movies: A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 - Freddy's Revenge

Welcome to yet another installment of Awesomely Shitty Movies, here at Enuffa.com, where I examine uneven films and try to separate the good from the bad.  Today I'm talking about A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge!


Click HERE to read about Nightmare 3 and HERE for Nightmare 4...

In 1984 fledgling film studio New Line Cinemas scored an unexpected monster hit with Wes Craven's weird little movie about a burned-up guy who kills teenagers in their dreams.  The studio had literally mortgaged its future on the project, and when it turned up a tidy $22 million profit, they were eager to follow it up with something equally successful.  The only problem was, Wes Craven (who as a condition of New Line's agreeing to finance the first movie had signed it away as his intellectual property) had no interest in making Nightmare a franchise and declined to participate in a sequel.  Instead director Jack Sholder and screenwriter David Chaskin were brought in to helm the project.  Sholder later confessed he wasn't a fan of the first movie (odd choice to have him direct this one then) and wanted to take the material somewhere else, while Chaskin loaded up the sequel with unusual social subtext for an 80s popcorn movie.  One gross early miscalculation on the part of the filmmakers was the idea that they didn't need a proper actor to play Freddy - since Robert Englund demanded a raise from his Nightmare 1 salary to return, producer Robert Shaye attempted to keep the budget low by casting a stunt double in a Freddy mask.  They got as far as one scene before realizing he was terrible, and wisely agreed to Englund's terms.

Picking up five years after the events in Nightmare 1, this film centers around the new tenants of Nancy Thompson's former address, in particular a teenage boy named Jesse Walsh.  Jesse is haunted by nightmares about Freddy, who asks permission to use Jesse's body as a vehicle for murdering people in the real world.  What follows is a battle of wills, as Jesse struggles to squash the evil growing within him.  The premise is simple, but the thematic choices and execution are what's really intriguing about this often-maligned movie thirty-plus years later.

So let's detach the good and the evil surrounding A Nightmare on Elm Street 2, shall we?



The Awesome


Performances

A few cheesy and awkward moments aside, the principle performances in this movie are strong, at times some of the most credible in the series.  Mark Patton brings a tortured sense of sexually confused teen angst to the role of Jesse, unsure what to do with both his budding physical maturity and his nocturnal hauntings.  Kim Myers is sweetly nurturing and warm as the beautiful girl-next-door Lisa.  Robert Rusler is the meathead jock you can't help but like as Ron Grady, who initially bullies Jesse but ends up being a friend and confidant.  Veteran actor Clu Gulager is cluelessly stern as Jesse's unsympathetic father, insensitive to the changes, both Freddy-related and otherwise, his son is going through.  And of course there's trusty Robert Englund as Freddy himself, who comes off possibly more malicious here than in any other film.  Freddy just seems especially hostile this time around, almost as though Englund resented not being asked back in the first place.  Or maybe I'm reading into things...




Freddy's Look

Original Nightmare makeup artist David Miller was unavailable to return for the second film, so 23-year-old Kevin Yagher was brought in for his first of three Nightmare films.  Yagher had nothing to go on in recreating Miller's makeup design except clips from the first film and a few photos, so he mostly started from scratch, making Freddy's prosthetics thinner, bonier and more witch-like, adding to his menacing look.  Another wonderful touch was giving Englund red contact lenses to further enhance his demonic appearance.  Yagher's makeup really established the exaggerated, shiny, "classic" Freddy look.  Of the entire series, this is my favorite execution of Freddy's makeup.





Effects

Okay first off, not all the effects in this movie work.  Near the end there's some cheesy shit going on, which I'll get to in the Shitty section.  But the effects that do work in this film are pretty brilliant.  The miniature bus sequence at the beginning looks good, the basic bloody effects are solid, Freddy's melting face at the end looks great, Freddy ripping his scalp to reveal his brain looks incredible, and of course the show stopper, Freddy bursting out of Jesse's body, is one of the great sequences in the series.  A nod to both Alien and An American Werewolf in London, the scene depicts Freddy's knives popping out of Jesse's fingers as the skin on his arm begins peeling off to reveal Freddy's sweater underneath, before Freddy's face pushes through Jesse's stomach.  Sure, logistically it doesn't add up; after Freddy molts Jesse's skin off and kills Grady, he simply turns back into Jesse.  So the laws of physics often don't apply in this film, but it's still a great scene with fantastic looking effects designed by Mark Shostrom.

"Please.....kill me...."




Visual Style

Nightmare 2, like its predecessor, is a pretty great-looking film, with moody, naturalistic lighting and a simple visual elegance that lends the movie a palpable sense of dread.  Shots like Jesse running laps in the fog-filled, empty gymnasium, or his silhouette disappearing in the mist of the showers and changing into Freddy's are expressionistic and effective.  Unlike the later sequels which felt like polished Hollywood fare, the original and part 2 owe more to the visual richness of maverick 1970s films.

Nice use of light and shadow in this movie




Music

Replacing Charles Bernstein at the baton for this film was prolific movie composer Christopher Young, who went on to score literally dozens of films after this one.  Young's music is less reliant on 80s synth sounds and has a more organic feel, punctuating the terror instead of distracting from it.  I daresay this might be the best score of the series.




Something Different

Nightmare 2 took (and still takes) a lot of flak for so jarringly eschewing the rules and mythos established in the first film, but as director Jack Sholder said, at this point there wasn't yet a franchise to stray from.  The filmmakers knew they had a hit property on their hands and were just trying to continue it without simply retreading what Craven had done with the original.  To that end I have to respect this film for taking such huge risks with the story and the rules.  Instead of Freddy haunting kids' dreams and murdering them, he goes after the new tenant of 1428 Elm Street and possesses his body in the real world, allowing him to continue killing.  Thus the protagonist becomes the villain and vice versa, an interesting left turn that owes more to Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde.  It may not fit into the rest of the series per se, but if you look at Nightmare 2 as the equivalent of a DC Comics Elseworlds Tale, it's kind of brilliant.

How do you stop a killer when the killer is you?




"Subtext"

Probably the most talked-about aspect of this film, and coincidentally what makes it the most thematically complex and fascinating of the series, is the homoerotic undertones, or as I call them, "tones."  The subtext in this film is front and center, and like James Whale's Bride of Frankenstein the underlying themes are pretty astonishing when you consider when the film was made.  A sexually confused male protagonist torn between a conventional hetero relationship and one being offered by an older male character (Henry-Elizabeth-Dr. Praetorius anyone?), who at one point is so uncomfortable with the idea of intimacy with the girl he ditches her and runs to his male friend's house, begging to spend the night.  I know Jack Sholder and Robert Shaye among others claim they didn't spot the subtext while they were making the movie, but I gotta call bullshit on that.  It's almost like after the film was released they didn't want to admit to themselves what it was really about.  Screenwriter David Chaskin has since fessed up to wanting to make the core horror film audience - typically young, hetero males - squirm in their seats by including the idea of questioning one's own sexuality (much like Alien creator Dan O'Bannon had done by inventing a creature that orally rapes its host to reproduce).  The subtext is what makes the film so much more multi-layered than a run-of-the-mill slasher movie.  Freddy represents Jesse's repressed homosexuality which he desperately tries to bury, in the end professing his love for Lisa and seemingly purging himself of Freddy.  But in the film's epilogue Freddy gets the last laugh, taking Jesse, Lisa and Kerry on another "bus ride to Hell," as if to drive home the point that we can't change who we are, as much as we might pretend.  The film became a huge LGBT cult hit and made a killing in Europe, typically a less sexually uptight audience than their American counterparts.  It's seemingly not a favorite among the Freddy faithful, but its subtext alone makes it for me one of the most interesting installments.

"Why Jesse.  This is.....sudden...."


Alright, now for the stuff that doesn't work....



The Shitty


Rushed Production

New Line Cinema's entire existence depended on the success of the first Nightmare film, to the extent that the studio later became known as "The House That Freddy Built."  When the original movie was a hit, Robert Shaye looked at their potential slate of films and decided a sequel was the only surefire way to build on their newfound success, and quickly rushed it into production for a November 1st release date (less than a year after the first film came out).  Unfortunately this didn't leave much time for script development, filming or editing, and the time crunch comes across when watching the movie.  Another six months would've been sufficient to iron out some of the kinks.




Editing

My biggest issue with the film is the editing.  The first half is full of repetition, with numerous scenes of Jesse not being able to sleep, then having a nightmare that he's walking around the house and encountering Freddy or other strange goings-on, followed by a morning scene of him arguing with his parents.  The second half includes too many scenes of Lisa trying to get him to talk to her about his problems, and the movie is replete with abbreviated scenes that feel like they were cut in half, mid-conversation.  This film is only 87 minutes but could probably have used another ten to let some of these dramatic moments breathe, plus some scenes could've used a bit of tightening up.  There isn't a strong enough narrative thrust, it's almost like a shoestring of cool moments and set pieces at times.




Rules Out the Window

I think for most Freddy fans the biggest problem with Nightmare 2 is that it doesn't at all stick to the rules Wes Craven's original movie established.  Freddy doesn't kill anyone in their dreams in this film, every murder occurs when the victim is awake.  Not only that but Freddy apparently can bend inanimate objects to his will in the real world - the Walsh family's bird spontaneously combusts, Coach Schneider gets attacked by his own gym equipment and tied up in the shower, Grady's bedroom door locks on its own, apparently from both sides, Freddy smashes through Lisa's patio door but disappears mid-crash, Lisa's pool begins boiling and her patio catches fire.  This stuff all kinda flies in the face of Craven's original concept and I get why people were pissed at this film.  As I said, I respected Chaskin and Sholder wanting to take it somewhere else, but at a certain point you have to also honor the first movie's intent.





Climax

The grand finale of this film is more of an emotional climax than an excitingly visceral one.  Lisa follows Jesse/Freddy back to Freddy's power plant (encountering some really fake-looking dogs with grotesque human faces and a monster cat chasing a monster rat), where she confronts him and uses her love for Jesse as a weapon to combat Freddy's evil.  Lisa kisses Freddy (ew!), empowering Jesse to take back control, and the room and Freddy burst into flames.  Freddy's visage literally melts off, leaving behind an ash-covered Jesse, and he and Lisa embrace.  Not the most exciting, climactic confrontation unfortunately.  I get what they were going for, but this needed either more spectacular effects or a more dramatic execution.  As Nightmare on Elm Street climaxes go, this is probably the weakest of the bunch.

Freddy made the mistake of looking at the Ark




Nitpicks

-I never understood why, when Freddy is possessing Jesse's body, instead of the glove he simply has knives sticking out of his fingers.  Especially since when he reverts back to Jesse he has the glove on.  That don't make sense.

Hey Freddy, where's ya glove?

-Did Elm Street get moved to a different school district?  The high school in this film is a totally different building than in the original.  Side note: the school in question is Charles Evans Junior High in Woodland Hills, CA, which was also used in The Karate Kid.  I knew that place looked familiar.

So technically Jesse and Danny LaRusso were classmates?

-While helping Jesse unpack his room, Lisa stumbles upon Nancy Thompson's old diary - is it me or does that seem a stretch that she'd leave her diary behind, especially when it wasn't particularly well hidden?  Anyway, they read excerpts of it together; in one entry Nancy mentions Freddy's name, followed by another where she mentions Tina's death.  Problem is Nancy didn't find out Freddy's name until well after Tina's murder.

-There are two scenes where Coach Schneider disciplines Jesse and Grady by forcing them to do an extended plank on the athletic field.  The first is punishment for fighting during a softball game, the second is for talking shit about him in the locker room.  But the second time we see them get punished it's clearly an outtake from the first - they're wearing the same outfits and are dirty from their aforementioned fight.  What, they couldn't have filmed a take with Jesse and Grady freshly showered to use here?  I know the production was rushed but come on.

-One night after having a nightmare Jesse leaves his house and wanders into town, stopping at an S&M bar (Scenes like this undermine the filmmakers' disavowal of any intentional subtext - come on guys, you knew what you were doing) and ordering a beer.  He is then caught by Schneider, who takes him back to the school gym and makes him run laps.  I'm pretty sure a teacher would be committing an act of criminal negligence by not immediately taking the student home to his parents after catching him at a bar.  Also, what kinda bar doesn't card a kid who looks like Jesse?  It's not like he's rockin' a Burt Reynolds 'stache to look older.

-After making out with Lisa in the pool cabana, Jesse rushes over to Grady's house and rouses him from his slumber.  Hold up, though, how did Jesse get into Grady’s house?  Did Grady's parents let Jesse in and not knock on his door to see if he was even still up?  Just seemed awfully sudden.

-Also when Jesse starts turning into Freddy and Grady tries desperately to open his door, screaming at the top of his lungs, it takes his parents, like, FOREVER to come running.

-Interesting choice of closing credits music, a 1930s big band tune, oddly similar to the end of The Shining.  I wonder if Jack Sholder was a fan; the scene of Jesse running laps in the gym looked strikingly Kubrickian.



Conclusion

So yeah, I actually dig this film quite a bit and consider it the most underrated Nightmare episode.  It has some great moments, strong performances, one or two spectacular effects, and maybe the most hostile incarnation of Freddy ("Help yourself, fucker!"), complete with the most demonic version of his makeup.  Plus all that thinly veiled subtext provides a ton of fodder for psychosexual discussion; Freud would have a field day with this movie.  If the filmmakers were afforded more time to fully develop the script and hone the editing and pacing this movie would likely have a reputation second only to the original.  As it is, Freddy's Revenge holds up for me better than most of these films now.


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