A Nightmare on Elm Street set up a fantastic world with a vast array of possibilities. The basic premise of a world that exists in the mind means that the basic rules of reality and logic don’t need to be followed (not that most movies do a good job of that anyway). And yet, in being illogical these films are open to explore real world issues in unique and bizarre ways, in ways that most films could not even begin to comprehend. As schlocky as it might be, A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge is such a film.
When the Walsh family moves into the old Thompson house, their eldest, Jesse (Mark Patton) begins having nightmares about Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund). However, these dreams differ from the dreams of Nancy in that they are not so much about the dreamer but about Freddy himself. As Jessie grapples with these dreams and learns more about Freddy and his intentions, he begins a startling transformation.
Freddy actually begins to become a part of Jesse and it’s this transformation that becomes ripe for interpretation. The transformation could easily be paralleled with puberty. New desires and impulses begin to permeate Jesse as Freddy begins to take more of a hold, turning him into something monstrous (and is there anything more monstrous than a teen going through puberty?). Some have pointed at signs of gayness that develop throughout the film, yet another possible interpretation of the transformation.
Sure, a lot of films can deal with these kinds of transformations without the horror elements, but the horror experience creates a far more dramatic development to this character. The fantastical elements serve to enhance the psychological arc of the Jessie character. And it’s because he’s in a horror film that the possibility of giving into these impulses has much higher stakes. He’s likely to not only harm those around him, but also lose his identity to Freddy Kruger.
However, as fantastic as this development is to watch, it’s disappointing that it has to take place amid such a disinteresting cast of characters. A Nightmare on Elm Street exceled at crafting a tight-knit gang of teens into memorable characters, something Freddy’s Revenge fails to achieve. The characters are forgettable at best. They’re not defined or distinguished in interesting ways, blending into each other and practically interchangeable at points.
The only thing that makes them compelling is the situations they are dropped into and the way they react to them. However, unlike the first, their attitudes don’t change in response to the intrusion of Freddy or the progressively odd behavior of Jesse. In the original, as Freddy become more and more apparent and obvious, the characters changed and adapted in order to survive. There’s no sense of that in this film, only the oblivious and stupid ignorance that seems to permeate the casts of most slasher flicks.
However, where the film rises above the average slasher flick is in the visuals. While the effects and images might not be as iconic as the original, the film takes the idea of dreams and dream logic and translates it into a visual style. Heavily inspired by giallo, a slasher subgenre of Italian horror flick, the lighting scheme is aggressively unnatural, creating surreal and stages images that could only exist in the mind (or in the movies).
This means that the blur between reality and dream is cleared up drastically. It’s visually apparent when Jesse is in the dream world and when he is in reality. However the film is more interested in the psychological torment of Jesse and the visual style fits this approach. The film also begins to mix things up by giving Freddy more power. With some control over Jesse, Freddy is now able to interact directly with reality, making him more of a threat.
However, it also makes him a lot more obvious and everyone else a lot stupider for not noticing him. There’s also the problem that the killings Freddy does in the film seem to have no impact on the world around him. Freddy is not like Jason, killing victims in the middle of nowhere. He’s in a community and yet the deaths don’t seem to have the kind of impact they should in similar films. Where are the cops hunting down the killer or the outraged parents demanding precautions?
And it’s here that a potential problem for the series arises. If you becomes so caught up in the supernatural elements of the film and neglect its impact on reality, the conflict loses some of its immediacy. And that can mean the difference between a tense and frightening scene and a scene where the boogie man pops up and kills someone we don’t care about. Freddy’s Revenge has a lot of tension boiled up inside this teenager but it lacks some of the real world immediacy of the original.
However, what the film does give us a good contest for is that feverish nightmare feeling. There are a lot of scenes that capture that sensation of waking up in a soaked sweat, fearing for your life. Most is due to color mood and lighting, but the frenzied nature of the character and the performance of Mark Patton enhance that fiery, nightmare quality. This is a superb contrast to the cool and subtle dreamscape of the original film.
Still, it’s hard to live up to the high benchmark set by A Nightmare on Elm Street. Freddy’s Revenge, to its credit, takes the same concept and world and finds a way to own it and craft something distinct in the slasher space. Sure, the film also falls into many of the traps of slasher flicks, but they are only slight detriments on an otherwise compelling and different horror flick.
© 2010 James Blake Ewing