A couple of days ago, one of the writers whose work I take the time to follow posted this review of A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge. Now, regardless of what you might think of the review or the film, I made one comment about the review itself that got me thinking. You see, in criminal trials, the burden of proof always lies with the prosecution. The prosecution has to prove their case to a degree that is sufficient to convict the defendant. All that the defense counsel really has to prove to the jury is that the prosecution has not sufficiently proven their case. There are a number of different ways in which a defense lawyer can go about this. Obfuscation, confusion, and misdirection are all perfectly valid techniques as long as the defense lawyer knows how to stay within the bounds of accepted procedure in the courtroom. Indeed, the case against O.J. Simpson in the murders of Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman was so strong that the techniques used by Simpson‘s lawyer(s) to cast doubt on their case have been satirised repeatedly by numerous sources (South Park being one that touches upon the ridiculousness of the whole affair very well).
So, in the interests of representing the case both for and against Freddy’s Revenge, I am going to share the following detailed analysis of the case.
As I stated in my comments in response to the linked review, Freddy’s Revenge was rushed into production. The American release date for A Nightmare On Elm Street was November 9 in 1984. The release date for Freddy’s Revenge was November 1 in 1985. Worth noting is that A Nightmare On Elm Street was a surprise hit for New Line Cinema. Nobody making it, least of all the cast or primary crew, had any idea that it would make enough money that the studio wanted a sequel. And the studio decided that it wanted that sequel like yesterday. Even in the mid-1980s, nobody could predict accurately how long a trend would last. And like any struggling businessman who suddenly has an opportunity to make a lot of money, New Line felt that they had to wring every last cent out of Freddy Krueger that they could. So as you can see from those dates, Freddy’s Revenge had maybe ten months from pre-production (screenwriting, casting, location scouting, et cetera) to principal photography to post-production (editing, special effects, music arrangement, certification, and so on). I say ten months because there is a certain amount of lead time between completion of a film and its release on the theatrical circuit. For all I know, the film could have been completed days before the release, but with the time it takes to get MPAA certification and distribution set up, I doubt it.
That, in a nutshell, is the first point of the defense case for Freddy’s Revenge. A complete script for an 89-minute film can be hammered out in a matter of days, but if the film was shot with a third or even second draft script, then I am surprised. Many of the ideas in David Chaskin‘s script would simply have not survived the cut if the executives at New Line Cinema had even the slightest interest in quality control at the time.
After the introductory sequence, which is actually pretty well-designed from a storytelling and visual point of view, we are introduced to our primary protagonist, a seventeen year old by the name of Jesse Walsh. Our first impression of Jesse, however, is not a good one. As the nightmare introduction sequence comes to an end, he screams in a manner that, whilst not as effeminate as some reviewers have made out, does give more perceptive audiences than I was when I first saw the film a hint that something is off. Jesse was played by a man by the name of Mark Patton. Not any relation to the Mike Patton of Faith No More fame, either. According to writings that float around the internet, Mark was “out”, as in openly identifying as gay, before he was cast in this role. Given that the character mostly behaves in the manner one would expect of a hetero seventeen year old male, the casting decision was an interesting one.
Throughout the film, there is an unspoken subtext that Jesse is struggling with confusion about his sexuality. Robert Englund has stated that this was done in a subtle fashion, but it was intentional. Writer David Chaskin has admitted that he intentionally wrote homosexual themes into the script. I use the words “homosexual themes” because the standard term used in conjunction with this film, homoerotic subtext, feels wrong to me. Others in the cast and crew have said that whilst they were unaware of such themes in the script at the time of production, decisions made by the director brought them to the forefront. So whilst it was a gutsy move and then some to write a film this way for release in 1985, the fact remains that the script just is not that good.
As I have stated before, a complete story has a protagonist who has a goal that he wants to reach at the end, an obstacle or series thereof that stop them getting there, and a means by which they overcome said obstacle(s). One weak link in this chain can bring the whole thing down, and Freddy’s Revenge has a whole boatload of them.
In order to give you an idea of what I mean, I will refer to the recent “remake” of Friday The 13th. Regardless of whether you think of it as Part 12 or the new Part 1, having the primary protagonist be a man who is in search of his missing sister during the second and third acts was a smart move. It gives a smart audience (yes, sometimes smart people watch slasher films, too) an investment in the character. One wants him to find his sister alive and well. Jesse’s constant screaming like a girl and Lisa Webber’s nagging wife act tend to leave even the audiences who want to like the film a little repulsed.
Lisa, as portrayed by Kim Myers, is a good example of where the screenplay of this film really went wrong. (In the image attached to the previous paragraph, she is the one on the left.) When one is basing the film around the struggle of a protagonist, it helps to make that protagonist likeable. Not out and out heroic, but nice enough for the audience to sympathise with. Even the most out-and-out anti-heroes have a quality that the audience can latch onto in order to like them. Lisa has a certain quality, albeit in a tiny amount, that qualifies. But Jesse does not. In fact, one of the questions that we imagine Jesse’s and Lisa’s peers asking either themselves or each other is why Lisa gives Jesse the time of day.
Robert Rusler plays a minor antagonist known as Grady. When Grady is first introduced, well, let us just say that he only has two real major scenes. One of which involves yanking the protagonist’s pants down during a PE class, prompting a punch-up that gets the both of them into a detention supervised by a coach by the name of Schneider. Schneider is played by one Marshall Bell, who along with Robert Englund forms the only good acting contingent this film has.
In fact, it is well worth talking about the death scenes for both of these characters. This is the crux of the defense’s case for the film, in fact. You see, unlike every other sequel in the franchise, Freddy’s Revenge is distinguished by something I wrote in an IMDB comment. Specifically, it had the guts to be a little bit different. The first real death in the film is that of Schneider. The scene that leads up to it. Well, let us just say it is a bit weird. Much of the film consists of scenes in which Jesse is subjected to things that are very acid trip in nature. Exploding household birds, for example. No, I am not making that up. After one such scene, Jesse makes his way to a local bar that is well… S&M themed, to use other people’s descriptions of it. Schneider, confirming one of Grady’s earlier lines (“he likes pretty boys like you”), shows up. Taking Jesse back to the school, Schneider makes him run laps around the gym before ordering him to “hit the shower”. As Jesse complies with this instruction, the Village People leather-clad Schneider, for reasons that are never sufficiently addressed, begins getting equipment out of storage in an office. The way this scene is shot and acted, it carries some nasty implications to say the least. Ones that I have addressed in other entries with nasty, disturbing themes.
But as Jesse is showering and Schneider appears to be planning to do something nasty, something weird happens. Unseen forces… well, first they start snapping strings on tennis racquets. You see scratched-in beams of orange energy appear across said racquets, and strings breaking. This gets the coach’s attention because of the sound. It escalates, with large balls pelting the coach at one point before finally a pair of skipping ropes loop around his arms and drag him toward the shower block. Once there and tied to one of the water pipes, Schneider’s clothes are torn off by this invisible force, which then decides, just to add to the disturbing nature of the scene, to slap the coach on the arse repeatedly with towels. Finally, as the coach screams and begs for his life, we see Freddy use the trademark glove on him.
As the coach is slashed repeatedly, we cut to a shot of Jesse standing before the camera. At first, we cannot see his hands, but he then raises his right into frame, and we see it clad in the Freddy glove. A dramatic twitch causes the hinges in the glove to squeak, Jesse turns, sees the glove, and lets out a scream that sounds more like a twelve year old boy being sodomised than what I would consider in line with a seventeen year old male. Bear in mind, though, that when I was seventeen I sounded a bit like Robert De Niro with a mild Scottish inflection, so take that as ye will.
This prompts the best scene in the whole film, the only one that even begins to work. We see the inside of the Walsh family house as there is a knock at the door. Jesse’s parents run to the door, and are greeted by a pair of police officers who are accompanied by a sheet-clad Jesse. After asking the preliminary questions, the police inform Jesse’s father that they found the lad wandering on the highway, naked. As the police bid the Walsh family a good evening and leave, Jesse’s father then asks what a lot of fathers with seventeen year old sons ask. Specifically, what is Jesse taking, and where is he getting it. The reason this scene works as well as it does is because it is one of the few moments in the film that has any semblance of reality to it. If the rest of the script had been written this well, then we would not have a problem.
The other point in the film where it even comes within the same sport as being good is a segment of the sequence in which Grady is killed. I will not bore you to death with the lead-up or the stupid debate between Jesse and Grady. Suffice to say that after an extremely long (or at least it feels that way) sequence in which Jesse appears to break apart and be replaced by Freddy, Grady is killed. The part of this sequence that works is the aftermath. Jesse stands in front of a mirror, sobbing and shaking in disbelief at what he/Freddy has done. Freddy, who replaces his reflection in the mirror, laughs at him and even mockingly waggles his blade-clad finger in a no-no gesture. This is a great shot, but it also serves to highlight the big problem I spoke of earlier. As I covered already, the entire production of Freddy’s Revenge was a rush-job. A good screenwriter would have combed the script very carefully and given scenes like this a context that supports them. As it stands, the scenes that link these two rob them both of a lot of their potential.
To put this all in context, it is important to talk for a moment about how screenwriters are treated in the hierarchy of filmmaking. All films, regardless of whether they are “original” ideas or adaptations of extant source material such as a novel, begin with a script. But on the same token, scripts are treated the most haphazardly of all the basic elements of a film. Almost all of the films made today have been rewritten so many times that any element that might make the film unique or worthwhile has been thoroughly eliminated. Even films where the direction and writing are credited to the same person have at the minimum been picked apart by the insurance industry and rewritten to eliminate any risks to what it deems essential elements (usually actors and other personnel that the film cannot be completed without). For a film to be made with a script as underdeveloped as the one in Freddy’s Revenge, as I said early, the people with the money have to be in what they perceive as a hurry.
So if we were taking Freddy’s Revenge to court, what would be the outcome? On the basis of the acting from Robert Englund and Marshall Bell, I think we can call Jack Sholder not guilty on the charge of bad direction. Sure, there are parts aplenty in the film that just do not make a lot of sense to be included. The exploding budgie scene for example. But Sholder clearly did the best that he could with the script and resources that were made available. On that token, David Chaskin is definitely guilty of bad writing. This is mitigated by the fact that Robert Shaye, metaphorically speaking, poured high-grade fuel all over Chaskin‘s arse and got out the lighter. Had Chaskin been given more time to refine the script and strengthen the material, certain scenes suggest this could have been a good sequel, possibly taking the franchise in a much better direction than it went. Which brings me to Robert Shaye. As the head of New Line Cinema, the proverbial buck stopped with him in every sense. He was the one who decided this sequel should be made quickly, thus giving very little chance that a good script would be written. He is very guilty of having perpetrated a bad film.
With the exceptions of Robert Englund and Marshall Bell, the actors in this entire film are guilty of bad acting. The severity of the bad acting varies. Hope Lange, for example, at least makes her character seem credible in her scenes. Kim Myers and Robert Rusler, on the other hand, vary from perfectly ordinary to outright fukking terrible. And do not even get me started on the minor characters such as most of the idiot circle of friends that we see at the party.
They say that the best way to learn how to make a story in any medium is to look at examples of when it is not done well. That way, the reasoning goes, one can look at the mistakes and stuff-ups, and think about how one will do it better. Wes Craven, the director of the original Nightmare On Elm Street, has stated in not so many words that he was not keen on the idea of making a film in which the protagonist is “forced to become evil”. Craven is an inventive and often good storyteller, so I suspect that this is code for the script is fukking terrible. And as I said, there are moments in the film that work a lot better than the rest.
So this brings us to the question of how I would make A Nightmare On Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge better than what ended up in theatres. First of all, I would not change the basic story. The idea of Freddy possessing the main protagonist and using him like a puppet to kill intended victims is a good one if done well. I would, however, remove the homoerotic subtext. Not because homoerotic subtexts are bad in themselves, but because in this case it took away from the film. Instead, I would focus more on the character of Jesse, his relationship with Lisa, and have Freddy plotting to drive him mad. There would be more scenes in which Freddy is shown to kill people, and more post-murder sequences in which it is implied or hinted that Jesse, in fact, killed them. This would also be strengthened by implied links of history between Jesse and Freddy. The original idea for Freddy’s background in the original film was that he was a child molester, and the people who study this sort of thing believe that most molesters of children were molested during childhood themselves. Although the aspect of Freddy being murdered by irate parents for molesting their children was changed, the avenue this opens up is not changed significantly. We could instead imply that throughout his childhood, Jesse had been mistreated by one of his parents. The way he is played by Clu Gulager, let us just say that Jesse’s dad fits the profile. Jesse’s relationship with Lisa could be an attempt to escape from that situation, and thus it going wrong could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. By the way, studios, if you need someone to write you a script along these lines, I am very much available.
So, in closing, is A Nightmare On Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge as bad as is stated in some reviews? Well, the answer is yes, but it is not that bad for the reasons most state. Like later sequel Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, it is more a case of extreme missed opportunity. Cheap-ass horror productions make an art of missing opportunities, however, so this is no surprise. Director Jack Sholder, for his part, went on to direct The Hidden, one of the best uses of Kyle MacLachlan‘s stock of strangeness in a feature film.
If I have convinced you at all to give A Nightmare On Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge another look, then please do. If it inspires you to write or make your own version that exploits the concept more thoroughly, then more power to you. Good night, and good luck.
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