Once your eyes are opened, some things come into a wonderful new focus. As a kid, I watched “A Nightmare On Elm Street 2” and thoroughly enjoyed it, a different turn from the “hey, Freddy is after some other group of kids this time” that I’d been trained to expect from slasher movie sequels. Then, after watching the excellent documentary “Never Sleep Again” about the series, which said outright “it’s about homosexuality” I was like “oh, of course!” It’s slightly embarrassing that I didn’t notice it before, how obvious it was, but you, dear reader, will not have that problem thanks to this review.
Star Mark Patton has had an interesting life. He was an out gay man while living in New York early in his career, but when he moved to Hollywood found it a very homophobic place – some of the stories are terrible (like certain agents posting people in gay bars to get blackmail material on up and coming stars with other agencies); and was forced to largely go back in the closet, despite playing a gay character in “Come Back To The Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean” and…well, more on his character in this movie later. He found the homophobia so bad that he quit acting altogether, becoming an interior decorator, but since appearing in the documentary “Never Sleep Again”, has started making appearances at conventions and discovering how beloved this movie is with the LGBT community. Well, some of them, it’s sort of ridiculous to say “all” LGBT people like anything. He’s been living with being HIV+ for some time, too, but is controlling it and is healthy and well.
Patton plays Jesse, a teenager whose family move into Nancy’s old house on Elm Street (she’s still alive but has gone insane). Five years have passed since the events of the first movie, apparently, but it’s sort of stupid to say part 1 was set in 1981 as there’s posters for stuff which happened after that on everyone’s walls. Still, nowhere near as stupid as the Friday the 13th timeline! Anyway, he develops a relationship with Lisa (Kim Myers, “Heavy Metal Summer”), who he drives to school…despite her living in a gigantic house which is presumably nowhere near Jesse’s normal suburban home. I never understood that bit. Anyway, Jesse starts being plagued by bad dreams, featuring that burned child murderer we’ve come to know and love – Freddy must have been weakened or something by Nancy in part 1, as he needs Jesse to kill for him.
Jesse is an interesting character. The initial dream sequence has him looking like kind-of a sad sack, the sort of character who’s the terminal outsider; but during the movie, he takes no crap from anyone, befriends jock Grady (Robert Rusler), attracts Lisa and seems a bright, outgoing sort of chap. He does get on the wrong side of sadistic gym teacher Coach Schneider (ultimate “that guy” actor Marshall Bell), and the way Grady just off-handedly remarks about how the Coach is gay and goes to S&M bars is the first really big clue that there might be something bubbling under the surface here. But he’s basically powerless to stop Freddy, relying on Lisa to save the day with good old heterosexual love, so…er…who knows?
Director Jack Sholder was presumably the only guy available (although he did make the fun “The Hidden”). Everything’s nice and tight here, even if there are a few bits where you wish there was a bit more explanation; but perhaps we ought to blame scriptwriter David Chaskin – who apparently worked in the New Line advertising department – for that. He absolutely packs the movie with gay subtext (my favourite line, Jesse talking about Freddy: “He’s inside me, and he wants to take me again!”) which allegedly the director was unaware of…but there’s just no way! It can’t have escaped his notice that every time Jesse gets close to Lisa, he starts hallucinating Freddy or an attack happens; or that Jesse walks through town barefoot to have a beer, and just by accident ends up in the leather bar. To his shame – and according to IMDB, so this might be apocryphal – Chaskin blamed Patton for playing the part “too gay” when the movie started attracting notice and denied putting any subtext in there, although he finally admitted to it during “Never Sleep Again”.
Wes Craven wanted no part of this sequel, because he didn’t want it to become a franchise (and indeed pushed for part 1 to have a happy ending), but it’s head and shoulders above any slasher sequel. It’s certainly not without its problems – first up, I don’t understand why Jesse and Lisa are friends in the first place, if he’s just moved to town; and then there’s a bit where Freddy attacks a pool party full of teenagers, while they’re all awake. Heck, no-one dies in their sleep in this movie at all! Freddy appears to be able to manipulate reality, which when you think about it makes no sense at all. Well, even less sense than the average movie of this sort.
There’s also the ending, which I guess is just another dream in the mind of the presumably hospitalised Jesse. It seems like a happy ending, but how is that even possible? Jesse killed those people, whether or not he was having a Freddy-inspired psychotic break, and there’s no way they’d just bandage him up and let him go back to school. When you have dreams and reality butting heads in movies like these, there’s a tendency to just handwave away weird plot holes as being dreams, but I think that’s a cop-out. Ultimately, it’s just too confusing.
It’s a fascinating movie with a number of fairly hefty problems. Like “Carrie”, it uses the confusion teenagers feel about sex as a driving force, but with the gay themes pushes way further than “Carrie” ever did; it has lots to like (and not just because of my youthful crush on Kim Myers) but it’s all so muddled as if they established a set of rules but kept ignoring them – which I suppose, taking part 1 into account, they did.
Rating: thumbs in the middle