Sunday, 14 March 2010

A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge

[As promised this is the first in a series of critiques on the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. In anticipation of the remake I will post a weekly essay on each of the films. The original will feature alongside the remake in my Re/Made series after the 30th April general release.]

The retrospective shock of this sequel is that it was released less than a year after its predecessor. Clearly this was a cash-in movie - exploitative and mercenary. Yet despite its raison d'être this story has a modicum of structure.

Similar but different

It is possible to change the factors while retaining the equation. Screenwriter David Chaskin took everything about the original hero and subverted it. Hometown girl Nancy had a boyfriend and a clique. Her broken home was headed by an alcoholic mother who has a strained relationship with divorcè dad.

In Freddy’s Revenge Jesse Walsh is so new in town he hasn’t unpacked. His family is all American. Mom is the perfect blond housewife. Little sister is the perfect blond child. Dad is must be a Republican. They’ve even got family pets; a pair of lovebirds (in a nod to Hitchcock). The glaring subversion is the character of Jesse. A boy as protagonist in a slasher movie ignores the principles of the Final Girl[1] at it’s own narrative risk.

Where Nancy got on well with both her parents there is tension around the Walsh breakfast table. Jesse’s relationship with his father is taut. Almost every conversation they have is stressful because daddy is a jackass. He domineers his wife and he tries to domineer Jesse. He inexplicably accuses Jesse on blowing up one of the lovebirds. Worse; when Jesse needs his help he accuses him of drug taking.

However there is similarity between both sets of parents; they lie to their children carte blanche. Mr Walsh knowingly moved the family into a locally cursed house because it was cheap. He’s a carpetbagger; a foreclosure vulture. When confronted with this accusation  (via mom) he denounces her: 

Oh come on Cheryl. How do you think we 
got such a good deal here huh?

Do you know what your father does for a living? The things he’s done to other people? The laws he’s broken? Do you care? He did it all for you.

Different to a fault

Jesse suffers in his sleep. He suffers nightmares. So he screams himself awake to escape them. His parents are duly worried but not as much as Jesse is. He meets Freddy Krueger in his dreams. 

Freddy implores him to wear the glove – to kill for him. Jesses refuses.

The first victim is Schneider.

The concept of Freddy’s Revenge is that the protagonist is not the intended victim; he’s the vessel.

Given enough time the script could have developed its originality. As filmed it opens with an unnecessary curtain raiser. Horror (and Sci Fi) sequels - above all others - preach to the converted. There is no narrative reason to hotshot the reintroduction of Freddy. It should have been saved for a plot point (a cinematic example of this is The Exorcist 3 1990). Be that as it may once the story proper begins it does achieve a momentum and direction - albeit haphazard.

The killing of Coach Schneider is problematic. When I first watched this film years ago I was confused as to why he was a chosen victim. Clearly Schneider was not an Elm Street kid. Perhaps he was one of the parents who lynched Freddy? The story doesn’t answer the question. (Another possibility is he could be Freddy’s gift to Jesse. The kid hated Schneider.) Whatever the case may be this killing deviates from the victim pool as laid down in the first film. The goal posts have been changed. There are further problems.

The pool party sequence breaks all the rules that the Schneider kill didn’t. This can be determined as creative madness. Freddy’s Revenge ignores the sleep-dream lore so wonderfully crafted by Craven in the original. This lore which is the raison d'être of the franchise (never again would New Line make this mistake - though they would make others.) At the party Freddy explodes into the conscious world. He attacks everyone. He kills at will and at random. Then he inexplicably stops. These scenes defy all logic and suspension of disbelief. If you’re watching this movie crashes at about the 65 minute mark.

It doesn’t recover.

The evolution of Freddy himself is poorly scripted. In the original he barely spoke. In this movie he talks too much. Part of the success of Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees is they remain mute. J-Horror icons are emblematic of this. Bad guys who kill tend to get on with it. Otherworldly creatures should take note.

Yet for a good hour this movie is entertaining. The Grady kill is Freddy at his most malevolent. It’s one of the best slayings of the entire franchise. In this scene Freddy is without dialogue. His face is obscured by shadow. His evil intent is without constraint. There is gleeful hatred in his teeth blaring smile.

The actors must take their credit for the telling of this story. They perform with conviction which parlays into seamless interaction. Clu Gulager and Hope Lange (as Mr & Mrs Walsh) establish their scenes as credible drama giving the story a base. In the teen scenes the actors perform naturally and the girls do not have politically correct profanity laden mouths. Robert Rusler as Grady imbues his character with macho laissez faire cool. Johnny Depp is a movie star. Rusler should have been a contender. If Heather Langenkamp is the queen of the franchise then Kim Myers is the princess. Her performance as Lisa is deft and tactile. For the most part she played her role like it was a teen romance. It was perfect. It gave Jesse breathing space.

Mark Patton played Jesse. He stacked up well in scenes with his parents and his prospective girlfriend. He tapped the nerve of a new boy trying to make friends (detention wasn’t really that bad – it gave him a chance to bond with someone). His performance is of a teenager alone. He can’t talk to his parents. He doesn’t have any real friends. He can’t eat. He can’t fall asleep. It is his gradual mental breakdown that is the fuse for the story momentum. It is also the plot crash.

The Final Boy

Boys don’t cry and they certainly shouldn’t be scream queens. After a certain point the audience will expect a man to fall on his sword: Take the beating. If needs be take it between the eyes. Writer David Chaskin subverted the idea of the central character in a teen slasher. He didn’t have the talent to write it through.

The final act of Freddy’s Revenge has Jesse disappear from screen and Lisa take over the lead role. She becomes the Final Girl but this reversion destroys the climax. Lisa hasn’t hitherto been involved as protagonist. At this late juncture it’s impossible for the audience to sympathise with her. She hasn’t suffered Freddy's wrath. She hasn’t earned the kill. The narrative risk ends in cop out.

The Final Take

The acceptable box office gross of a sequel is 75% of its predecessor. In 1985 Freddy’s Revenge grossed 118% of A Nightmare on Elm Street’s take. There be gold in them thar hills. The great dictators learn from each other. So too do the Hollywood studios. The 1980s saw Freddy, Jason and Michael drenched in the box office of a golden age. The success of Freddy’s Revenge guaranteed a third movie.

Yet this is the ginger haired stepchild of the franchise much like Halloween 3: Season of the Witch 1982. The unforgiveable mistake by the filmmakers was the intrusion of Freddy into the conscious world. It shattered the dream. Ergo this film was completely ignored by A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors and has been by every movie in the franchise since - as it had to be. Call it a victim of rush-to-box-office-cinema. Its premise – demonic possession – should have, could have, would have worked given more script development time.

That was 25 years ago. Much like the rebooted Halloween franchise there’s going to be a sequel to the remake (not confirmed). Much like the rebooted Halloween franchise it may not be a remake of the sequel. Mores the pity because this story does have legs. Perhaps actors Mark Patton and Kim Myers will shed light on this in Heather Langenkamp’s upcoming documentary Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy 2010[2].

Freddy’s Revenge[3] isn’t a bad movie. It is a failure but given the circumstances at least it’s an honest one. It’s entertaining for the most part. It’s not in the third act. A remake could redeem it but that’s down to Platinum Dunes.

Call me.

TFi: I still don’t understand how Lisa killed Freddy.

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