A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge

Author: Joe Boyd

This review starts on a cluttered bedroom floor in a small Derbyshire town, where two gangly teenage boys with too much hair are sat in front of an eviscerated VCR. It’s the mid-2000s, and me and my friend Mike are watching horror movies.

This always was a bit of a trip for me. Mike has a personality disorder, so spending time with him was never like hanging out with the average teenage boy. His moods are erratic, and his outlook on life switches from happy to nihilistic in an instant, flicking back just as quickly. He’s been diagnosed with ADHD before, and it’s easy to see why; his attention is constantly springing from one activity to the next. Watching horror movies is, therefore, an interesting experience.

Mike doesn’t have the patience for a whole movie, or even half of one. He watches them in bursts of energy, like a series of sprints, pausing to play a videogame or take something apart to see how it works, before catching up where he left off. When him and I get together, therefore, he skips most of the films. What I get is a kind of highlight reel of all the gory bits, as he switches out one tape for another in excited glee.

We watched vampires slash up a bar in From Dusk till Dawn, followed by Drew Barrymore’s fatal final phone call in Scream. We watched Final Destination – the perfect film for Mike’s attention span – in a chaotic, random order, skipping from death to death and laughing at the contextless slaughter.

In retrospect, that’s not actually much different from watching Final Destination normally.

The one problem is that now I’m older and looking back on all this, I can’t remember what films we actually watched. I just remember the murders. And one in particular has always stood out for me, just because of how weird it is: a man gets attacked by sports equipment that seems to have a life of his own.

Basketballs and baseballs fling themselves at him, knocking him over, then skipping ropes wrap around his arms and take him to the showers. His clothes fall off, and his arse gets a telekinetic towel-whipping. All of a sudden, a figure emerges from the clouds of steam and slices him up. Blood sprays from the shower heads. He hangs there, gore dripping down the drains. Then Mike switches the tape and says “you’ve got to see this next one”.

Years later, and I’m still confused by the scene. Who is this man? Why the nudity and towel-whipping? And what kind of psychic sports-equipment abuser stabbed him at the end? So I decided to do a bit of detective work, to find out what film I’d seen a clip of all those years ago. I thought I would watch the whole thing and relive some of my teenage years.

As you can imagine, “shower scene towel whip movie” is not a particularly safe thing to Google, but I eventually came to a conclusion: I’d watched A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge.

Now, I have a terrible confession to make: I’ve never actually seen any of the classic slasher movies. Not a single one. Not only had I missed out on the Nightmare on Elm Street series, I’d also never seen Halloween, Friday 13th or even classics like A Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Unless, of course, I’d seen clips of them with Mike and just can’t remember. So I guessed that Freddy’s Revenge would be as good a place as any to start. How hard could it be to grasp the plot without having seen the first?

As it turns out, not hard at all. The film opens with a loser on a school bus in a nice American suburb. He’s moping at the back, wearing eyeliner, leering longingly at girls and generally looking like your standard high-school movie dweeb. I assume he’s our protagonist. The bus drops children off until it’s just him and two girls. All of a sudden, it roars off the road and into a desert, accompanied by plenty of screaming.

This only intensifies when the ground literally falls away from them and the driver is revealed to be a creepy guy with a glove full of blades. We’re not even five minutes into the movie and we’re already getting introduced to our slasher! Of course, as soon as he’s about to do the actual murdering, we cut away to a peaceful suburban home, where a young man is giving off a surprisingly high-pitched shriek.

Guess it was all a nightmare. I wonder what street he lives on?

This young man is Jesse, and he is indeed the mopey dude from the back of the bus. Quite quickly we find out a lot about him. He’s just moved into a new house with his family, he’s having trouble sleeping, his room is really hot and he’s carrying a torch for Lisa, a rich girl who he gives a lift to school.

Also, we’re treated to a shot of him wearing the tightest, whitest pair of tighty-whiteys ever committed to film. There’s a weird veneer of homoeroticism throughout, actually. The first interaction we see of him at school is when he gets into a scuffle at baseball practice. Grady, the local jock, gets run out by Jesse and responds by pulling his pants down and showing everyone his bare arse. They fight by rolling around on the floor, buttocks still very much on show. Coach Schneider – their teacher – then punishes them with lots of push-ups, and Grady mentions a rumour that the coach is gay and gets off on watching kids get punished.

It’s an odd start, to be sure. It makes me think the whole thing is some kind of metaphor for repressed homosexuality, which isn’t helped by the fact that whoever wrote the script has no idea how people talk about sex. “Are you mounting her nightly?” asks Grady, oblivious to the fact that nobody has ever used that phrase in the history of doing it.

We go on to find that Jesse lives on ELM STREET (gasp), and get our first proper glimpse of the killer from the bus. He appears to Jesse in another nightmare, where he proceeds to say things like “daddy can’t help you now”, “I need you” and “you’ve got the body”. I’m really getting a sexual predatory vibe from this guy that makes me think Jesse is struggling with his teenage feelings towards other boys. I’m calling it now: he’s afraid of his own homosexuality.

This just continues. We’re treated to a montage of Jesse cleaning his room to sexy 80s music, accompanied by gyration, bum wiggles and some kind of popgun he puts in front of his groin and wanks off, the ‘POP’ coming as soon as his mum and Lisa walk through the door. Awkward. However, it’s here that we find out the previous person who lived in the house also had dreams about the killer, whose name is of course Freddy Krueger.

That night, Jesse goes into the basement to find Freddy’s blade glove, and the killer himself, who entreats our protagonist to go out and kill for him. The plot is becoming clearer: Freddy wants Jesse to give in to his desires, which will allow the monster inside him to come out. It’s really not a metaphor, guys.

This manifests itself in the form of excessive heat. Things seem to get hot around Jesse, to the point that one of his family’s pet birds goes crazy and attacks them all. Then it explodes. It’s never revealed why it explodes. That’s just something you have to accept happens in America when it’s hot. Birds just explode sometimes. Deal with it.

Finally, we get to the moment I’ve been waiting for: the shower scene. It’s in this moment that I feel like I really understand Mike, as I’m transported back to my teenage years. I get now why it was so much better to show me this scene divorced of any context. Because watching it as an adult, I’m so confused.

The progression goes thusly: Jesse wakes up and is scared. So he leaves his house in the middle of the night, in the pouring rain, and goes to a random dive bar. There, he orders a beer but is accosted by Coach Schneider, who is there wearing a lot of leather. Uh oh, it’s another symbol of Jesse’s repressed homosexuality – wonder what’s going to happen to him? Schneider then makes Jesse run laps inside the school gym, which just makes no sense. Does he have that kind of authority, as a gym teacher, that he can just abduct children in the middle of the night if he sees them doing something wrong?

When Jesse hits the showers, it all kicks off. The gym equipment attacks Schneider, he gets tied up, spanked and shower stabbed. But when the steam clears, it’s Jesse holding the glove full of knives.

This is essentially the central struggle of the film. Jesse feels Freddy taking him over, and isn’t sure whether he’s dreaming of killing people or actually doing a murder. This isn’t helped by Coach Schneider being very literally dead. Jesse’s stress is building up, but Lisa is at least trying to help him. And he seems to be bonding with the jock, Grady, too.

The climax is a pool party at Lisa’s place. She and Jesse have a talk, one thing leads to another and they start making out. But Jesse loses control of his body – specifically his tongue – due to Freddy being inside him and runs away. In order to be safe, he breaks into Grady’s bedroom. Good old half-naked Grady the muscular jock will help. THIS FILM IS SUCH A METAPHOR.

Of course, like we all expected, this ends in murder. The evil Freddy inside Jesse bursts out of him, Grady gets stabbed, and he arrives at Lisa’s party to do some good old-fashioned teenager killing. Lisa, however, is trying to fight the killer by giving motivational speeches to Jesse, who is now inside Freddy I guess? This actually kind of works, in that Freddy/Jesse throws her aside to slash up the other partygoers instead, then leaves.

Lisa tracks him down to the old power plant where Freddy Krueger used to work, before he became some kind of psychic dream murderer. This whole sequence is such a trip, with everything being – unsurprisingly – like a waking nightmare for Lisa. At one point I yelled out: “Don’t kiss him, he’s covered in face!” It’s that kind of film.

I won’t spoil the ending, but eventually Lisa fights back Freddy with love. In terms of the metaphor, she banishes Jesse’s homosexuality by making it clear she’s the one for him. I guess he was just confused. In case it’s not clear, the subtext of this film is that gayness is evil and must be cured with boobs. The 80s were just the worst.

I don’t see Mike anymore. It’s not by choice. His personality disorder got progressively harder for him to deal with, and he now lives in a care facility. I still speak to him, from time to time, and we always end up reminiscing about our teenage years.

It’s weird, but this film really took me back. It’s completely stupid, of course. It won’t scare anyone with any kind of horror movie experience, and the vast majority is cheesy and dated. Also, as mentioned, the underlying message (if you choose to read into it) is pretty offensively bad. Nevertheless, I loved every second of it.

However, I don’t think I could objectively review it. I loved it because it is exactly the kind of film that two teenage metalheads would laugh themselves silly over, and it makes me feel so nostalgic as a result. As I watched it, I was back in that bedroom with Mike. I remembered little things, like the fact he always kept his curtains closed, or the battered copy of the Deathtrap Dungeon choose-your-own-adventure book that was perpetually on his floor.

I could watch this big,dumb slasher movie over and over again because it reminds me of a really happy time in my life. In truth, I think a lot of people could enjoy it. It’s stupid enough to be fun, and one thing it absolutely doesn’t do is take itself seriously. You could definitely have a late night laughing at this with a few friends. But I doubt you’ll fall in love with it as much as I have.