Friday, July 16, 2010

The Man Of Your Dreams Is Back

When Wes Craven’s A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET became New Line Cinema’s top-grossing film of all time, hell, yeah, you better believe Freddy Krueger would return. Just twelve months after the original hit multiplexes, the man in the felt slouch hat was back for revenge in A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, PART 2: FREDDY'S REVENGE, written by New Line staffer David Chaskin (THE CURSE) and helmed by Jack Sholder, a former New Line trailer editor who made his directorial debut with the studio’s first horror picture, the successful ALONE IN THE DARK.

Sholder was a good choice; he delivers some striking images, such as the school bus balanced atop a giant canyon spire, and effective scare scenes. The problem is Chaskin’s screenplay, which not only makes little sense within the context of this movie’s universe, but also violates strict rules already established by Craven the year before. Also, the not-so-subtle homosexual context is ridiculously hilarious more than two decades later. While Chaskin has said he intended the content to be homophobic, to feed upon the fears of the young men in NIGHTMARE’s target audience, it’s so broadly played by Sholder, who claims he never noticed any gay subtext, that the film is more campy than frightening.

Five years after the first NIGHTMARE, a new family, the Walshes, have moved into the Thompsons’ old house on Elm Street, where teen son Jesse (Mark Patton) finds Nancy’s diary. Her writings about a creepy monster named Fred who comes to her in the night remind Jesse of his nightmares, which always culminate in him screaming and awakening in a clammy sweat.

Of course, Freddy (Robert Englund) is back, but the problem with PART 2 is that he can now move about in the real world to cause havoc. Perhaps Chaskin and Sholder thought it would be scarier to let Freddy freely interact with the characters in their reality, but of course what it really does is take away what was so special about him. It also leads to some awful dumb scares like a possessed parakeet that attacks the Walshes, a flaming toaster, and a gay gym teacher (Marshall Bell) who is strung up naked in the locker room and whipped with wet towels.

Most of the neighborhood kids think Jesse is weird, but he comes to befriend jock Grady (Robert Rusler) and romance rich girl Lisa (Meryl Streep lookalike Kim Myers). He also discovers—and this is another off-target decision of Chaskin’s—that Freddy is possessing him, even when he’s awake, and forcing him to murder. Why Freddy, who seems to take great joy in tormenting and killing others, would push Jesse to do it for him is beyond me.

Because Sholder, Englund, and the special effects are so good, PART 2 isn’t a total nightmare. But when its big setpiece is Freddy Krueger running around a pool party tossing teens into the water, it’s fair to say it in no way approaches the heightened scares of Craven’s original. Also with Hope Lange (THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR) and Clu Gulager (with unnaturally darkened hair and eyebrows to de-age him) and Jesse’s parents, Melinda Fee, Sydney Walsh (HOOPERMAN), young Christie Clarke (who grew up to join DAYS OF OUR LIVES), Lyman Ward, Steve Eastin, and Brian Wimmer. Music by Christopher Young. Kevin Yagher and Mark Shostrom handled the makeup effects. Sholder went on to direct the excellent THE HIDDEN.


Driver Dale said...

This was the first 'scary' movie that I saw that did not scare me at an early age. Everything else use to scare the crap out of me.

Mark Morgan said...

I'm kind of with the director on this one, that I never saw the content as anti-homosexual especially. The general feeling I got from the coach with his leather attire and bullying manner was more an emphasis on masochism than anything else.

As for the film, I thought the script was inventive because it did break the rules. Freddy is confined, but how he got confined or even how he managed to return as a ghost is never clearly established in the series aside from a few throw away references in later films.

Obviously, his intent is to murder the Elm Street children, and it stands to reason that he would accomplish that with any and all means neccessary. Sure he has fun with it. I have fun with my job sometimes, but that doesn't mean I wouldn't rather be doing other things. That being siad, if it suited his goal to have the lead actor kill for him, whose to say he couldn't have fun with that, if that's actually what happened. What I got from the movie was that Freddy was possessing him and using his body to slay his victims, which if that's the case, then Freddy was probably getting a sick kick out of torturing some poor shlub while going about his usual routine.

Whether Freddy did it or whether the kid was compelled to do it by Freddy is not much of a problem for me, because Freddy's character is so vague to begin with.

What do we really know about him? For instance, what does Freddy Kreugar do in his spare time anyway? Does he cease to exist when someone isn't dreaming of him? Does he go to sleep while other are awake? Does he go to Hell? Or does he go out for drinks with Pinhead and the gang?

See, for all we know of Freddy, there's so many unexplained aspects of his existance, it's origins, his powers, his limits, and so forth that clearly defining anything in his character becomes a bit of a problem for a screen writer. Take the limits on his powes. Is it easier for him to get at people in their dreams than while they are alive? Did someone impose limits upon him? Does he have a secret etheral enemy? Perhaps the ghost of his mother who first shows up in NoES part 3. Is it because the dream people who are mentioned in 'Freddy's Dead' only have access to the real world? They certainly had no trouble manifesting a physical form when they popped out of his chest in the sixth movie.

That being said, with the vagueness of his character and the rules of his world left over fromt he first movie, it stands to reason that Part 2 covered the territory that it did. Taking Freddy out of the dream world and into the real world was the next logical step. Could it have been handled better? Yeah. Was it handled badly? Honestly, I'd say no. As you pointed out, this little number was thrown together and put in theaters in a year's time without the guiding hand of Wes Craven upon it. For what it is, it's pretty good, and it should be noted as the last completely serious entry in the original series.

Nightmare on Elm Street part 3, introduced the goofy, dream war premise that would be imitated in other installments and had Freddy turning into a tv set with arms, guiding a sleep walker with gorey puppet strings, and heck, even a stop motion skeleton doing battle with people in the real world. Parts 4 and 5 kept that premise up, and Part 6 took it to such cheesey hieghts I almosted expected Adam West to make a cameo.

I personally hold Part 2 as one of the best in the series. It took Freddy into the waking world, which makes it unique, and if there were any unanswered questions, I'd simply point to the fact that Freddy's entire existance has a ton more, to say nothing of the plotholes created in the films that followed.

It might even be said that the whole franchise has the qualities of a nightmare. Like a dream, it's logic makes little sense but that doesn't mean it's not frightening as its events unfold.