#6 in my ranking of the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise.
I can’t be too hard on this first sequel in the Nightmare on Elm Street series. Wes Craven might have had nothing to do with the film, thinking the potential for a sequel to his original was simply not there while New Line Cinema handed the reigns to David Chaskin and Jack Sholder, Freddy’s Revenge tries to take the continued adventures of Freddy Krueger in a new direction without repeating the first film, almost like it’s trying to make a psychological thriller out of it. It doesn’t succeed, but I have to applaud the effort. The individual pieces are interesting in concept, but nothing is actually written well or clearly enough to achieve any of the intended goals. The special effects and Robert Englund are the winners here.
Jesse (Mark Patton) and his family are new to the small town and have taken up residence in the house on Elm Street that Nancy had lived in during the first film. The house has been left uninhabited for the five years because of the mysterious happenings from that time (though the house across the street where Glen was sucked into a bed and his blood sent to pool on the ceiling apparently had no trouble selling). Jesse starts being plagued by dreams of a man with knives as fingernails driving him and two girls in a school bus into a sinkhole that forms around the vehicle, leaving the bus hanging precipitously on a narrow column of rock while Freddy Krueger (Englund) messes with the balance of the bus threateningly.
He, in his dilapidated old car, drives the local rich girl Lisa (Kim Myers) to school where he has no friends. He gets into a small spat with Ron (Robert Rusler) during gym class where the two are punished with endless pushups by their gym coach Schneider (Marshall Bell). The two end up bonding a bit in their mutual punishment.
The best part of this movie is almost everything around Freddy Krueger, though, and there’s a real attempt to make something interesting of him in his connection to Jesse. That night, Krueger returns to Jesse’s dreams but not to kill him. He wants to enlist Jesse’s help (complete with ripping the top of his head off and revealing a pulsing brain, which is awesome). Over the next few days Jesse begins to question the barrier between dreams and reality (the actual succession of events that we figure out later are less interesting than the early questions we have about what we’re watching), and it focuses first on Coach Schneider. In a dreamlike series of events, Jesse leaves his house, ends up at an S&M bar where Schneider meets him, and they instantly are at the school gym where Jesse is running laps while an invisible force attacks the waiting Schneider, hangs him up in the showers by jumping rope, and whips him and then claws him to death with the Freddy Krueger claws, all heavily implied to be Jesse himself doing it.
The fog around the reality of the actions falls away quickly and we’re left with the easy conclusion that Jesse has been possessed by Freddy Krueger after having found Krueger’s knife glove in the house’s furnace. The mystery is quickly solved, but the movie keeps treating it like it’s a question, which undermines any sort of tension. The focus then turns to Jesse himself and his troubles fitting in. It’s not the point, but Jesse is probably gay while trying to pursue a relationship with Lisa but falling back to his burgeoning friendship with Ron when he goes further than he feels comfortable. At the same time, a more literal approach to this sort of story would be about a young man discovering the myth of a serial killer and becoming obsessed with it to the point of mimicry. I really don’t see how the “he doesn’t fit in” and the “becomes obsessed with a serial killer” elements fit together. It’s not helped by the fact that the possession is literal instead of figurative. There really does seem to be the beginnings of ideas here, but they haven’t been thought out, written to completion, or integrated into each other that well.
Everything culminates at a big party Lisa throws at her house where Freddy, having completely taken over Jesse, terrorizes the place, killing surprisingly few people in the process. Freddy is probably underutilized to the point where he becomes less of an interesting metaphysical presence and more of a generic monster, but at least he’s still threatening and dangerous. I don’t know what the titular revenge is about since this is all just a bunch of random teens that have no connection to Nancy, the girl that supposedly beat him last time, but Freddy is a nasty character who wants to torture, providing a nice, visceral horror element that ends up dominating the final act of the film.
So, I don’t think the whole package actually comes together. None of the individual elements are thought out well enough to work on their own, but at least the visuals around Krueger, as infrequent as they are, are pretty good. Jesse screaming while the camera looks down his throat and the sight of Krueger’s eye at the back is great. Still, I give the film credit for trying something instead of just repeating, even if it doesn’t really work.