‘A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge’ Is The Series’ Best Sequel

A Nightmare on Elm Street 2

Since 1985, Jack Sholder’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge has been a tentpole in the larger realm of queer horror. Few, if any, horror fans remain that aren’t clued into the sequel’s homoerotic themes. As written by David Chaskin, that homoeroticism was kind of the entire point. I wasn’t around contemporaneously, though I’m inclined to believe it was certainly lost on some general audiences at the time. Through a modern lens, however, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge is widely known as the gay A Nightmare on Elm Street. What fascinates me just as much, if not more, than the queer undertones is how unconventional a horror sequel it is. Assessed against the franchise as a whole, Freddy’s Revenge ascends its kitsch and quietly emerges as possibly the greatest sequel in the series.

Hollywood is always going to Hollywood, so after the first Nightmare became a smash hit, the executives at New Line naturally demanded a sequel. While Leslie Bohem’s original pitch is widely known—his sequel was a Rosemary’s Baby homage with Freddy controlling a fetus—the origins of David Chaskin’s approach, at least to me, were less clear. When I caught A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge again this month as part of my annual Pride Month tradition, it was the first time I focused less on its queer elements and more on just how weird (and endearing) the entire movie was.

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The cold open with Freddy driving a school bus is cosmic horror at its finest. The beat is a strange, incredulous, and liminal descent into the machinations of Freddy’s powers, one that is never adequately explained. Moving forward, especially with Dream Warriors, Robert Englund’s Freddy would emerge as the star of the show, but in Freddy’s Revenge, despite top billing in the title itself, Freddy barely shows. Plus, there are those oddly docile nightmare dogs. They never appear again, but I love them. A lot.

Little guy.

Commonly among the horror heavyweights of the 1980s, the killers themselves became the key draw. Once Jason Voorhees got his mask in Friday the 13th Part III, there was no going back. The human players weren’t exactly central before, but from that point, the series became a revolving door of teen slaughter. Jason was the franchise selling point. Michael Myers, ostensibly killed off in Halloween II, also got some title billing in Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers. From that point, the story was his. Michael mattered more than anything else. It’s IP horror at both its best and worst, a profit-driven incentive to elevate slasher killers at the expense of what made any series’ original movie work so well.

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Yet, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge isn’t Freddy’s story—it’s Jesse’s. Mark Patton deserves a ton of credit. In Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy, screenwriter David Chaskin concedes the gay subtext was both deliberate and his doing, though it came at the expense of Patton’s wellbeing. Patton would leave acting shortly after the role, and I encourage anyone interested to check out Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street for more insight.

It’s messy. Patton and Chaskin haven’t remained on good terms, and Patton takes special umbrage with the use of “subtext”. And, well, he’s not wrong. Chaskin has blamed Patton at different times, suggesting his performance, not the script, augmented the queer elements, but at its core, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge is a very gay movie. Rather than relitigating the real harm the movie had on those involved, I instead want to shift toward its role as a remunerative horror sequel, one that bucked convention in the best possible way.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors is often heralded as the best sequel in the series (and Wes Craven is often given too much credit—he admits his screenplay was radically rewritten), but it also represents the point of no return. Like Zombie Jason or The Cult of Thorn, Dream Warriors was Nightmare writing itself into a corner from which the series would never break free. While horror fans love the zany dream logic and inventive kills, the latter entries, barring Freddy, bear almost nothing in common with their forebears.

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Wes Craven’s original was an anxiety-driven horror movie. Errant, irresponsible parents, a culture of dismissiveness—the broad idea that young adults were coming of age in a world systemically designed to kill them. And no one cared. Good intentions spelled death. Freddy’s Revenge is the only sequel that adroitly captures that same anxiety. And, yes, that anxiety is rooted in an AIDS epidemic and a general notion that being gay meant death, but it’s affecting all the same. Dream Warriors does endeavor to tackle an epidemic of youth suicides, though it regularly undermines itself with the next extravagant display of Freddy’s power.

Tina and Glen have classic deaths in Craven’s original. They’re remarkable and creative kills, but they’re never fun. Conversely, Dream Warriors has a lot of fun—maybe a little too much—offing its core cast of characters. Anxiety was eschewed for more Freddy, now a conventional bad guy who would only increasingly distance himself from the hegemonic terror he was originally born from.

Yet, the cultural rot driving the scares in A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge renders it that much more effective. Small beats of parental negligence or Jesse’s inability to place his trust in anyone sting more than Freddy beating a closeted gym coach to death. The deaths in Freddy’s Revenge are few and never particularly graphic, though they’re among the most impactful in the series because they serve a purpose beyond satisfying base audience needs—they’re more than mandated horror tropes.

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Freddy’s Revenge is about the teens. Teens trying to make sense of the world and combat the nightmares nobody believes they have. Teens branded for death because Dad caught a great deal on an Elm Street house, past murders be damned. The world and its oppressive culture, not Freddy, is the real threat. That makes for less propulsive genre filmmaking, but it also feels that much more enduring and poignant. Look at it this way—only two Nightmare films have earnestly scared me, and it’s just the first two.

The series would grow bigger and goofier (and more profitable), so the path forward laid out by A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge was never going to be tenable. The film bucked convention. Where most horror movies looked outward, Freddy’s Revenge instead looked inward. It grabbed distinctly adolescent (and queer) anxieties and interrogated them in a nocturnal, violent fashion. The film is nightmarish, horrifying, and deeply felt. In other words, it transcends its legacy as not just that one gay sequel, but quite possibly, the series’ best sequel. Freddy would never seek revenge quite like that again. In the decades since, few horror sequels have.



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