I’m not the kind of guy who uses “gay” as a pejorative. I am the kind of guy who uses “unintentionally gay” as one. The ‘80s were an extremely homophobic decade, which probably baffles people who weren’t there, because everyone seemed intent on dressing up as cross-dressing aliens, cross-dressing prostitutes, and cross-dressing prostitutes that cater exclusively to cross-dressing aliens. It’s instructive to remember that the more homophobic someone is, the more gay they are, and apparently that metric works for decades too. This week’s Yakmala film, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge is like the entire ‘80s trying to come to terms with that one time it got a boner in gym class.
Tagline: Someone is coming back to Elm Street!
More Accurate Tagline: Someone is coming on Elm Street’s back!
Guilty Party: This is an interesting case. The homoerotic subtext of the movie (so blatant that it’s arguably just text) is obvious enough that those involved have come out of the woodwork to say that, yep, they were totally in on it the whole time. Writer David Chaskin claims that he sneaked gay themes into the script, but that smacks of Wiseauian retconning of an unchained id. Lead actor Mark Patton is gay, but was in the closet at the time, and has acknowledged that his mental state helped add to his convincing performance of a young man struggling with his sexuality. Robert Englund has just come right out and said that Freddy in this film represents the kid’s homosexual urges. The only one who has gone on record saying the gay stuff was unintentional is director Jack Sholder. Mr. Sholder, I respect your honesty. And for that, I’m blaming you.
Synopsis: Jesse Walsh (Patton) is a high school kid whose family has just moved into a big new home on suburban Elm Street in the (now) hilariously-named town of Springwood. Problem is, he’s suffering from horrible nightmares that cause him to wake up covered in sweat with a high-pitched scream. Well, that and his house is always around a hundred degrees. Seriously, the heat in the house is a plot point. Just in case you were worried about the Walsh family’s energy costs.
He has a girl who is seriously into him: Lisa, who sort of looks like a young, redheaded Meryl Streep, and has become the best illustration of the phenomenon of “‘80s hot” that I can think of. It’s never mentioned how these two know each other (Jesse just moved in, remember), or what Lisa sees in him. He seems to like Lisa as a friend, but is pretty uncomfortable with anything else. Every morning Jesse drives him and Lisa to the same school in the Valley where Daniel LaRusso would tangle with the Cobra Kai.
At gym class, Jesse has a run in with handsome Grady (Robert Rusler, most famous as the non-Robert Downey Jr. bully from Weird Science). Grady pantses Jesse, and then they wrestle a little bit with Jesse’s bare ass hanging out, and holy shit, how did Sholder not catch this? The coach gets mad and forces them to do pushups, which prompts Grady to reveal that the coach “gets his rocks off like this” and “hangs out in S&M joints downtown.” Yeah, this is totally necessary in a Freddy movie.
That night, Freddy appears to Jesse. It’s unclear if this is supposed to be a dream, or a night terror or what. Anyway, Freddy really wants to borrow Jesse’s body to commit a couple murders. Jesse is not down with this. It keeps happening, though. No matter how much Jesse refuses to kill, the more insistent Freddy gets.
What Jesse is down with? ‘80s dancing. When his dad orders him to unpack his room, Jesse puts on a Pointer Sisters knockoff, dons some Elton John shades and starts dancing. Sexually. Lot of ass-popping here too, and highlighting his cock. It’s… um… I don’t even know. I’m sure they just told the actor to dance, and he started doing this, but there was a perfectly acceptable ‘80s dance. Everyone was doing it. You bite your lower lip, you swing your arms in wide arcs, snap your fingers roughly to the beat, shrug shoulders, and sway. You don’t look like you’re working for tips at Big Jim’s House of Moose Knuckle. Anyway, mom brings Lisa into the room, catching Jesse at the apex of his sexually-charged performance. Lisa is cool with it, and helps him unpack.
They end up finding Nancy’s diary in the closet. You remember her, she’s the heroine of the original movie. This is her old place. Lisa borrows it for research (although she probably wanted to get it away from Jesse, since the whole thing opens with a description of Johnny Depp’s character undressing). Jesse’s got more important stuff to do, like getting himself in a fugue state and murdering the gym coach. Jesse’s pretty sure he did it, since he remembers it, but Lisa dismisses it as mere psychic powers. Was… was that a normal problem back then?
Good news, though! Lisa’s having a party. Grady can’t go due to being grounded — he threw his grandma down a flight of stairs (!) — but everyone else will be there. Lisa and Jesse hook up in the cabana, and Jesse promptly freaks out, fleeing to Grady’s house. He leaps on top of Grady, who is in bed, clamps a hand over Grady’s mouth, and demands that Grady watch him sleep and stop him should Jesse do something. I’m trying to figure out a way to make that scene any gayer, and the only thing would involve penetration. Jesse mentions that “someone is trying to get inside my body.” Grady responds with, “Yeah, and she’s female,” leading me to believe Grady doesn’t understand how sex works. Anyway, Freddy comes out of Jesse and brutally murders Grady.
Jesse, covered in Grady’s blood somehow gets past Grady’s parents (who were just outside the room, pounding on the door, when the murder took place) and back to Lisa’s party. There Freddy comes out completely, kills some people, and leaves. Lisa tracks him to the powerplant where he used to work (established earlier) and defeats him by getting Jesse to come back out. They kiss. The end.
Well, no. There’s a bus dream like in the beginning, and it’s kind of weird, but who cares. The movie is barely canon anyway.
Life-Changing Subtext: Homosexuality will drive you to horrific acts, so your best bet is repressing that shit and hooking up with someone of the opposite sex.
Defining Quote: Jesse: “Fred Krueger! He’s inside me and wants to take me again!”
Standout Performance: That would have to Mark Patton, who beat out Brad Pitt, John Stamos, and Christian Slater for the lead role of Jesse. From the palpable discomfort he has with making out with the ‘80s hot Lisa to the way his gaze lingers on Grady, everything he does reinforces the film’s pervasive subtext.
What’s Wrong: The concept for the movie is actually really good. There’s a lot of horror in the concept of something forcing you to do things you secretly want to do but can’t due to social mores. Had the subtext been intentional, and had the “happy ending” not been Jesse ending up with a girl, I might be writing this up for Now Fear This. Okay, maybe not, because the movie is still pretty scare-free.
Flash of Competence: Robert Englund’s Freddy has not yet devolved into toothless schtick and he’s pretty fun to watch here. The FX are also pretty great, especially the two Rottweilers in the end with the human faces. I felt bad for the puppies, but it’s a cool effect.
Best Scenes: I thought that I would talk about some of the more blatant moments here. I already brought up the bare-assed wrestling and when Jesse passed up sex with Lisa in favor of shirtless bedroom time with Grady. Let’s get deeper. Balls deep.
The heat in the house eventually turns into fire-related haunting. The oddest has to be when the parakeet escapes his cage, flies around attacking the family before exploding in to flames. The best is that Jesse’s dad is totally convinced Jesse somehow did this. On the list of suspects: cherry bombs, bird rabies, and cheap bird seed. No, really.
The scene I need to talk about, the one that raised my eyebrow even when I saw this as a kid, has to be the events leading to the gym coach’s murder. Jesse can’t sleep and so wanders the city. He doesn’t bother to button his shirt up, though. Anyway, he winds up at an S&M bar, and who’s there, but Coach Schneider. Coach then takes Jesse back to the school and makes him run laps and then shower, because Megan’s Law wasn’t a thing yet.
As the coach prepares to rape Jesse, suddenly the athletic equipment comes to life. First, Coach Scheider gets pelted with balls (yep), then he’s dragged into the shower with jumpropes, tied up, stripped naked, and whipped on the ass with a towel. I don’t know how this scene got greenlit. I really don’t.
Transcendent Moment: The most baffling moments in the film are little ones. It’s not the broad strokes that the writer clearly put in, or the elements of Patton’s conflicted performance, or the ‘80s just being a sexually confused time. It’s the weird shit that couldn’t possibly have been intentional. The stuff that’s just thrown in there.
So I’m not talking about the tons of unnecessary locker room scenes, or that Jesse freaks out in class when Grady puts a snake on him, or the fact that Freddy only kills boys until the last thirty seconds. It’s not the fact that after killing Grady, the boy he loves, Jesse stops and has a conversation with Freddy in the closet mirror.
No, it’s two little things that makes me think that somehow, a gay leprechaun got onto the set. The first is, during a school lecture that could be about anything — you know, like something relevant to the plot — but instead is about digestion. And behind the teacher is a drawing of an anus. The other is the only game visible in Jesse’s closet, right there perfectly framed. Something called “Probe.”
A Nightmare on Elm Street is a legitimate horror classic. Its sequel is a profound oddity that could not have been made at any other time. Enjoy it for what it is: a time capsule into a more repressed era, and be grateful, gay, straight, or anything in between, that you don’t have to live there.