For the second sequel in New Line’s lengthy franchise, the script treads into familiar sequel terrain where an innocent family moves into the cursed house (in this case, where Freddy ‘drove a girl crazy,’ and a mother committed suicide, a plot not all that different from Amityville 2: The Possession).
Director Wes Craven passed on the script by David Chaskin (The Curse) when he realized (as did star Robert Englund, who eventually agreed to appear in the sequel when his price was met by New Line) that the studio broke several rules established in the first film – having Freddy emerge in daylight & reality, instead remaining in the dream state of his victims; and scaring very tall ‘teenagers’ at a pool party like a crazy man in an elaborate costume, a week after Halloween had already wrapped up.
The key novelty has young Jesse Walsh (Mark Patton) waking up every night in a cold, thick sweat, wandering the house and later streets. After initially encountering Freddy, he begins to don the deadly glove, and one morning wakes up and discovers news of a recent kill: cruel Coach Schneider (Marshall Bell, really devouring his role with every ounce of menace he can muster). Is Jesse turning into a werewol- nay, Freddy Krueger?
Jesse marginally trusts his next-door neighbour & hottie Lisa Webber (Kim Myers) and class bully Ron Grady (Robert Rusler), but he remains a conflicted teen, slowly losing his identity as Freddy drifts in and out of his psyche until he physically overtakes Jesse, and wreaks havoc in the real world.
Or maybe the whole film is a parable for a teen’s personal torment as he struggles to find his sexual preference, initially liking girls, but really liking the school’s biggest jock / jerk. The homo-erotica within Nightmare II is often quite surreal – Jesse wanders into a leather bar, sees coach Schneider, runs laps around the school gym, and during a very naked shower, watches Freddy whip and cut the coach to death – but as Jesse becomes tormented with his ‘secret’ he chooses to share thoughts with Ron instead of Lisa, breaking into his bedroom, and confessing his confusion while director Jack Sholder photographs the buffed boys in very provocative angles.
From the bonus interviews with Sholder, the director admits he recognized Patton’s feminine qualities, and he either played up the subtext, or simply enhanced a stealth undercurrent that was already running through the script. Of course, there's also Jesse’s bedroom unpacking montage / cock tease, and constantly waking up half naked in heavy sweat which add to the film's notoriety when it's an otherwise flawed and marginally coherent film.
The special effects are good, and Sholder’s editorial finesse – evident in his work on The Burning (1981) – ensures the action & shock scenes are well-rendered, but beyond the film’s fascinating identity crisis, it’s a lesser work that ultimately becomes very dull. The film’s energy kicks in when Freddy appears (Englund owns the role), but the decision to restrain the character’s scenes as well as his onscreen appearances hurts the film.
Christopher Young’s adds a sheen of elegance, and Sholder makes excellent use of a derelict foundry where ‘the final identity battle’ occurs, and Freddy is once again banished to Hell, enabling Jesse to burst out from a physical Freddy Krueger shell. (It’s an unusual moment that one suspects influenced a popular United Way campaign, where troubled persons of varying ages tear off their shells and emerge as healthy, happy, mobile individuals.)
There are also a number of tongue-in cheek gags (Fu Man Chews cereal, Sta-Up sleeping pills, non-product placement beer cans actually labeled “Beer” versus blatant Coke cans that are perpetually on Jesse’s night table), plus the opening school bus teaser which ties in to the finale where Sholder pokes fun at ‘the big W’ at the end of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World [M] (1963).
The cast includes veteran actress Hope Lang (Hope Lang?) and Clu Gulager as Jesse’s parents, and Days of Our Lives actress Christie Clark as Jesse’s younger sister. Producer Robert Shaye has a cameo as a bartender, and there is one pool party shot where there’s an actor bearing a striking resemblance to Bill Pullman. (He’s among the guys around the 68:32 mark.)
Warner Home Video’s Blu-ray (which double-bills Nightmare II with III) transfer is very nice, although the 5.1 mix is rather blah, lacking any major sonic shocks. The 4 making-of featurettes have been culled and ported over from the longer “Welcome to Primetime” documentary that appeared on the Bonus Disc from the 1999 Nightmare Encyclopedia 8-disc set. Not included are cast & crew profiles, Trivia Game, and DVD-ROM script from the 2000 DVD.
As of this writing, Freddy Krueger has appeared in the following films: A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985), A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors [M] (1987), A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988), A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Child (1989), Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991), New Nightmare / aka Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994), Freddy vs. Jason (2003), and the franchise reboot & remake, A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010). The character’s other major appearance was in the short-lived Freddy’s Nightmares, which ran late night on Fox for two seasons between 1988-1990.
Jack Sholder’s other notable films include Alone in the Dark (1982) and the underrated The Hidden (1987).
© 2011 Mark R. Hasan