A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge 1985
Following hot on the heels of the success of A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), the first sequel in a long line of sequels and prequels trod very different ground from the original film. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge found itself derided by the critics on release, only recently finding new analysis through its unique take on sexuality and gender in 80’s America. Here new generations have provided a fresh perspective on the film’s value and importance in gender identity, sexuality, and the socio-political sphere its time reflected.
Freddy’s Revenge starts by subverting the accepted gender roles of the conventional slasher horror, with a teenage boy at the heart of the action (Jesse) – a boy who doesn’t fit the 1980s hormonal ‘meathead’ stereotypes of adolescent males in horror. But to add to this, Jesse is stalked by a male killer, placing themes of masculinity, vulnerability and sexual dominance centre stage. Here we have a rare horror that puts male teenage sexuality at the heart of its story and shines a light on the horror of coming out in mid-1980s America.
Over the years since its release, many have commented on the LGBTQ+ themes at the heart of Freddy’s Revenge. However, in response, the film’s director denied any such themes, further demonstrating Hollywood’s fear of homosexuality in mainstream cinema during the 80s and 90s. So let me lay my cards on the table from the outset; A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 is a horror film firmly embedded in themes of coming out, gay panic and internalised homophobia.
Mark Patton and Robert Englund in A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 (New Line Cinema)
Despite its financial success, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 faced a significant backlash from critics and the public on its release. This backlash would see its lead actor Mark Patton (Jesse), ostracised, his promising career hitting a roadblock of institutionalised homophobia as the film’s writer and director blamed any LGBTQ+ themes on the actor due to his own sexuality. So let’s explore these themes and unpick the unavoidable discussions on 80s homophobia that Elm Street Part 2 presents.
Jesse is clearly an outsider at school from the opening scene, neither fitting the jock nor the geek stereotypes. His first dream places him on a school bus where he sits, isolated at the back of the vehicle, as two young women gossip about him. Jesse is clearly a young man who feels separated and alone in school and fears the gossip surrounding him. This dream immediately tells us that Jesse has secrets he doesn’t want anyone in school to know about, his self-imposed isolation keeping him hidden from view. His vivid nightmares wake him every night, yet his family ignores his turmoil; his parent’s only interested in Jesse meeting a nice girl.
Jesse does have the sexual attention of girls, and one, in particular, sits at the heart of his teenage life. But this young woman is more of a friend than a lover, causing multiple layers of confusion as she hopes for more. In fact, when things do progress to a brief pre-sex scene between Jesse and Lisa, the heat of her sexual desire is quickly cut short by Jesse’s realisation that he can’t fulfil her wishes.
Meanwhile, at school, Jesse spends his time in the presence of the alpha male and athletic Ron – a boy who starts the film as Jesse’s bully. Ron oozes the sex appeal of the school stud and begins to enjoy Jesse’s company as a weaker and sexually non-threatening boy. It’s clear Jesse has more than a fleeting interest in Ron. But it’s the arrival of Freddy Kruger that sees these themes explode with sexual tension. Here Jesse’s first nightmare involving Freddy is also a wet dream as Jesse is subdued and dominated by a more powerful man. Kruger runs his steel-bladed glove across Jesse’s lips and face while stating, “Daddy can’t help you now! Shhhhh… I need you, Jesse. We got special work to do here, you and me. You’ve got the body… I’ve got the brain.”
This scene plays to Jesse’s innermost fears that he cannot control his bodily desires, a theme further emphasised later in the film as Jesse’s night terrors merge with phallic imagery of erect objects melting and dripping in his room. Jesse’s dreams are sexual and scary in equal measure, as his sexual needs clash with the homophobia surrounding him; it’s a feeling all gay men can relate to when looking back at their teens.
Jesse seems to enjoy the torment of his sadistic sports coach at school, as the sports field punishments bring him closer to Ron. But Ron quickly warns Jesse that the coach “Likes the pretty boys.” This does not appear to come as any surprise to Jesse, and we soon find out why. After one vivid nightmare, we find Jesse walking through the rain in his jeans and pyjama top, seeking solace and refuge in a local late-night bar. However, this bar is clearly a gay venue already known to Jesse. The coach sees Jesse at the bar and takes him back to the deserted school gym, dressed head to toe in S&M gear. This encounter reveals that Jesse is already sexually active with men but enacts his fantasies in a dream-like state.
Throughout A Nightmare on Elm Street 2, Jesse is a confused yet confident young man. It is clear that his sexual desires clash with society, school and family expectations of who he should be. As a result, Jesse’s ability to navigate his nocturnal thoughts is hampered by the need to be seen as a heterosexual boy in his daily life. His journey toward self-discovery and acceptance is wrapped in a conflict between public and private identity. Many gay men can relate to these themes as they find their way to self-acceptance in a society where coming out is still an often painful rebirth of personal identity.
While it’s true A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 may or may not have been fully conscious of its LGBTQ+ themes; there is also a much darker side to the conversations present – the 80s perception of gay men as sexual predators. Here, the older men surrounding Jesse are clearly defined as predatory; from the sports coach to Kruger, their interest is held firmly in acquiring Jesse’s young body. This theme plays to a dangerous 80s commentary of older gay men as the manipulators of innocent teenage boys. Here Lisa’s role as a female saviour plays into this narrative as she helps Jesse conquer his homosexuality with heterosexual love.
Whether or not these themes were purposefully included as a commentary on the perception of gay men in 80s America is debatable. However, they do interface with the social panic surrounding homosexuality in 1980s America. But the darkest undertone of A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 is the notion that a child molester would pick a gay teenage boy to continue his work. Again this is open to debate, but it is tied to the dangerous notion of gay men as potential abusers, with chunks of the movie openly supporting and encouraging this view.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 provides a fascinating snapshot of mid 80’s homophobia, LGBTQ+ acceptance, isolation and oppression. Elm Street bravely incorporated gay themes into mainstream horror. Many will watch A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 and pick up on its fascination with the male body over the female one and its clear homoerotic imagery. But Freddy’s Revenge also delves deep into themes of social oppression, perception, stereotypes and gay panic, resulting in one of the most fascinating LGBTQ+ horrors ever made. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 is a movie about the pure unadulterated horror of coming out in mid-80s America.
Director: Jack Sholder