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 Part 2 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 release reflected.
Part two 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 experience 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 part two. However, in response, the film’s director denied any such themes – this denial a discussion in itself on Hollywood’s fear of homosexuality in mainstream cinema. So let me lay my cards on the table from the outset; A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 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 Part 2 faced a significant backlash from critics and the public on its release. This backlash would see its lead actor Mark Patton (Jesse), all but ostracised in Hollywood, his promising career hitting a roadblock of institutionalised homophobia. While at the same time, the film’s writer and director were happy to throw the young actor under a bus of homophobia and ridicule rather than accept the film’s LGBTQ+ themes. So let’s explore these themes and unpick the unavoidable discussions on 80s homophobia that Elm Street Part Two presents.
Jesse and the complexity of self discovery
Jesse is clearly an outsider at school from the opening scene, neither fitting the ‘Jock’ or 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 with screams of terror every night, yet his family ignores his turmoil. Here his parent’s only interests lay in Jesse meeting a nice girl, something he knows deep down isn’t possible.
Of course, that doesn’t mean Jesse hasn’t got girls’ attention and one in particular sits at the heart of his 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 it will not work.
Meanwhile, at school, Jesse spends his time in the presence of the alpha 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. However, for Jesse, it’s more than clear he has more than a fleeting interest in Ron. However, 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. Here 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. Here Jesse’s dreams are sexual and scary in equal measure as his needs clash with the social constraints surrounding him.
A Nightmare On Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge
Jesse seems almost 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 known to Jesse. Here, the coach sees Jesse at the bar and takes him back to the deserted school gym dressed head to toe in S&M gear. The horror following 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 Part 2, Jesse is a confused yet confident young man. However, it is also clear that his sexual desires clash with society, school and family expectations of who he should be. Here, 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 a rebirth of personal identity.
The darkness of 1980s homophobia
While it’s true A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2 may or may not have been fully conscious of its LGBTQ+ themes, there is also a much darker side to the overarching sexuality and masculinity conversations present. The dangerous 80s perception of gay men as predators. Here, the older men surrounding Jesse are clearly defined as predatory, from the sports coach to Kruger; their interest is 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 and homosexuality 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 Part 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 tied to social perceptions of gay men as potential abusers, with chunks of the movie openly supporting and encouraging this view.
A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2 provides a fascinating snapshot of mid 80’s homophobia, LGBTQ+ acceptance, isolation and oppression. Here Elm Street bravely incorporated gay themes into mainstream horror while also surrounding Jesse’s journey with stereotypes, intimidation and confusion. Many will watch A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2 and immediately pick up on its fascination with the male body over the female and its homoerotic relationships. But this film also delves much deeper into social oppression, perception and stereotypes than the camp horror initially shows. The result is one of the most interesting and unplanned LGBTQ+ films ever made, as it reflects the pure horror of coming out in 80s America.
Director: Jack Sholder