Each month in Horror Queers, Joe and Trace tackle a horror film with LGBTQ+ themes, a high camp quotient or both. For lifelong queer horror fans like us, there’s as much value in serious discussions about representation as there is in reading a ridiculously silly/fun horror film with a YAS KWEEN mentality. Just know that at no point will we be getting Babashook.
As two gay men, we have opted to use the moniker “Horror Queers” for this series of articles. It is a word that has a complicated history due to its derogatory use by bullies and hateful people, but has increasingly been adopted as a term of empowerment and a unifying term that recognizes the many complex identities that make up the LGBTIQQ community. Queer has become commonplace in academia, politics and pop culture over the past three decades. We understand and recognize that the term is still very hurtful for some people, but we believe that the more people that proudly reclaim it, the more the wounds and stigma surrounding the term are reduced. Using the word “queer” is intensely personal, but it is a decision that we are committed to. Please don’t be an asshole when using it and we’ll get along fine.
***SPOILERS for NOES 2 to follow.***
Synopsis for NOES 2: A teenage boy named Jesse (Mark Patton) is haunted in his dreams by deceased child murderer Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund), who is out to possess him in order to continue his reign of terror in the real world.
Queer Aspect: I mean…literally everything?
Well Trace, here we are: we are tackling what may just be the most queer horror movie ever created. We’ve been doing this series for eleven months and this has been by far the most requested movie that readers ask us to cover, so we’re doing it. I’m so excited, I can literally feel Freddy inside of me!
In all seriousness, there’s very little question that this film has a queer subtext. Some would even claim that there is no subtext; it’s actually just text. According to the film’s production, Freddy’s Revenge was never intended to be explicitly gay – at the time of the film’s release (one year after Wes Craven’s original) everyone claimed they were simply making a sequel that took the franchise in a different direction. Later, star Mark Patton claimed that he was essentially thrown under the bus when homophobic fans complained about his effeminate “scream queen” performance. Meanwhile, screenwriter David Chaskin and director Jack Sholder denied any awareness of the underlying queer themes (Chaskin has since admitted that he actually beefed up the subtext in rewrites throughout shooting). A quick Google search about the film indicates that there remains a great deal of tension between Patton and Chaskin/Sholder about how they and New Line handled the fallout after the film was released. The blame wound up significantly affecting Patton’s career and his self-identification as a gay man, though his appearances at conventions and his long-in-development documentary Scream, Queen! My Nightmare On Elm Street suggest that he’s in a better place now.
Let’s return to the film itself to consider whether its reputation is earned. Here’s a bullet list of the quote/unquote gay stuff contained within the film that fans/detractors have identified:
- Patton’s overall performance
- Dialogue like “He’s inside me and he wants to take me again!”, “Something is trying to get inside my body”, etc
- Jesse’s high pitched screaming
- Grady (Robert Rusler) pulls Jesse’s pants down and they wrestle provocatively
- Mentions of an S&M club and how Coach Schneider (Marshall Bell) likes pretty boys
- Freddy caresses Jesse’s body in their first encounter
- Jesse’s impromptu dance session, including a close up him using his butt to close a drawer
- Jesse’s door sign, which reads “No Chicks”
- The Probe game in Jesse’s closet
- The shower death of Coach Schneider, including some light bondage with skipping ropes and a towel whipping
- Jesse leaves a makeout session with Lisa (Kim Myers) to jump on a shirtless Grady in bed
- Freddy literally emerging from within Jesse’s body
- Grady’s short shorts
- All of the literal “flaming” imagery
There’s probably some other stuff, but I got tired of mining the depths of the internet for big ol’ homo signifiers. In all honesty, it feels like the pendulum has swung so far the other way that people delight in finding something gay in every little thing about the film; Freddy’s Revenge is no longer considered a slasher film or an oddball entry in an emerging powerhouse horror franchise – it’s now simply a gay horror film. While I appreciate that there’s a canonical queer horror text, this categorization diminishes the other (often more interesting) things going on in the film.
So Trace, now that I’ve stolen all of the identifiers, what else did you pull out of Freddy’s Revenge? Are you able to watch the film without playing “spot the homo” or is that where the film’s power lies? And what do you make of the film’s historical trajectory from maligned Nightmare entry to queer icon?
*sigh* I haven’t necessarily been looking forward to covering this movie, Joe. Not because I don’t like it (I rank it above The Dream Master, Freddy Vs. Jason, The Dream Child and Freddy’s Dead…in that order), but because I don’t really know what we can possibly add to the discourse on this very, very gay horror film.
Writing about Freddy’s Revenge seems so….unoriginal. Countless discussions have been made about this film. Tons of articles have been written about its queer (sub)text. As you mention, Patton has a full-blown documentary about the very topic that we are discussing (though it hasn’t been released yet, something that is a bit disconcerting since I donated to the Kickstarter over three years ago).
Does anyone really want to know what we have to say about A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge? I don’t know. Let’s see!
Before I jump into the film’s undeniable queerness, I do want to point out one thing that has always bothered me about this film: the rules about how Freddy operates are very ill-defined. Most of the film takes place in the real world, with Chaskin & Sholder opting not to utilize a creative premise to their advantage like Craven’s original did. This makes sense, as Sholder has admitted that he doesn’t like the original very much, but it makes Freddy’s sudden ability to possess someone and use his powers in the real world a bit unrealistic. It’s no big deal, as the film never ceases to entertain, but it’s always bugged me.
Now on to the queerness!
While Jesse’s sexuality is never really in question, I’m more concerned with how the film links Krueger’s obsession with being inside/becoming him and the first film’s implication that he is a child rapist. Before readers come after me in the comments with pitchforks: yes, I’m fully aware that Freddy’s pedophilia is never explicitly stated (at least, not until the atrocity that is the 2010 remake). Wes Craven admitted that his original script described Freddy as a child molester, but the explicit reference was removed to avoid exploiting a wave of highly publicized child molestations occurring in California in 1984. So while it isn’t explicitly stated, it is heavily implied.
If we assume that Freddy is a child molester, then what does it look like when you have him possess a queer man? Linking Freddy’s urge to molest and murder children with Jesse’s queerness (or really, Freddy’s queerness – if you view him as representative of homosexuality) is a dangerous path to take, especially in 1985. This film isn’t really sympathetic to queerness, and the less said about predatory Coach Schneider the better (Sidebar: What even is that character?)
Freddy’s Revenge is a product of its time, so the fact that any queerness was injected into the proceedings is a minor miracle, but it is troubling watching it through a 2018 lens.
My reading of the film is that Freddy is representative of Jesse’s homosexuality. When Jesse is confronted with it (running into the Coach at the BDSM bar, freaking out after kissing Lisa and running into Grady’s arms), he/Freddy kills. Is the film trying to imply that homosexuality is evil, then? The ending would certainly have you think that, since it is
Meryl Streep Lisa’s love for him (and/or his love for Lisa?) that exorcises Freddy from Jesse’s body. Again, the rules are ill-defined, but that seems to be the case. Does heterosexuality save the day? Or are we to believe that their friendship is what saves Jesse?
I realize I’ve taken a negative approach to the film’s stance on homosexuality, but it’s more me playing devil’s advocate. I don’t think the intention was to condemn Jesse’s queerness or queerness in general. I’m merely suggesting that it could easily be viewed that way, especially at the height of the AIDS crisis when this film was released.
What can be appreciated about Freddy’s Revenge is that it does what a sequel should do: try something different. Freddy’s modus operandi is completely different and the overall tone is much darker from the first film, while simultaneously leaning into its camp elements (i.e., the aforementioned dance scene).
The world in the film also feels rather contained. The first film did a good job of fleshing out the world around Nancy, but Freddy’s Revenge focuses so closely on Jesse and his own private world that you don’t really get a sense of the town around him. If this was intentional, it’s a brilliant way of mimicking how lonely growing up queer can be. You feel contained in your world. You feel alone. You feel like a freak. Freddy’s Revenge stands out among the pack of NOES sequels because it is a freak. It is the red-headed stepchild of the franchise. It is different. Thank god for girlfriends like Lisa; they make the loneliness bearable.
I didn’t really get to answer your questions, Joe, so I may just tackle them in my next response, but what do you think the film’s stance on homosexuality is? Is there a positive message that can come out of this film? Or does the final product make that impossible? Also: do you think the film can be excessive at times? I mean, the title card has three different fonts, for Christ’s sake.
Ugh, let us never speak of the 2010 remake again! I just rewatched it for another piece on lessons learned from Halloween 2018 and that attempt to reboot Freddy is completely insufferable.
Despite your uncertainty about bringing something new to the conversation, I think you’ve distilled a nuanced interpretation of the film. I looked at it a little differently, though I confess that I don’t have all of the finer points worked out.
I wound up seeing Freddy as a threat to Jesse’s burgeoning queerness. He is a manifestation of Jesse’s own internalized homophobia, so when sexual situations arise that might naturally encourage Jesse to consider his “unorthodox for the 80s” sexuality, Freddy pops out. Consider that in a film with very few murders, the two explicit ones both involve men that Jesse has a sexualized relationship with: predatory Coach Schneider and potential love interest Grady. I appreciate, however, that we’re essentially using the same scenes to argue for different readings; a big problem (or opportunity) with this film is that it is so open that you can argue for either side.
I do want to seize on your observation about Jesse’s isolation, though. What really stood out to me on the rewatch is the way that Jesse’s family, and in particular his father, treats him. The entire Nightmare franchise is founded on the idea that the parents of Elm Street are terrible. This began when the Elm Street parents chose to burn Freddy in an act of vigilante justice rather than care for their own kids. The original Elm Street is filled with latchkey kids: teens whose parents aren’t around to watch over them. Arguably this isn’t because they’re neglectful parents, however, it is because they’re too wrapped up in their own shit (Nancy’s father is overwhelmed with the murders and her mother can only process her role in Freddy’s murder with booze).
The Walsh parents in Freddy’s Revenge introduces a new narrative: sequel after sequel confirms that the Elm Street kids have been abandoned, dismissed or medicated into oblivion by their guardians.
Jesse’s parents establish the tropes that dictate how parents in the series are portrayed moving forward. His mother (Hope Lange) is a doormat and his father (Clu Gulager) is a belligerent, demanding dick. (In reality, the mother is barely even a character. The closest thing she and Jesse have to a legitimate moment in the film is her wry smile when she and Lisa catch Jesse dancing in his room).
Jesse’s father, however? Well we could delve deeper into some antiquated psychology about how masculinity is associated with a (queer) boy’s relationship to his father figure, but let’s just accept that Jesse’s father routinely disregards his opinions, bosses him around and relegates him to his room at the expense of making social connections with his peers (Seriously, why is Jesse’s dad so desperate for him to unpack his damned room? Who cares that much about a room that they don’t spend any time in?!)
The reason that I think that Jesse’s father is important is because he typifies the unsupportive parent of a gay child. He doesn’t know anything about his son and seemingly has no interest in rectifying that. His domineering bossiness, his antiquated “father knows best” approach to addressing the mysterious circumstances befalling the household and his dismissal of Jesse’s claims do nothing to encourage Jesse to open up or involve his parents. How can Jesse possibly come out to them in such a restrictive, repressive environment?
In the queer community silence = death, but in the Walsh household, that’s just business as usual. Watching the film through modern eyes and considering the studies that correlate mental health and well-being among queer youth with parental acceptance, it’s not hard to imagine a variant (or modern) draft of this film where Freddy’s Revenge ends with Jesse self-harming, possibly even committing suicide.
I think there’s one other integral queer component of Freddy’s Revenge that we need to discuss and that’s how the film alters Freddy into much more of a wisecracking smartass and, in so doing, (unintentionally?) turns Freddy into a queer icon. Why do you think so many queer audiences prefer Freddy over his mute ‘80s franchise companions, Trace? And what is the legacy of Nightmare on Elm Street 2?
It’s curious that the openness in the film bothers you, as that is what I find to be its most interesting aspect. The fact of the matter is that we will never truly know what the real intention behind the film was. Such is the case with all forms of art, right?
A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge is open to interpretation. I view Freddy as a physical representation of Jesse’s queerness and you view him as a physical representation of Jesse’s internalized homophobia. Neither one of us is wrong, but it’s fascinating that we are having this discussion over what is arguably a cheap cash-in sequel to a very good, original slasher film. Have any of the Nightmare sequels been discussed as much as Freddy’s Revenge for their (sub)text? Maybe New Nightmare, but only Freddy’s Revenge has the distinction of boldly going where no Nightmare film has gone before (or ever would again, thanks to the poor reception of the film at the time).
To go back to your original questions, Joe: will this film only ever be known for its blatant homosexual themes? Sadly, yes, that’s always going to be the case. Even when queerness becomes more normalized in the future, the film will be viewed (or even commended) for being the ‘80s slasher that was brave enough to tackle themes that, at the time, were not common in mainstream cinema. Intentional or not, Freddy’s Revenge is just as topical today as it was in 1985. Oh, to have been a fly on the wall in movie theaters when this film was playing! Will this be its legacy? I think so…but I also don’t think that that’s a bad thing.
You have to feel bad for Patton. As much as this film (and the people behind it) supposedly hurt his career, it is an important landmark in queer cinema. This film is and will always be his legacy. It’s a rather sizable contribution to the genre. He seems to have taken it all in stride, though. His Jesse is one of the more interesting Final “Girls” to come out of the ‘80s slasher boom.
Is Freddy a queer icon, though? That’s up for debate. The debate being how you view Freddy in this film (and the films after it). The five sequels that followed eschew any and all queer themes that Freddy’s Revenge introduces. That being said, Freddy is a sassy little fucker. That sassiness would become the hallmark of the franchise by the time Freddy’s Dead came around (that image of him getting jiggy with the chalkboard will forever cement for me the moment that the franchise died). In my experience, Freddy hasn’t gelled as much with queer audiences as much as, say, Scream’s Ghostface has, but that’s a conversation for a future Horror Queers article. Freddy’s Revenge is the outlier of this franchise, not the norm.
People like Freddy for the same reason that they like Chucky and Ghostface: because they talk. There are two types of horror fans: those who prefer talkers and those who prefer the silent type. Jason and Michael are scary because they are mindless killing machines. Freddy and Chucky (and to some degree, Pinhead) are scary because they do have minds and taunt their victims. Sure, much of that taunting involves humor, but facing a killer who knows what he’s doing is scary. The Nightmare sequels gradually increase that humor, making Freddy increasingly campy, which is quite possibly what many queer audiences latched on to (I’m more into Freddy’s darkness than his harsh digs, but to each their own).
What else can be said about Freddy’s Revenge? As I mentioned above, I was loathed to discuss the film because doing so just felt so….basic. A queer series of horror articles tackling what has been frequently referred to as “the gayest horror film ever made?” Please. But I am glad that we were finally able to talk about it. It only took us 11 months! Hopefully, we’ve added something to the discourse that our readers can appreciate and, if not, well, there’s always next month!
Next time on Horror Queers: Now that A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge is off our bucket list, it’s time to turn our attention to a kooky off-cycle entry about…killer dolls? That’s right, we’re diving into Leigh Whannell and James Wan’s terrible/awesome 2007 film, Dead Silence!
NOES 2 is available to rent on Amazon Prime for $2.99.
And don’t forget to catch up on our previous Horror Queers articles here!