Let’s get something out of the way right now: yes, there’s an undertone to the film’s story about homosexuality and dealing with one’s inner struggles; the scene of Freddy fully coming out of Jesse’s body being a not too subtle punch right in the nose. At the same time though, Nightmare 2 wants to be just like all the other popular Horror releases at the time and have a higher than normal body count, showing the one true instance of a Nightmare film trying to edge its way into Slasher territory.
Writer David Chaskin openly admits that he intentionally added the gay undertones into the story focusing on new kid young Jesse Walsh and his struggles to fit in at school after having just moved into Springwood’s most famous haunted house. By basically flipping the script and swapping the traditional “final girl” character for a “final boy”, Nightmare 2 challenges its audience on many levels, not willing to just be your average, run of the mill pseudo-Slasher. The fact that the name “Jesse” is sexually ambiguous lends more credence to the notion of swapping sexes of all the main characters.
Chaskin’s gamble on the story elements of Nightmare 2 and director Jack Sholder’s passé handling of the material may have been intended to do something a little bit different, ultimately the audience didn’t really care. As a result, Nightmare 2 has fallen into the same company of misunderstood sequels like Halloween III, in search of vindication from fans.
But, what does the film do right that most fans tend to miss? For starters, there’s Robert Englund’s performance as Freddy. As far as I’m concerned, this is the film that shows the true birth of the Freddy we all know and love. Many of the mannerisms that have become associated with the character – the maniacal laugh and the pose immediately come to mind – are evident in this film. It’s worth noting that New Line execs initially started filming without Englund, feeling that any stunt player could portray Krueger and the audience would be none the wiser. This, of course, is the first mistake the film makes, with it being painfully obvious during the shower murder of Coach Schneider, as the stunt man in a Freddy mask hopelessly waddles out from the steam with all the presence of a white piece of paper.
This is the film where Englund completely takes ownership of the character!
Later on, there’s the pool party scene which has divided Nightmare purists to this day since it breaks all the rules established in the first film. But it’s this scene where Englund really shines for me as he struts around the party after causing havoc and killing a few teens. Sure, this scene is a blatant attempt to add a body count, but I’m willing to forgive it for just how cool Freddy is in it!
Make-up effects artist Kevin Yagher took over the design of the character this time, infusing a sort of witch-like appearance with a hooked nose and more pronounced chin. This is also the first time that Freddy’s sweater has the stripes down the sleeves and features the frayed wrists, neck and hemline; in short, the look everyone knows! Just look at his first appearance in the film on the bus in Jesse’s nightmare; as he’s slowly stalking back towards the frightened teens, the blades on his glove slicing up the bus seats . . . that’s pure, sadistic evil right there!
As a kid, I remember not really being too into the fact that Freddy doesn’t even wear his glove for the 2nd half of the movie after emerging from Jesse’s body. Now, as an adult, I can’t really say I’m any less not into it, but I kind of understand it and appreciate it. Having the blades come right out of his fingers kind of a cool look I guess.
In terms of his character, fans should be more appreciative of Freddy in Nightmare 2 specifically because it’s the last time we really see him before he became the jokester/game show host type in later sequels. He’s still a seriously evil dude and quite scary, but he’s got some solid one-liners as well; some standouts being “You’re all my children now”, “You’ve got the body…I’ve got the brain” and my personal favorite, “Help yourself, fucker!"
Another interesting statistic that make Nightmare 2 stand out from the rest of the series is that it’s the last film where the kills are (somewhat) grounded in reality in that Freddy’s slicing and dicing and not getting cartoony with his methods of knocking kids off. During that pool party scene alone, there are some seriously vicious glove attacks on some of the kids!
Plus, since I first discovered Nightmare 2 on VHS, I've got to mention the cool cover art here. For me, that is the artwork for the film. In fact, when I first saw the original poster art of Jesse holding Lisa in front of a mirror, with Freddy staring back, it just felt wrong compared to what I'd grown up with. A few years later, I'd collect a poster for Nightmare 4 that featured the original photo used for this piece (albeit obviously reversed for the VHS cover). Freddy just looks so cool on this cover and it certainily played a part in wrangling me in as a fan. Next to the VHS artwork for Dawn of the Dead, I'd say this is a prime example my belief that artwork does matter; if it looks cool, is put together well, and completely catures your attention, then it's certainly a Win in my book!
The bottom line about Nightmare 2, though, for me is that it’s just another stop along the Elm Street series. Whether or not fans dig it is completely subjective. At the worst, it’s not as good as the original film, but at the very least, it’s not as bad or silly as some fans feel the later sequels are. If you’ve been overly dismissive of Nightmare 2 over the years, give it another shot . . . you might just be surprised.