With the success of 1984’s A Nightmare on Elm Street (a success that rescued New Line Cinema from the edge of bankruptcy, and was the company’s first commercial success), it was inevitable that a sequel was going to be produced, even though Wes Craven voiced his opposition to the idea. New Line handed direction to Jack Sholder, and writing duties to David Chaskin, due to Wes Craven’s unwillingness to work on the film. The resulting sequel, which narrowly avoided having someone else cast as the infamous Freddy Krueger*, grossed nearly twice as much as its predecessor, further cementing the Nightmare franchise as a bankable commodity.
But sequels, especially those taken from the hands of their original creators, have a tendency to be unable to live up to expectations; even more so if the preceding film was especially well-received. Does A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2 break this trend?
This time around, Freddy Krueger is seeking to return to the realm of the living, by taking over the body of Jesse Walsh (Mark Patton), who has just moved into a familiar house in Springwood. Jesse has a hard time adjusting, between the heckling he receives from the school bully Grady (Robert Rusler), awkwardly attempting to foster a budding romance with his friend Lisa (Kim Meyers), and having his dreams tormented by Freddy, he begins to slowly lose his mind. After he has a “dream” in which he is taken from an S&M bar by his gym teacher to the school’s gymnasium and said teacher is killed by Freddy, he discovers that the murder actually has happened, and it is apparent that Freddy is gaining control of his body. With the help of Lisa and an old diary he finds in his house, he attempts to fight back against the ever-looming threat of losing himself.
Though A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2 has several memorable scenes mostly owing to special effects that were impressive at the time (some examples include an exploding parakeet, Jesse’s tongue extending and gaining a life of it’s own, Freddy tearing his way out of Jesse’s body in one sequence, an eye in the back of Jesse’s throat, a pool party gone horribly wrong when Freddy arrives and begins causing havoc, and human-faced dogs guarding a gateway), it fails to deliver the same kind of impact that the original had. By making Freddy a run-of-the-mill slasher through taking over Jesse, the unique “dream-killing” aspect is taken away. All that is left is Freddy’s dark sense of humor, which, at this point in the franchise, is still underplayed, especially since Freddy is given a meager 13 minutes of screen time. And, although I didn’t notice it the first time I watched the film, writer David Chaskin says he deliberately wrote in homoerotic undertones throughout the film, which, as far as I can tell, serve no apparent purpose aside from being laughably bizarre and somewhat out of place with the tone of the rest of the film. Perhaps one of the worst parts of the film is that the ending is somewhat trite and unremarkable, and simply feels underwhelming given what precedes it.
As for the acting, Mark Patton handles the role of Jesse in a sort of shrill, hammy-in-a-bad-way manner that is more irritating than something to empathize with, and unfortunately the rest of the cast either doesn’t impress or simply gives a passable performance, save a humorous display by Clu Gulager as Jesse’s father and of course Robert Englund continuing in the role that he’s still the most famous for.
Despite its commercial success, A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2 is really the point at which the franchise stumbles and is trying to find its legs. It hits its stride in the following film A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors (1987) and its somewhat formulaic sequels that establish Freddy’s personality and his unique methods of teenager disposal as the series’ real draw. Simply put, this is a rather weak offering for a Nightmare on Elm Street film that suffers for its attempt to go in new directions, which, though admirable in spirit, ultimately misses the point.
*Initially, New Line refused to give Robert Englund the pay raise he requested to return as Freddy Krueger, but after the extra cast to play the role failed to meet expectations, producer Robert Shaye agreed to Englund’s requests.