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Saturday, July 18, 2009

A Quarter-Century of Krueger: Following in Craven's Footsteps

"I never set out to be Wes Craven, I set out to be Jean Renoir." - Jack Sholder

After the initial smash success of A Nightmare on Elm Street in 1984, it was easy to predict that New Line Cinema would be looking for a sequel. After all, the slasher hit had put the independent studio on the map after a decade of struggles. Yet once Wes Craven bowed out, citing lack of interest and also focusing on the sequel to his earlier classic The Hills Have Eyes, it became clear that the sequel would be a little more uncertain than had originally been imagined.

A new director was going to be required, and for a spot that would not be a very enviable one. After all, Craven was already a major luminary in the business, who had knocked the ball out of the park with the most successful horror film of the decade. But New Line soldiered on, with a screenplay called Freddy's Revenge, from rookie scripter David Chaskin.

The man New Line found for the job was Jack Sholder. Although Sholder had only one feature film to his credit, it had been a decent little horror/thriller called Alone in the Dark, which Sholder had also written and which had starred Jack Palance, Donald Pleasance and Martin Landau.

The film Sholder delivered to New Line, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge, was nowhere near the success the original had been, and was rejected by many of the fans the original film had gathered. In fact, it even led New Line to get Craven back on board for the third one, and to return somewhat to the formula that had worked so well in the original.

The reputation of Freddy's Revenge continues somewhat to this day, and in my opinion, it is unwarranted. I've personally always found it to be one of the best in the series, and certainly superior to any of the other sequels that came after it, with the exception of Part 3.

Sholder's film retains much of the grimness and dark tone of the original film, which would begin to be dismantled in the third picture, despite its superior quality. Freddy Krueger is still the terrifying, nightmarish creation of Wes Craven here, and not yet the Borscht Belt comedian he would later become.

Not only that, but Chaskin's script is more daring than pretty much any of the other sequels, taking the franchise in an entirely different direction. This film puts a Jekyll & Hyde spin on the NOES theme. Instead of Freddy so much haunting the dreams of teens, he is literally sharing a body with one of them, threatening the real world to a degree not seen in any other of the films. Perhaps fans don't like it as much because it's short on a lot of the more imaginative kills and effects seen in the others. This one is grittier, more reality-based--in fact, it might even be a darker film than the Craven original.

It's also rich with symbolic overtones, as many others before me have pointed out how Jesse's struggles with the creature within him bear some resemblance to a young male's struggles with sexuality. And plus, we get the classic line, "You've got the body, and I've got the brain..." Gotta love that one.

The tepid reception of the film didn't open nearly as many doors for Sholder as the rampant success of the first film had done for Craven. He went on to direct The Hidden, an enjoyable piece of sci-fi horror starring Kyle MacLachlan and Clu Gulager, immediately after. But following that, his biggest claims to fame have been a 1990 episode of Tales from the Crypt, and Wishmaster 2, which he also wrote.

A shame really, as he did quite well under the circumstances with his NOES sequel, as far as I'm concerned. Unfortunately, he suffered from being put into a position in which virtually any result would've been deemed a let-down.

So I'll go on the record as having enjoyed Freddy's Dead. It manages to really take chances, while still holding true to the spirit of the original, something that none of the other sequels did quite as well. So thank you, Jack Sholder, for giving us one of the most underrated slasher sequels of the 1980s!


Monster Scholar said...

I love the queer overtones of NOES 2: Freddy's Revenge, esp. the scene with the coach in the office (balls flying everywhere!)

Scott said...

I agree with your sentiments regarding NOES 2. I found it just as creepy as the original.

: said...

Count me in as a fan too. I've always thought FREDDY'S REVENGE was unfairly maligned. Is it great? Definitely not. But I think it has some great *moments* (I'm thinking first and foremost of the bus nightmare prologue and the "birth" of Freddy through Jesse's stomach).

Hell, I gotta admit that this one was the last N.O.E.S. sequel I've had any desire to go back and watch after all these years (and have).


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