Queer Themes in A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge

Image Nightmare on Elm Street 2. Image Courtesy Shudder
Image Nightmare on Elm Street 2. Image Courtesy Shudder /

Since its release in 1985, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge has become a homoerotic icon in queer cinema.  As part of my series on Queer Horror for Pride month, I’ll examine the queer themes within the film and whether all representation, good or bad, should be celebrated.

Everyone that has seen all the movies in the Nightmare on Elm Street series knows that the second film, Freddy’s Revenge, is an anomaly in the horror formula of the protagonist as chaste “final girl” who survives to the end.  Instead of another “final girl” like Heather Langenkamp’s Nancy, the protagonist of Freddy’s Revenge is teenage male Jesse (a neutrally gendered name), played by (then closeted) gay actor Mark Patton.  Additionally, Freddy, instead of murdering teenagers in their sleep, possesses Jesse to do the killing for him.  The only person in A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge haunted by nightmares is Jesse.

Jesse and Freddy’s first encounter in A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge is sensual enough to barely be disguised queer coding.  When Freddy finally fully materializes for Jesse, he caresses Jesse’s face and lips with his finger knives in a sexually suggestive way.  Jesse does have a love interest, Lisa (Kim Myers), but his nightmares consistently get in the way of their relationship. Nothing Jesse does is heteronormative, right down to the way he dance-cleans his bedroom.

One night, Jesse sleepwalks to a BDSM bar (not called “gay” but the clientele and bartender are clearly coded as such) and encounters his sadistic gym teacher (Marshall Bell) in leather who orders him back to the gym to run as punishment for ordering a beer while underage.  The portrayal of the gym teacher is the classic “gay man as predator” trope.  While Jesse is in the shower, the gym teacher is attacked by balls thrown at his face, before he is bound by an errant jump rope, dragged and suspended nude in the shower, where he is the victim of particularly brutal towel snapping, before the steam clears and Freddy emerges from where Jesse just was, slashing the teacher to death.

Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge
Image Nightmare on Elm Street 2. Image Courtesy Shudder /

Lisa hosts a pool party that Jesse attends.  As he is kissing her in the cabana and things start to progress, Freddy takes over Jesse’s body again and he escapes to his antagonist turned best friend Grady’s (Robert Russler) bedroom.  He begs Grady to watch him sleep and wake him up if he sees anything strange, but of course, Grady doesn’t believe him, and as soon as he turns out the light, Freddy emerges from Jesse’s body and kills Grady (allegory for Jesse’s homosexual desire for Grady emerging as Freddy, but that desire must be destroyed).

Jesse returns to Lisa and comes out to her about everything he has done, but cannot control his fear which is Freddy’s fuel, and emerges as Freddy once again to torment and kill all of the hedonistic teenagers at the pool party.  Freddy disappears to the boiler room where Fred Krueger the pedophile and child killer (homosexual as predator much?) was killed, chased by Lisa who begs Jesse to fight Freddy.  Her declaration of love for Jesse and lack of fear of Freddy eventually give Jesse the strength to break free of Freddy’s control and become his safe heterosexual self.

The queer coding in A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge was intentional.

As Jesse realizes that he is slowly being possessed by Freddy, he says things like “He’s inside me!  He’s inside me and he wants to take me again!” The queer subtext of this, Jesse losing control of himself to disastrous effects, is Freddy as the embodiment of Jesse’s latent homosexuality (or bisexuality, depending who you ask).  The social commentary in A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge is that acting on suppressed homosexual desires leads to death.  Considering the movie was released in 1985 in the middle of the AIDS crisis with homosexuality being demonized at every turn, homosexuality DID equal death. Years later the writer admitted to the queer subtext saying he knew that playing on the fear adolescent boys had of being accused of being queer much less actually BEING queer would heighten the horror of the experience for them.  The director still claims he was unaware of the queer coding and shot the movie as written, but Robert Englund knew and said that he thought Mark Patton was out at the time (he wasn’t).

The Nightmare on Elm Street series has been embraced by those outside of mainstream culture.  Heather Langenkamp became an icon almost on par with Jaime Lee Curtis as final girls replaced the divas of earlier decades in gay culture.  The commentary A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge makes regarding homosexuality is a reflection of the fearmongering heralded by the AIDS epidemic.  The tropes of homosexual as predator and villain in addition to the message that homosexuality is dangerous and must be suppressed or destroyed are dangerous and scary messages.  And yet queer culture celebrates this movie; it has become revered gay cinema because at least it’s representation – especially rare in 1985.  But is representation worth celebrating at all costs?

Next. Pride: The Last Thing Mary Saw is the horror of lesbianism under Puritan patriarchal control. dark

What are your thoughts on the way homosexuality is represented in Freddy’s Revenge?  Should the movie be celebrated as a gay icon?  Sound off in the comments!