Freddy Krueger is as much a therapist as a bogeyman. Think about it: He digs inside people's heads, explores their dreams and forces them to face their worst fears. In 1985's A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge, he brings an unexpected issue to the front of the central character's mind — repressed homosexuality.
The film is playing this Friday night at IU Cinema as part of its "Queer Disorientations" series, which "brings together an eclectic range of films that deal with questions of gender and sexuality in inventive, challenging and often unlikely ways.".
"For those who have seen it, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 seems like an easy fit — it's remembered as the so-called 'gay film' in the franchise," said Alex Svensson, a Ph.D. candidate in Cinema and Media Studies in The Media School at IU.
In presenting the film, Svensson wants to move past the obvious — the fact that, unlike most teen slasher flicks, this one revolves around a young man leaning on other men for comfort as he's terrorized by a crazed killer. Jesse (Mark Patton) essentially takes on the same sort of role as Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween or Neve Campbell in Scream.
"I am called a scream queen now always in the most endearing way," Patton told NUVO. But his character ultimately transcends that title.
"While I agree that Jesse certainly stands out in the film as a male lead, it seems reductive to just think of him taking on the role of the 'final girl' — a simple swap — as making the film suddenly queer. That binary is too sharp, the equation too easy," Svensson said.
Unlike the seemingly invincible heroes in the slasher genre and beyond, Jesse challenges viewers to question the mainstream image of masculinity.
"I think my performance intimidated a lot of guys because I break the cardinal rules of traditional manhood in film," said Patton. "I'm vulnerable, weak and terrified at times — and I scream in a way that people would actually scream if they were about to have their eyes carved out!"
It may be discussed more often, but A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 isn't the only film in the franchise with provocative characters and subversive moments.
"Why is it that this film stands out, when arguably the entirety of the series — and really the horror genre writ large — can be considered as having queer characters, moments and sensibilities?" Svensson said. "Horror is all about boundary blurring, identity breakdown and finding pleasure in perhaps unexpected images."
Like the best horror films, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 holds a funhouse mirror up to everyday life. That's evident in the film's otherworldly imagery, which paints sex as a nightmare. As Jesse tries to be intimate with his girlfriend, he loses control of his limbs and morphs into a monster. It's a surreal representation of his struggle with sexual identity. As the film goes on, he begins to feel possessed, as if there is a dangerous force inside of him trying to break out — a heightened suggestion of his closeted homosexuality. The film is ultimately an exploration of the homophobia that spread across the nation in the '80s amid the AIDS epidemic.
"Homophobia was skyrocketing and I began to think about our core audience — adolescent boys — and how all of this stuff might be trickling down into their psyches," screenwriter David Chaskin explained in an interview with BuzzFeed. "My thought was that tapping into that angst would give an extra edge to the horror."
The film certainly succeeded in that regard, bending the genre in a way that continues to fascinate viewers and spark discussion of social issues.
"A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 turned out to be a very important film in the queer study syllabus at film schools around the world. I'm often asked to sit for dissertations and thesis interviews," Patton said. "I also take the opportunity of traveling the horror convention circuit to talk about bullying, homophobia and HIV."
Patton is currently working on a documentary that explores these topics through the lens of A Nightmare on Elm Street 2, proving that horror films can dig beneath the blood-splattered surface of the genre and explore real, raw issues.
"Mainstream, Hollywood-produced horror remains quite heteronormative, at least on its immediate surface," Svensson said. "This is part of the reason why Nightmare 2 remains essential for instruction and for igniting conversation — not just about horror's recent past but where it can still go."