Throughout the slasher heyday of the seventies and eighties, three films of the era rose above the rest to become lucrative franchises: Halloween, Friday the 13th, and A Nightmare on Elm Street. All three have spawned several sequels, and round by round, I’ll examine each series’ parallel films and determine which one knocks the other two out. Whichever series has the most “points” at the end of the nine rounds wins. (Read Round 1 here.)
Round 2: Same Blonde, Different Hearse…
After the commercial success of Friday the 13th, a sequel was put into production immediately. It’s here that the rules of the slasher sequel were largely established: up the ante by giving the audience a revved up version of the original – even more gore and more scares. It’s what this series does best.
Not wanting to completely disregard the original’s heroine, but also not wanting to be bogged down by her storyline, Friday 2 wastes no time dispatching of Alice within the first few minutes. Just like that, the story resets and follows a new group of camp counselors lining up to be sliced and diced by Jason Voorhees, taking up the reins of his recently departed mother. At this early stage of the series, Jason wasn’t a hockey mask-clad zombie, he was just your average deformed killer living in the woods with a penchant for potato sacks. Since his mythology was still being molded, it helps punctuate the film with genuinely eerie moments. (“There’s someone else in the room!” immediately comes to mind.) With the addition of the sack over his head, Friday 2 was no longer confined exclusively to POV shots of the killer – a welcome change.
The scares rely heavily on loud music stings and very little on pacing and tension. The extremely clunky dialogue and the fact that none of these people really feel like camp counselors detract from the film (as much as poor character development can undermine a slasher film, that is). Even though this ending manages to top the original’s, it still feels like we’ve been here before. This sequel truly is the same thing, just different. Friday the 13th Part 2 knew what it was and brazenly gave the audience more of what made the first film a hit. However, the same unrestrained bloodlust that rocketed the series to success would also be its undoing.
Halloween 2 had all the elements to be a sequel worthy of its standard-setting predecessor. While not a completely novel concept, picking up directly after the original was, nevertheless, unorthodox. Sans John Carpenter directing, almost every member of the cast and crew of Halloween returned for this direct sequel three years later.
Throughout the series’ entirety, this is the lone sequel that manages to have the exact same tone and feel as the original. This is in no small part to Dean Cundey’s consistent and masterful cinematography. Lights and shadows fall on Haddonfield’s hospital exactly how they did on its suburban streets. Both Donald Pleasance (Dr. Loomis) and Jamie Lee Curtis (Laurie) reprise their iconic roles, but their talents are ultimately misused. Loomis’ diatribes about evil every twenty minutes feel more artificial than organic and Laurie is barely seen for the first two acts of the film. (The latter was an inevitable price to pay for the film’s very concept of taking place on the same night.)
As Friday the 13th Part 2 demonstrated, the landscape of the genre was consistently relying more and more on gore. Instead of recognizing the series’ other strengths, Halloween 2 (and John Carpenter himself) caved to the pressure. Whereas director Rick Rosenthal kept the violence very much confined to the shadows, Carpenter ordered reshoots to “intensify” the violent moments. The scares are indeed grislier (needles, anyone?) but since they occur more frequently to characters with which we spend little time, they’re far less effective.
The score was re-done by Carpenter and series newcomer (soon to be regular) Alan Howarth. At times, the theme is heavy handed and overly synthesized, but paired with The Chordettes’ “Mr. Sandman,” it saturates the film in a rich, dream-like haze. Laurie awakens for the third act only to face her living, ever-narrowing nightmare. The images of Michael crying blood, Loomis’ act of self-sacrifice and of Laurie staring into the foggy abyss make this one of the most satisfying and layered climaxes of any Halloween film. Unfortunately, the flimsy first two acts crumble under the weight of the third.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge is a true enigma. The film not only went in a vastly different direction than the original, it took on an extremely taboo subject for the time: homosexuality. It’s undeniably one of the most homoerotic horror films ever produced. The question of whether the filmmaker’s were ignorantly oblivious or purposefully subverting audience’s expectations remains to be answered.
The story follows high school student Jesse Walsh whose family moves into the, now infamous, Elm Street house. He’s a handsome young man who has a girlfriend and overbearing parents – all-American kid, right? Well, living at 1428 Elm means getting nightly visits from Freddy Krueger. This monster inside him regularly possesses Jesse to do queer things like sleep over at shirtless boys’ houses, visit S&M bars in the middle of the night, and wildly dance to girly pop music. (Actually, that last one, he does without Freddy’s help.)
One thing the filmmakers were definitely unaware of was Freddy’s emerging pop-star status. Fortunately for us, his one liners were still kept to a minimum. Because Freddy had yet to become the star of the series, Nightmare 2 was able to tell a unique story about a young man coming to terms with his inner demons that manifest themselves as Freddy. It’s as if this was a self-contained story that just happened to intersect with the Elm Street mythology. It’s as if this was a self-contained story that just happened to intersect with the Elm Street mythology Shouldn’t that be how most, if not all sequels function? This creative freedom which allowed for a great character struggle also led to the film’s main failure: a lack of diegetic boundaries. This may be a movie about dreams, but the world inside the film must nevertheless, have clear rules. When Freddy crosses over into the physical world and attacks a pool party, the film borders on ludicrous. It proves that your villain becomes infinitely less intimidating knocking over patio furniture when there are swimming trunk-clad teenagers towering over him. The film’s bookends also have little to do with the actual story and feel extremely derivative. Why is Jessie riding the bus in his dream when he has the “deadly dinosaur”? Lastly, where in the hell did those demon dogs come from?
When you cut to the bloody core of each of these sequels, Halloween 2 and Friday the 13th Part 2 look relatively formulaic when compared to the originality of A Nightmare on Elm Street 2. While Halloween 2 is a highly respectable sequel (and Friday 2 to a lesser degree), it still feels like the original just re-hashed with more violence whereas Nightmare 2 injects something completely fresh into the series. It manages to tell a story that is neither popular nor socially acceptable. That’s what horror can do with ease: show society’s dark underbelly and its deep-rooted fears. Halloween 2 and Friday 2 may have made us jump, but Nightmare 2 showed us what we’re afraid of.
WINNER: A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge
Coming soon… Round III: Breaking Boundaries (Halloween 3: Season of the Witch, A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors and Friday the 13th Part 3)