NOT FALLING ASLEEP WON'T SAVE YOU
October 10, 2019 | Nonfiction
I see so manifestly that there are no certain indications by which we may clearly distinguish wakefulness from sleep that I am lost in astonishment. And my astonishment is such that it is almost capable of persuading me that I now dream.
—René Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy, 1641.
Throughout our whole sleeping state we know just as certainly that we are dreaming as we know that we are sleeping.
—Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams, 1899.
I grab the guy in my dream. You see me struggling so you wake me up. We both come out, you whack the fucker, and we got him.
—Nancy Thompson, A Nightmare on Elm Street, 1984.
There's got to be a reasonable explanation. I mean, animals don’t just explode into flames for no reason. Do they?
—Ken Walsh, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, 1985.
It is a tired cliché—dead tired—to describe a film as "dream-like." The word has surely described as many films as back-of-the-DVD banter like "roller coaster" and "action-packed" have, and to that end, I worry that the constant comparison of the most mildly fantastic films to dreams has cheapened either our capacity to dream, our capacity to make films resemble dreams, or both. It’s become a hollow phrase.
Yet the topic of today is dreams and films, in fact two horror films, a genre dissected to death by oneirics for being not just a dream, but (gasp) a nightmare! We usually don’t want to have or particularly enjoy nightmares in real life, but it’s according to Bruce Kawin that "one goes to the horror film in order to have a nightmare" (4), and at least for today and our purposes, that comparison will be useful. It would be quite hard to discuss A Nightmare on Elm Street without it.
As articulated by writer and director Wes Craven in his other, later mega-hit Scream, slasher films usually operate on a certain set of "rules," e.g. "don’t say you’ll be right back, or you won’t be right back." A Nightmare on Elm Street, released in 1984, was no exception and its supernatural elements were guided by an inventive but rigid premise: Freddy Krueger, the film’s villain, could only kill you in your dreams. The tension came from the characters trying to keep themselves awake, and from the knowledge that if they did fall asleep, Freddy could get them at any moment. As familiar as it is now, however, this rule is only obvious in retrospect.
A Nightmare on Elm Street was conceived as a singular film by Craven, but New Line Cinema requested a revised ending that wouldn't close the book on a sequel. That sequel, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, would arrive the next year from writer David Chaskin and director Jack Sholder, the new stewards of Elm Street's "rules" in a film without Craven's involvement. But if these "rules" were only one film and one year old, were they really "rules" or just...suggestions? The precedent was weak and no one was thinking very far into the future, or at least any farther than the box office. So Chaskin and Sholder made some changes.
Freddy stalked an entire street of sleeping children in the first film but only haunts one, Jesse Walsh, in Freddy’s Revenge. Additionally, and of interest to this essay, this second round of horror isn't so restricted to distinct "dream sequences." The Nightmare franchise would gradually commit more and more to spectacle in its eponymous nightmare seqeuences, but the Freddy's Revenge—which only needed to follow its single predecessor—injected its horror into more mundane and ambiguous scenarios than sleep, destabilizing Jesse's perception with "strange occurrences" in situations where he's seemingly awake. This essay examines the execution of this pervasive air of uncertainty, an air that affects both Jesse and the audience, in three parts. The first part will be an introduction to oneiric theories of film that are most applicable to analyzing the Nightmare franchise, the second part will briefly consider the dream sequence as a trope and the rules that can differentiate dreams from "strange occurrences," and finally there will be a discrete breakdown of how the first two Nightmare films juxtapose these concepts to opacify reality. Ultimately, what will be argued is that the sequel’s failure to adhere to as strict or consistent of a ruleset as its predecessor makes it more holistically weird, eerie, and—oh, dare I say it!—dream-like of a film.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge.
A cliché is made by usage, not inaccuracy, so if a film is truly dream-like, how is it so? There are various strands of oneiric film theories that seek to unravel these similarities in form and function; one theorist, Robert T. Eberwein, writes that in a dream-like state of viewership, "the screen seems to be a kind of extension of ourselves; we feel as if we have enclosed what we see in the private theater of our own minds" (23) and that "the overpowering images on the screen [can] make us feel the same kind of paralysis we know in nightmares" (3).
Film can also be constructed, not just viewed, in a dream-like way. The similarities between dreams and films may have been happy accidents at first, but as the language of film evolved, it ceased to be a coincidence and "the manipulation of these qualities [became] a specialized skill, applied with nice calculation" (Sutcliffe 108). Filmmakers can take familiar imagery or intuitive narratives and mystify them not just in the editing room, where the most obvious disruptions can be implemented, but at the very site of capture through a combination of direction, production design, and cinematographic decisions. A mundane chair, shot strangely, becomes a strange chair. Our minds, too, strangify the subjects of our dreams. Eberwein called the process that introduced incoherence to our dreams, that obscured and scrambled their meanings, "the dream-work" and theorized that it performed the following operations:
condensation, or the merging of persons and places; displacement, the shifting of psychic attention from important to apparently irrelevant or minor details; secondary revision, the means by which connections and structure are built into the disjointed memories of the dream; and considerations of representability, by which the abstract materials of the dream are given the form of pictoral language (12).
And arguably, there is no genre more prone to these manipulations than the horror film. Horror films have been "tied to nightmare and dream since the inception of the modern tradition [which makes] the resort to psychoanalysis unavoidable" (Carroll 17). And if these films are dreams/nightmares, a key difference between A Nightmare on Elm Street and Freddy’s Revenge can be demonstrated when looking at two different theories as to why, exactly, we even watch them. Why would we, if we have any kind of responsibility for what we watch, ever choose to experience a nightmare?
One theory suggests that we encounter horror fiction "to confront or learn to cope with fear in a safe environment" through which we can "learn to control our fear feelings and display mastery over our reactions to frightening stimuli…or when the challenge is overwhelming, to manage it by seeking comfort in peers" (Bantinaki 390). Taken literally, this is the plot A Nightmare on Elm Street; Nancy Thompson confronts Freddy Krueger at its climax to take back all the energy she ever gave him, vanquishing the villain. The notion that we can overcome an overwhelming challenge by "seeking comfort in peers" is a significant theme of the third and fourth installments as well, in which Freddy’s victims become "dream warriors" to fight back together. Yet another way to look at this theory is that we derive those pleasurable feelings of control, well, only if we can control it. If the horror is too strong, too overwhelming, then "we lose control of our bodies, our thoughts, and our reactions" (Bantinaki 390)—and this is, taken literally, the plot of Freddy’s Revenge, in which victim Jesse Walsh is gradually possessed and ultimately displaced completely by Freddy Krueger. One character, plagued by nightmares, overcomes them while the other is consumed by them. How our dreams can shape us and change us is entirely personal, variable, and subjective.
All of this said, there is still a significant gulf between the unintelligibility of our dreams and of mainstream movies. Only the most experimental or abstract films may faithfully emulate the unique incoherence of the dream-work, and maybe even they would still be limited by our waking imaginations. No matter how paralyzing or intense the average horror film gets, it is still "far more rationally ordered than [actual] nightmares" (Carroll 24). Slasher films especially tend to be formulaic, familiar, and easy to understand. When it comes to discussing film-as-a-dream, there is no better subject of scrutiny for this shortcoming than the "dream sequence," the depiction of a character’s dream in the diegesis.
Unlike the origins and purposes of our real dreams, the conventions of the dream sequence are very well-established. We may see a shot of the dreamer, asleep, then witness a fade or dissolve or pan to the dream itself which may or may not involve the sound of a harp’s glissando (Eberwein 53). There cannot ever be an objective dream sequence. There can be a "normal" dream sequence in which nothing abnormal seems to occur, but the dream sequence is the pinnacle of subjectivity. While a subjective camera can reveal what a character uniquely sees (or doesn’t see, or only thinks they see) in the waking world, the entire world of the dream sequence is subjective precisely because it cannot possibly be the entire world. It is a film that the character’s brain makes. All that we see is all there is, and our only perspective is that of the dreaming character. If a character falls asleep in bed and dreams that they are at the high school they attend while awake, we do not see them at the high school but a high school that is fabricated by their subconscious. The purpose of a dream sequence is not only to make us see what the dreamer sees, but feel what the dreamer feels (Eberwein 63).
This still holds true for "retroactive dreams," which are dream sequences that fail to properly introduce themselves and rudely begin unannounced. These stereotypically play out with the dreamer in a mundane situation, indistinguishable from a dream, until something weird happens. There is usually a climax of humiliation, terror, or excitement before the film suddenly cuts to the dreamer in the real world, and if it was a nightmare, they usually jolt up and scream. Retroactive dreams take from us "the ownership of our vision" (Eberwein 142); the subjectivity of a dream sequence has been applied without our knowledge or consent! The events that just occurred were not what really happened, they were what the dreamer dreamed happened, they owned the vision for that period. Still, all conventional dream sequences clearly designate when they have terminated, allowing the audience to "own" their vision again as the diegesis returns to the "real world." In this regard, A Nightmare on Elm Street is largely conventional. Freddy’s Revenge is not.
A Nightmare on Elm Street.
There are two contexts in which horror appears in the Nightmare franchise. First, there are the eponymous dream sequences that have made the franchise so famous. These nightmares follow a predictable pattern; we watch the teenager doze off (retroactive dreams will skip this step) and we share their trepidation as the dreamworld around them is suffused with "symbolic imagery, bodily distortions, impossible geographies, and relational rather than causal logic" (Benson-Allott 75). This would be eerie enough even if Freddy himself were not lurking in this off-kilter world—Freddy’s dominion is demonstrated with trick cinematography that resists consistency or continuity. He is "both everywhere and nowhere…which is depicted in one of Tina's dreams [in A Nightmare on Elm Street] when she is shown running from Freddy on the left side of the screen, only to run smack into him on the right side" (Kendrick 24).
However, even though the events of these dreams seem impossible, they are never inexplicable. When the nightmares begin, you always know who is responsible (Freddy) and how he’s doing it (he controls the dream world). The second context in which horror occurs in the franchise is when it is inexplicable—I call them "strange occurrences."
A strange occurrence may or may not be stylistically similar to a nightmare but it’s defined by being outside of a nightmare. There is no fade-in of a sleeper, no cut to them jolting awake—unlike a nightmare, a strange occurrence provides no certainty to the audience that what they just witnessed was of the dreamworld. This is similar to the distinction between the "unreal" and the "irreal" put forth by G.S. Evans. In the unreal, no matter how strange it seems, there is an internal consistency at work, an "alternative physics," that can be learned and accepted. The irreal, however, is unreliable and far more hostile to comprehension (Evans 153). Strange occurrences are irreal exceptions to the consistent, conventional, and clearly demarcated unreality of Nightmare films, which usually appear more frequently towards the end of the film as "the once-solid membrane separating dreams from reality becomes porous" (Kendrick 27). Therefore, these strange occurrences are essentially exceptions to the rules on which the films operate, the laws of its "alternative physics." I have deduced these rules to be as follows:
Rule one is that Freddy Krueger is a figure that appears in people’s dreams, and he cannot appear to them or affect them while they’re awake.
Rule two is that Freddy has a variety of supernatural powers in the dream world, such as "everywhere-ness," conjuration, and changing his appearance at will.
Rule three is that whenever Freddy is affecting a victim in a dream, they are affected in the same way in the real world, e.g. if Freddy claws someone’s body or clothing in their dream, claw marks will appear on their real body or clothes at the same time. There is some ambiguity to how literal this translation must be; in the first film, Rod is strangled by a bed sheet in the dream world, but physically he may have hung himself in a somnambular state.
Rule four is that objects grasped in the dream, such as Freddy’s hat or Freddy himself, can be pulled into the real world if the dreamer is holding them at the moment that they wake up.
Rule five is that while in the real world, Freddy seems extremely resilient—taking a beating from Nancy’s traps in the first film that would make the Wet Bandits blush—but either completely lacks or has far less supernatural power.
Rule six is that Freddy gains his power from the fear of his victims, which is why he is banished—at least from the real world—by Nancy "taking back every bit of energy" she gave him in the first film.
With these rules in mind, the purpose of the itemized analyses to follow isn't to explain away the mystique of A Nightmare on Elm Street or to punish it for its infractions. On the contrary, what makes the Nightmare franchise so receptive to a rules-based analysis is how explicit and consistent its original internal logic is, and what makes Freddy’s Revenge so unique in this franchise is that it is comparatively abundant with inconsistencies. These inconsistencies, these "strange occurrences," are the foundation of our upcoming comparison.
A Nightmare on Elm Street.
This analysis is primarily concerned with the events of the second film in the franchise because of its much more interesting distribution of nightmares to strange occurrences, but a quick overview of the original Nightmare on Elm Street is necessary for the sake of comparison and to serve as a model for what's to come. The horrors in the first film total thirteen, with certain sequences counting as both a nightmare and a strange occurrence when even the ambiguity is ambiguous:
Dream 1: Freddy stalks Tina in a boiler room, barely escaping.
Strange Occurrence 1: Three girls play jump rope outside the high school, singing about Freddy.
Dream 2: Tina is killed by Freddy, dragged to her bedroom ceiling and disemboweled.
Dream 3: Nancy falls asleep in class, burning her arm on a boiler pipe in the dream to wake up.
Dream 4: Nancy falls asleep in her bathtub, being pulled deep underwater by Freddy.
Dream 5: Nancy purposefully falls asleep to find Freddy and sees him with Rod at the police station.
Dream 6 / Strange Occurrence 2: Rod is killed by Freddy in an unseen nightmare, hanged in his cell.
Dream 7: Nancy encounters Freddy in an unseen nightmare at a sleep clinic, and she pulls his hat out of the dream and into the real world.
Strange Occurrence 3: Nancy, while seemingly awake, is taunted on the phone by Freddy. The phone rings even while unplugged and the receiver turns into Freddy’s mouth.
Dream 8: Glen is liquefied by Freddy in an unseen nightmare.
Dream 9: Nancy falls asleep to find Freddy and pulls him into the real world when she wakes up.
Strange Occurrence 4: Freddy escapes by pouncing onto Nancy’s mother. He vanishes under a sheet while her charred corpse descends into an abyss where her mattress used to be. The abyss then also vanishes.
Dream 10 / Strange Occurrence 5: Freddy reappears behind Nancy, but seems vanquished when she turns her back on him. She exits her mother’s bedroom at night and is suddenly exiting her front door during the day, and her dead mother and friends are alive again. She gets into a car with her friends, which is suddenly possessed by Freddy, and her mother is pulled back into the house by Freddy. The film promptly ends with a pan to the jump-roping girls from earlier.
In total, there are ten dreams and five strange occurrences in the first Nightmare film: a 2:1 ratio. The jump-roping girls constitute a strange occurrence because they appear while all of the characters are awake but seem to never be noticed. Rod’s death is a dream as well as a strange occurrence because of the ambiguity of how Freddy or Rod himself did the deed. In the last three strange occurrences, Freddy himself appears in the waking world and seems to be exerting supernatural power, which he should not have according to the internal logic of the film. The final scene renders almost the entire movie ambiguous (was it all a dream, or is Nancy trapped in some kind of perpetual nightmare?) but it’s a clumsy kind of ambiguity; this wasn’t Craven’s original ending, after all. Ultimately, the strange occurrences in A Nightmare on Elm Street break the film’s rules only timidly and briefly and the waking world is considered safe throughout the majority of the film.
Freddy’s Revenge would be far more bold. I am generous with calling certain scenes dreams as opposed to strange occurrences, as it mostly comes down to if I’m just more certain than uncertain that a particular sequence was a dream or not. This is a necessary concession because the film is far less bracketed than its predecessor, as we shall see point-by-point.
Dream 1: The film opens with protagonist Jesse Walsh getting on his bus to high school. The scene is extremely mundane until the bus veers off-road from suburbia into a vast desert and the bus driver turns into Freddy. This cold open is functionally similar to Tina’s nightmare from the first film, but this scene begins far more unassumingly. Tina’s nightmare began with horrific imagery; Jesse’s begins with no reason to put your guard up or doubt that it’s a regular morning. As Freddy lurches for Jesse, the nightmare ends and the film cuts to Jesse’s family in the kitchen hearing him scream from his bedroom upstairs.
Dream 2: Jesse is shown to be in bed, but not asleep. He walks down to the basement and has a face-to-face encounter with Freddy, who doesn’t attack him, but tries to convince him to submit to him. The nightmare ends with a cut to Jesse waking up and screaming.
Strange Occurrence 1: Jesse is falling asleep in class when a snake appears on his shoulder. Jesse notices the snake and wakes up screaming, but this isn’t a dream sequence—this is a real snake, ostensibly the class pet in the science room. His classmates laugh and his teacher scolds him for playing with the animals. It’s implied that his classmates retrieved the snake and placed it on him as a prank, but the actual retrieval is never shown, and is logistically ridiculous to think about given that the teacher was in the room and that Jesse is surrounded by other people. It would make more sense if it was a dream—but it wasn’t. Additionally, the previous dream sequences did not depict Jesse actually asleep before beginning, but this real occurrence did. Unlike the first A Nightmare on Elm Street, which reliably depicted its characters nodding off, Freddy’s Revenge is consistently hesitant to actually show Jesse completely asleep at all.
Dream 3: Jesse is shown tossing and turning in his bed (again, not fully asleep) when he notices that his room is starting to melt. He returns to the basement and encounters Freddy once more, who instructs him to find his claws. Jesse trips in fear but wakes up in the basement, Freddy’s claws in his hand.
Strange Occurrence 2: This is the first example in the film of a strange occurrence happening while all parties involved are undeniably awake. Jesse’s entire family is in the living room in the middle of the day, complaining about how the house is unusually hot—the heat being an omen of Freddy’s presence. Jesse’s mother places a sheet over two birds in a birdcage, only for violent shaking and screaming to come from under it. When the sheet is removed, it’s revealed that one bird has cannibalized the other and it escapes to attack the family before spontaneously exploding. The entire family is flabbergasted. Jesse’s father blames a gas leak.
Dream 4 / Strange Occurrence 3: This is the film’s single most infamously weird scene. We again see Jesse unable to sleep in his bed, so he rises, frustrated, and walks to his kitchen where lightning strikes an arrangement of drying dishes through the window. From this shot, we cut directly to Jesse walking through some kind of urban neon district in his pajamas, soaking wet from the rain—it wasn’t raining when he was in his kitchen and we don’t see how he got to this district and are given no indication as to where it is relative to his own suburban home. He enters an S&M bar and orders a beer, but his hand is stayed by his abusive gym teacher, Schneider, in full leather daddy garb. Another hard cut to Jesse’s high school, another obscuration of how they got there, and Schneider is making him run laps in the gym as punishment for underage drinking. After finally letting Jesse hit the showers, Schneider is suddenly attacked by animated sports equipment, dragged into the stalls by jump ropes, and whipped by possessed towels. Masked by the steam of the showers, Jesse transforms into Freddy for the first time, slicing his teacher to ribbons before transforming back—blood all over his body and the clawed gauntlet on his hand. Then there is a third and final inexplicable cut, back to Jesse’s house, where he is getting escorted home by the police who say that they found him "out on the highway, wandering around and naked." The next day Jesse arrives at school to find it locked down by police who have discovered Schneider’s mutilated body. My exhaustive recap of this incredible scene is necessary because each successive event makes the distinction between reality and dream less and less apparent—but more on that later on.
Dream 5: Jesse isn’t even tossing and turning anymore, just sitting in bed. He gets up to walk around and sees a girl jump-roping in slow-motion, reciting the Freddy Krueger nursery rhyme like the girls from the first film. Hard cut to...
Strange Occurrence 4: Jesse confronts his father about whether he knew about the killings on Elm Street before purchasing their home there. As they argue, the kitchen toaster bursts into flames—the father notes that it wasn’t even plugged in.
Strange Occurrence 5: The basement boiler roars to life with fire as the camera, in a POV shot (a rare example of prolonged "I-camera" in a Nightmare on Elm Street film) swoops upstairs to Jesse’s sister’s room. We hear Freddy’s voice say "wake up, little girl" as the POV breaks to reveal Jesse looming over his sister, the clawed gauntlet on his hand. Then, in his own voice, Jesse tells her to go back to sleep. The film cuts to Jesse downing wake-up pills and Coca-cola.
Strange Occurrence 6: Jesse and his girlfriend, Lisa, are consummating their sexual tension at a backyard pool party when Jesse’s tongue suddenly transforms into a long, gray, monstrous appendage. Perhaps he hallucinated it, because Lisa didn’t seem to notice—but it occurred while he was awake.
Dream 6 / Strange Occurrence 7: A panicked Jesse flees from Lisa’s party to his friend Grady’s house, begging him to let him stay the night and to watch him while he sleeps to make sure nothing happens. This is the first time in the film that we actually see Jesse fall into a deep, indisputable sleep. Grady eventually gives up watching, but the moment that Grady’s head hits the pillow, Jesse jolts awake and begins to painfully and excruciatingly transform into Freddy. Grady’s parents hear him screaming and run over to help, but the door to his room becomes inexplicably locked as Freddy emerges from Jesse’s body like a chrysalis and kills Grady. The camera sweeps to reveal Jesse, again covered in blood and again wearing the gauntlet, while Freddy laughs at him from a mirror where his reflection should be.
Strange Occurrence 8: All hell breaks loose at this point. Jesse returns to his girlfriend’s party as the entire locality of her house begins to spontaneously superheat itself. All of her house’s doors and windows, and the gates to her backyard, begin to lock as if manipulated by invisible hands. Unlike the excruciating transformation of before, Jesse suddenly transforms into Freddy, who vanishes from the house and bursts out of the ground in the backyard. He retains supernatural powers like pyromancy and "everywhere-ness" and kills several partygoers before walking through a wall, blood and fire in his wake.
Strange Occurrence 9: Jesse’s girlfriend follows Freddy to the power plant where he worked at in life and endures hallucinations and encounters with doll-faced dogs and a monstrous cat and rat before finding Freddy himself—vanquishing him with true love’s kiss to reveal Jesse again, covered in char beneath the burned-away baddie.
Dream 7 / Strange Occurrence 10: The final scene of the film parallels the first by again ending with an unresolved "nightmare." This time, it mirrors the first scene exactly, with Jesse nervously getting on his morning bus again until his friends convince him that "everything is all over." Freddy’s clawed hand promptly excavates itself from that friend’s chest cavity and the bus careens once again into the desert.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge.
Just from a glance at the lists above, one can see that Freddy’s Revenge not only has more strange occurrences than the first film, but more strange occurrences than it does dreams. These strange occurrences are also far more spread out than they are in the first film, and more still, they suffer more frequently from an extra layer of ambiguity where they aren’t even entirely distinguishable from dreams. It may not be accurate to imply that they can even be distinguished from each other at all—a more fruitful model might be trying to unravel what is real and what is dreamt from each other. The killing of Schneider, from start to finish, is relentlessly unclear. Did Jesse actually walk from his house to the leather bar, or was he transported there by his nightmare? Was Schneider really there, or was his presence dreamt by Jesse? And if Jesse dreamt every aspect of the sequence, how did Schneider actually die? His body is found at the high school the next morning precisely in the conditions that Jesse supposedly left him in—even if everything preceding the kill itself was unreal, what was Schneider doing there so late, what was Jesse doing there so late, and how did Jesse even get in? This multitude of questions that can’t be easily answered—not even with "Freddy did it"—just doesn’t arise for any scene in the original film, whose sole example of equally egregious inconsistency is maybeFreddy possessing Nancy’s phone. Freddy’s Revenge has several examples on that level, like the exploding toaster and the bird, which not only occur in the real world but with multiple waking witnesses!
When the weird or uncanny start to appear in conventional dream sequences, particularly those in A Nightmare on Elm Street, "the very fact that this border-crossing remains questionable for any length of time suggests just how thin the border really is" (Kendrick 27). However, the "length of time" in which reality is questionable in Freddy’s Revenge is virtually the whole movie; Jesse is rarely shown ever actually sleeping and eventually the film ceases to even show him waking up. Whereas the first film allows the nightmare to bleed into reality for a few crucial moments of excitement, the second film is the nightmare, not so much bleeding into but invading Jesse's reality. Waking life grows more and more nightmarish by the moment until the climax where Freddy literally bursts out of the earth, the subterranean/subconscious, to eviscerate a pool party’s worth of teenagers.
To reiterate Evans, the irreal can resemble a dream, but "the irreal work is not the relating of a dream that we might have had but rather the evoking of aspects of the dream-state within a work of art" (154, emphasis mine). A Nightmare on Elm Street is a drum-beat of dreams, related through sequences with clear beginnings and endings. Additionally, the ease with which one can understand the nature of these sequences inherently contradicts the irreal, in which "the story must be such that [it] cannot be satisfactorily reduced to one such interpretation" (Evans 156). Freddy’s Revenge is far more indeterminable. The difference between the two films, between dream sequences and "evoking of aspects of the dream-state," is the difference between a chocolate-chip cookie and a cookie with chocolate completely incorporated into its dough.
Yet, to conclude this application of Evans, one principle of his irreal is that "there can be no agent, whether it be human or some other consciousness, or the unconscious, that is seen to be causing the unusual events" (Evans 156). Freddy is quite literally causing the events in any given Nightmare on Elm Street film, but even in this regard, there is still ambiguity in Freddy’s Revenge. This ambiguity is the eerie, as described by Mark Fisher. According to Fisher, the eerie
concerns the unknown; when knowledge is achieved, the eerie disappears. It must be stressed that not all mysteries generate the eerie. There must also be a sense of alterity, a feeling that the enigma might involve forms of knowledge, subjectivity, and sensation that lie beyond common experience (62).
While still quite scary, the strict rules regarding waking/dreaming in the first film essentially obliterate the eerie. The second film clings to its ambiguity by never fully playing its hand, never fully revealing what Freddy is capable of, or whether he’s capable of it in any particular moment. Located within the eerie is the "central enigma" of agency—the thought of a deliberate agent, and whether that agent could be watching or lying in wait, is eerie (Fisher 63). This tension between what Freddy can do, will do, and is doing makes him less immediately understandable than the typical agent that would be disqualified from an irreal story. Consider once more the prolonged scene with Schneider—it is completely unknowable whether Jesse really went to a leather bar of his own volition, if he was guided there by Freddy, or if it was ever real at all. Freddy is an agent, yes, but his exact share of agency for the strange occurrences in Freddy’s Revenge is unanswerable.
The final principle of the eerie is that it "occurs either when there is something present where there should be nothing, or there is nothing present when there should be something" (Fisher 61). Freddy fulfills the former criterion as an intruder into people’s dreams—something (someone) present where there should be nothing (no one)—but his residency there is gradually accepted by both characters in and audiences of the franchise. If the first film had a mantra, "don’t fall asleep," which if obeyed could protect you, the second film demonstrates the helplessness concomitant with that mantra losing its power. In Freddy's Revenge, not falling asleep won't save you. This conceit is specific in that no future film would return to the concept with as much zealousness, but that specificity makes it even more eerie in retrospect. This is the one film in the franchise where Freddy doesn’t play by the rules and inverts his usual gimmick; Freddy isn’t failing to be absent in your dreams while asleep but failing to be absent in reality while awake. This inversion of established conventions, the promotion of strange occurrences over distinct and discrete dreams, and the ambiguous structure of Freddy’s Revenge is the foundation of the installment's horror, a horror uniquely amorphous and unimitated in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge.
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Kawin, Bruce F. "The Mummy’s Pool." Planks of Reason: Essays on the Horror Film (Revised Edition), edited by Barry Keith Grant and Christopher Sharrett. Scarecrow Press, 2004, pp. 3-20.
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