A Nightmare On Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge (Jack Sholder, 1985)

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A Nightmare On Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge may not have much going for it at all, other than being perhaps the only ostensibly straight horror film gayer than The Lost Boys, but at least it has that, I suppose.

Indeed, sexuality is at the core of most responses to ANOES2. Long before the frankly annoying, bordering on genuinely offensive jokes about the Babadook and the new Pennywise being gay icons, people were already speculating on the perceived “fruitiness” of Freddy, particularly in relation to Jesse, the protagonist of ANOES2, sleepwalking away from his haplessly unfulfilled beard of a girlfriend to the bedroom of his boisterous classmate, and an encounter with his sadistic gym teacher in a leather bar. His gym teacher’s death includes being bound in a standing position and being nakedly towel-whipped, by the way.

However, any critical interpretation of
ANOES2 that reads Freddy as a homophobic portrayal of queer monstrosity (not that cinematic representations of queer monstrosity has ever been anything to which I’ve been remotely consistently opposed) is an oversimplification to the point of gross misrepresentation. The first ANOES reflected on traumatic neuroses of adolescence above all in relation to the sins-of-the-father (and, indeed, mother), commenting astutely to a level really only bested by IT on the parental negligence, if not total absence in one sense or another, integral to virtually every teen slasher ever made. ANOES2, by contrast, reflects the brutality of the closet for queer teens, trying to make it through high school.

In contrast to a great many horrors, in which the domesticated animals that suffer the most are typically pet cats, in this film we see the deaths – in fact, explosions, of birds and, later, fish. Animals that are caged, confined, one might suggest closeted. The death of Coach Schneider makes significant reference to BDSM at a time when it was almost exclusively associated with gay subculture, but decides to leave the gay bar, in favour of a high school changing room. By electing as a torture implement a wet towel over an actual whip, Freddy draws attention to the significant undertones of queer sexual frustration within so many horseplay and hazing rituals within male bonding contexts that always hole a volatile, violent potential. In such a way, a character who could have become a great confidante for the hero is instead the non-supernatural antagonist, until his death.

One of the most striking images from the original film was the phone receiver growing a tongue and freaking out not only the hero, Nancy, but everyone else in the audience. Similarly in ANOES2 Freddy’s tongue makes another appearance, flopping out of Jesse’s mouth as he makes out with Lisa. An exaggerated size, but also blue and flaccid, the tongue is no longer a simple phallic signifier of prurience, but of overcompensation. Freddy is absolutely throughout the film the manifestation of a deformed masculinity which, in the name of self-denial of genuine desires, acts out both destructively and self-destructively.

So, why am I only giving ANOES2 two and a half stars? Put most simply, it’s just not scary enough. Freddy’s apparent need for Jesse to kill for him in this film makes the entire process rather more mundane, and thus it doesn’t engage with nearly enough surrealism in the dream sequences, or blur the line between dream and reality to the same seamless extent as the first. If my interpretation of ANOES2 is correct, that Freddy’s power in this film stems first and foremost from the violent anguish of the closet, it stands to reason that his defeat should have been connected to a coming-out of one sort or another. Instead, Lisa kissing Freddy to turn him back into Jesse, freeing him from the clutches of evil via the assurance of heterosexual romance, is a significant let-down. Of course, the fact that he is revealed in the final sequence not to be defeated, after all, could imply a hammering-home of my interpretation but, considering ANOES‘ ending being stuck on at the last minute, contrary to Wes Craven’s wishes, to imply later sequels, it’s hard not to perceive ANOES2‘s in exactly the same way, rendering it largely worthless in terms of analysis.

ANOES2 is, ultimately, a less than successful horror in every aspect apart from its novel approach to representation of queer anxiety. This is, however, more than enough reason to watch it.

⭐⭐1/2

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Pariah (Dee Rees, 2011)

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Every time the LGBT+ film festivals come around, I tend to give something of a groan. Sure, there’s the occasional Tangerine, the occasional Tropical Malady, but the grand majority are always mumblecore-esque coming-of-age romantic drama snoozefests. So, I hadn’t really be in much of a hurry to check out Pariah – a coming-of-age (semi)-romantic drama – any time soon.

Pariah‘s story assuredly does not take us anywhere new: the same largely-uninitiated protagonist finding her feet, the same outgoing best friend who’s more interwoven with the community but is on a lower rung of society, the same repressive, shouty mother, the same kid sister, the same creative outlet, the same supportive teacher etc. However, adherence to generic conventions only limits a film’s originality on the level of narrative; Pariah still manages to win on all other counts. Indeed, I would have described any other film with so much that we have seen so many times before as cliché; thus Pariah existing in my mind as simply “a bit tropey” is, frankly, a feat in and of itself.

Pariah‘s highest achievement is assuredly its deft creation of a believable universe, using Brooklyn’s geography as a referential chart for the emotional topography, traversed by so many characters that, even when some of the younger stars’ acting is a little – and, I do stress, a little – patchy in places, all the other formal elements of Pariah align to bolster the actors into a compelling and distinctly real performance. That said, on a wider level, I can’t help but feel somewhat irked by the film’s promotion of an already very much extant suspicion of bisexual/non-monosexual queer orientation.

Pariah is by no stretch of the imagination a game-changer, but its mixture of attractive cinematography, uniformly impressive performances, great soundtrack and, yes, elevation of a young Black queer experience helps it play the game awfully well.

 

****

My 1st Draft to The Independent

So, I wrote an opinion piece for The Independent on the subject of Benedict Cumberbatch’s transphobic character seen in the trailer for Zoolander 2, and it was edited in such a way as to make me look considerably more liberal and much less decisively anti comparisons to “blackface” – I requested changes to these edits, and to the headline, but so far no joy. Here is my original piece.

 

Even as a transgender student of film, being asked to comment on ten seconds of a film trailer, no matter how offensive members of one’s community are finding it, is a bemusing task. As far as I can recall, the only reason I watched the stupid thing in the first place was on account of the complaints about Benedict Cumberbatch’s character, “All,” a transgender supermodel, who is asked, in particularly juvenile fashion, about the state of their genitalia.

Housekeeping: Cumberbatch’s performance is not the “modern equivalent of blackface.” To have a “modern equivalent” of anything requires the original comparative to be no longer extant and, aptly enough, the fashion industry bears witness on a regular basis to blackface being alive and well in the 21st century. A person of colour’s experience of racial oppression is not an academic reference point for white people’s experience of oppression. Last Friday, I read out the names of the 271 trans people reported to have been murdered in the past year, and the overwhelming majority were of colour. Experience of transphobia is often highly intersectional with experience of racism and I struggle to put my name to any campaign that conflates the two, as this boycott call has done. For want of a better term, the character All is “transface,” and that should be enough. I have no more disdain for what I’ve seen of Cumberbatch’s “transface” than I have for Leto’s or Redmayne’s. The latter performances were done to give cis actors Oscars, the former is done to give cis audiences yuks. I’m in favour of neither, and do bristle at any and all objectification of trans lives and bodies for cisgender purposes. It is undoubtedly an inherently transphobic tradition to render us solely figures of either comedy or tragedy for cisgender depiction and cisgender paycheques.

Honestly, from what little of All can be seen, as far as “comedy trannies” the depiction is an interesting one. There have been no apparent efforts to make All overtly masculine: no stubble, no bulges, no stumbling in heels. By making All seemingly non-binary (“All is all”), the filmmakers have given themselves, one might suggest, cynical wriggle-room to present a transgender character whose identity is simultaneously obscure and open to interpretation enough to be gendered or misgendered however the spectator sees fit. No doubt the response from those involved in Zoolander 2’s production will be that Stiller’s titular protagonist, and Wilson’s Hansel are renowned for their stupidity, thus their intrusive, crass line of questioning is indicative not of the team’s transphobia, but the opposite: they’re showing up Zoolander. I’m not unused to being treated like an idiot, so I can only be so offended by having that old chestnut thrown my way, once again. One cannot help but feel if the team were so invested in making any sort of point about transphobia (even one so banal as “don’t do it, kids”), they would have felt confident in hiring a transgender actor or model for the role – Andreja Pejić, perhaps– and writing Cumberbatch another part.
The biggest disappointment I felt was seeing Justin Theroux’s writer’s credit. It’s a shame to think that, whilst Louis was busy making a frankly pretty watchable documentary about transgender children, his cousin was busy writing outdated, unfunny “[insert trans character and reference their anatomy here]” jokes for cisgender posh boy actors to bore us playing in an unnecessary sequel for which few were clamouring. To be sure, the character of All is pretty grim but, more than anything else, it is a strong indicator of how the rest of the film is likely to go. I remember the Sin City sequel, nine long years after the distinctly okay original, and seeing it as a signifier of nothing other than the further deterioration of Frank Miller’s status as a writer and human being. Here comes Zoolander 2, a cool fourteen years after the first, trailer replete with Justin Bieber cameos, recycled transphobic material, and constant references to the jokes of the original (always a worrying indicator they have no confidence in the jokes of the sequel), my response to the call of a boycott is: wait, you were going to see it before?

In the Turn (Erica Tremblay, 2015)

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A deeply heartfelt, inspiring and funny documentary on the worldwide queer girl phenomenon that is the Vagine Regime roller derby collective and their efforts to get one bullied Canadian trans girl to derby camp in California, In the Turn is extremely well-executed for a film that feels so DIY in production. For the grand majority of the film, I had the impression that all participants were being portrayed in a way that was both respectful and true and I rarely felt in any way manipulated by the post-production to feel a particular way or see any forced narratives emerge in the editing room.

This is one of the few films I’ve seen – documentary or otherwise – that I felt treated the trans people in it well over 75% of the time. I recommend it to all.

****1/2