A horror movie from the early 80’s may not seem like a likely choice for a discussion of sexuality, but when that movie is A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, it’s quite a different story.
Sex is a common element in horror movies; in fact it’s usually the main indicator of who’s going to die (sexually active people) and who’s going to live (virgins, or at least monogamous partners) but very rarely have horror movies explicitly depicted anything other than heterosexual relationships until recently. There have been exceptions, such as the cult classic Sleepaway Camp, but the second Nightmare film is probably one of the most mainstream horror films to have included not only homosexual subtext but also blatant, in-your-face homosexual text. Today I will discuss three of the main characters from the film: Coach Schneider, the Phys. Ed. teacher; Jesse, the lead; and Grady, the friend.
(WARNING: Under the cut is a lengthy and mildly NSFW article)
The only canonically gay character in the movie is Schneider. This character hangs out in S&M joints and is apparently more than a little interested in his students, as indicated by locker room chatter and the types of punishments he gives out for disrupting his classes (which are typically forms of public humiliation performed for his amusement). At one point in the film, he finds Jesse in a bar and as punishment takes him back to the school gym and makes him run laps while he stands and watches.
Even Schneider’s death scene is set up more like a scene from a BDSM porno rather than any kind of horror scene: The man is attacked by balls (I swear I’m not making this up), stripped naked, tied up in the shower, and whipped before finally getting killed, and the emphasis was definitely on the beating and humiliation, not the killing, in the scene. The kill happens in under eight seconds; the balling, stripping, tying, and beating go on for just over two minutes.
This depiction of older gay men preying on younger men is a really gross stereotype. This is the kind of representation that makes people say gay men can’t be Boy Scout leaders (because “gay” and “pedophile” are totally synonyms) and supports the idea that homosexuals are perverts. Gay people, just like straight people, run a wide gamut of personalities and while this may not be quite the same as the tired stereotypes of gay men being sissies and flighty it is still harmful and needs to be put to bed. Thankfully this is A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 and the gayness doesn’t stop there. We have some much more complex characterizations with the following two roles.
Our main character Jesse has been the subject of much scrutiny for his sexual orientation. When I discussed this film’s heroine a few months ago, I mentioned that Jesse fit the role of the “Final Girl” more closely than any other stock horror character and that his feminine characteristics have led to many fans suggesting that he is gay. Some viewers, including at least one of the film’s staffers, have gone so far as to say that the story of Freddy taking over Jesse’s body is a metaphor for Jesse’s struggle with his own homosexuality. A lot of this speculation comes from how easily Jesse exhibits what we typically think of as “gay” behavior. Take, for instance, his reaction to having his pants pulled down by Grady in Phys. Ed. He retaliates by quote-unquote “fighting” Grady, and this method of fighting consists of tackling Grady to the ground and then the two of them squirming around in each other’s arms while pulling at each other’s clothes.
Later, when Freddy starts getting stronger and manifests himself while Jesse and his girlfriend Lisa are getting hot and heavy in a cabana, he runs from his make-out session with Lisa to seek comfort from Grady. He also screams like a girl, dances to disco music, and cries a lot. Totally gay, right? Well, actually no, at least I don’t think so. When it comes down to it, being gay isn’t about how well you do or don’t fit into certain stereotypes (See: Straight Guys Don’t Do That!) it’s about having a preference for the same sex and honestly I see no evidence of that being the case for Jesse. He is close with Grady, yes, but his affection is clearly for Lisa and in the film’s climax it is their love that saves them. Just because he doesn’t exhibit traditional “straight guy” behavior doesn’t mean he isn’t straight.
I can’t say the same for good ol’ Grady, though.
This character is so clearly gay and so very in love with Jesse that if this movie had come out today I guarantee there would be Tumblrs, DeviantArts, and fanfiction circles dedicated to his tragic unrequited love for his best friend. For starters, in his first appearance in the film he pantses Jesse, as mentioned above, and later during their punishment from Coach Schneider he mentions that the coach likes “pretty boys like you”. Based on this introduction, one might assume that either the two boys are friends and like pranking each other, or Grady is the school bully giving the new guy a hard time. In the next scene, however, it’s revealed that Grady doesn’t know Jesse at all and just thought the best way to start a friendship with this pretty boy (his words, mind you, his words) was to yank down his pants and see what the guy had going on below the belt.
- Grady invites Jesse to go out and get a movie and some pizza with him to “maybe get things off your mind”
- Grady shows absolutely zero interest in the cute girl who’s obviously flirting with him and defiantly informs her that he will not be attending the party to which she’s implying an invitation
- Grady tries to convince Lisa that Jesse’s not worth dating and she’d be better off leaving him
- Grady makes the most wounded face ever when Jesse snaps at him (pictured above) and proceeds to storm off
- Grady still puts a hand on Jesse’s shoulder and leans in close to tell him “See you around, buddy”
Grady probably says less than five lines to anyone other than Jesse throughout the film and it can’t even be justified by saying that Jesse’s the main character so all of the secondary characters’ scenes revolve around him because Grady is the only one to whom this applies. Lisa is shown to have friends beside Jesse and she has scenes with them and scenes with her parents. Even third-tier characters like Jesse’s parents and Lisa’s friends have some brief interactions without the main cast’s inclusion. Grady’s scenes, however, all revolve around Jesse and how he goes back and forth between seeking his attention and pushing him away.
Pretty much everything about Grady’s interactions with Jesse screams “I’m feeling confusing things for this guy and I don’t know what to do about them!” His way of breaking the ice by sexually harassing the guy; his continued patterns of abuse/affection/ abuse/affection; and the fact that he is laser-focused on Jesse and Jesse alone for the duration of the movie all paint the picture of a very confused young man. If this story is about anyone coming to terms with his homosexuality it isn’t Jesse; it’s Grady.
I think this movie intentionally gave us a negative depiction of homosexuality in the character of Coach Schneider, but unintentionally made one of the most interesting and least stereotypical questioning characters with Grady. It’s probably very telling of the creators’ prejudices that the only character who is expressly gay is so repugnant, but I can’t help but find the more conflicted characters of Jesse and Grady to be part of the film’s saving grace and I really do believe that at least one person on the creative team must have known what they were doing when they were making this movie. Granted, when I watched it for the first time as a very sheltered middle schooler, everything I just discussed went clear over my head and I didn’t realize there was a single gay character in the whole movie, but I can’t believe that none of the adults involved in the making of this movie somehow managed to miss the homosexual content of their film, both the explicit and the implicit.
Either way, it definitely makes for an interesting watch if you’re looking for something to unpack.