Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street. 2020. Directed by Roman Chimienti & Tyler Jensen.
Featuring Mark Patton, Robert Englund, Jack Sholder, David Chaskin, Robert Rusler, Marshall Bell, Kim Myers, & Clu Culager.
The End Productions
Unrated / 99 minutes
As someone who lived in the closet for the better part of 25 years and finally came out at 35, I can now openly, lovingly acknowledge the reason I originally gravitated so much towards A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge. When I was a young queer boy, two feet firmly planted in that closet, and I saw the sequel at 13 years old, I was shocked to the core. I recognised the queerness of the film, whether consciously or not. I understood the pain of hiding someone else inside me—someone clawing and tearing to get out—and the trauma it could cause; I wasn’t being visited by Freddy Krueger every night, but I could relate to the emotional terror. It resonated with me on a deep level, and the older I got, the more I felt I understood Mark Patton’s character Jesse Walsh.
Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street is an extraordinary, long overdue documentary that attempts to examine the initially negative reception towards A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge and how that ultimately affected Patton as an at the time closeted gay man, as well as how it affected his career. It also takes the time to explore the overall climate in America during the 1980s when it came to issues of homosexuality, going over the AIDS epidemic and Rock Hudson being outed in the press, all of which comes to bear on the Elm Street sequel and the trajectory of Patton’s career in its wake. The documentary does a stellar job of laying out the context for everything, but what it does best is get at the humanity of Patton through his interviews, and most specifically when he’s able to confront writer David Chaskin about things Chaskin has said—or refused to say—when asked about the “gay subtext” of the Elm Street sequel. If you have a heart, and you’re a lover of horror, you’ll come away from this film with a better understanding of Patton, of what it was like to be a gay actor (closeted or not) in the `80s, and hopefully of the second Elm Street film which is a powerful, significant work in the Golden Age of Horror.
Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street does its subject great service by trying to succinctly show the climate of 1980s America under Ronald Reagan, specifically during the AIDS epidemic. The most notable, significant event to the documentary, and Patton’s life in Hollywood, is Rock Hudson being outed as gay in the press and his death due to an AIDS-related illness. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge was released barely a month after Hudson died of AIDS, in the same year Hudson became one of the first celebrities to disclose an AIDS diagnosis. There was a backlash of homophobia in the film industry, even though many knew Hudson was gay, and even in audiences who somehow felt betrayed by Hudson. All this comes to bear on the Elm Street sequel, which came along at a time when American films were uneasy about openly depicting homosexuality in spite of the Motion Picture Production Code withering away in 1968; I’ll return to Hudson’s death and its effects on Hollywood shortly when I talk about Patton specifically.
People weren’t ready for a gay film in America. Certainly not a gay horror film.
A major part of the documentary is the question of, did they know it was a gay film or didn’t they? Robert Rusler, in perfectly put-on flamboyant fashion, says he knew just by reading the script. He was aware there were gay themes when he walked into the audition. And, to be honest, you’d have to be totally repressed to not read the homoeroticism and outright homosexuality on the page itself. Like he and some of the others in the documentary note, there’s a BDSM shower scene—with no women in sight—and there’s a scene that takes place in what is very obviously a gay club. Jack Scholder claims to not have realised the “gay subtext,” which is a frequently used term throughout the documentary; as one scholar mentions, at a certain point it “just becomes text” in a film as queer as A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge. The most hilarious part about Scholder—and I do believe he was oblivious to most, if not all of this—is that he actually picked out one of the most popular L.A. gay bars in the `80s at the time to use for the bar scene, though he’d scouted it at night and wasn’t aware of it being a gay bar at all. The icing on the cake in terms of the film’s queerness is that the writer himself, David Chaskin, has since admitted that he did write the gay themes in there. But that’s part of the problem here and it’s what the documentary really gets at in its third act. Chaskin, as a straight man, thought it was like a game for him to deny the homosexuality within the film, when, for Patton, there were incredibly real life consequences to that denial in the face of public backlash against the sequel.
More than all the ideas about homosexuality and Hollywood, and whether those involved in the Elm Street sequel realised its presence in the film, the documentary’s primary focus is how all this reflected on Patton’s life and career. There’s a deep heartache to Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street, first and foremost because it’s an exercise in tragedy to wonder what Patton’s career could’ve been had he not been so traumatised and downtrodden by his experience starring in the first Elm Street sequel. His trajectory in the industry started off brilliantly as he worked with greats like Robert Altman and Cher in his 1982 film debut, Come Back to the 5 & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, having previously been in the stage production earlier that same year. Though it also provided some foreshadowing regarding homophobia in Hollywood because Patton, whose character was a pre-transition teen transgender woman, was not allowed to do an interview with The Advocate, an LGBTQ2IA magazine (and the oldest of its kind in the United States).
Hudson’s outing in the press affected actors like Patton, who then had to negotiate a world in which the film industry determined how gay one could be, in their personal life and onscreen. This was compounded by Chaskin’s actions, too. Chaskin treated the homosexuality of A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge like a kind of thought experiment, and his refusal to admit to writing that into the screenplay—as well as blaming the gayness on Patton’s performance—had repercussions for Patton’s career. Due to the fact audiences, and the media, perceived Patton as “making the film gay,” Patton was then considered as someone who “can‘t play straight.” If Chaskin had admitted his intention to write homosexuality into the film then Patton wouldn’t have had to shoulder the weight of a story that was ahead of its time in its sexual politics.
n a sense, the first Elm Street sequel inadvertently forced Patton out of the closet because he was seen as the driving force behind the film’s queerness. That’s perhaps the biggest tragedy here, that Patton has never fully been in control of his own narrative all due to Chaskin’s frivolous attitude about the film’s themes. That’s also why it was nice to see Patton and Chaskin sit down together, and, like Mark says, he was able to actually talk, to let Chaskin know how he feels. It seems to have given him some modicum of peace; really all that matters in the end.
Queer Horror has become an official sub-genre unto itself nowadays with streaming services like Shudder leading the way by creating a section/space for it. More horror voices are being given the time of day now, whether it’s in written fiction or in cinema, and that only makes the entire genre richer. Those of us who’ve always loved A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge are finally seeing a little vindication as many fans are revisiting the sequel they initially passed off only to discover that, with new and more open eyes, they actually enjoy it more today than they did years ago. And of course not everybody will love it, which is just fine. But it’s nice that many horror lovers are willing to expand their mind and accept the queerness that’s been in many films, not only this one, throughout cinematic history.
Although I wish Mark Patton didn’t have to go through the trauma and tragedy he has, both in terms of A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge and also his personal life/health, his struggle and now his ability to tell his truth through this documentary will inspire—and has inspired—many young queer folks in the film industry, and simply young queers in general. He’s one of those trailblazers who didn’t get his due at the time in spite of his struggle and sacrifice. I only hope that, through the conventions and the good parts of the internet where his role in the first Elm Street sequel is celebrated, he feels the love many of us have for him, and the admiration we hold for him, our first male Scream Queen. When we look back on the struggle for LGBTQ2IA equality in the film industry in 50 years time, we’ll look back on many faces who were forced to act as the soldiers in the trenches fighting a bitter war (that hasn’t exactly ended), and one of those faces standing proudly out of the crowd will be Mark Patton. Long live Jesse Walsh! Long live gay horror!