I have a very rare and unusual relationship to A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge. Long considered the gayest horror movie ever made, its homo panic subtext, which really just plays as text, feels unmistakable through a modern lens, but back then? It depends on who you ask. I should know. I was there.
For much of the 1980s, I worked in production on films, and New Line Cinema offered me a job on their rushed-out sequel to their instant horror classic about a man named Freddy Krueger who haunted people’s dreams. When I read David Chaskin’s script, I was floored by its depiction of a male scream queen named Jesse who freaks out whenever he gets intimate with a woman, races off to spend the night with his hot male best friend, experiences dreams set in leather bars and in the showers with his naked, tied up coach, pretty much invents twerking, and bemoans the fact that, “Something wants to get inside my body”. As played by Mark Patton, Jesse spoke for every queer kid who didn’t have the words to express his feelings. In 1985, when the film was made, few could articulate what seems so blatant now. Still, all it took was a sideways glance to other crew members as we watched Freddy caress Jesse’s face with his knifed glove to understand the film we had in store for an unsuspecting public.
Elm Street 2 derailed the promising career of Patton, sending him virtually off the grid for the past thirty plus years. Scream, Queen!, the new documentary by directors Roman Chimienti and Tyler Jensen, initially takes us on a deep dive into the homoeroticism embedded into the sequel. Had it stopped there, we would have had a delightful fan service documentary. We hear from its director Jack Sholder and cast who all had their own take on the material, enough to send you home chuckling knowingly at what you knew was there all along. The film instead wisely chooses to take a more global perspective as we take Patton’s journey from failure and resentment to finding his voice and giving birth to a strong, stirring activist for LGBTQ+ rights. Who knew he had THAT inside his body?!!
Patton, who had just triumphed on Broadway and on film with his performance in Come Back To The Five And Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, scored his first lead role with Elm Street 2, and clearly had the talent to go far. Unfortunately, his rise came during a particular time in Hollywood history when even the whiff of gayness could keep an actor from working. In auditions, such comments as “too soft” meant Casting Directors thought you were too gay to play straight. The implied message? Gay is bad. Gay doesn’t sell tickets. Get that gay away from me! It didn’t help that the AIDS crisis reared its ugly head, sending shockwaves of paranoia throughout the industry. Once the film came out, Mark couldn’t find much work, so he retreated from the business and moved to Mexico.
Unbeknownst to him, Elm Street 2 developed a cult following years later, with fans recognizing its unique place in horror history. Soon, Patton started making the rounds at horror conventions, which sent him on his quest to understand what happened and why. Scream, Queen! methodically takes us along with Mark as he meets fans, embraces his iconic dance in the film, thus learning how to laugh at himself. Some documentaries would end here as we look back with clear heads at something so absurd, but Chimienti and Jensen stand by Patton, who wants more answers. He seeks an apology from screenwriter Chaskin, who had put the blame squarely on Patton’s shoulders for anything and everything gay in the film. He suffers through some mansplaining by Jack Sholder, who thinks Mark should simply drop everything. Neither, however, come across as villainous. Both simply never had the tools or the awareness to examine themselves properly. Mark, steadfastly wants to better understand how homophobia ruins lives and how perceptions of masculinity and femininity create unreasonable gender norms. Once a closeted actor, Patton stands firmly out about his sexual orientation and his HIV+ status, and with zero fucks left to give, he won’t back down from people who tell him he has to just let it all go.
I also went on a similar journey with this film. Mark and I didn’t really get to know each other during production. He would barely make eye contact, perhaps afraid he’d be “seen”, or maybe he just had too much on his mind. We really didn’t strike up a friendship until we met again at a party in the late 1990s. He spoke of the inequities surrounding that film, and it brought back my own memories and feelings. About 5 years ago, I happened to be at a film festival in Savannah, Georgia, and ran into Bob Shaye, the film’s producer. I told him he wouldn’t remember me, but I had worked on his movie. He asked me to join him for drinks and couldn’t have been sweeter. My interactions with Mark gave me the courage to ask him why he and the other filmmakers had denied Elm Street 2 had any intentional homoerotic undertones when it was so obvious even at the time. He copped to it being a business decision. Laughing, he said, “And in that bar scene, I was wearing a harness from The Pleasure Chest!” I laughed along with him and thanked him for his candor. Mark, whose evolution we witness in the documentary, may have laughed too, but he would also likely have looked at Shaye, with all of the hurt three decades of outrage can muster, and said, “It affected me.”
Some moments in the film verge on narcissism, such as when Mark tells someone, “This is all about me”. For a moment, I thought he needed to take it easy as well. In sticking to his guns, however, Mark keeps refocusing the arguments so that, finally, people truly see him. By seeing him, they see us. Ultimately, it’s an amazing act of generosity, a gift he gives us by exposing us to his raw, true feelings. It moved me to tears. I didn’t think I’d get that from an exposé about a campy horror film.
Mark stands up for anyone who has been bullied, who has lost a job, or anyone who has been held back and learns to say, “No! Don’t tell me to get over it. It still matters. It still hurts. The only solution here is to apologize and be kind to me.” It’s through this process that we discover a man who brings more to the table now than he ever did before. He and his team have brought us an important, expansive documentary which finds an articulate, grown-up path forward for the LGBTQ+ community. What Mark Patton does from here, I suspect, will be more dream than nightmare.
GAY SCALE: For each review, I’ll rate the film on my 50 SHADES OF GAY SCALE to let you know how far it tips in our favor. Scream, Queen! gets a 50 out of 50. Duh! Every frame of this film is queer. Every. Single. Frame.
By Glenn Gaylord
Scream, Queen! My Nightmare On Elm Street screens tonight Saturday 20th July and Sunday 21st July at Outfest LGBTQ Film Festival Los Angeles and is making the rounds at film festivals worldwide.
For more on Scream Queen! head to the official website and social media for screenings and distribution announcements. It’s not to be missed.