From directors, Tyler Jensen and Roman Chimienti, comes a horror documentary that dismantles Freddy Krueger as the scariest thing of the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. No, Jensen and Chimienti have something else in mind. The homophobia running rampant in a conservative, 1980’s United States is, in fact, scarier than a fictional bad dream boogeyman. Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street puts focus on actor, Mark Patton, who suffered backlash from the Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985), also known to audiences and critics at the time, as the “gayest horror film ever made.”
For some background, Freddy’s Revenge revolves around teen, Jesse Walsh, who starts to suffer from nightmares involving the razor-clawed slasher villain. Played by Mark Patton, Jesse isn’t some macho jock. He’s rather timid, sometimes introverted, which only gets worse as Krueger terrorizes him. Jesse also screams in terror. Screams. He sneaks into a BDSM gay bar. He has a girlfriend but constantly seeks out his friend, Grady. If you couldn’t tell already, the homoeroticism isn’t subtext, it’s front and center, making the film very gay indeed. And at the time, as audiences and critics caught onto it, they completely disowned it or ultimately poked fun at it. The year of the film’s released, was 1985, which was still in the beginning of the AIDS epidemic that would continue for many more years and decimate the gay community, placing even more stigma upon them. With that in mind, the amount of ridicule and disdain due to the film’s queer themes, shouldn’t be much of a surprise sadly. The NOES franchise survived the criticism nonetheless, spitting out five more sequels in its original run, so the negative reaction didn’t bring the series to a halt. The same cannot be said for Patton’s career, who was closeted at the time.
Scream, Queen! finds Patton having long left Hollywood after the backlash, replacing the glamour of Tinseltown for a more isolated but quieter life in Mexico. Here, he’s found someone to love and seemingly found peace. Because of this, he had no way to know that as the years went by, the opinions of Freddy’s Revenge had changed drastically. Queer horror fans reclaimed it, reshaping Patton’s portrayal into iconic status. Patton and the world around him is explored, and under two hours, the film tackles quite a lot. Small town homophobia. Big city homophobia. AIDS scares. Sleazy tabloids seeking to “out” closeted celebs. While some topics are explored more successfully than others, the mere fact that the film presents them all, is captivating and important. In most mainstream horror content that tackles the 1980’s, the AIDS epidemic and panic is nonexistent. And when there’s homophobic slurs, they’re directed at straight characters as if they’re the real victims of homophobia. More times than not, queer characters are simply erased from the narrative. All is not lost however.
Take a look at It: Chapter One (2017) and Chapter Two (2019), which shifts the original timeline of Stephen King’s novel from the 1950’s to the 1980’s. In Chapter One, homophobia is simplified as insults thrown at our group of teen outcasts, the Losers’ Club. Chapter Two tries to correct this problem. In the opening scene, a gay hate crime shows that the town of Derry, even in present day, is still viciously hateful. The human residents are just as frightening as Pennywise, if not more so due to the fact that while child-eating clowns don’t exist, human monsters sure do. The film’s reveal that one of the Losers, Richie Tozier, is in fact closeted, is a creative decision that actually helps make the opening scene not become only a exploitative bit of violence. But it is odd that the most explicit example of queerness is found in that brutal hate crime, while a very subtle, quiet approach is put upon Richie. Then there’s Netflix’s Stranger Things, the most extreme example of 1980’s nostalgia, ranging from music cues, cinematography, actors and story influences. Like Derry, the small town of Hawkins has homophobia that is just as nasty, packaged once again as insults directed at straight characters. It isn’t until Season Three that the show finally introduces a queer character, the bored mall worker, Robin. With Season Four currently in production hiatus, it will be some time before we can see how the show includes her in the upcoming narrative. Here’s hoping Robin continues to be an exciting character to root for.
Directors Jensen and Chimienti introduce Carol J. Clover’s theory of the “final girl” to add another explanation for why the reaction was so bad back in 1985. The famous character trope of the “final girl,” predominantly found in the slasher genre, refers to the last character standing who is almost always a woman. She’s vulnerable but finds the strength to become the only true opponent to outmatch the villain. In Freddy’s Revenge, Jesse subverts what audiences had come to know, presenting a male character who’s vulnerable. Possibly too vulnerable. Remember how I mentioned he screams in terror and is no bicep-bulging jock? It would seem audiences and critics narrowed in on this, essentially viewing it as further evidence of the film being very gay.
But there’s a more personal conflict at play, namely the bad blood Patton has for Freddy’s Revenge script writer, David Chaskin. This is what Scream, Queen! builds up to, a confrontation of sorts between the two. After all, Chaskin is the very man who denied placing any queer themes into his screenplay, pushing the blame onto Patton’s acting. In Chaskin’s own words: “I never wrote he screams like a woman.” He kept up this denial through all these years, all the way until the film’s perception changed. Only then, Chaskin revealed that he knowingly made his story queer, that as a writer, he wanted to take the real life horrors he saw the gay community face and place it into the horror genre. In doing so, he simply saw it as entertainment, something to scare adolescent boys who watched. Ignorance is bliss, isn’t it? And when this confrontation finally comes, the outcome is frustrating.
One thing made clear in the end though, is that Mark Patton has finally made peace with his past. Finding closure has helped him open up about his own HIV positive status and become an advocate to bring awareness to the disease. And then like his fans, Patton has also reclaimed Jesse’s legacy in horror cinema. Seeing him embrace this all, is a well deserved resolution reaching way back to the original denouncement of Freddy’s Revenge. Patton’s pain and frustration was not only very personal but one many individuals from the gay community had to navigate in different ways, all in order to live as their authentic selves. Due to this, Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street makes for a powerful watch.