"We're still at war, Plissken. We need him alive."

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Scream, Queen! – My Nightmare On Elm Street

SCREAM, QUEEN!: MY NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET is a really good horror documentary. It may also be interesting to non-horror fans interested in the history of gay Hollywood in the ‘80s. It’s the story of Mark Patton, who played Jesse Walsh, the young protagonist of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2: FREDDY’S REVENGE in 1985. As he sees it, he was a hot young actor getting his big break as the lead in a highly-anticipated sequel, only to find that it had gay subtext in it that was dangerous to him as a closeted gay actor. His representation told him there was no way they could put him up for straight roles anymore, and he only did a CBS Schoolbreak Special and an episode of Hotel where he punched George Clooney before disappearing for almost 30 years. He says he decided to quit after he was cast as a gay character but asked to still pretend he was straight.

I didn’t know or understand any of that as a young horror fan in the ‘80s. I just knew part 2 was my least favorite. As the documentary says,  it was “not a fan favorite.” Jesse is a boy who moves into the house where Nancy lived in part 1, finds her previously unmentioned diary, starts to be haunted and then possessed by Freddy, who grows inside him and tears out of his skin. (The FX for that have always been amazing.) Then Freddy appears outside of dreams and attacks a fuckin teen pool party. At that time there were no instructions on how to make a Freddy sequel, so they just had to guess. Part 3 added the element of a group of misunderstood teens working together, being in dreams together, finding ways to fight back. It was so appealing it became the formula for three more movies, making 2 seem like it didn’t know what it was doing.

The beauty of that is that is that it was the only one that I didn’t watch a million times. Revisiting it decades later was great because there was so much I had no memory of. And sure enough, it’s true, Jesse’s S&M nightmares, transformation into Freddy and other elements clearly point to a young man struggling with his sexuality, making it completely unique in ‘80s horror. SCREAM QUEEN! does a great job of establishing the homophobic hostility of pop culture of the ’80s. A montage includes clips from Eddie Murphy’s DELIRIOUS, TEEN WOLF and ADVENTURES IN BABYSITTING. (It’s both a cheat and a horrible indictment of our culture that they include CAN’T HARDLY WAIT, which came out in 1998!)

But before they even get into that there’s a montage summing up the slasher craze and the concept of a “Scream Queen.” One of the movie’s big questions is whether part 2’s lack of popularity comes from the world not being ready for a male scream queen. It discusses Jesse “screaming like a girl,” and a goofy-as-shit scene where he plays music and dances alone in his bedroom (with particular emphasis on closing a drawer with a series of butt bumps).

An appalling collection of online comments proves that at least during the internet age (the CAN’T HARDLY WAIT era) many people were happy to say despicable things about “the gay Freddy movie.” If that was a factor in its unpopularity in the ’80s I didn’t pick up on it at all. One of the interviewees, the drag performer Peaches Christ, seems to agree – saying that fans “couldn’t articulate” what they didn’t like about it back then. Later Peaches and lesser known fans will give moving testimonials of what they did pick up on, and what it meant to them to see a horror protagonist feeling alone, outside and confused in ways that they could relate to.

But the doc is less about horror analysis than Patton’s personal story. After quitting acting he moved to Mexico, where he lived anonymously for decades. If he had any inkling he was a horror icon he didn’t do anything to take advantage of it. Even his husband didn’t know much about his acting career. He did his first retrospective interview after the makers of the great 2010 documentary NEVER SLEEP AGAIN: THE ELM STREET LEGACY hired a private investigator to find him. He was surprised anybody cared.

That documentary seems to have changed the trajectory of his life. As SCREAM, QUEEN! begins he’s on a tour of horror conventions and hosted screenings, now regular activities for him. He’s used his appearances to raise money for charities and awareness about HIV (of which he’s a survivor). He goes back to the beginning to tell his story of leaving Riverside, Missouri, moving to New York City, quickly getting into commercials for Big Red and Mountain Dew, then being directed by Robert Altman in first the play and then the movie COME BACK TO THE FIVE AND DIME, JIMMY DEAN, JIMMY DEAN. He’s already made a couple worshipful references to Cher before we realize he worked closely with her.

In addition to the ELM STREET experience, he talks about trying to work after the death of Rock Hudson, when shows started demanding blood tests of their casts because some actors thought HIV could be transferred from kissing. He talks about his relationship with Timothy Patrick Murphy (THE BUSHIDO BLADE), a huge star on Dallas at the time, also closeted, and soon to die from AIDS.

And then we’ve got these scenes with fans at screenings and conventions – a more well-traveled topic in horror docs, so I’m impressed that they don’t drag the movie down. We see regular stuff like some really great ELM-STREET-characters-besides-Freddy cosplay, or Patton greeting other actors who have become his friends on this circuit (he hugs Ari Lehman, who played young Jason Voorhees in FRIDAY THE 13TH). But Patton’s unusual status as a gay horror icon makes for more passionate than usual fan testimonials and more creative Q&As (re-enacting his dance, a drag Freddy tearing out of his fake stomach, etc.)

And it’s all leading to his first ever reunion with some of the other FREDDY’S REVENGE cast and director Jack Sholder. Seeing them approach each other for the first time is great, but even better is when they hang out in private that night. Most of them seem fairly unaware, but very sympathetic, about what Patton went through during and after filming. As in NEVER SLEEP AGAIN, Sholder says he was totally clueless about the subtext during filming. But Robert Rusler (who played Jesse’s best friend Ron) can’t believe it. “Stop playing dumb, Jack!” he says. “I knew during the first audition!”

Patton’s ELM STREET bitterness is entirely focused on the screenwriter, David Chaskin, who he says denied writing it as a gay movie for years, blaming it on an effeminate star, and only admits it now that society has come around to appreciating gay horror movies. Sholder seems a little confused about this beef, and tries to intervene, ultimately setting up a meeting between the two. I won’t tell you what happens, except that it gets very uncomfortable.

I remembered that section from NEVER SLEEP AGAIN different from how they describe it here, so I rewatched it afterwards. Feelings and memories change over time, and who knows how it was edited, but in that one Patton doesn’t seem to have any resentment about FREDDY’S REVENGE at all. The segment ends with him jollily saying, “The experience of making NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET was wonderful.” And in his interview Chaskin does say that the subtext was intentional (Patton makes a distinction that I don’t fully understand between saying it was subtext and saying it was text).

One thing about Sholder’s story seems to change: in the SCREAM, QUEEN! reunion he says he didn’t realize the bar they filmed in was a gay bar, but in the older interview he recounts a story about telling Bob Shaye “go to the gay bar” to film his cameo. So maybe Rusler is right that the director is playing dumb.

It was my fascination with Freddy that turned me into an incurable, Fangoria-reading horror fan, so the ELM STREET movies have a special place in my heart, even if I can’t claim as deep of a connection to them as some of these fans have with the character of Jesse. I think it’s cool that there are three really good documentaries about the series, all very different from each other. NEVER SLEEP AGAIN is the obsessively detailed, extremely long film-by-film dissection for superfans. I AM NANCY is Heather Langenkamp’s exploration of horror heroines overshadowed by the monsters they battle. This is another thing entirely, and possibly the best of the three.

SCREAM, QUEEN! is available on DVD or Prime video and came on Shudder recently for Pride month. There’s also a limited edition pink vinyl soundtrack!

This entry was posted on Tuesday, June 23rd, 2020 at 10:46 am and is filed under Documentary, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

18 Responses to “Scream, Queen! – My Nightmare On Elm Street”

  1. You saying it’s better than I AM NANCY has me even more excited to watch it. I loved that one and it legitimately made me rethink how I watch movies and how and why I sympathise with certain characters and others I do not.

  2. This was really good. The most interesting scene was the one where Jack Sholder tried to convince Patton to just get over it. To me, it was a perfect encapsulation of the problem with white armchair liberals. “Sure,” they say, “I admit there is an issue. But even though it affects you and not me, and even though I just became aware of it just now despite unwittingly being partially responsible for it, what’s really important is that you feel exactly as upset about it as I want you to. The real problem is you not letting it go, even though absolutely nothing has been done to fix the issue you’re upset about. This is really bumming me out and that is what is really at stake here. So do me a solid and just stop complaining, okay?” Sholder seems like a decent guy, which just makes his demonstration of the stultifying “civility above all” argument all the more on point. That scene gave me a lot to think about.

  3. I remember the opening scene of Part 2 with the bus as being really well done. Just had a look at that scene again for the first time in about 3 decades and my memory wasn’t playing tricks on me.

  4. This sounds pretty good. Surprisingly, I have not seen any of these documentaries. I am a Freddy head from way back. Saw every film since part 5 theatrically (part 5 when I was 12!), watched FREDDY’S NIGHTMARES religiously and even owned VHS tapes of that show, but the comic books, had the mask. The whole nine. If I’m being honest, I actually must have found a way to burn out, because I haven’t watched them as much in the last 15 years, except for maybe FVJ a couple times and then seeing ANOES theatrically on 35mm about a year ago — a cool experience, but it kind of confirmed that I’ve seen those original films about as much as I need to. Having said, I very much would like more of them, and I still think Robert Englund has got a few years left, but color me naive.

    Anyways, I never loved this one, but I also never caught the gay subtext as a kid. I always experienced mark more as nebbish and a bit of a dork, but I don’t think I found him to effeminate in a way that disturbed my fragile masculinity. I think I was too focused on his babe friend young hotter Meryl Streep.

    It’s cool how you point out that we can be anacrhonistically hard on these films, judging this one based on later canon/continuity/mythology. I liked that this one had a strange, humid, hazy, kind of illicit and sleazy, greasy feel. Like melting stuff and hot saunas and creeping around these hidden spots of this sleepy town in the middle of the night, and what if your teacher is not who you think. There was also this great creepy desolation when the bus drives off into nowhere and the earth starts cracking. Whereas the later sequels are a bit more glam and full of gimmicky characters and set pieces, this one is oddly a little more grounded and just kind of focused on this one kid’s extended fever dream. Also, as you point out, the effects are great. I think this is where Kevin Yagher takes over. I love the brain reveal scene, too.

    I don’t remember it as a great film in the series, but I remember it as an interesting take. This is one I may want to revisit again.

  5. This is a great doc. I saw it first at Salem Horror Fest last year with Mark Patton in attendance doing a Q&A. I don’t think this is a spoiler but Mark said straight up when asked about the scene with him and Sholder, “you notice he didn’t apologize, right?” Despite how civil the scene in the doc looks, it is lousy that all these years later the best the director can muster is “I’m sorry that you feel this way.”

  6. Thomas Caniglia

    June 24th, 2020 at 7:45 am

    There were always three things I remembered about this movie:
    1. That Patton got split in half when Freddy exits his body, and his dad holding the top half. This was genuinely horrifying to me, and even though I watched the movie again a couple of years ago, I’m still not clear on how the character lived after that point. Maybe it was in a nightmare sequence?

    2. At the time, I thought the redhead girlfriend was really hot.

    3. Freddy at the party when he stands over everyone and says “You are all my children now” with his arms outstretched. I thought that was a good line and an iconic image.

    When I saw it as a kid the subtext for Patton was lost on me. Even the gay bar just seemed to me like something out of a music video, but I did at least get that the Coach was gay. When I watched it again as an adult, I was baffled by how the movie just yadda-yadda-yaddas how Patton and the Coach go from the bar to the school, as if it were given that if you ran into a teacher at a weird bar full of people you would just end up going with them back to your school at night for a whippin’.

  7. I haven’t watched the doc, so I wanted to make sure I’m getting this. I know, I should watch it to clear things up, but I’m going to just ask anyway. I promise to watch it later. So, the screenwriter put in all this gay subtext. The director recognized it and went with it. The actor recognized it and went, “um, okay, I guess.” Then the writer and director denied any gay subtext, said it was all the actor’s fault for playing him gay and hung him out to dry. Now that the times have changed (sort of) the writer has finally fessed up, but the director still waffles. But my real question/concern is, who among these are actually gay? I know the actor is because Vern discusses that. I assume the writer is, because in the 80s I doubt a straight guy would purposefully write in the gay subtext. But, is the director? I’m only bringing it up, because I could kind of understand if they were all gay and didn’t want to fess up to it in the 80s. I’ve not lived as a gay man through a homophobic age and profession, so I don’t think I can judge, even if it was a dick move, both the hang him out to dry and then take so long to admit to it. But if the director is straight and is still waffling about it, then that’s another thing. Gaslighting this guy for 20 years is primo dick behavior.

  8. Oh, God, it’s more like 40 years, isn’t it? I keep forgetting how old I am.

  9. Everybody involved is straight except for Patton. The hetero screenwriter explains in the doc that he just thought the fear of coming out in a homophobic world would be a solid subtext for a horror movie, but he knew that if he told the higher ups they’d never let him get away with it. Then after the movie came out and some critics noticed the subtext, he feared getting punished for what could be seen as sabotaging New Line’s one and only cash cow, so he denied everything. He thought of it as just some funny sticking it to The Man, not realizing the effect it had on Patton’s career. I do believe that Sholder was too square to notice the gay stuff at the time. I buy that he thought setting the scene at the gay bar was just a funny prank to play on Bob Shaye, a notorious wannabe actor who cameoed in that scene, and not indicative of the subtext of the film. Even the shower scene could be taken as a slasher version of a standard locker room hazing scene you might find in any teen bro comedy. Directors tend to be a lot less hip than actors, so I believe that the cast (and makeup department, according to an anecdote Patton tells) easily saw what the movie was really about but kept it to themselves for fear of spoiling it. Englund in particular seemed to really lean into it and think it was a great idea. He is very clearly playing his scenes with Patton as a seduction. But then afterward everybody had to protect their investment so it was all laid at the feet of Patton, who never tried to play it gay but there was no other way to play what the script asked of him, so he got tagged as a gay actor and lost out on all mainstream roles.

    Hope this helps. You should probably still watch the doc though.

  10. Thanks, Majestyk. I will definitely watch it. I almost brought it up on my phone to watch here at work on the sly, but then decided I wanted to wait to give it my full attention. I can’t believe the writer was straight. I want to say that is so insensitive to think of it as a cool writing trick, but I’m sure he had no idea it would have the repercussions it did. I wonder how it would’ve turned out if the actor wasn’t gay himself. Wow, that’s some shitty luck.

  11. Thomas Caniglia

    June 24th, 2020 at 11:51 am

    I agree that Patton was not playing the character as gay. The script puts him in the situations, like getting perved on by the Coach and that awkward scene where the girl tries to seduce him while Freddy is taking over his body, but he was just playing the character as an 80’s kid.

  12. It is a very weird situation. When I first saw NEVER SLEEP AGAIN I thought the writer was gay himself, because he doesn’t explain his reasoning for it. And since Patton at that time doesn’t say anything about the movie hurting his career it comes across as a cool subversive thing that they did.

  13. Grimgrinningchris

    June 24th, 2020 at 1:06 pm

    I’ll be looking for this on Prime tonight. I felt so awful for Patton just after seeing his segments in NEVER SLEEP AGAIN. So despite the grief that Sholder has caused him and all the fallout, I am glad to know that he is connecting with fans now and that LGBTQ fans picked up on things over the years and found some strength from him and the movie.

    Also… GREAT FUCKING TITLE FOR THIS DOC!!! I mean, cmon!!!

    Also also… that goofy song in the room cleaning scene was re-recorded and was a HUGE radio, club and MTV hit for Cathy Dennis in the early 90s, so there’s that too…

    https://youtu.be/5xiwxfxVUZA

  14. This was good, if a little padded out. Probably most powerful for me was the way it took me a bit more inside one facet of the experience of being a young gay man in the 1980s and what an earthquake the AIDS crisis was, adding a serious moral panic on top of the already heaping anti-gay moralism that was present before and besides the added connection to AIDS.

    I thought it was helpful for Patton to be able to articulate how the film affected him and how the words of Sholder and especially Chaskin affected him. Interestingly, I think Chaskin ends up acquitting himself much better than Sholder — though Chaskin never actually says he’s sorry, what he says is something oddly in between a “sorry” and a “sorry, not sorry” … the old, “I’m sorry if you…” But Sholder completely minimizes Patton’s entire experience with it and then goes ahead and has a special morning 1:1 postmortem to straight-splain to Mark Patton why he’s making a big deal out of something that clearly is not a big deal. Wow, you hear so much about privilege, but this is one of the finer displays of heterosexual white male privilege I’ve witnessed captured on film. At least Chaskin listens to Patton without gaslighting him.

  15. Grimgrinningchris

    June 24th, 2020 at 8:51 pm

    Yeah, it’s fucked up that the guy that had been pointing fingers at Patton in interviews for decades at least listened and gave a half hearted apology… where the guy that I assume Patton held no real ill will towards all this time basically was a raging, dismissive, insensitive dick to his face.

    Great doc though… from several angles.

  16. Yup, this one is legit. Totally agree with Mr. M and Skani in regards to Chaskin.

  17. I watched this last night and liked it. Skani, I agree that it’s padded out. It definitely started to lag toward the end. Grimgrinningchris, it is an awesome title. It did a great job at driving home the fact that AIDS killed the gay movement and started driving actors back into the closet. I think I knew all of that, intellectually, but for some reason didn’t really connect emotionally to the idea of how fucked up and scary that was. I just saw the AIDS crisis for the terror of actual death more than what it did to stop the progress the gay community had been making.

    When Chaskin said, “The script didn’t say to scream like a woman.” Oof. I thought Patton was more gracious in accepting his non-apology and Sholder’s next morning lecture than he could’ve been. I’m glad he was able to get what he wanted out of it. It was interesting when he said no one was taking him aside and telling him to play it differently – not scream like that, not dance like that. I kind of thought that’s what a director was for. I know there are people who actually work in the industry that comment on here, so you’ll have to please excuse me for sounding like a dipshit in anything I’m about to say. I recently heard a podcast that had Fred Savage on it talking about his success at directing for TV. In it they were praising him for the fact that he doesn’t really give the actors direction on their acting choices. This surprised me because I thought that’s what directors were supposed to do. Maybe it’s just that actors don’t really like it? I mean, the director is responsible for the end result, so if an actor is giving a bad performance there must be something they do to fix that. It sounds like that’s something Patton would’ve welcomed. Maybe that’s down to his inexperience. And not just his. Sholder had only done one other movie and had to be feeling the pressure here. Either he was getting the performance out of Patton that he wanted or he didn’t notice. Neither speaks well of him. If he got the performance he wanted out of him and then threw him under the bus, he’s a raging asshole. I tend to think it’s the latter. Especially in consideration of him pulling Patton aside the next morning to lecture him about letting things go. I think he had time to think and was embarrassed at being forced to confront a situation that made him feel uncomfortable – his own oblivious privilege which contributed to hurting another person.

    As far as Patton’s acting career being sabotaged, I was thinking that he tried to continue working and couldn’t, so it was interesting to learn about all the other things going on in his life to drive him away. I think it was a perfect shit storm for him. It’s been years, possibly since it came out on video, since I’ve seen FREDDY’S REVENGE, but from the clips they show on this doc, I have my doubts he could’ve been the leading man, straight roles he wanted. I’m sure they were picking out the clips that showed him at his most effeminate, though. Maybe he would’ve been happy playing the character roles they were thinking he was good for. Maybe he’d improve his acting chops and get the parts he wanted. Who can say.

  18. Really engaging doc. I knew nothing about Patton’s personal life and how he saw REVENGE as ruinous to his career. Like Vern I thought of it as a sequel sort of weirdly divorced from the rest of the series, which like SEASON OF THE WITCH in the HALLOWEEN franchise I’d eventually come to appreciate.

    The whole thing reminded me of Oliver Sipple​, the decorated U.S. Marine and disabled Vietnam vet who most likely saved Gerald Ford’s life by grabbing would-be assassin Sara Jane Moore’s arm before she could fire a second shot at him. He was recognized as a hero, but Harvey Milk took the opportunity to out him publicly which Sipple later claimed was devastating to his private life (although he was active and well-known in the San Francisco gay community, his family didn’t even know). Apparently all the attention his outing brought to Sipple caused a severe mental and physical strain on him, to the point he would even express regret about grabbing Moore’s gun in the first place, and he collapsed into alcoholism and died at 47.

    So while Milk obviously had good intentions – to use Sipple as an example of how a gay man could do something heroic – it ended up that a very positive thing (preventing the death of a president, which…used to be a positive thing) ruined a man’s life. The filmmakers of SCREAM, QUEEN show how REVENGE continues to be a positive thing to many fans, but at the expense of Patton’s career and mental health. I was left hoping that the pain Patton suffered has been at least partially mended by seeing how much people love the film now.

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