Originally reviewed out of Fantastic Fest 2019, Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street is now streaming on Shudder.
If you love Best Worst Movie, you must see Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street. Like the former, this showbiz doc is a spirited look back at a horror movie sequel with a checkered legacy. A Nightmare of Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge has long been mocked for its not-so-subtle queer subtext. But over the 30 years since its debut in 1985, this schlocky slasher has been embraced by a queer horror community who were elated to see themselves in the movies they adore. But beyond the exploration of Freddy’s Revenge’s journey from loathed to loved, Scream, Queen! reveals the long-hidden story of the film’s lost leading man, Mark Patton.
Directors Roman Chimienti and Tyler Jensen work closely with Patton, who was a 21-year-old up-and-coming actor in Los Angeles when he was cast to play the Final Boy of A Nightmare of Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge. At the time, Patton was living with his boyfriend, but was closeted. His agents were begging him to “play it straight” in his shot at the big time. Scream, Queen! offers thoughtful context on what led to that moment, which proved pivotal not just for Patton but for horror cinema.
In interviews, Patton generously takes us back to his childhood in Missouri, where he knew he was gay by age 4. “My dad didn’t understand me,” he recalls, “But he wouldn’t let anyone fuck with me.” In this rural small town, Patton didn’t feel shame about being gay, he felt “free,” adding, “My problem was just a problem of geography.” So, like many rural queer kids before and since, he ventured to New York. There, he found a community, got his start in acting, and made it to Broadway. With Cher! It’s like a dream come true! But when he went to Los Angeles, he had to be careful to hide his sexual orientation, because America was in the grip of the AIDs hysteria and choking homophobia. Pilot season auditions now involved witch-hunting blood tests. So, when Patton got the chance to be the lead in a hotly anticipated studio movie, he was elated. It wasn’t until they were partway through production that he recognized the queer subtext that threatened to out him in theaters nationwide.
Bucking convention, A Nightmare of Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge centered not on a plucky good girl, but on a nerdy, sensitive teen boy, who has a deep fear of sex. His girlfriend is ready. But every time Jesse (Patton) is in a sexual scenario, he feels something horrible inside: Freddy Krueger.
Screenwriter Dave Chaskin re-imagined this nightmare-lurking killer in a possession context. So Jesse’s body is taken over by Freddy, leading to cheeky lines like, “He’s inside of me! And he wants to take me again!” The film also involves a sequence at a gay bar, a BDSM shower scene, and much more male nudity than is common in horror movies. Then there’s the dance scene, where much attention is drawn to Patton’s thrusting hips and perky buns. “They wanted me to be Tom Cruise (in Risky Business,” Patton remembers, “And I was just not.”
While the cast and crew quibble over when they realized Freddy 2 was a queer movie, film critics were calling it out as soon as the movie opened. This reading has only grown in popularity over the decades. While it’s considered cool and subversive now, at the time this narrative threatened to kill Patton’s career. Matters only got worse when Chaskin blatantly denied that the homoerotic themes were in his script, putting the blame solely on Patton’s performance. In one of the more provocative moments of Scream, Queen!, Chaskin doubles down, insisting, “I never wrote, ‘He screams like a woman.’”
It’s fascinating to learn more about the history of A Nightmare of Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, which Chimienti and Jensen unveil with the verve of horror geeks giddy to share in their unearthed treasures. But what drives the film is Patton, who shares memories, photographs, journal entries, and the traumatic truth of what happened once Hollywood’s spotlight abandoned him. Patton is a natural storyteller, inviting us into his world with a warm smile and a playful turn of phrase—like calling himself the “Greta Garbo of horror.” It’s a delight to watch him interact with Freddy fans and reunite with his old castmates. But it’s not all fond memories and photo calls. And Patton is not always on. He shows a breathtaking vulnerability, the human behind the horror icon. And in doing so, he shows us how he went from movie hero to real-life hero.
I’d anticipated Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street to be an informative and entertaining journey through one of horror cinema’s most controversial titles. And it is absolutely. Chimienti and Jensen have created a celebration of A Nightmare of Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge that’s a must-see for slasher fans and queer horror lovers alike. What I hadn’t expected was just how heart-wrenching yet ultimately uplifting its arc on Patton would be. There’s a radiant humanity to this horror-doc that takes it from fascinating fun to truly stupendous. Because Patton bravely allows us into his darkest lows, we get to more fully experience the highs that follow. And the result is a journey that’s thrilling and tragic, joyful and horrific, but ultimately exhilarating.
Man, I want to go again. Right now.
Header Image Source: Fantastic Fest