While working my way through a DVD box set of the A Nightmare on Elm Street series a couple years ago, I was struck by how much overt gay content there is in the second installment, subtitled Freddy's Revenge. Not because there's anything wrong with that, but because you just didn't ordinarily see it in 1985, when the picture was released. This was, after all, the era where having a gay character as “comic relief” was about as much as you'd get from mainstream Hollywood. I am certainly not the only one to notice how strong the film is on that count, as it has become a much-discussed subject online. The documentary Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street dives into the meaning of it all through the eyes of the actor most impacted by the film and its legacy.
A little background is required. Wes Craven's original Nightmare had a female protagonist, Nancy (played by Heather Langenkamp). For the follow-up, the producers decided to flip the scenario, having a male teen take on the role of fighting Freddy Kruger. That character was Jesse Walsh, portrayed by Mark Patton. Jesse did all the things women were traditionally forced to do in horror films of that era. He got stalked by the villain. He saw those around him die. And, of course, he screamed.
There was also a scene in a gay bar, a nude shower sequence with S&M overtones, and a somewhat phallic dance that Jesse did in his bedroom. Through all these things, Freddy's Revenge torpedoed Patton's career. The actor, who was not out with his sexuality in the mid-'80s, tells his story on camera. He knew there was gay content in the movie, yet believes others have been disingenuous about it over the years. In particular, he holds resentment toward screenwriter David Chaskin, who spent the intervening years calling the gay content “subtext” in interviews and publicly claiming that Patton's own sexuality is what brought it to the forefront.
Scream, Queen! first gives a history of the film, then breaks down what it was like for Patton to be a closeted young actor in the 1980s. The overall homophobic attitude in Hollywood – where gay actors hid their sexuality so they could still get cast in major roles – is examined next, as is the impact of the AIDS crisis on America. That disease, along with the dangerous misconceptions about it, only served to further make the entertainment business slightly hostile to gay actors. If you were around at the time – as I was – there's not anything here you didn't already know, but it's well-covered and will be educational for viewers born after 1990.
The best part is the final section, in which Patton is reunited with Freddy's Revenge director Jack Sholder and several co-stars. They talk about Patton's feelings on the film, plus the way he thinks others have tried to brush off what's quite apparent up on the screen. Seeing everyone analyze this movie from more than thirty years ago is fascinating, especially since not all of them view it the same way. Sholder, in particular, seems like he's trying to straddle the line between sympathizing with Patton and dismissing the impact of his star's claims.
Then there's the climactic meeting between Patton and Chaskin – one the actor never thought would take place. What happens between the men is compelling, as Patton politely yet firmly lays out his grievances. Without revealing the outcome of their conversation, I will say that what transpires is an enlightening look at attitudes toward homosexuality in '80s movies, and how there can be pitfalls in writers casually using gay content as a hook in storytelling.
Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street works in large part because Patton is so candid in discussing his experiences, regarding both his life and his career. Directed by Roman Chimienti and Tyler Jensen, the documentary is valuable in how it uses Freddy's Revenge as a springboard to explore cinema's depictions of the gay community. Every horror buff should see this film.
out of four
Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street is unrated, but contains adult language and some violent clips from the Freddy Kruger movies. The running time is 1 hour and 39 minutes.