In 1985, 25-year-old actor Mark Patton got the biggest break of his career when he snagged a starring role in A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, the sequel to the smash hit horror film that introduced the iconic character Freddy Krueger.
Little did Patton know that the gig would essentially end his career and redefine the rest of his life. His travails are engrossingly chronicled in Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street, Roman Chimienti and Tyler Jensen’s documentary revolving around what has been described as “the gayest horror movie ever made.”
The title is a riff on the classic archetype of the scream queen, referring to actresses with strong associations with horror films. Patton, who was closeted when he starred in the film, ironically earned the title himself with his flamboyant performance as Jesse Walsh, a teenager who becomes victimized by the clawed glove-wearing character played by Robert Englund. The sequel, widely derided at the time but which has now become a cult favorite, was notable for its not-so-hidden gay subtext. At a screening for appreciative fans shown in the documentary, the host introduces the film by saying, “This is the gayest film! It makes Priscilla, Queen of the Desert look like a staunch Republican film.”
The documentary begins with a brief history of slasher movies, which achieved their widest popularity in the ’70s and ’80s, fueled in no small part by the VHS boom. It then moves on to profile Patton, then a fresh-faced, handsome young actor whose career quickly accelerated after he moved to New York City in 1982. He soon scored appearances in national commercials, and got his big break when he was tapped for a role in the Broadway play Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, directed by Robert Altman and starring Cher, Sandy Dennis and Karen Black. Patton repeated his role in the subsequent film version.
He moved to Hollywood, where he entered into a relationship with successful television actor Timothy Patrick Murphy, then appearing regularly on Dallas. Patton was cast in Freddy’s Revenge, which, apparently unbeknownst to its director Jack Sholder, was infused with homoerotic subtext by screenwriter David Chaskin. The film includes a sequence in a gay bar, frequent male nudity, a bare-assed spanking and a scene in which Freddy Krueger caresses Jesse’s face before sticking a clawed finger in his mouth. Also notable was Patton’s derriere-shaking solo dance, and his high-pitched scream that sounded particularly girlish. (About the latter, Chaskin acerbically comments, “I never wrote ‘He screams like a woman.'”) As one fan puts it, “There was a lot of gay in that movie.”
Patton was traumatized by the negative reactions to the film and his performance. His personal life was even worse; Murphy, his partner, died of AIDS in 1988, and Patton was diagnosed as HIV-positive and came down with tuberculosis. He left Hollywood and moved to Mexico, opening a small souvenir shop and essentially going into hiding. “I had made myself unfindable,” he comments. “I was living off the grid.”
That lasted until 2010, when he agreed to participate in a 2010 documentary, Never Sleep Again, about the Nightmare on Elm Street series. In 2015 he toured the country in a series of fan events, for both financial reasons and a strong desire to come to terms with his legacy and procure an apology from Chaskin, who by that point was acknowledging the film’s gay subtext but complaining that it had been magnified by Patton’s performance.
While the documentary focuses on Patton, whose wounded air of emotional vulnerability provides much pathos to the proceedings, it also includes comments from director Sholder, who at one point brusquely tells Patton that he needs to “let it go,” and several of his co-stars, including Englund, who admits that he was aware of the homoerotic elements while shooting the movie.
Patton reaches a catharsis of sorts in one of the documentary’s most powerful sequences, in which he finally gets the sit-down with Chaskin that he had desperately desired for decades. During the on-camera therapy session, Chaskin initially proves defensive but eventually winds up listening to Patton’s point of view as the two men achieve a rapprochement.
Scream, Queen! feels a bit self-indulgent at times, exploring so many tangents that it tends to lose focus. Nonetheless, it’s a fascinating sociological examination of the circumstances surrounding a film that inadvertently became a camp classic. The documentary also proves inspiring, since Patton has largely overcome his demons and come to embrace his reputation, even happily re-creating his exuberant dance from the film in front of adoring fans. His nightmare has become a feel-good tale.
Production: The End Productions
Distributor: Virgil Films
Directors: Roman Chimienti, Tyler Jensen
Producers: Mark Patton, Roman Chimienti
Executive producer: Matthew Chojnacki
Directors of photography: Julian Bernstein, Amber Gray, Tyler Jensen, Sasha Landskov, Mark Zemel
Editor: Tyler Jensen
Composer: Alexander Taylor