I make no secret of my interest in reading queer subtext into the horror genre, and for many like myself, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge is something like a Rosetta Stone that got us started. It’s a film that is rather explicitly queer, from the homoeroticism of Jesse’s and Freddy’s interactions, to the inclusion of an explicitly shown gay bar and a death scene modeled after BDSM, to the very obvious portrayal of Freddy as a monster within, trying to break out of a shy, effeminate teenage boy. The analytical side of my brain has pondered this movie for years, and I’ve eagerly anticipated Roman Chimienti’s and Tyler Jensen’s documentary on the subject, Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street, since its announcement. But sitting down to finally view the film, it wasn’t quite what I anticipated. It’s not a deep dive into the themes apparent in the writing and production of a cult queer film. It’s something much more human than that.
Scream, Queen! is really the story of Mark Patton, who played Jesse in Freddy’s Revenge and disappeared from the acting scene shortly thereafter. Yes, the documentary does get into the importance of Freddy’s Revenge to the queer community and points out why it resonates so specifically with gay men – as narrated by Welcome to Night Vale’s Cecil Baldwin, no less – but this is largely contextual for the story of a then-25-year-old man, gay and closeted in Hollywood and attempting to make it as a star. We follow Patton from his small-town upbringing to his fortuitous rise as an actor in commercials and on stage, and eventually he comes upon what was meant to be his big break in the sequel to A Nightmare on Elm Street, only to have the press’ attunement to the underlying gayness of the film push him right back out of the limelight at the height of the AIDS crisis.
The documentary frames this by following Patton in the present day, traveling the convention circuit and acting as an advocate for gay rights by sharing his story about being gay, an HIV positive survivor, and a cult icon. Through interviews with Patton, we’re shown the life of a man who spent many of his younger days fearful and conflicted as an epidemic eradicated his social circle and left him, in a very literal sense, as a final boy. Wrapped up in his feelings of betrayal and loneliness, Patton is shown to be a vulnerable and hurt man who has spent his entire life pushing past his traumas, and through this, he becomes a powerful figure around which to center a story of reclamation and empowerment.
Chimienti and Jensen don’t leave the rest of Freddy’s Revenge’s cast by the wayside, as most of the recognizable players are interviewed in connection to a cast reunion about both Mark and the film, but the documentarians primarily focus on director Jack Sholder and screenwriter David Chaskin as points of creative drive behind the project. Sholder professes self-contradictory denials over whether he recognized his own film’s queer subtext at the time, creating friction even in his professed allyship. But Chaskin is even more of an enigma, as he remains the focal point of Patton’s ire for denying the film’s queerness for years and crediting Patton with the obviousness of the subtext, only until social acceptance of the gay community grew and tides turned in favor of the film’s cult status. The two men haven't spoken since the making of the film, and this makes Chaskin a monolith of animosity in Patton's mind. This builds to a confrontation between Patton and Chaskin that is not only shocking in its emotional complexity and nuance, but Chimienti and Jensen give you just enough leeway to draw some conclusions for yourself about the parties involved.
Scream, Queen! is not a making-of story. David Chaskin has been the subject of numerous interviews of the years, and queer analyses of Freddy’s Revenge have populated the pages of horror and film publications for almost as long as the film itself has existed. Mark Patton, though, hasn't been much in the spotlight until now, and it’s enthralling to see his story finally told in a comprehensive, holistic way. Scream, Queen! wasn’t quite the film I was expecting, but it’s the film I ended up needing.