In 1985 New Line Cinema produced A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, taking a risky angle on the slasher that starred a ‘final boy’ possessed by the titular movie-monster. However, the gay subtext of the movie contributed to a negative public reception and the film tanked. More unfortunately, lead actor Mark Patton was gay… but wasn’t out at the time the film was released, so the role that was supposed to launch his career contributed to its end. He disappeared from Hollywood. Then fast forward to last year, when directors Roman Chimienti and Tyler Jensen along with Patton himself released Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street – a documentary exploring those buried tensions in the film within the context of ‘80s media, the slasher genre, and horror fandom at large.
I kept hearing about the documentary on the queer podcasts I follow, and that whetted my appetite. Obviously I’d missed a part of gay horror history, and that just wouldn’t do. So, for spooky month, I decided to tackle a double-feature of A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985) and Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street (2019)—for the education, for the culture!—but had an unexpectedly emotional experience in the process.
The original A Nightmare on Elm Street stands as a highlight of the slasher years, and its breakout success built New Line Cinema. Since that first movie in 1984, Freddy Kreuger has become a franchise icon—so when we talk about Nightmare 2, we’re not talking about a movie no one saw. It was a big deal, at a big moment, and that’s part of the genre background that Scream, Queen! explores in locales ranging from horror conventions to drag performances to Patton’s home in Mexico, melding archival footage with academic research on queer genre film and more. The result is a movie that’s both a study of a cultural moment and an intimate record of one man’s path through fame and out the other side… then back again, on his own terms, to a genre that still struggles with its homophobia. As Peaches Christ explains in the documentary’s introduction, “The mainstream public, they weren’t ready for a male scream queen. They couldn’t articulate it.”
Back when I was a semi-feral gay kid hunting the Blockbuster shelves for queer movies I might be able to sneak past parental inquest, I missed the memo about A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge. No one told me about the homoerotic tension, the nude butts and lingering shots of Jesse’s package in white briefs, or the steaming shower scene. If I’d known, I’d surely have snagged it—but I’m not sure what I’d have made of it then, as a teen in the early aughts. Objectively the pacing and narrative of the movie are a mess, and at that point I fancied myself a watcher with taste, but…
Seeing it last week for the first time, I’d agree the movie’s got heat, submerged and boiling. In Freddy’s Revenge, the logic-free terror of a nightmare—of being unsure where the real ends and the fantastic begins—meshes with the overwhelming pressure of burgeoning queer desire. Jesse Walsh spends most of the film tousling with other sweaty, handsome young men in front of the prurient gaze of the camera. When in a state of vulnerable, rumpled distress over being invaded by some uncontrollable man-monster attempting to “take him,” his retreat is to the leather bar where his coach is known to be a patron.
It doesn’t matter, on some level, that the plot of the film is about the love of a girl bringing him to his senses and defeating Freddy’s influence—ick, right? What matters to the queer watcher, the audiences of teens who caught their breath at the sight of Jesse’s petite butt bumping his dresser drawer closed, is the potential of being seen even if the thing inside you is monstrous or scary. The queer histories of the horror genre are long; Nightmare 2 is just one part of that legacy. Life is scary for queer people, after all. Like, some of the earliest memories I’ve got of understanding what it meant to be me are southern evangelical preachers shouting about hellfire and unsympathetic TV coverage of the AIDS epidemic. It wasn’t a fun time.
Then we jump from Freddy’s Revenge to Scream, Queen!, made thirty-four years after the original movie, which reframes the viewing experience in a broader cultural context.
On the one hand there’s this accidentally-campy, cult classic horror flick from a long-running, often silly series and the queer audience’s delight with the horny attention to young men’s bodies. On the other, there’s Mark Patton’s real life and the damage caused by the straight men running the production who claimed a stake in the movie’s queerness only once it, in recent years, became acceptable or cool. Patton is a far kinder man than I’d be in that closing interview with script writer David Chaskin, but he’s also older and has survived a fuck of a lot to get where he is.
And that brings me to the reason I ended up deep in my feelings watching the documentary, which is as much Patton’s memoir as it is an exploration of the movie and the corner of queer horror fandom that latched onto it. Though his co-stars speak on the record, only Robert Englund seems to truly get it—to understand the cost of a closeted young star being blamed for “ruining” the movie with his gayness as the writer and director backpedaled. The rest understand he’s been hurt, but can’t seem to see the reason he needs resolution for that decades later or what should even be apologized for.
It’s not hard to miss that none of them seem to have context for what the audience is shown on purpose: how queerness was treated in the 80s and 90s in Hollywood and what homophobia looks like. Chaskin, in fact, repeats his ‘well, no one told you to scream like a woman’ bluster on film. Scream, Queen! documents the creation, reception, fallout, and resurrection of Nightmare 2… but it simultaneously documents the experience of being a gay man in Hollywood in the 80s, as friends and lovers and colleagues died painful deaths while the world sat in judgement.
“We were free […] and then the check came,” Patton remembers. I wept through these sections of the film. I always do when I see old videos or hear stories from a world lost—I’m the right age and geographic location to have grown up in the shadow of a lost generation, the mentors and elders I’ll never know. It’s a cultural trauma that occurred alongside the rise of horror films and the religious conservative movement. This documentary illustrates the confluence so well, with contemporary speakers and archival footage, in a way I hope also speaks to fans of horror films who aren’t queer, who might not know or understand.
Patton is a holder of stories: how it was to be gay then, how he lived in public and private, how few men survived to tell the tale. Out of the public eye, Patton suffered the gamut of HIV/AIDS and related opportunistic infections—but he survived to film himself backstage wearing a glittering tiara a handful of years ago. Currently he tours speaking in part about his life as an HIV+ man, letting people know him and his story to raise awareness. Saving these personal histories on film seems especially important to me, given the upcoming generations of queer kids who don’t have a reliable connection to the past—but maybe could, through the context of this movie and its behind-the-scenes drama.
The documentary draws to a close on Patton speaking over intercut clips of protests and pride marches, demonstrations and police violence, civil disobedience and queers fighting for their rights. He says, “My generation’s gone. I have no friends my age. I want people to know their history. I want them to at least hear from somebody that the way the world is now, it wasn’t this way five minutes ago,” and finishes noting that he needs to keep telling these stories to remind us how much there is to fight for.
So I cried again, as you do. The horror double-feature I had lined up for a socially distant Friday night movie hang-out ended up giving me emotional whiplash instead—from Jesse’s jeans-clad butt to Patton’s heart-wrenching tale. But the documentary ends on a positive note, looking toward the future. Patton has adapted to and embraced the film that was once a brick tied to his ankle, and he’s lived through so much. All things considered, Scream, Queen! is a fascinating mashup of cultural history and memoir—one that I recommend checking out for a feeling of community during this most-isolated of spooky seasons.
Lee Mandelo is a writer, critic, and editor whose primary fields of interest are speculative fiction and queer literature, especially when the two coincide. They have two books out, Beyond Binary: Genderqueer and Sexually Fluid Speculative Fiction and We Wuz Pushed: On Joanna Russ and Radical Truth-telling, and in the past have edited for publications like Strange Horizons Magazine. Other work has been featured in magazines such as Stone Telling, Clarkesworld, Apex, and Ideomancer.