A cornerstone within my belief system is the conviction that when one is wrong – when one has wronged another – one should confront that failing, apologize, learn from it, and, if possible, make amends. This seems straightforward enough, but confronting one’s own shortcomings is never pleasant, nor the reckoning easy. Thus, I’m not proud of it, but I will admit it: I used to laugh about how “gay” the film A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge is. My laughter was not of the truly belittling “he screams like a girl” variety; it was more on the order of appreciating the film for its camp value without thinking of the consequences (if any) that those involved in the film may have suffered. As I’m far from the only one to have been on this tip over the years, I thought that a bit of explanation might be in order for those of you just joining us on this topic.
First, some background: Wes Craven’s 1984 A Nightmare on Elm Street blazed a terrifying new trail in slasher film, introducing the world to Freddy Krueger, a boogeyman who would eventually join the Mount Rushmore of slasher villains alongside Jason Vorhees and Michael Meyers. Craven was not involved in the sequel, 1985’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, which was instead directed by Jack Sholder and written by David Chaskin. It was a box office success, racking up $30 million on a $3 million budget. This is despite the fact that the film deviated significantly from what would come to be known as the Nightmare formula. Instead, Freddy’s Revenge stars Mark Patton as its male lead – in itself an unusual choice for a slasher movie, in which the protagonists are typically female, thus the terms “final girl” and “scream queen.”
In fact, Mark Patton is sometimes referred to as “the first male scream queen,” which is not an inaccurate statement (if somewhat reductive), as Mark does fill the role traditionally occupied by a Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) or a Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis). In horror fandom, Freddy’s Revenge is often regarded as the weakest film of the series and is generally held in derision for its overtly homoerotic overtones and themes. I was a horror fan who enjoyed laughing at Freddy’s Revenge the way I would laugh at Hairspray or The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Little did I know that the hilarity surrounding Freddy’s Revenge had a dark side fit to live up to its claw-fingered villain.
Enter the excellent and fascinating documentary Scream Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street, which follows the film’s impact on the life of its lead actor, Mark Patton, who was, in 1985, a deeply closeted gay man trying to “play straight” in Hollywood, a task rendered difficult by his appearance in Freddy’s Revenge. I won’t spoil the twists and turns of the story in the documentary, but one of the film’s central messages is that the homophobic hilarity surrounding Freddy’s Revenge had a human cost. For Mark Patton, participating in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, which launched careers including Johnny Depp’s, essentially killed his Hollywood dreams.
Mark’s story, fortunately, has a happy ending – or, at any rate, an ending happier than it looked like it would be for decades. Even so, I can’t help but feel a twinge when I think of my own laughter at the homoerotic overtones of Freddy’s Revenge. I didn’t know that the project had taken a toll on anyone associated with it, but I did delight in introducing friends to “the gay Nightmare on Elm Street.” I never stopped to think what homoerotic themes – overt or covert – meant in 1985, a year in which Reagan was in the White House, AIDS was in full epidemic swing, and homophobia was at high tide.
Scream Queen! Is an excellent film to watch in tandem with Freddy’s Revenge, because it contextualizes the movie and deepen s our empathy for Mark Patton, who was at the time a young actor just starting out in Hollywood, and unaware of what he was stepping into. It slashes through the homophobia and camp surrounding the movie and provides a necessary outlet for a perspective that has been absent from the story of the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise for too long.