Spoiler alert! There are quite a few spoilers for the documentary Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street below.
When I was in the fourth grade, I began to explore horror films. I watched A Nightmare on Elm Street and was told at the age of nine, “If you can handle this, you can handle any horror film.” I now beg to differ after having seen numerous horror films that I feel I could not have handled in my youth. Back to the point, though. Once I started on a franchise, I stuck with that franchise until I finished the series. So at our little mom and pop video store up the street, I walked in and rented A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge. The movie went over my fourth-grade mind because I had yet to start thinking about subtext in films, let alone gay subtext in cinema. The only thing I knew at the time was that this film was different than all the other Nightmare films, and honestly all the slasher films I watched during that time in my life.
Most people chalk the second Nightmare on Elm Street up to be the worst one in the franchise. It’s not the worst! The fact of the matter is this film deserves a lot more praise than it has received over the years. The film attempted to change the entire genre in one fell swoop. The only problem is people were more concerned by the openly gay content within the movie instead. Despite this, I’ve never let that stop me from watching the sequel. When I go back through all of them in a slasher marathon of sorts, it always makes my list, and the truth is that it should still make yours as well. Thankfully for Shudder, fans of the franchise and the film can watch Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street too. This deep dive into the sequel is one of my favorite documentaries ever.
The film focuses on Mark Patton taking on the role that is now known as the first male scream queen. Upon landing the role of Jessie in the movie, Patton thought this was going to be the film to launch him into stardom. Little did he know what the script laid out for him instead. With the blatant gay references, the screenwriter, David Chaskin, denied writing them for anything that was not subtext. He even attempted to defer that the film made them more prevalent by casting Mark Patton as the lead. However, in 1985, Patton was still a closeted man. The fact of the matter is though people in the industry knew his sexuality at the time. Over the years, he built up resentment, and rightfully so, about the film that ended his career.
I’ve often preached on my blog that we must take a look inside of our past self to become a better us. However, I’m not sure I could make a documentary about my past life to do so. Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street takes a sensitive subject matter and educate the world about Hollywood in the 1980s as well as his own life. Until Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy came out; I had no idea about Patton’s sexuality. Until Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street came out; I had no idea how that his sexuality ultimately killed his career. With homophobia running rampant, then due to the beginnings of the AIDS epidemic, no actor wanted to be out, let alone in a role that was going to typecast them as gay or a character actor.
These decisions were not made alone. Granted, David Chaskin did not want people knowing that he intended his script to become the first gay horror film or play on those fears around the world. Once this became a popular topic, as Patton touches on in the movie during a reunion with the rest of his cast members, Chaskin admitted this to various media outlets. In 2010, Chaskin revealed, “Homophobia was skyrocketing, and I began to think about our core audience—adolescent boys—and how all of this stuff might be trickling down into their psyches. My thought was that tapping into that angst would give an extra edge to the horror.” The documentary even brings up the fact that he had said the film could be shown at conversion camps because, in the end, the love of a woman could make the gayest man straight.
Hearing this, I felt appalled. On top of that, learning that most people knew about the subtexts written throughout and played it up without saying anything was beyond hurtful for Patton’s career. Although the director Jake Sholder maintains, he had no idea that what he was filming would be misconstrued as gay. Yet, even when he says this during the cast talk Robert Rusler (Ron Grady) teases him and tells him to stop playing that he didn’t know. While others laugh, I took notice of the fact that Patton did not. Instead, Rusler questioned him about his hangups during the filming. Considering he was not an outed man during this time, he felt like the film used him and rightfully so. Yet, someone was still willing to try and minimize how Patton has felt all these years.
The craziest part to me was watching Sholder taken Patton aside to talk to him and telling him to get over his hatred toward Chaskin. Sometimes a person cannot merely get over something, no matter how long it’s been. Thankfully, Chaskin, the one person the entire film that no one felt would give Patton an apology, is the one who ultimately does. An apology that goes a long way yet was something no one else was willing to give him. Instead, they all merely acknowledged that they made sure to deliver the dialogue and act the scenes to amp up the subtext written on the page. The truth is that Patton deserves an apology from everyone involved that knew and everyone who expected him to play it up because of his sexuality. No one took into consideration that he was not out, and the film ultimately killed his career.
Audiences learn from Patton himself that he projected a lot of his hatred onto Chaskin due to the homophobia. Others amplified this hatred fear about AIDS in Hollywood in the 1980s. However, his fear of being out of the closet was sadly warranted. During this time, actors had to be tested for HIV because various actors would refuse to work with anyone with the disease. Clearly, at the beginning of the epidemic, the ways to contract AIDS were not as well known. Regardless of this treatment of the LGBTQ+ in Hollywood during this time or anytime period is unfathomable. With the fear of being found out, the not so hushed tones of Rock Hudson’s death and sexuality, the concern was great.
Everything here, and far more details that are available in Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street provides us with the history of Hollywood during the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. It also gives us the history of the mistreatment of the LGBTQ+ community at the time. This documentary is beyond essential to watch as it delves into an account that the majority of people do not know about ultimately and an entire community of horror fans that, at one point, did not feel safe in the world of horror conventions. Thankfully, with Patton as a gay activist and this documentary, viewers are introduced to the world of gay horror. More importantly, viewers discover that they can be at home in the world of slasher films.