March 3, 2020
by Carla Hay
“Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street”
Directed by Roman Chimienti and Tyler Jensen
Culture Representation: In this documentary which has mostly white Americans and some Latino representation, actor Mark Patton (who’s best known for starring in “A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge”) tries to make sense of the circumstances that led him to quit acting in the 1980s, including the homophobia that he says ruined his career.
Culture Clash: Patton places a lot of blame for his career downfall on “A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge” screenwriter David Chaskin, who gave interviews saying that Patton made the movie too gay.
Culture Audience: This movie will appeal primarily to horror fans, audiences who care about LGBTQ issues, and people interested in “whatever happened to” stories.
Faded actor Mark Patton says that the 1985 horror flick “A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge” was the best thing that ever happened to his career and also the worst thing. He never starred in another major motion picture again after this sequel got mixed-to-negative reviews. And in the documentary “Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street,” he tries to make sense of what went wrong.
Patton is one of the producers of the documentary, which was capably directed by Roman Chimienti and Tyler Jensen. Because Patton is a producer of the documentary, it explains why the film is mostly a sympathetic portrayal of him. It’s a compelling story, even though Patton (who still calls himself a “movie star”) at times seems to have an exaggerated sense of importance about his impact on the movie industry. He certainly isn’t the only actor who’s become a “has-been.”
Narrated by Cecil Baldwin (who sounds like he could be narrating a true-crime documentary), the movie starts off with Baldwin’s voiceover saying that “the world wasn’t ready for a male scream queen” when “A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge” was released in 1985, when Patton was in his 20s. Although Patton’s Jesse Walsh character in the movie wasn’t explicitly gay, he had effeminate mannerisms, and the movie had some homoerotic undertones, which are explained in this documentary.
The basic premise of “Freddy’s Revenge” was that “A Nightmare on Elm Street” villain Freddy Krueger—the slasher serial killer with full-body burn scars, a striped sweater and gloves with knife blades as fingernails—had invaded the body of Jesse Walsh, a nerdy and sensitive high-school student. Jesse has been having nightmares about Freddy after moving into the same house where Freddy terrorized the main female character in the first “A Nightmare on Elm Street” movie. Jesse finds out later that his body has been possessed by Freddy—which is a departure from the first “Nightmare” movie, where Freddy only appeared when the main character was asleep.
In one of his dreams, Jesse goes to a gay bar and orders a drink. He’s seen at the bar by his gym teacher, who later punishes him for underage drinking. Freddy then kills the gym teacher in a homoerotic shower moment that includes the naked teacher getting slapped with a towel on his rear end. And the very concept of Freddy entering and leaving Jesse’s body has also been pointed to as homoerotic. Although Jesse shows a romantic interest in his friend Kim Myers (played by Lisa Webber), many people who’ve seen the movie think that Jesse is gay and in the closet.
“A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge” director Jack Sholder, who’s interviewed in the documentary, swears that he didn’t see any gay overtones when he was making “A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge.” Sholder says that he cast Patton in the starring role because Patton looked like he had the vulnerability needed for the Jesse Walsh character. The movie’s screenwriter David Chaskin is more evasive when he’s asked about any homoerotic content in the movie. Chaskin says that although he didn’t intend for “A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge” to be a gay horror movie, he understands why people think it is.
Patton was a closeted gay man during his brief acting career in the late 1970s to mid-1980s. After “A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge” was released to profitable box office but mixed-to-negative reviews, there were minor rumblings in the media about the gay overtones in the movie. Patton says the chatter was enough for his agent to get scared and demand that Mark only audition for roles where he played an obviously heterosexual character.
But except for two roles in television in 1986, Patton didn’t work as an actor again for decades. (He resumed his acting career with a small role in the 2016 independent horror film “Family Possessions.”) As far as a lot of people where concerned, he had disappeared. What really happened?
Patton places a lot of misdirected anger on Chaskin, whom he accuses of getting him “blacklisted” from the industry by “outing” Patton in interviews, where Chaskin would claim that he never wrote the Jesse Walsh character as gay and that Patton just played the character as gay. In the documentary, Chaskin gives his perspective: “‘Nightmare 2′ was a possession movie. I like the concept of an innocent person being invaded.”
But the more Patton tells his life story, the more it becomes obvious that Chaskin is just a scapegoat for what really led Patton to suddenly “disappear” from showbiz. Patton’s on-again, off-again live-in boyfriend—actor Timothy Patrick Murphy, best known for his early 1980s role as Mickey Trotter in “Dallas”—had AIDS, and so did many of their friends. Murphy was “in the closet” about being gay, at a time when almost no working Hollywood actors were openly gay.
In the documentary, Patton candidly talks about finding out around the same time that he was filming “A Nightmare on Elm Street 2” that he was also HIV-positive. Because his lover and many of his friends were HIV-positive or dying of AIDS, and because he didn’t know if or when he was going to die too, Patton says in the documentary that he had a “nervous breakdown,” and he decided to quit acting. After admitting all of that, why does he have so much hatred for Chaskin?
As Patton tells it, Chaskin deliberately and cruelly fueled the homophobia that Patton believes led to him becoming an industry pariah. Patton says that the AIDS crisis was just one of the reasons why he quit acting, but he believes that Chaskin and homophobia in Hollywood were the main reasons. It was also during a time when Rock Hudson revealed he had AIDS, and there was a “gay panic” in Hollywood to not hire actors who were rumored to be gay. (This was during the beginning of the AIDS crisis, when many people mistakenly thought that only gay men could get the disease.)
Even though homophobic ideas about AIDS certainly affected how Hollywood did business, Patton comes across as too paranoid and illogical when he says that Chaskin was out to get him. Chaskin never had that much power to get Patton blacklisted from Hollywood. “A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge” was Chaskin’s first movie screenplay, and his Hollywood career never really thrived after that. Chaskin has written only three feature-length movies since then (all little-seen independent films), the last one being 2000’s “Love Hurts.”
Furthermore, an untold number of gay actors were in the closet back then who had rumors swirling that they were really gay, but they still kept working. Patton’s boyfriend Murphy was one of them. Murphy’s last movie was released in 1988, the year that he died from AIDS at the age of 29. The reality is that Patton just gave up because of all the personal problems in his life. If he has anyone to blame other than himself, it’s probably his agent at the time, who obviously didn’t have enough confidence that Patton could find work because of the gay rumors.
We’ll never know what would’ve happened if Patton had a better agent at the time. But in hindsight, from the way that Patton describes his epic meltdown, he probably would’ve quit acting anyway, even if he had been getting steady work. He says he left Los Angeles, moved to Mexico, cut ties with showbiz, and spent years in a deep state of depression. He says that by the time he left the entertainment business, he had found out that he had “HIV, cancer and tuberculosis” and he was “bedbound for a year.” With all of these health problems that would affect his ability to work, exactly how is that David Chaskin’s fault?
And when Patton describes how he got into acting in the first place, it’s easy to see why he couldn’t handle the first major rough patch that came along. He never really struggled to get his big break. It all happened very quickly for him.
He describes his childhood in suburban Missouri, where he grew up in a Christian household, as living in an area where people looked just like him (white and wholesome-looking). However, his parents’ marriage was troubled (they divorced when he was 14), and his mother spent time in and out of psychiatric institutions.
In the documentary, Patton says he knew he was gay from an early age, but he went to great lengths to keep it a secret. He caught the acting bug when he would perform at talent shows in school. When he made the decision to move to New York City after high school, Patton says it was the first time in his life he felt he could be openly gay among his friends. (Although Patton’s IMDb page lists his birth year as 1964, more likely he was born in 1959 or 1960, because in the documentary, he says he moved to New York in 1977, after he graduated from high school.)
And how Patton broke into showbiz is the stuff that people dream about but rarely happens. Within days of getting his first agent, he was working as an actor, and he says it’s because he had the right “look.” (In other words, a pleasant-looking boy next door.) Getting work in commercials led to his first big break: a supporting role in the Broadway play “Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean,” starring Cher, Sandy Dennis and Karen Black. In 1982, Robert Altman directed the play and the movie, which had the same stars as the Broadway show.
That kind of luck—co-starring in your first movie with that level of talent at such a young age—almost never happens to most actors. Therefore, it’s easy to see why Patton took for granted that things would continue to go that easily for him. In the documentary, he’s somewhat arrogant in describing how lucky he was to have such smooth sailing in his first few years as an actor. His attitude comes across as, “Of course I got work right away. I was cute and I had a great personality.” He doesn’t fully acknowledge that the opportunities that he got at the beginning of his acting career is not how it happens for most people when they first become actors, even for those who reach the A-list.
Because he never really paid his dues before getting high-profile roles, Patton comes across as a little too entitled in thinking that the ride should’ve kept going that way for him because he thinks he deserved it. Even the biggest entertainers have had career flops and pitfalls. The ones who survive the bad times (such as Patton’s idol Cher) are the ones who don’t give up, like Patton did.
Early in the documentary, Patton quotes something that Cher told him: “In show business, you always have to do what’s best for you.” Patton should also have learned more than a few other things from Cher about how to get through career slumps. (He’s old enough to remember how Cher became a laughingstock of showbiz in the early 1990s when she did infomercials for Lori Davis hair-care products.)
Patton says he decided to return to the entertainment business shortly after he was tracked down in Mexico by the filmmakers of the 2010 documentary “Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy,” which was a comprehensive history of all the “Nightmare on Elm Street” movies up to that point. It was through that movie that Patton realized how the “Nightmare” fandom was still large enough that he could start making money by doing personal appearances, such as going to fan conventions that specialize in fantasy/horror entertainment.
A considerable amount of the documentary shows Patton doing just that, as he’s seen interacting with fans, doing Q&As at “Nightmare” events, and traveling with his assistant Bill Nugent from personal appearance to personal appearance. The documentary also features commentary from “Nightmare” fans, some more famous than others. (Podcast host John Fozzie Nelson and drag queens Peaches Christ and Knate Higgins are among those who say glowing remarks about Patton.) Most of them either comment on the “Nightmare on Elm Street 2” movie, Patton’s identity as a gay man and/or how he and the movie helped them accept their own sexuality.
To his credit, Patton seems very grateful for fan appreciation, now that he knows how fickle fame can be. He has this to say about interacting with fans: “They don’t want to know about your problems. They want to see a movie star.” And he offers this response to people who think that doing the convention circuit is degrading: “If it seems whorish to do this, then be a good whore, because you’re taking their money.”
When he’s not traveling, Patton runs a gift shop in Mexico, where he lives with a man who’s described in the movie as his husband Hector Morales, who didn’t know when they first met about Mark’s past as a Hollywood actor. Because Patton is now a passionate AIDS activist and because he seems to have found true love with Hector, it’s safe to say that Patton is in a much better place in his life right now.
One of the best parts of the documentary is when it shows the 30th anniversary reunion of “A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge,” which took place at Shock Pop Comic Con in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The reunion included director Sholder, along with cast members Robert Englund (who plays Freddy Kreuger), Patton, Myers, Clu Gulager, Marshall Bell and Robert Rusler.
Patton’s co-stars have good things to say about him, but Sholder is the only one shown on camera giving Patton a much-needed reality check that he needs to let go of all this hatred toward Chaskin. (Chaskin was originally announced to attend the 30th anniversary reunion, but he ended up not going, for reasons that weren’t made clear in the documentary.)
And so, it’s inevitable that near the end of the film, Patton and Chaskin agree to sit down together and hash out their differences, after not speaking to each other for decades. It’s a necessary part of this documentary, since all of Patton’s whining about Chaskin gets very irritating after a while. Ultimately, “Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street” is a cautionary tale about bitterness, and it’s a wake-up call for any actors who think they’re owed a long and successful career in showbiz just because they starred in a couple of movies.
Virgil Films released “Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street” in Los Angeles on February 27, 2020, and on VOD on March 3, 2020.