The dream for any aspiring actor is to land a big, star-making role. Nowadays, that usually means being cast in a superhero movie or a prestige cable drama. The idea that horror movies might launch careers is not unthinkable either, as we live in the “Elevated Horror” era where horror movies get nominated for Academy Awards and award-winning actors jump at the chance to be a Big Bad in a scary movie. The glory days of slasher horror movies launched careers that would span decades–but what if a horror movie was the reason you couldn’t find another job in Hollywood? Such is the tale of one Mr. Mark Patton, better known as Jesse in A Nightmare on Elm Street II: Freddy’s Revenge, who lost everything by starring in the “gayest movie ever.”
Roman Chimienti and Tyler Jensen’s Scream, Queen!: My Nightmare on Elm Street is a feat, as it not only chronicles Patton’s fall from grace and self-exile, but also serves as a documentary about the inner workings of horror fandom (especially queer fandom) and provides a sober history of the 80s and what it meant to be closeted during the AIDS Crisis. Scream, Queen! is, at its core, about Mark Patton and his rise to fame as the hero (or scream queen) of ANOES II, and how he was living comfortably in the closet as a working actor until that point. The documentary also tracks the rise of horror movies in the 80s with franchises such as Nightmare and how AIDS Crisis-induced homophobia drove young gay and queer actors back in the closet while also decimating a generation of gay men.
The documentary establishes just how the film ruined Patton’s career, starting with Patton recounting an incident where his agent tells him that he would forever be cast as a character actor because he couldn’t act “straight,” and how he was encouraged to dress more masculine for auditions. Before we learn about the destruction of his career, we are given a series of montages of fans mocking the film at various horror conventions and a barrage of online abuse from such forums as Reddit and IMDb, which featured a buffet of homophobic slurs that I could honestly have done without. While the contemporary negative reaction to ANOES II was needed to establish how the LGBT community, but especially gay men, took to the film, the extent of it featured here felt unneeded and alienating to me. For a documentary filled with wonderful history and (some) great subjects, this was one of the two criticisms I had with this film (the other being the kid-glove handling of the director and the screenwriter).
Other than those negative aspects, this documentary is a LGBT history primer in all aspects. While this is ultimately the story of Mark Patton, a victim and survivor of Hollywood, and how AOENS II belongs in the queer horror canon, it is also very much the story of the generation that the LGBT community lost to AIDS, indifference, and homophobia. As a big fan of queer rage and allowing queer people to feel anger towards those who have committed harm towards them, I am of two minds regarding this documentary: I appreciate that it was meant to help Mark heal and contextualize how a film that essentially destroyed his career also helped an entire community, and I absolutely despise how screenwriter David Chaskin and director Jack Sholder made light of Mark confronting them on the homoerotic subtext of the film.
As a lesbian, I understand that straight men are usually hopeless in regards to acknowledging that they have said or done something homophobic, but I felt flames on the side of my face when these men played coy about the obvious queer subtext included in the film. David Chaskin continuously insists that he was merely playing with the idea of Jesse being gay (even though Freddy himself, Robert Englund, did not deny the queerness in AOESN II, but outright acknowledged that he was playing up the homoerotic subtext that was evident in the script) and Jack Sholder asks Patton why he’s still angry at Chaskin almost 30 years later. While Patton and Chaskin have a (rather lackluster and frustrating) heart to heart about the content of AOENS II near the end of the documentary, I was so irked by this final “showdown” that I wrote in my notes: “Mark forgives, I do not!”
Patton as a subject is truly remarkable, because he has such an interesting life that has to be seen to be believed. After arriving in New York, knowing no one, he landed successful ad campaigns and a role on Broadway with Cher in a Robert Altman play (and, later, film). He later moved to Hollywood and started a relationship with a certified TV star, the late Dallas actor Timothy Patrick Murphy. He was neighbors with Madonna and had dinners with Merv Griffith. Hell, there’s even a small clip from a movie of him clocking a young George Clooney in the face! Chimenti and Jensen do such a wonderful job of crafting Patton’s story, showing how on top of the world he was when he got the role of Jesse, demonstrating how devastating that role was for him, and showing us where he is now. And as the credits roll over footage of Patton gleefully interacting with his fans and castmates while the BEST synth music plays in the background, we see how love, time and understanding can cure all wounds.
Scream, Queen! is streaming exclusively on Shudder and can be rented or purchased on Vudu, Amazon Prime, Google Play, and YouTube.