Actor Mark Patton Reveals His Nightmare On Elm Street
New documentary 'Scream Queen!' premieres on Shudder for Pride
In 1984, Freddy Krueger, with his razor-fingered glove, became a horror icon attacking teens in their sleep.
The Nightmare on Elm Street Franchise
The box office success of Wes Craven's "A Nightmare on Elm Street" prompted an immediate sequel in 1985 called "A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge." Craven was not creatively involved in the project but Newline Cinema was determined to turn Craven's hit film into a horror franchise.
The film attracted audiences but instead of giving them a final girl facing Freddy, there was a final boy played by Mark Patton and horror fans didn’t know how to react.
"Because of some circumstances in regards to the writing and the way the movie was presented, it had a very strong homophobic backlash to it," Patton told me from his remote home in Mexico.
1985: AIDS and Homophobia
That backlash was aimed at Patton’s character of Jesse who was accused of screaming like a girl and was given scenes that had a distinctly gay subtext. The character is at times possessed by Freddy and at one point Jesse tells his girlfriend, "He’s inside me and he wants to take me again."
There is another scene in which the scared Jesse runs over to his best friend's house and begs to be allowed to spend the night because he's afraid of falling asleep and being possessed again by Freddy. Here's their exchange.
Jesse Walsh: "Something is trying to get inside my body."
Ron Grady: "Yeah, and she's female, and she's waiting for you in the cabana. And YOU wanna sleep with me."
"Freddy's Revenge" arrived in 1985, the same year that hunky Hollywood movie star Rock Hudson admitted he had AIDS and the year that had the highest total of AIDS cases since the pandemic began.
That was the landscape and in 1985 the AIDS pandemic had caused a panic in Hollywood so being labeled as "gay" could make it difficult to get roles. After playing Jesse, Patton said his agent thought it would be difficult to get him leading roles and he would have to do "character" parts. So Patton decided to retire from movies and now lives on a farm in Mexico.
But a few years ago, the extensive documentary "Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy" systematically hunted down everyone they could find connected to the franchise and Patton was the elusive one on the list. But the filmmakers finally found him and brought his story back into the spotlight.
Now the documentary "Scream Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street" looks back on that film to examine a point in history that could be forgotten.
For co-director Tyler Jensen, who is younger than Patton, it was about connecting the dots between AIDS and how playing a character perceived as gay could impact Patton’s career.
"That's definitely the generational divide, especially for me, was not understanding that those two things were related," Jensen said. "We now love to celebrate this film as being the gayest horror film ever made and people really like hold onto it very dearly. But that was not possible 30 years ago to be an out gay horror film and be celebrated."
Co-director Roman Chimienti grew up with the Freddy Krueger films. He recalls loving "A Nightmare on Elm Street 2."
"It was infamous even when it came out in the '80s," Chimienti recalled. "That was the first horror movie that I was brave enough to sit through and I loved it. But I do remember that all of my peers, all of their older brothers, everyone who was a big horror fan, was not a fan of that movie. But no one could really say why other than just a you know, 'eh?' It had gained a reputation for being gay before people even had the terminology for that. So it has had a long history of being ridiculed, being shunned. But at the same time being part of one of the biggest franchises in horror so people couldn't really get away from it."
Jensen added, "the beauty of 'Nightmare on Elm Street 2,' for gay people, is that it was their first gay movie that they could enjoy without everyone else knowing that they were enjoying a gay film. I remember being a closeted teen and just like seeking out these films that I could enjoy, that I didn't have to explain to everybody else. If you are a 13-year-old renting 'Call Me By Your Name' or 'Brokeback Mountain,' everyone will know. But if you're a 13-year-old renting 'A Nightmare on Elm Street 2,' they just think you're watching a horror film. And that's, I think, the beauty of why this movie is so important to people and why its legacy continues."
But it’s been a painful legacy for Patton because for years writer David Chaskin and director Jack Sholder denied there was any intentional gay subtext, whatever was there was because of how Patton aplayed the role of Jesse so he was the one that people focused their hatred of the film on.
Beloved cult classic
Now the "Freddy's Revenge" is celebrated for being ahead of its time.
"There definitely was this kind of race to reclaim who gets to take ownership of the new queer cult classic 'A Nightmare on Elm Street 2,'" Jensen said. "For the longest time those at the creative helm didn't want to own up to the facts. And then once the tide started turning and being gay was more acceptable. They started to want to claim it as their own again. And I think Mark went on this journey to be like, you don't get to change your mind thirty years later and reap the rewards of what he had to suffer through."
The documentary "Scream Queen!" was initiated and produced by Patton and there is a certain air of it being a vanity project. But he is recounting his nightmare so the focus on his personal journey seems fit. But viewers should not expect this to delve into the making of the "Freddy's Revenge" or the history of that film. It is instead, an intimate look at the legacy of that film from the perspective of the actor whose life it changed.
The process of making the film allows the actor a catharsis by confronting Sholder and Chaskin, and using his journey as a way of mentoring others. He had a lot of bitterness and anger, and he blamed Sholder and especially Chaskin for how they chose to respond to the initial controversy.
But over the past few years, as the Internet and fan conventions have allowed Patton an opportunity to met fans, many of whom are young and gay and found his character of Jesse inspiring, he has had a chance to heal. He now takes every opportunity to confront issues of bullying, homophobia, and being someone with AIDS.
In "A Nightmare on Elm Street 2," Patton is possessed by Freddy and at one point even wears the famous glove. He now realizes the power that has.
"I realize when I put that glove on and I speak, people will listen to what I'm saying," Patton said.
Thanks to Patton, Freddy is proving to be an unlikely bridge connecting horror fans with the gay community, and the LGBTQ community with horror.
You can hear the full interview with Patton and the filmmaker on next week's Cinema Junkie podcast.
Shudder's Queer Horror Collection
Shudder celebrates Pride with a curated collection of LGBTQ+ horror, featuring films with queer themes, characters and/or creators. In addition to "Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street," there will be the Stewart Thorndike’s new feature film "Lyle" (premiering June 8) starring Gaby Hoffman. Plus older the titles "Alena," "All Cheerleaders Die," "Better Watch Out," "Hellraiser," "Knife + Heart" (highly recommend this stylish giallo homage) "Lizzie," "The Old Dark House," "The Quiet Room" (one of my all-time favorite shorts from FilmOut San Diego's horror showcase), "Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama," "Stranger by the Lake," "Sweet Sweet Lonely Girl," and "The Wild Boys."