When one mentions the term “scream queen,” several leading ladies of fright films generally come to mind – Jamie Lee Curtis, Linnea Quigley, Adrienne Barbeau, and Drew Barrymore, just to name a few. Mark Patton, however, typically is not among them. But with the new documentary Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street steadily gaining momentum through various screenings around the country, that might be about to change.
While a “scream queen,” a tongue-in-cheek offshoot of a “screen queen,” is by definition, a female thespian associated with the horror genre, hence the “queen” moniker, Patton’s starring role in the 1985 slasher sequel, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, threw that axiom for a bloody loop.
Patton’s portrayal of Jesse Walsh, a teen tormented in his nightmares by the villainous Freddy Krueger, was widely mocked by critics for the character’s unsubtle homosexual tendencies throughout the picture. And it was the negative reception he evoked that played a significant part in the ingenue actor disappearing from the industry shortly after the movie’s release.
At the center of the controversy was a heated question – was the film’s gay subtext intentional or did it arise from the way in which Patton played the part? As far as Patton was concerned, the homoeroticism in the sophomore Nightmare effort was obviously written by David Chaskin with a queer thematic emphasis. Chaskin, on the other hand, publicly placed the onus on the actor, claiming his depiction of the character was solely to blame. The dispute caused an internal struggle for Patton that has lasted for three decades. And only now, with the help of filmmakers Roman Chimienti and Tyler Jensen, has Patton been able to come to terms with the impact that the experience working on what BuzzFeed dubbed “the gayest horror film ever made” has had on not only his career, but his life as well.
The documentary follows Patton as he travels to various horror conventions across the country, interacting with his legions of fans, who, despite the actor’s brief brush with fame more than 30 years ago, view him as just as big of a star as any A-list celebrity. A reunion with his former Freddy’s Revenge castmates, including Robert Englund, Clu Gulager, Kim Myers, and Robert Rusler, some of whom he hadn’t seen since the movie wrapped production, acts as an appetizer for the main event of the feature – the inevitable one-on-one confrontation between Patton and Chaskin.
It’s a tense, riveting encounter that’s worth the wait for viewers, as the screenwriter allows Patton to air his grievances while the entertainer, clearly anxious about the long-awaited meeting, makes sure to say everything that’s been bottled up inside of him for so many years.
The exploratory piece also delves into Patton’s childhood and his realization of his sexual preference when he was only 4 years old, and his strained relationship with his parents, as he dealt with his mother’s mental illness and his father’s difficulty in understanding his son. An even darker element of the film covers Patton’s secret lover and his tragic battle with the HIV virus, as well as his own serious health issues, while simultaneously attempting to make a living in show business.
The documentary is not without its lighter fare, however, including his poignant friendship with Cher, as well as crossing paths with entertainment icons like the Rolling Stones, Robin Williams, and David Bowie. The levity is a necessary aspect of something like this and is a welcome escape.
If there’s a minor criticism to be made, a lengthier discussion between Patton and Chaskin would have been even more satisfying; perhaps we’ll get additional footage of the sit-down in the form of an eventual director’s cut. But what’s most important about the project is the therapeutic closure that Patton received as a result of its fruition. And hopefully through its recent festival tour and subsequent buzz, its visibility will only continue to grow.