Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street (2019)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2020-07-01 17:16

Written by: Michael Beard, Clint Catalyst, Leo Herrera, Justin Lockwood
Directed by: Roman Chimienti, Tyler Jensen
Starring: Mark Patton

Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)

The claws are out.

Even though I love it, Freddyís Revenge has always been the ďweird oneĒ in the Elm Street series, something Iíve affirmed as recently as a year ago. Itís the odd one out, the one that strays so far from the formula that it feels like itís all but ignored by later entries. For years, that oddness stayed on those terms for me: Nightmare 2 is just an odd duck because they really hadnít quite figured out the formula just yet, and it was more like an experiment to see just how far they could stretch the concept before retreating to a more conventional formula for Dream Warriors. But as I grew older and began reading about Freddyís Revenge, it became more obvious that it was weird for an entirely different reason when it served as my introduction to homoerotic subtext, a revelation that almost transformed it into an entirely different, allegorical movie about a teenager struggling with his own sexuality.

Little did I know that this stuff was always obvious to queer audiences who embraced the movie for that very reason. I may have always enjoyed this movie, but this audience saw it as a lifeboat floating in a sea of homophobia. It made them feel seen in a way I could never comprehend. For me, Nightmare 2 has always been a reminder that weird movies have merit; for others, Nightmare 2 let them know that they have merit. With Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street, Freddyís Revenge star Mark Patton sets out to do a lot of things, from chronicling his own remarkable journey to recontextualizing this cult movie; however, heís also made a powerful documentary that reminds us the power film and fandom can have to comfort the marginalized. I think most horror fans naturally feel a little bit outcast, but so many of us--myself included--have to acknowledge weíre still privileged if weíve only felt persecuted for liking weird movies. Others arenít nearly as fortunate, and Scream, Queen! is ultimately a celebration of artís capacity to help us find and accept ourselves and others.

The impetus of the documentary was Pattonís choice to finally tell his story on his own terms, so he frames Scream, Queen! with autobiographical details, starting with his childhood, when he realized was gay by the age of 4 and never quite felt accepted by friends or family. After discovering a passion for acting, he moved to New York, finding success on stage that translated to a Hollywood career that culminated with his now infamous experience starring in Freddyís Revenge. While the filmís homoerotic undertones privately pushed Patton out of the closet, his representatives wanted him to stay closeted publicly, something he refused to do, so he essentially exiled himself for nearly 25 years. It wasnít until the production of Never Sleep Again that he was found and allowed to tell his story--which isnít to suggest that Scream, Queen! is retreading old ground by any means.

No, this isnít even the half of it since this documentary fills us in on what heís been up to for the past decade. After realizing what Jesse Walsh and Freddyís Revenge has meant to fans, heís embraced the role, appearing at conventions and screenings to champion LGBQT audiences and causes. Heís the ultimate refutation of Fitzgeraldís insistence that there are no second acts in American life: by his own admission, heís lucky to be alive after being diagnosed with several illnesses, and heís found a new purpose in life, one thatís transformed his greatest pain into a triumph. Itís a rousing story, and Scream, Queen! would be crucial if it were simply the story of this wonderful man who has overcome so much grief and trauma.

But itís even more than that. Patton (along with co-directors Roman Chimienti and Tyler Jensen) delve deep into the historical context to explain just why Freddyís Revenge was such a perilous experience for Patton in the mid-80s. Both he and various talking heads from the scene (including co-star Robert Englund himself) describe the climate of a period that forced so many queer people into the closet because of the AIDS epidemic that sent shockwaves through the industry and the nation. The reductive story goes that the 70s were a bit more permissible in this respect, but AIDS made it a risky proposition to be brazenly out. Vintage footage of homophobic protesters and casual instances of homophobic slang in media paint a picture so many of us want to forget when we try to remember the 80s as a decade fun and excess. That might have been true for some people; others were fearing for their right to exist, so itís completely understandable that Patton chose to walk away from his dreams once they became a nightmare.

However, if thereís an overarching theme to Scream, Queen!, itís Pattonís refusal to simply dwell on the negative. As such, it seeks to rework the demonization of this period into a moving tale of reclamation by an individual and a community that embraced this strange horror movie and turned it into a powerful totem. The documentary reveals how the earliest queer readings of the film have dovetailed into academic studies that reveal just how odd Freddyís Revenge is not only in the context of the Elm Street franchise but also the 80s horror canon. Marked by both those homoerotic undertones and unconventional gender dynamics, itís the rare mainstream movie from this era that confronted queerness, even if screenwriter David Chaskinís various accounts on his intentions have changed over the years (more on him later). Instead of letting the homophobic responses to the film define its reputation, Scream Queen! confirms that Freddyís Revenge is better precisely because of its queer subtext. As Patton himself says at one point, ďif you donít like the dialogue, change it,Ē and thatís precisely what his documentary does. I can remember a time when Freddyís Revenge was among the most reviled horror sequels, and Iím so heartened by how much this narrative has changed, especially for the LGBQT community thatís been championing it because itís such a gay movie. Itís a far cry from those sneering comments sections and message board posts (featured in all their ugly ignominy here) that often demean it for its subtext.

All Elm Street fans should be happy to see that Scream, Queen! features most of the cast and crew, all of whom offer their takes on the filmís unconventional path to becoming a cult favorite. By no means is it a thorough, behind-the-scenes look (Never Sleep Again suffices in this case), but itís not meant to be since itís largely focused on the queer subtext. Some cast members (like Englund and Robert Rustler) insist they always knew what was up; others, including director Jack Sholder, still protest their ignorance. But again, rather than get hung up and play the blame game, Patton takes the high road with a sequence that documents the first ever Freddyís Revenge convention reunion from a few years ago. Itís incredibly heartening to see Pattonís co-stars and Sholder embrace him, not to mention the triumphant footage of him appearing on-stage following a screening. Obviously, this ranks low on the list of takeaways*, but itís always so nice when stars you admire and respect turn out to be such good folks. The happiness that the rest of the Freddyís Revenge cast feels for Patton is palpable, and this reunion is a critical moment of catharsis for Patton, who finally gets to voice his concerns and tell his story.

But if you want to know what kind of man Mark Patton is, look no further than the fact that his documentary--which he repeatedly insists is about him--cedes the floor to make space for those fans who have found solace in Freddyís Revenge. Several fans appear on camera, revealing their own stories with how this film helped them to confront their own sexuality. Their stories feature heartbreakingly familiar refrains of bullying and ostracization but also triumph once they realized this movie--and the Elm Street series in general--is about facing down fears and taking away their power. Itís a natural through-line that Patton also follows in confronting his own personal boogeyman in Chaskin, whose hurtful remarks over the years have haunted the star.

In the documentaryís most intense, powerful scene Patton finally sits down with the screenwriter, who tries to offer an explanation but ultimately simply listens before apologizing--which is all Patton has ever wanted. This scene--and indeed, this entire documentary--could have easily been a gossipy tell-all, full of drama, but itís abundantly clear that this was never Pattonís goal when making it. Instead, he wants his journey to serve as an example of redemption, grace, and hope not just for him but for anyone caught in the tailwinds of homophobia and discrimination. I donít think he would argue (and itís definitely not my place to argue it) that everyone deserves forgiveness, which is a very personal thing; however, his particular story shows the possibility of what could happen if we would just listen to this aggrieved, marginalized voices and genuinely take their words to heart. The boogeyman of ďcancel cultureĒ largely exists because so many people bristle at the notion of accountability; Mark Patton is not out to cancel anyone with Scream, Queen!, but he does seek to hold them accountable. Chaskin recognizes this and earns forgiveness, giving Patton some closure; Sholder, on the other hand, disappointingly reminds us that some people still have some work to do in this regard when he insists that Patton simply needs to get over it since itís been 30 years.

In the spirit of Scream, Queen!, however, I donít want to dwell on that particular disappointment. Iím not here to cancel Jack Sholder, a man whose work I have admired for many years. I donít believe he has malice in his heart for Patton or his story; he, like so many of us, just has work to do, and I can only hope that he does so and accepts that Patton deserves to exorcise his grievances. Because, ultimately, Scream, Queen! is a documentary about hope: it insists that the worst things that happen to us also have the potential to change us and grant a new lease on life. I cannot pretend that Iíve endured even a fraction of the heartbreak Patton describes in this documentary, and it would be a beautiful world if nobody ever had to again. But Scream, Queen! is a remarkable achievement in empathy that represents filmmakingís noblest goal of sharing stories for the purposes of healing. I am so happy that Mark Patton found a way to confront his own pain; I am even happier that he has used his experiences to help others heal. If weíre all going to make it through this world, this is how it has to be done: by hearing each other and facing each new day together.

Scream, Queen! is a lot of things: is a lot of things: a personal memoir/exorcism, a rallying cry for marginalized voices, a sharp historical contextualization of a cult film, but it mostly resonates as a call for empathy. Let those marginalized voices tell their stories when they feel comfortable doing so, and then listen.

*The most trivial (but nonetheless cool) revelation from this documentary? The existence of this Freddyís Revenge carnival ride, which has become my new white whale.

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