In 1985, New Line rushed out a sequel to its breakout horror hit of the prior year. But while commercially successful enough, “A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge” was initially disliked by mainstream horror fans, then later won cult status, for the same reason: It struck many as “the gayest horror film of all time,” with content that was either homoerotic or homophobic or both, depending on your view.
Breaking from slasher-genre norms, its protagonist wasn’t a “Final Girl” but a cute, blond, “sensitive” high school boy for whom Robert Englund’s murderous Freddy often seemed to be a metaphor: A flaming little secret Jesse doesn’t want to “come out,” and which only the love of the girl next door (Kim Myers) can save him from. Lead Mark Patton was a closeted gay actor who considered the film’s ambivalent sexual agenda publicly “outed” him. Documentary “Scream, Queen!” examines his complicated relationship thirty-odd years later to the movie that both peaked and more or less (at least temporarily) ended his showbiz career.
All this certainly constitutes an intriguing footnote to horror cinema history. But Roman Chimienti and Tyler Jensen’s film could’ve used more distance from its principal interviewee, a producer here. Whiny, still-resentful and at times contradictory in his perspective, Patton can’t help but view this story as “all about me,” even when (eventually) others call him on that tunnel vision. His somewhat garbled sense of victimization gets in the way of addressing other interesting issues about “Freddy’s Revenge,” leaving this just-adequately crafted doc middling at best as a sort of glorified DVD-extra inquiry. Virgil Films opened a very limited theatrical run on Feb. 27, with DVD and digital release ensuing March 3.
Bewilderingly little time is spent on the actual production and immediate reception of the first “Nightmare” sequel. Instead, from the start, focus is solidly on Missouri native Patton, who moved to New York in 1977 at age 17, soon found success acting in TV commercials, and five years later was on Broadway in “Come Back to the 5 & Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean.” He then reprised that role (as the teen who would re-emerge post-sex change as Karen Black) in Robert Altman’s film version, moving to Los Angeles for further film and TV work. En route he began an on-and-off live-in relationship with “Dallas” actor Timothy Patrick Murphy, another closeted actor with all-American good looks.
Patton’s starring role in a “Nightmare” followup seemed a big break, and indeed he got a couple high-profile TV parts the next year. But he confusingly blames the movie for ending his career even as he admits he left the business for other reasons (Murphy’s death from AIDS, the pressure to remain closeted amid that epidemic), and despite insisting he was fine with his sexual identity from an early point. When he finally meets with “Revenge” writer David Chaskin, whom he’s held responsible all these years, their awkward conversation doesn’t really clear up much — except for Patton, who hears what he wants to hear, duly announcing that he has “healed” and been “apologized to.”
Soon after this, we get a sweeping montage of gay activism and homophobia over the last half-century or so, as Patton says, “The world has changed since 1985, and you know why it’s changed? It’s changed because of people like me, who stand up and tell their stories.” This is even more hubristic than a prior reference to him as “the Greta Garbo of horror,” simply because he left the public eye for years after one medium-profile appearance in a popular franchise entry.
He sees himself as an activist, and indeed “Revenge” wound up being an important film among many young gays for whom it was an early, and unexpected, representation of sexual “difference.” But as he travels to conventions and revival screenings milking his residual minor celebrity, there doesn’t seem to be any special articulacy or altruism about HIV and gay issues happening. It’s all about him.
We hear too briefly from the sequel’s director Jack Sholder (“The Hidden”), who somewhat improbably still claims to have been oblivious to the “subtext” in a film that featured a gay bar scene and an S&M death in a gymnasium shower room. Chaskin also should’ve been prodded more about his intentions, given that “Revenge” arrived at the peak of AIDS paranoia, when the least was known about the virus and the most hostility directed towards gays.
But “Scream, Queen!” seldom strays beyond Patton’s view, and that leaves little room for acknowledgement of anything beyond how the film impacted him. (He even seems to blame others for not warning him against his own acting choices, such as a high “girlish” scream and swivel-hipped bedroom dance.) It never seems to occur to him that he’s hardly the only person ever to be perceived as gay in pop media, then suffer the potty-mouthed-adolescent abuse of internet bullies on fanboy forums.
After nearly 100 minutes, it’s amazing that not-very-good yet undeniably eccentric “Nightmare 2” remains a mystery in terms of just why the original makers chose its particular idiosyncrasies of content, rather than simply making a rote sequel (the movie even departs from the key conceit that Freddy can only harm while his victims are asleep). However, we do learn all we’d ever want to know about Mark Patton, and then some.
Adding to the sometimes less-than-polished feel of this first directorial feature for both helmers are occasional tabloid-TV-style elements, including sporadic narration by Cecil Baldwin that has the tone of an informercial announcer.