SCREAM, QUEEN! MY NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET – Review by Sarah Ward

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When Freddy Krueger first slashed his away across cinemas in 1984, sinking his razor-adorned claws into the box office in the process, he was instantly guaranteed a repeat outing. Indeed, thanks to the success of the Wes Craven-written and -directed first dalliance with the striped jumper-wearing villain, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge was always going to happen. But that sequel, rushed to screens in 1985 to capitalize upon its predecessor’s popularity, wasn’t the franchise follow-up that was expected at the time. It’s another Nightmare movie, undoubtedly, as well as another chance for Krueger (Robert Englund) to stab and scare; however it also feigns in one direction while heading in another. Although denied by screenwriter David Chaskin for years, it’s a film so loaded with queer subtext that today, 35 years later, there’s no ‘sub’ about it.

In Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street, first-time directors Roman Chimienti and Tyler Jensen unpack that reality — including how and why Freddy’s Revenge is considered “the gayest horror movie ever made”. To do so, they explore the film’s place in both horror and queer history, the response to it over the decades and the thoughts of those involved with making it, with the documentary assembling a hefty array of both archival making-of clips and talking heads to interrogate its subject. Scream, Queen! doesn’t just contemplate the Nightmare franchise’s first sequel, though, but takes its approach to heart. While this is a movie about Freddy’s Revenge — and a welcome step back into the horror saga a decade after it released its most recent chapter — it’s really a movie about the film’s star, Mark Patton.

When Scream, Queen! begins to detail Patton’s tale — after a brief introduction that explains Freddy’s Revenge status in the slasher genre, and the genre’s prominence in the 1970s and 1980s — it sounds like the standard stars-in-their-eyes story. At the age of 17, he moved to New York from Missouri to pursue his dream, as well as to escape the unwelcoming small-town attitudes he knew would greet him due to his sexuality. Commercial work primarily beckoned, until Patton featured in both the stage and screen versions of Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean. Then, living in Los Angeles, he landed the lead in Freddy’s Revenge. Playing Jesse, the next character to be terrorized by Krueger, it was meant to be Patton’s big break, but instead it helped derail his career.

It’s impossible to watch Freddy’s Revenge without gleaning the queer elements, and not just in the film’s gay bar and shower scenes. The sequel’s narrative follows a teen boy who panics about being intimate with the opposite sex and, in a case of possession, whose body is overtaken by Krueger — and even positioning Jesse as the protagonist in a genre known for its ‘final girls’ makes a statement. So, naturally, both audiences and critics perceived all of the above upon the movie’s initial release; however, when controversy and backlash arose, it largely landed upon Patton. That’s not the only reason that his visions of movie stardom faded, but at the height of 80s-era AIDS-related homophobia, it was a significant factor.

Patton is also one of Scream, Queen!’s producers, so the feature was always going to honor his side of the story — but, as the documentary charts the many ups and downs of both his experiences and the public’s opinion of Freddy’s Revenge, he’s the frank and earnest star of the increasingly bittersweet and frequently moving show. No movie could delve into the tale of Nightmare’s first sequel without detailing the tale of its lead, as Chimienti and Jensen smartly realize, and the result is a vastly more personal and probing film than might’ve eventuated otherwise. It’s one thing to academically discuss the impact, iconography and boundary-breaking importance of Freddy’s Revenge, which this documentary still does. It’s another, of course, to thoughtfully examine how the film and all of the pioneering aspects that it is now celebrated for substantially affected the man at its center in a lengthy list of ways. And the latter doesn’t just provide context for the former, but furnishes the real and potent story here: the story of how one actor who thought he’d earned the door-opening role of a lifetime was then forced to weather all the ebbs and flows that the industry could throw at a gay man in a subversively queer-leaning mainstream Hollywood movie in the ‘80s.

Though filled with enough tangents to sustain a longer film or even a series, the 99-minute end product proves an engaging, compelling ride that spans well beyond a mere ode to and on-screen re-evaluation of a polarizing horror follow-up. Scream, Queen! is slickly, formulaically produced, with viewers immediately able to spot the standard film-centric documentary template at work — but like Freddy’s Revenge, it delivers far more than its audience might expect.

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Sarah Ward

Sarah Ward

Sarah Ward is a freelance film critic and writer. She is the Australian-based critic for Screen International, and writes for ArtsHub, Concrete Playground, Goethe-Institut Australien, SBS, SBS Movies and Flicks Australia. She has also contributed to the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Junkee, FilmInk, Birth.Movies.Death, Lumina, Senses of Cinema, Metro Magazine, Screen Education and the World Film Locations book series.