By David Dent
Most people remember ‘Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge’ as a hastily rushed out sequel to the original Elm Street movie.
Some will also recall the post-release kerfuffle, mainly after its release on video, that it was a little ‘gay’ in tone. While those comments may have been intended pejoratively at the time, Roman Chimienti and Tyler Jensen have revisited the film in their compelling and honest documentary and have also tracked down and interviewed the movie’s other star (ignoring Robert Englund), Mark Patton.
Patton has since been reclaimed as the ‘Greta Garbo of horror’, and the story of his casting and subsequent treatment at the hands of Elm Street 2’s director Jack Sholder and writer David Chaskin is chilling both in itself and as a wider moral story about the ability of Hollywood to suck up and then spit out those actors working within it.
Patton’s story starts with an escape from his small-town roots, complete with religious parents, to New York City, his pretty-boy looks getting him gigs on wholesome commercials, and a stint on Broadway which prompted him to search for a leading man movie role on the big screen: sadly that role was Jesse Walsh in the second Elm Street movie.
Knowing he was gay from an early age he found the New York stage a natural home for his talents and his lifestyle; being cast as the homosexual Joe Qualley in the play, and later the film version of ‘Come Back to the Five & Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean’ was his big break.
But the role of Jesse, which he felt should have propelled him into the mainstream, was fraught with problems. The real question hovering over the documentary is whether the director and screenwriter consciously exploited Patton’s sexual orientation, accentuating the gay overtones of the story, or not.
Either way, the role, perhaps inevitably, cast him as a gay scream queen, and its reputation precipitated the actor’s downfall. The documentary charts Patton’s attempts to restore that reputation and confront the makers of the film, to seek an apology and work out how witting they were in the way he was portrayed on screen.
Scream Queen is therefore uncomfortable viewing, particularly the latter ‘confrontation’ scenes. Patton is an actor ravaged with the injustice of his past as he is with the health problems that have dogged him for years. But he’s also a determined victim, still reeling from the impact of a cruel studio system and the spectre of AIDs, which, in the period when Nightmare 2 was released (and in the period following the AIDs related death of Rock Hudson) saw Hollywood keen to distance itself from anything even remotely gay.
There is some vindication for Patton by the end of the documentary, but one is left with the feeling of how emotionally scarred the actor was by the whole thing: rightly or wrongly, Patton feels that he was denied success because of one lousy movie. It’s a powerful piece of filmmaking; the subject matter may be genre-specific, but the message of the movie is universal.