When Mark Patton landed his first leading role in a major motion picture, he believed his dream of becoming a movie star was coming true.
That motion picture was 1985’s “A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge,” and instead of being launched, his career was destroyed.
Now, Patton is returning to the big screen — as himself, this time — with the documentary “Scream, Queen: My Nightmare On Elm Street,” which tells the story of how his “big break” became a controversial flash point for Hollywood homophobia and drove him away from the industry for 30 years.
Directed by Roman Chimienti and Tyler Jensen, it explores Patton’s experiences while also examining how “Revenge” was branded as “the gayest horror movie ever made.” It then goes on to follow Patton, now 62, as he embarks on a quest to confront David Chaskin, the “Freddie’s Revenge” screenwriter, who originally claimed not to have intended a queer subtext and implied that it was Patton’s performance that introduced that element into the film. No word yet on a D.C.-area screening, but it made the rounds this summer screening at Outfest in Los Angeles in late July and also at Inside Out (Toronto), QDoc (Portland), Frameline (San Francisco) and more.
Patton says he initiated the project because he felt it offered a valuable window on hidden gay history.
“This was not old Hollywood,” he says. “The tropes that existed in the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s were not the same. This was after the ’70s, there had been a liberation. We were beginning to break through. Then HIV/AIDS arrived, and that ended that, very quickly.”
As the sequel to one of the most successful horror films of its era, “Freddy’s Revenge” was a hit, financially speaking; but in 1985, with the AIDS crisis in full bloom, many audiences were uncomfortable with what they perceived as an overtly “gay” subtext. Patton’s character, a teenager possessed by the spirit of murderer Freddy Krueger, essentially assumes the role of the “last girl.” His screams are noticeably feminine and the script is peppered with unabashed double entendres (“He’s inside me and he wants to take me again!”). To make matters worse, he is subjected to a series of homoerotic scenarios, including sequences in a locker room shower and a leather bar, that make the movie’s queer undercurrent impossible to ignore.
In an early display of toxic fan culture, the movie was denounced by many viewers. Patton — who was himself gay and suddenly at the center of a controversy that put his private life under scrutiny — soon found the homophobic environment of the movie industry had become too much for him. He turned his back on Hollywood and disappeared for nearly three decades.
Then, in the new millennium, “Freddy’s Revenge” enjoyed a reassessment from fans and critics, claiming its “gayness” as a campy badge of honor. In 2010, Patton, who had by then been living in Mexico for years, working as an interior designer and artist, was invited to participate in a documentary about the “Elm Street” franchise (2010’s “Never Sleep Again”). At that point, says Patton, he “had no idea” the movie was now being embraced.
He began traveling to horror conventions, meeting with fans and signing autographs. It was at these events, where he encountered both enthusiastic welcome and still-festering homophobia, that he realized it was important for him to take control of his own narrative and set the record straight about what happened.
In the early ’80s, he explains, things had gotten easier for gay people in Hollywood.
“I was in a position as a film star where I could have a private life and a public life,” he says. “You could have both, you just had to learn to put those things together.”
That relative freedom was over when AIDS came along.
“It was no longer acceptable. You just had to disappear. You just didn’t talk about it. And then, after 1985, you just never shut up again,” he says. “It was too important. The death of a whole generation of people was more important than making a movie. At least it was to me.”
Patton believes the setbacks of that time may have felt like a crushing blow, but that they were ultimately a catalyst for change because people were fighting for their lives.
“It was painful,” he says. “It was hideous, but I don’t think gay marriage would have happened so quickly without HIV.”
“Scream, Queen” brings much of this to the surface as it tells Patton’s story, underscoring his intent to make a film that educates queer audiences about their history.
“I have a good sense of humor, but I’m deadly serious about this stuff,” he says, “because I don’t think that young people really quite understand what they’re dealing with here. I’m cynical enough at this point in my life to think, ‘What if the protease inhibitors stop working? What if they’re only good for 20 years and then the virus mutates? What if this all happens again?”
“The same thing applies to the things that are happening politically in this country,” he says. “There’s a wave going on right now and unless you’re really tuned in and you’re paying attention, you say, ‘Oh you’re exaggerating, you’re making too much of this.’ And that’s the thing that people said to Larry Kramer and those guys, in the 1970s and ’80s — ‘You’re making too big a deal out of this, we’re fine.’ I think it’s better to be cautious.”
Still, he adds that it’s important to “keep your eye on history and also celebrate the victories you are having right now.” He cites the story of Connor Jessup, a young actor (“American Crime”) who recently came out as gay for his 25th birthday.
“He just decided it was time,” Patton says. “I’m so inspired by that. I love that it’s happening. It’s a wave and it will really break when the first person becomes a movie star being out from the very beginning, and not only after achieving success.”
As for his own achievements, Patton’s rise and fall in Hollywood was only the beginning of a long personal journey in which he faced not only shame and hurt over his movie experience, but dire challenges to his physical health; ultimately, he emerged from those struggles transformed, more deeply spiritual and able to revisit the events which cast such a shadow over his life in order to seek closure.
In the process of making “Scream, Queen,” did he find it?
“I found it within myself,” he says, withholding further detail in order to avoid spoilers. “I’m looking forward to putting all of this aside, to be honest. It’s been a long journey for me.”