SCREAM, QUEEN! MY NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET **** USA 2019 Dir: Roman Chimienti, Tyler Jensen. 99 mins
Opening with a montage of notable women-in-peril moments from assorted modern horror, this is a moving, enlightening documentary about the tumultuous life and career of Mark Patton, the sensitive young man in peril of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET PART 2: FREDDY’S REVENGE. Moreover, it’s an insight into a career ruined by a “Queer film” (albeit one not sold as such) during AIDS-era Hollywood and Patton’s long-held resentment over its screenwriter, David Chaskin, who is perceived to have blamed Patton for the film’s failure with critics and fans. SCREAM, QUEEN is framed around the rebirth of PART 2 and Patton’s ultimate acceptance and appreciation of both the film and its growing army of fans. Travelling the world as a (his words) “good whore” promoting the film’s retro screenings – including one introduced as “the gayest film you’ve ever seen” – he’s looking for a resolution around his part in a film that made a lot of money but led to an existence living off grid in Mexico. Various key actors from PART 2, along with Chaskin and director Jack Sholder present their take on a mainstream genre flick about a male scream queen fending off the advances of a villain trying to get inside his body and showcasing phallic imagery, towel-snapping, a then-unusual amount of male nudity and that dance. Sholder amusingly insists he didn’t know at the time he was filming perhaps the most memorable sequence in one of the biggest gay bars in L.A., while Robert Englund is typically intelligent as he talks of the unsubtle “subtext” and the story’s positioning of Mark’s “beauty” against his “beast”. Offering a concise examination of Queer Theory in horror cinema, the documentary notes the sequel’s ground-breaking use of a Final Boy in a movie decade where words like “fag” and “faggot” were routinely employed in family fare like TEEN WOLF while Eddie Murphy relished homophobic routines in hugely popular stand-up shows like DELIRIOUS.
The core of this film, however, is a vivid portrait of Patton’s working life as the actor reflects on his rise to prominence via Robert Altman in the early 1980s and playing the Hollywood system until the ELM STREET franchise came calling. PART 2’s release, alas, coincided with Rock Hudson’s death and the grim consensus that “If you were gay in Hollywood, you were hiding”. AIDS was a far more influential boogeyman than Freddy as the liberation of the 1970s made way for the need to return to the closet: Patton’s raw reflections convey how he was forced to “play straight” if he was to sustain a career, while the media cruelly exploited his then-boyfriend’s critical illness. In the 21st century, the actor still encounters homophobic slurs from hateful trolls hiding behind keyboards, but SCREAM, QUEEN portrays a man using his bubble of fame as a positive and embracing a horror movie about beating bullies made at a time when the bullies were powerful and frightened. The documentary climaxes with a milestone in his latter life, a long-anticipated meeting with Chaskin, whose hurtful comments in print interviews over the years have suggested a view that Patton ruined the film by making it “gay”. The climactic reconciliation between the visibly nervous actor and the writer is a tense but ultimately hopeful end note for this important portrait of an artist emerging from a scarring experience with stardom to finally come to terms with – and be proud of – the work he did during the hardest time of his life.
Review by Steven West