Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed in this review are solely those of Marlon Wallace and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of WBOC.
This film has been in the works for several years. I first heard about the production in April 2016 when directors Roman Chimienti and Tyler Jensen came to Salisbury University to film on campus and interview Professor Andrew Scahill who had joined the staff at the school the year prior. I had interviewed Professor Scahill months before that about his book, The Revolting Child in Horror Cinema: Youth Rebellion and Queer Spectatorship. Ever since then, I’ve been waiting for the release of the film, which finally happened three years later in April 2019. It played at various film festivals like Outfest in Los Angeles and CinemaQ in Denver, Colorado, where Professor Scahill is now teaching. I waited for an opportunity to see it here on the east coast and Newfest in Manhattan was that opportunity. Now, the film is available online to everyone.
This documentary seems to be doing three things. The first is that it’s deconstructing the horror genre and its tropes, particularly when it comes to gender. The second is that it’s examining the film A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985) and how that film subverted those tropes, along with the various reactions and receptions that the film got over the past few decades. The third thing here is that Chimienti and Jensen’s film tells the story of Mark Patton, the actor who starred in the 1985 film and never starred in another after that, effectively quitting Hollywood. It’s that third thing, crafting a biography of Patton, that becomes the main thrust of what we see. Patton as a result rises as the true heart of this tale.
Chimienti and Jensen pick up Patton’s life in 2015, the year of the 30th anniversary of A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge. Patton is specifically on tour at conventions all across the country, promoting that anniversary. Patton says that he’s on this tour for various reasons. One of which is very important to his non-Hollywood life as a LGBTQ activist. The other is in part to confront David Chaskin, the screenwriter for A Nightmare on Elm Street 2. There is a series of events that led to Patton quitting the acting business. The majority of those events have to do with homophobia that has existed in Hollywood for decades, but that came into a panic in the 1980’s due to the HIV and AIDS epidemic. Unfortunately, due to interviews he did, Chaskin became emblematic of that homophobia and the focus of Patton’s frustrations.
In the wake of the release of A Nightmare on Elm Street 2, that movie became labeled as “the gayest horror film ever made,” a quote attributable to either The Village Voice newspaper or The Advocate magazine. What’s in question is how much of the film has its queer identity as subtext and how much of it is just blunt representation, as well as who’s to blame, for lack of a better word, for that representation.
The filmmakers interview Philadelphia-native Jack Sholder who directed A Nightmare on Elm Street 2. Sholder claims that he had no clue that there was even gay subtext at all. Chimienti and Jensen get comments from the actors involved in the 1985 film who said they saw the gay subtext from reading the script. Decades after that film’s release, many people comment on the blatant homoeroticism, the over-the-top male nudity and the numerous expressions of double entendres that at times reinforce same-sex attraction between men or some kind of queer identity. Sholder even shot a scene inside an actual gay bar. Yet, he claims ignorance to any of the gay stuff in the film. Sholder’s complete obliviousness aside, it’s clear to anyone that the gay subtext is there.
Patton though claims he was just doing what was in the script, which goes back to his issues with Chaskin. Chaskin said in an interview that whatever perception that Patton’s performance or character was a repressed homosexual or whatever perceived femininity was the sole fault of Patton just being gay. Whose fault it was is really a moot point because at the end of the day Patton is gay. Patton talks very candidly about being gay from the time he was born to the time he came to Hollywood and to the time of the AIDS epidemic. As such, he experienced a backlash and a homophobia that hurt him, literally causing him to flee the country to Mexico. Confronting Chaskin and making him understand how he was hurt becomes a climactic moment here.
Patton has some very heartbreaking moments as he reveals what happened in his life, leading up to that confrontation with Chaskin. There are some bigger takeaways though. So many queer people, and especially gay men, identified with Patton’s character of Jesse Walsh in A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge. As Scahill points out, queer people in general identify with certain characters in horror. Scahill explains it better in his book than here, which only provides him a couple of minutes of screen time. But he, and this film, are able to decode how gay men can see in these horror films reflections of their own experiences.
Yet, the fact that Scahill has to be the gay Robert Langdon of horror films, rooting out LGBTQ subtext in the queer version of The Da Vinci Code, is itself rather endemic of the homophobia in Hollywood that persists even to this day. The quote about A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 being “the gayest horror film ever made” could be amended as being “the only gay horror film ever made” at least by a major studio. As Patton says, the gay subtext in the 1985 cult classic is really not subtext but text. No, his character never identifies as gay, but he’s the closest male character of his type to do so in the 30 years since.
I say “of his type” because the documentary identifies a character-type in horror films known as “the final girl.” The final girl is the female character that is the last of a string of victims that a killer or monster targets. The final girl is the one who makes it to the last act of the film who is able to escape or fight back long enough until the psychopath or creature is defeated. Usually, it involves a lot of loud vocalizations in terror or fright. As Chimienti and Jensen’s film shows, often it’s the queer person that isn’t the final girl but instead the killer or the monster, such as in Rope (1948) or The Hunger (1983).
Of course, there have been small, independent and international films that have given us queer protagonists along with or in spite of the queer monsters, such as Haute Tension (2005), Hellbent (2005) and Pitchfork (2017). Filmmakers like David DeCoteau also have no problem putting homoeroticism into their horror flicks. Unfortunately, those independent films didn’t get the kind of release that Patton’s film got. Patton’s 1985 film was released in hundreds of theaters all across the country. It was a wide release that made millions. Those aforementioned, independent films don’t get that kind of mainstream push. Only a studio can do that and since the 1985 film, no studio has done so. None has made a horror film or any genre film with an openly gay protagonist. Therefore, gay men hold onto Patton and his one film because it’s all they have.
Not Rated but for mature audiences.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 39 mins.
Available on DVD and VOD. For more info, check out the film’s Facebook page.