Scream Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street – Hollywood, homophobia and horror

8 mins read

In October 2019, our retrospective look at A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2 shone a light on homophobia in 1980s America. Exploring the undeniable themes of sexuality and gender sitting at the heart of an unlikely LGBTQ film. At the same time, exploring these in the context of the socio-political world of its release. A world where AIDS had changed the landscape of equality and human rights. In turn, taking LGBTQ inclusion back into the dark days of the 1950s. Now with the release of a new documentary feature Scream Queen. These themes gain even greater focus through the personal journey of the film’s star Mark Patton.

Scream Queen is fundamentally Marks story, taking us from his childhood in Missouri to late teens in New York; a city that provided many young gay men with an escape from small-town America. But for Mark, the bright lights of New York also helped launch his acting career in TV commercials. A job only further encouraged by the stage show ‘Come Back to the 5 & Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean‘. Its theatrical success leading to a film a few years later, with Patton moving to Los Angeles for further opportunities. A move that would result in him meeting Dallas star Timothy Patrick Murphy. With both young men entering into a relationship firmly hidden from public view.

But aside from hidden first love, Los Angeles also provided Mark with an opportunity to widen his career in film. Ultimately opening the door to A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2. In a genre that was becoming a birthplace for new stars. With Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp and Jamie Lee Curtis all finding their voice through horror. However, Patton’s excitement at walking down Elm Street was soon replaced by a living nightmare. With a screenplay that subverted the traditional gender constructs of 80s horror while reflecting the terror of coming out.

Scream Queen takes us on a fascinating and enlightening journey through 80s Hollywood. One that is ultimately less about the structure of A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2 and more about the culture into which it was born; the devastating effect of AIDS in ravishing communities just beginning. At the same time, Mark’s journey as a gay actor was restricted in a system where sexuality remained taboo. Much of his anger and pain centring on the political isolation of the LGBTQ community due to AIDS and institutional homophobia. Rather than the initial filmmaking process that sat behind Freddy Kruger’s return. The post-release criticism of the film dovetailing with a society built on acceptable homophobia. Those involved quickly distanced themselves from a mainstream horror film embraced by the LGBTQ community.

Scream Queen clarifies that those involved in the film were fully aware of the subtext it carried. Despite the film being shrouded in debate and denial in the years proceeding release. The critical backlash and LGBTQ embrace of the film clearly leaving many of those involved in its production nervous. As ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2‘ suddenly became a part of the anti-gay backlash of 80s America. With the film’s writer and director finding it easier to dismiss the subtext, it carried rather than ignite further debate on the film’s themes.

This, in turn, left Patton out in the cold as a publicly closeted gay male actor in Hollywood. His career opportunities clashing with insinuations that his own sexuality was the driving force behind the films ‘gay’ subtext; his own life and career becoming a part of the film’s narrative. Just as he found himself submerged by the real horror of AIDS with the loss of his partner and friends and his own diagnosis.

Ultimately this led Patton to disappear from public life, taking his experience of Hollywood with him. Meanwhile, A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2 unwittingly became a part of the homophobia sitting at the heart of the Hollywood system. The films symbolic yet confused exploration of sexuality feeding a debate filmmaker’s preferred to ignore. Debates centred on the isolation of coming out, the demonisation of gay people in horror, and the gay panic of 80s society.

Whether Scream Queen focuses enough on the writing and development of A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 is debatable. But its broader analysis of an 80s film industry unable to cope with LGBTQ representation is devastating, especially as AIDS took hold of many of its own employees, the end of their lives haunted by tabloid stories. With no protection or support from the studios who had profited from their talent. Ultimately creating a real-life horror that Hollywood ignored in favour of public acceptance. With actors advised to hide their sexuality from public view at all costs. The screenplay for A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 ultimately escaped scrutiny due to the need for quick financial success. However, did this film change Hollywood or endorse its homophobia? And has horror learned to embrace the LGBTQ community since its release?

The first question’s answer is complicated, with the film wrapped in years of scrutiny and reappraisal. But A Nightmare of Elm Street Part 2 is now firmly and proudly held aloft as a gay horror movie. The community once offended, now liberated in reclaiming its 1980s narrative as social commentary. Simultaneously, the answer to the second question sadly remains ‘no’, with the genre still actively dismissing both gay characters and stories. Patton’s portrayal of Jesse still being discussed due to there being no equivalent in modern mainstream horror. A sad and truly disappointing reflection of an industry still averse to portraying the lives of LGBTQ characters and the horrors of homophobia.

Director: Roman ChimientiTyler Jensen

Stars: Mark PattonCecil BaldwinRobert Englund, Jack Sholder, David Chaskin 

Read our retrospective look at A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2 here

Scream Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street is available to stream now exclusively on Shudder

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