Sunday, April 19, 2020

Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street

(NR, Virgil Films, 99 mins., DVD release date: March 3, 2020)

SCREAM, QUEEN! MY NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET only feels like it has taken five years to complete to those who were in the know when it was originally conceived as “There Is No Jesse” for its initial crowd-funding campaign. For me, however, it feels like it double that time, a complete beginning-to-end decade.

It all began when I bought Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy on DVD way back in 2010. I was in my mid-twenties and still posting reviews on Epinions, so the review I did write and submit to the IMDb is lost to time now. Daniel Farrands, Thommy Hutson and Andrew Kasch did such a fantastic job in providing a thorough series rundown, yet the big draw for me was hearing about the first official sequel to Wes Craven's legendary slasher film. And the best surprise of all was the participation of the lead actor of Freddy's Revenge himself:

Full disclosure: I got to meet Mark Patton in 2014 at Texas Frightmare Weekend as part of a micro-reunion including himself, Kim Myers, Robert Rusler, Marshall Bell, and Jack Sholder. And then there was Crypticon Minnesota 2016, which had just Patton & Myers, but also some real bucket list personalities, among them Jill Schoelen, Suzanne Snyder, Thom Mathews, and Chris Mulkey. That TFW shindig inspired me to write about A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge on my blog in anticipation of the movie's 30th anniversary. If only October 2016, which was when I went to Crypticon, was a time when the pure elation I felt could overpower the madness that had lasted the entire year. But it was mere weeks away from the seismic cultural change that was going to end a merciless calendar year, in which there were so many blows to the gut, with the knockout hook.

And now it's 2020. The spring of the quarantine. Ever since I got to meet Mark Patton, I imagined getting to see the documentary about his quest for peace with the role that made him both a cult hero and an undeserving pariah would coincide with my own picking up of the pieces from what I pray is the end of a four-year shitshow. And I fear the worst is not over. That for as excited as I am to watch Patton relate his real life story, 2016 could last until 2024. I am not ready for that. As much as I adore my signed copies of Jesse's Lost Journal and the Scream, Queen! poster, as deep the well of respect I have had for Patton as speaker and activist ever since Never Sleep Again, for the inspiration I have received in 2014 that I am paying back once again now...

I might be running down the tunnel chasing that light for a just a bit longer.

I hope I don't have to keep writing these anxious preambles every go 'round. We now live in a world where Never Sleep Again co-director Daniel Farrands decided films like The Haunting of Sharon Tate and The Murder of Nicole Brown Simpson were what the world needs the most. Point is, though things can get worse than they are, getting to buy Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street on Vudu (alongside Fat City and Moonstruck, no less) is one of the perks of social distancing.

To get across why I was jazzed about Scream, Queen! for so long, I have to transcribe a couple of quotes from Mark Patton that were featured on the second disc of outtakes from Never Sleep Again:

Hollywood is terribly homophobic, especially the homosexuals inside of Hollywood. They're the first to make fun of, to denigrate, to try to sabotage other gay people, especially gay actors...I think I would have been decimated, and I think the things about my gayness would have come out in the press in a really horrible way.”

The first half of Scream, Queen! elaborates on these statements with biographical detail. The Missouri-born Patton had a dream at age 4 that he was to be wed to a king, growing up comfortable with his sexual orientation even as he knew the dangers of rural prejudice. When he was 17, he left for New York City with little over $100 to his name, boarding in a hotel/brothel and lucking into a couple of national commercials (Big Red, Mountain Dew) before making it to Broadway. In Robert Altman's stage and screen adaptation of Come Back to the 5 & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, Mark Patton played Joe Qualley, who experiences that all-too-real brand of violent antipathy towards being seen as one of the girls. Swaying and snapping along to the McGuire Sisters' chart-topping cover of the doo-wop stalwart “Sincerely,” Joe is the male Disciple in a band of women who worship James Dean. But he soon disappears from McCarthy to escape from both bullying locals and his unrequited love, only to resurface 20 years later as the transsexual Joanne, the very name his tormentors bestowed upon him.

Emboldened by the rapturous audience reaction and welcoming professional/social environs of Manhattan, Mark Patton drove to Hollywood seeking equal opportunities. But renewing his five-year plan for the West Coast, what Patton goes through ends his acting career abruptly. In his present-day testimonials, Patton adamantly reminds straight and homosexual audiences that to be a gay performer in the mid-1980s was far from nurturing. You had to consent to a blood test in order to fully pass the audition once AIDS ballooned into a pandemic (Rock Hudson himself died a month before Freddy's Revenge premiered). Agents were telling you which clothes were acceptable with which to pass as a red-blooded American hetero. Religious fanatics and bigots spun an autoimmune virus into a stigma. Nobody was free to embrace their gayness in the public eye and gossip rags like the National Enquirer were invading many people's privacy looking to out them as such. Friends you had could turn up six months later looking like animate corpses, and if you heard nothing about them within a year, you assumed they were dead.

These were the horrors Mark Patton faced firsthand once he was cast as Jesse Walsh in the rushed-into-competion sequel to A Nightmare on Elm Street (trivia: Patton screen tested for the role of Glen Lantz, Nancy Thompson's boyfriend, which went to a first-timer named Johnny Depp). Screenwriter David Chaskin's possession-oriented concept was approved by Bob Shaye when he and Wes Craven had their falling out, but despite a two-month refinement period, Patton says Chaskin's script was still being punched-up on the set. And what the writer seized on was an allegory that was close to the bone for the gay male community.

When I reviewed A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2 in 2014, I really wanted to do it with fresher eyes. But the film's reputation is inescapable, as comment threads and clickbait articles and that 2010 documentary have branded it upon my psyche. Yes, A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge appears to have been tricked out with a LOT of gay themes and codifiers. And though Robert Englund reprised his role (after some initial resistance), this sequel got swept under the rug like it was Halloween III, the source of ironic ribbing ever since it outperformed the original at the box office. We can laugh about the absurdity of it all today, but when the film came out, critics and patrons alike were noticing the exact same peculiarities. And what damaged Mark Patton was the fact that nobody wanted to accept responsibility for the gay subtext, thrusting (erm...) the burden onto the actor at the worst sociopolitical time. His handlers told him upfront that while he could carry a film, he couldn't act “straight” (like the two male leads of The Last American Virgin who basically played the same exact roles throughout the '80s and have since come out of the closet?) Chaskin pussyfooted around the intention of his gay subtext for years, and, inadvertently or not, threw Patton under the bus, claiming his acting completely heightened it. If that weren't enough, Patton's on-and-off partner, Dallas heartthrob Timothy Patrick Murphy, was a casualty of AIDS and passed away on December 6, 1988.

All I can say is that, well...”I Am Jesse.” I opened my article expressing my deepest fears for the future, and though I am now 36, I frequently feel like I am that sullen boy alone on the bus, trying to crack a window as we are heading towards the desert inferno.

Arlene Marechal & Heather Langenkamp's I Am Nancy (2011) was a slick indie documentary that documented a Final Girl as Woman, touring the convention circuit and asking intriguing questions about how we decided to make a creepy child molester in a dirty sweater and fedora an icon. Surely, Langenkamp's Nancy Thompson was the relatable hero who declared autonomy over her fate and vanquished Freddy at the end of Craven's film. We saw something similar in Lisa Wilcox's portrayal of Alice Johnson in the fourth and fifth entries. And say what you will about Freddy's Dead, but Lisa Zane as Maggie Burroughs, psychiatrist and Krueger brood herself, continued such an honorable precedent. Freddy's Revenge had that, too, in Kim Myers as Lisa Webber, but what made Lisa's survival so much more unique and urgent was the plight of Jesse Walsh. Jesse ends up killing his best male buddy, Ron Grady (Robert Rusler), before the cabana massacre and is madly trying to convince Lisa that he is powerless to stop Freddy's continued takeover of his body (“I got blood on my hands!”).

Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street threads together tales of Patton's past life in Hollywood with the due resurgence of Freddy's Revenge fandom among young LGBTQ darlings who got their first glimpse of a gay bar the moment Jesse sleepwalked into the wrong place at the wrong time, beginning Freddy's rampage with the outrageous dispatching of Coach Schneider (Marshall Bell, whose bared buttocks was also an anomaly in slasher films). San Francisco drag legend Peaches Christ, fellow hostess Knate Higgins and University of Colorado Denver film studies professor Andrew Scahill provide articulated insight into the legacy of Freddy's Revenge, with Bill Nugent and Jeffrey Marcus helping to flesh out Patton's mid-1980s recollections. And the principal Freddy's Revenge cast/crew who I've mostly met in my own convention adventures, from director Jack Sholder to Robert Englund himself, are all refreshingly candid.

The beating heart of the story belongs to the criminally unsung Mark Patton, and for as generous as he is behind the booth, he is no less beautiful as he is pushing 60. Leaving the industry to become an interior decorator and live “off the grid,” Patton himself would be diagnosed as HIV-positive, and the stories of his troubled treatment (from a tuberculosis-related interference to the AZT regiment that was near fatal) keep the film further harrowing. Having controlled the virus, Patton headed down south to Puerto Vallarta to open up a Prada-esque business, met the Hispanic love of his life in Hector Morales and never looked back, until the makers of Never Sleep Again broke through to him.

The documentary builds to the meeting Patton has been long anticipating as a chance for closure, the one with David Chaskin himself, looking for straight (come on, John!) answers as to why Chaskin denied owning the gay elements he later claimed were intentional and a mea culpa for the hurtful things that were said on record about Patton. Somehow, the revival of Patton's purpose in life and desire to use his platform for the protection and instruction of the newer generation of gays feels resonant to all of us progressive genre nuts. And Chaskin himself, whom Jack Sholder believes Mark may be putting too much of an emotional premium on, does take into account Patton's perspective despite not living up to expectations. It's the ultimate feel-good ending, and it ends with a cute little nod to the famed Bob Shaye coda.

Since 2014, Patton has tipped his toes back into acting sporadically in genre fare, starting with Family Possessions (2016), where he co-starred with Sleepaway Camp cult queen Felissa Rose. Scream, Queen! does create a sense of empathy within the viewer which requires you to understand why Patton's integrity and health were once so painfully at risk. As I said before, the Mark Patton of the 2010s is a delightful, honest and sensitive soul. Credit Scream, Queen! directors Roman Chimenti & Tyler Jensen for molding the footage with emotional consistency, even if the sum of the quilt is less than the feel of the fabric. This duo's doc hits harder than both I Am Nancy and Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films combined, and if you think that's me being tickled a little too pink, understand too that we who have seen Freddy's Revenge know how Mark Patton screams. Now it's our turn.

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