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Fantastic Fest: Doc explores gay history of 'A Nightmare on Elm Street 2'

Matt Shiverdecker Special to the American-Statesman
"Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street" screened at Fantastic Fest 2019. [CONTRIBUTED BY FANTASTIC FEST]

It's almost hard to fathom how anticipated the sequel to Wes Craven's "A Nightmare On Elm Street" was in 1985.

The film that introduced the world to Freddy Krueger was decently successful at the box office, but the advent of home video meant that kids like me were able to sneak into the video store while our parents were buying groceries and take that VHS tape home only to be terrorized in the comfort of our own homes.

At the height of paranoia across the country about the AIDS epidemic, Jack Sholder's follow-up (subtitled "Freddy's Revenge") was instantly criticized for a storyline that was perceived to be homoerotic. Freddy possesses the body of a teenage boy named Jesse Walsh in the movie, a character played by young closeted actor Mark Patton. Unlike many of the other horror films of that time with a "final girl" who takes on the villain, for "Freddy's Revenge," Jesse was the "final boy," battling it out with Krueger and becoming the first male scream queen in horror history.

Having worked on Broadway and with a few small feature roles under his belt, Patton was delighted to be cast in a lead role. After seeing the final cut of the film, which includes a scene in a gay bar and a sadomasochistic shower scene in a men's locker room, his agents told him that he was going to have to settle for being a character actor because it was "obvious" that he couldn't play straight roles. For a 20-year-old actor trying to keep his sexuality a secret, it was an earth-shattering blow to what should have been the beginning of a promising career.

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While some television work followed, he wouldn't stay around Hollywood for long. After his lover, "Dallas" star Timothy Patrick Murphy, passed away due to complications from AIDS in 1988, Patton went off the grid and left Hollywood behind.

It wasn't until a documentary about the "Nightmare on Elm Street" series called "Never Sleep Again" hired a private investigator to track him down in 2010 that anybody even knew he was living in Mexico with his husband, Hector, staying far out of the spotlight.

With this film, directors Roman Chimienti and Tyler Jensen followed Patton around as he began to understand the depth of the fandom around his role and how the movie has been re-evaluated over time — from his first horror and comic conventions to the opportunity to reunite with his castmates from the film, including Freddy himself, Robert Englund.

Those actors are interviewed, as are fans of the film like drag superstar Peaches Christ, who talks about the importance of horror films in the gay community and helps to get to the core of why these movies are so beloved.

As a documentary subject, Patton is a dream. With the benefit of time, he is able to vividly articulate his history and is more than willing to confront his past fears and concerns on camera (leading to a cathartic confrontation with the movie's original screenwriter, David Chaskin).

"Scream, Queen!" works as a skillfully told document for horror fans but also has the strength and benefit of Patton's character and career history to be thoroughly enjoyed by somebody who has never even seen those movies.

In its 15th year, the fine folks at Fantastic Fest have added in a sidebar of queer horror programming. Paired with an archival 35mm screening of "A Nightmare on Elm Street 2," both films are screening again as part of this special LGBT+ lineup on Tuesday night.