When I watched Nightmare on Elm Street 2 for the first time, I gave the film a 3 out of 5 star rating. I thought it was hokey, a little boring, but mostly enjoyable and ultimately harmless. Especially for something I was engaging with almost entirely on the basis of its gay subtext I had heard so much about.
I think that I have come incredibly far since that initial viewing.
I had to rewatch Nightmare 2 for my class on film analysis back at the end of 2019, a few months after my first watch, as it was the example for how to examine genre and its constraints or the breaking of them.
And I debated on whether or not I was actually going to rewatch the film- that semester was busy for me, and I’d skipped rewatching other movies in the course just out of time mismanagement already- but I decided to watch it again just because, hey, it’s gay horror and it wasn’t awful. Why not?
And that’s how Nightmare on Elm Street, Part Two: Freddy’s Revenge became one of my favorite movies; and I’m talking outside of the horror genre and in the context of general film itself. It’s just a really infectiously enjoyable movie, and Mark Patton gives a phenomenal performance as Jesse, horror’s first “male scream queen”.
Even though the film doesn’t work within the universe of the franchise, even though there are some glaring and painful flaws to the story, I love the film in spite of these issues. The problems don’t break the experience for me, to the point where I accidentally watched it twice in one day, and I never felt bored or worn out.
And one of the most engaging elements of Nightmare 2 is the various ways you can interpret the message of the film, and, what is in this case, the beauty of the “death of the author” (a literary argument by Roland Barthes that says “to assign a single, corresponding interpretation to [text] is to impose a limit on that text”, and that writing and its creator are unrelated; it’s an argument that’s hard to objectively apply across various media, but we’ll get to that later).
When it was initially written by David Chaskin, the message of the Elm Street 2 was almost undeniably intended to be homophobic, with Freddy as the ‘human’ embodiment of homosexuality who must be defeated.
“[T]here was certainly some intentional subtext but it was intended to play homophobic rather than homoerotic … If you really wanted to have fun, one might argue that the entire movie is a metaphor — Jesse is, in the end, finally able to control the monster inside him (his latent homosexuality) with the love of a good woman.” — Chaskin, to bloodygoodhorror.com
To say it is unsurprising that a straight man writing a script about “defeating homosexuality with the love of a good woman” is inherently homophobic is an insult to understatements and obviousness. And much of that original intent does come through, if you watch the movie with this metaphor in mind. You can see it blatantly in the ending, where Lisa tells Freddy that she is going to take Jesse “away from [him]” and send Freddy “straight back to hell”. The language invoked here is intentional.
What is surprising is how long Chaskin denied the extent of that intentional subtext. In that previously quoted interview, he continues:
“[T]here were certain choices that were made (e.g., casting) that, I think, pushed the subtext to a higher level and stripped away whatever subtlety there may have been…”
That casual deflection off of himself and onto the casting of Mark Patton is almost fascinating in how irresponsible it is. Rather than saying “yes, my script had gay undertones that became overtones once put to a visual medium”, or even just leaving his intentions ambiguous, he instead opted to spend years insisting that it was the casting of Patton that made the subtext into text. The insinuation being that Patton was just so gay that there was no other way for the film to turn out.
Other people have noted this too. It’s awful convenient that Chaskin changed his song as “the tide has turned toward widespread acceptance of gay representation”, waiting until 2010 to finally confirm that the gay (sub)text was always his intention. It’s awful convenient that as the film has garnered a cult following, primarily composed of LGBTQ people, to suddenly have intended the film to be some celebration of gayness rather than a condemnation of it.
The documentary Scream, Queen! has been mentioned in articles about Elm Street 2 since at least 2016, and the Kickstarter page, with which the film was at least partially funded, dates back further to 2015.
After resurfacing as a result of the mega-documentary on the franchise, Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy (2010), Mark Patton has since been trying to find the best way to tell the story about his participation in the series, a story an increasing number of people have grown interested in. The 2019/2020 documentary is the final product of that, described by him as his “catharsis”.
Starting in April of 2019, Scream, Queen! was shown across the United States and several European countries (I’ll spend the rest of my life kicking myself for not knowing it was showing close to me in California) before seeing a wider release online in March of 2020. I’d been waiting to see the film since September, months before rewatching Elm Street 2, based on a friend’s positive review. This was probably one of the first documentaries I’ve gotten excited about and remained excited about, renting the film the moment it became available.
The documentary, as previously alluded to, focuses on the film itself (as well as the Nightmare on Elm Street series as a whole) and on Mark Patton, the actor and the man. Much of the first hour of the documentary is a history lesson: on the life of Patton, on the impact of Nightmare 2 on his life and career, and on the impact HIV and AIDS had on America, on Hollywood, and on Patton himself.
These elements alone create a perfectly enjoyable documentary on their own, but were yet to give me much information that I hadn’t previously known, as someone who’d been researching the film and its creation for months by now. What I was here for was the confrontation, the catharsis previously mentioned; condemnation of the atmosphere of silence and general complicity that has so long hung over Nightmare 2.
I am pleased to say that in this aspect, the documentary continues to deliver. Krueger’s actor, Robert Englund, is notably and incredibly open about his knowledge of the film’s subtext-bordering-text, even digging at those involved in the film for having “selective memory” about how overt the metaphor was. I deeply appreciate his bluntness and openness, but I appreciate even more the fact that these other actors never overshadow Patton’s thoughts and feelings. This is all meant to be about him, for him, and the documentary does not forget that at any point.
The catharsis of the documentary really starts to culminate in Florida, at the first-ever cast reunion for Nightmare 2. After a public panel, the cast (including the director of the film, Jack Sholder) gather at their hotel for further discussion, this time only for themselves and the documentary’s cameras. The one notable absence? David Chaskin.
I think it important to note that up until that point, Chaskin’s presence into the documentary had been surprisingly brief; he’s featured in one or two camera interviews, and his quote about “certain elements” pushing “subtext to text” is given particular emphasis. I think that Patton and the directors of this documentary made a point to give him as minimal as a voice as possible, and for that I genuinely applaud them. Patton’s voice in this is far more valuable in this discussion than Chaskin’s is.
While Sholder and Patton discuss Patton’s resentment towards Chaskin, Mark says something that I had been thinking almost verbatim before seeing the documentary, and that I wrote in at the beginning of this article:
“The point is, he didn’t admit his intention, back when it wasn’t acceptable to be gay. Then when people started to notice his subtext, he denied it, and instead he pointed the finger at me.
“Now that it’s becoming an interesting thing, he’s owning it, he wants to take credit for it.”
It is only when all other avenues have been thoroughly explored that we finally arrive at the emotional peak of the documentary, the sit-down with Chaskin.
I won’t spoil what’s said and discussed here, because this film is still hot off the presses and I really want people to watch it for themselves. But I will say that the conversation, while initially starting off really rough to watch, goes to and ends in a place that I genuinely was not expecting. And I think it helps to land the documentary in a happy place that feels good and truly earned. Despite all this pain and suffering, Patton is healing, and he’s proud of what he’s come to accomplish in the last few years, and that’s what matters.
Previously, I mentioned death of the author in the case of Elm Street 2, and that it is a large part of why I enjoy the film without a whole lot of guilt.
Don’t get me wrong, I purposely say “without a lot” and not “completely without”, because thinking about the film means thinking about the absolute devastation it has wrought on Mark Patton. It doesn’t feel right as a gay man to derive so much joy from something that nearly destroyed another. I can never feel completely devoid of guilt in this regard.
But that’s why death of the author is such a relieving concept, as subjective as it is. I know that David Chaskin wrote something horribly homophobic, and I still harbor doubts that he truly understands that, but when I watch Nightmare on Elm Street 2, I’m able to put that knowledge in a box and ignore it for 90 minutes. I like the first Elm Street film, but I love the sequel. Mark Patton grabs me and takes me on a journey every time, and every time I go with him excitedly. He brings a depth and vulnerability to Jesse that I’ve seen very seldomly among other gay characters in film. Chaskin’s past behaviors and comments cannot take that from me.
When Chaskin wrote this film, it was with the intent to push a message of homophobia. I come away from the film with a different view; one I’ve seen pushed for more in recent years by a number of other individuals (including, most notably, from Englund himself!)
To me, the film isn’t about repressing gayness to the extent of caving in to compulsive heterosexuality. Quite the opposite. I view the film in I guess what you could call more “modern” terms.
I see the Freddy not as a metaphor for the mere existence of gayness, but what closeted individuals can come to view gayness as. Especially in the context of the 80’s, when the community was literally being wiped out and otherwise persecuted for simply existing.
Freddy is internalized homophobia, he is the inherent fear that comes with being “different” from what Western society pushes as the norm.
Read like this, the film is no longer quite so bleak and hopeless. It isn’t a film subtextually about gayness needing to be repressed, lest it kill you and everyone you love. Instead, the film becomes about finding self acceptance; when Lisa frees Jesse from Freddy, she isn’t freeing him from gayness, she’s freeing him from his own fear that being gay would kill him — socially, emotionally, and perhaps ultimately physically. Lisa’s proclamations of love are not inherently romantic in nature, now, rather a promise to Jesse that he is lovable despite what heteronormative society would otherwise say.
(Chaskin is not a writer talented in subtlety; you’d have to really fight to get an interpretation of this film that wasn’t about gayness in some way or form.)
This reading also makes the ending of the film more sensible, in my opinion. Separate of the specific subtext of the film, the ending is a carbon copy of the first Elm Street’s, where the protagonists witness the revival of Freddy, who was/is never truly dead, as they are driven off to an unknown fate. And separate of subtext, this ending makes even less sense in the second film than it did in the first.
But if you read it with Chaskin’s original intent, the ending then becomes this ominous warning that while gayness can be repressed, it could rise up again at any moment. Gayness is a constant danger which might strike again even after seemingly being “defeated”.
With the reading of Freddy as internalized self-loathing, as internalized homophobia, the ending does not become a happy one, per say, but it is significantly less insidious. Following our metaphor, the ending now simply indicates that internalized self hate is not something that can just go away overnight. It is a lifelong battle. The ending is also heavily reliant on the film’s visual style of dreams, which likely means we aren’t meant to view the scene as literal.
Jesse does not literally get driven off into the desert, to his likely death. I think that the ending is meant to be the representation of Jesse’s still-present fears about his own gayness, something that he will always have to deal with in some ways; because outside acceptance is not a cure-all, vital as it is. At the end of the day, we still have to accept ourselves, and that is nowhere near an easy process.
Ultimately, regardless of how you yourself view the message of the film, I think that Nightmare on Elm Street 2 is one of the most fascinating works of art that I’ve come across in the horror genre.
It’s not Good Horror, there’s not an intentional scary moment that truly works in the whole thing, but it’s a movie that I intend to eventually show to everybody I know. It’s a movie that I could spend- and have spent- hours talking about.
And it is a movie that continues to carve a place out for itself in popular culture; the most recent example being It: Chapter Two (2019), which borrows much of Jesse’s wardrobe in the clothing of Richie, the film’s own gay character, who must also wrestle with the ““consequences”” of his gayness and with the possibility of coming out (which he … sort of does, by film’s end. The movie is complicated there; I like Elm Street 2 more).
I don’t think there is a way to talk about this film without acknowledging the background and history that bore it, and that can be a good or a bad thing, depending on how you personally consume media. I think that knowing about the homophobic behaviors of David Chaskin and the circumstances of Mark Patton’s “outness” could ruin the viewing experience for some. I certainly don’t blame other gay people for reacting to this movie negatively when what it wants to represent is something so inherently insidious; especially when it is built off the back of a gay man, who did truly suffer for so long after the movie’s release.
But I think that I can, for once, find solace in “separating art from the artist”, a term that I normally loathe in how it is used to diminish the evilness of abusers and predators. There’s solace in knowing that Chaskin has not really worked in Hollywood as a writer since 2000. He is not a Polanski nor a Woody Allen, men who continue to profit and gain acclaim from new work in the modern day.
After this documentary, I think that Chaskin is finally going to fade from the public eye, and I think that that is for the best. We don’t need to remember him.
Scream, Queen! is a much needed documentary about how media does not exist in a bubble. Film is always formed by the sociopolitical norms of the time, and horror is always especially always reflective of that. This documentary is a love letter to the fans of Nightmare 2 as much as it is a warning; of course we can adore the film, but we can’t forget the suffering and the bigotry that created it and resulted from it.
Most importantly though, this documentary establishes that Patton is happy. He’s healthy, he’s married, he’s selling beautiful hand-painted purses in Mexico, and he’s a proud activist, pushing to protect and inform us younger gays who came later. He’s a hell of a role model.
If you need more films to expand your queer cinema list, or if you’re just simply curious about a horror cult classic, I say you should give this documentary a watch. Support our king of horror!
Scream, Queen! is now available for purchase on Amazon. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge is available for purchase on Amazon Prime, iTunes, YouTube, and Google Play.