Friday, March 6, 2020

scream, queen! my nightmare on elm street

One of my earliest memories of a horror movie that truly frightened me to my core was Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge. Not only the school bus intro but one glimpse of Freddy's shadowy profile out the window in the yard. This was still when Freddy (Robert Englund) was a terrifying menace and lesser a gooey, wisecracking menace. I was around seven years old or so at a friend's sleepover, who rented it from our local video store. The video cassette covers for the Nightmare series, like many of my generation, is burned in my brain.

The movie soon faded a bit from memory and hasn't been one that I've gone back to too often in the Nightmare saga (admittedly that would be the first, third and, my favorite, the fourth in the group). When I would later watch the bus scene as an adult, it seemed clunky and funny; I am fascinated that I was petrified of it as a child. Also missing for me as a child (and not mentioned out loud by my sleepover cohorts) was the overt gay subtext in the film--though the imagery of inexpressible, sweat-soaked sense of panic that lingered through much of my adolescence, is what still immediately comes to mind when I think of Elm Street 2. Little did I know then as a child, watching in a sleeping bag in the dark on VHS, the plight gay men were going through at the time, including the film's lead actor.

The documentary has been a vital part of recent years of unearthing niche subjects and making them feel more universal. The extraordinarily in-depth Never Sleep Again was a quintessential study of the Nightmare on Elm Street films, and one that left anyone fascinated by the movies on a high of all the interviews and commentary.

Roman Chimienti and Tyler Jensen's Scream, Queen! My Nightmare On Elm Street hones in on the lead of Nightmare 2, Mark Patton. Patton was a young, attractive up-and-coming star who was rising to fame in the midst of the McCarthy-esque, homophobic era of AIDS. Scream, Queen!, a brisk, seemingly frivolous study, traces this era quite astutely, with biting clips galore from the mediascape of the times. Often, the industry becomes its own monster. Patton, who is still ridiculed to this day for his part in Nightmare 2, was told by his agent to "act straight" and basically lost his way in the entertainment world thereafter. This sensitive topic of "straight-acting" has rarely been brought up by movies or documentaries in general, though it remains an inherent cog in the Hollywood machine. Just last night I viewed this year's The Way Back, where a burly Ben Affleck's sensitive cry-side is buried under layers of shouty, masculine machismo uplift. The straight man and his bristling masculinity still remains an alluring role model for men. Patton's casting as the "final girl" archetype of a slasher pic still seems quite subversive.

Scream, Queen! opens with dazzling montages of horror movies of the past, its rich tradition and its appeal to gay men in particular (the monster as "bully"; the final girl as wish fulfillment). Overall, it's well-edited and well-scored (an appropriately throbbing synth nostalgic ride by Alexander Taylor). When it centers upon Patton, it's at its most alive and intimate. We see a brief autobiographical sketch of him, all through photographs and film, and then to his present state--living away in a beautiful, artsy little dwelling in Mexico. Now, his appearance weathered by illness and hurt, he's seen as an activist, emerging out of his home for American horror conventions and screenings, to speak about his experiences from the heart. The director of Nightmare 2, Jack Sholder, seems strangely uncomfortable of his movie's homoerotic subtext--as if it were something to wash away rather than embrace--something to him that's a curious, morbid accident. When Patton finally confronts the screenwriter of Nightmare 2, who was long dismissive and jocular of both Patton's performance sexuality, Patton's brow shakes, as if he is nervously and finally coming to terms with a demon that has long followed him. It's an exquisite scene and one that compliments the gory struggles of his character in the original film. Ultimately, there is catharsis in this unique doc and celebration. ***

-Jeffery Berg

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