There’s still something inside me

In which I probe my history with “Freddy’s Revenge.”

This is not a review of Scream, Queen!, a documentary about Mark Patton, the star of the queer cult classic A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge. This is a newsletter — one that’s probably more personal than it should be — about why I can’t review the movie. And also why it was so important for me to see.

I’ve written a lot about Freddy’s Revenge over the years. The unfairly maligned sequel has been deeply important to me since I first saw it in college, an essential distillation and articulation of my identity as a gay horror fan that I didn’t know I needed until I had it. I touched on this in a 2013 essay I wrote for BuzzFeed — the title, “There’s Something Inside Me,” comes from one of Jesse’s exceedingly gay lamentations about Freddy Krueger’s presence — where I wrote, “That freak, that monster, that drag queen — that was Jesse. And I understood, because that was me, too.”

At some point after I first saw the movie, Mark Patton and I became Facebook friends, and through his posts, I began to get a sense of the lasting scars his experience with Freddy’s Revenge and with Hollywood at large had left on him. At the time, no one had really done any in-depth reporting on the movie or on Mark (aside from what was included in the 2010 documentary Never Sleep Again), so I reached out to see if he would be amenable to an interview. That conversation and subsequent correspondences, along with interviews with the creative team of the film, became an in-depth feature that BuzzFeed News published in 2016: “The Nightmare Behind the Gayest Horror Film Ever Made.”

It’s a good piece, I think. (I might be biased.) It was also not an easy reporting process all the way through. One of Mark’s sticking points — and this provides much of the conflict in the recent doc about him, which I’ll get to — was that Freddy’s Revenge screenwriter David Chaskin had intentionally written homoerotic subtext into the movie and had denied that for decades by putting the blame on Mark’s queeny performance when the film got “outed.” Chaskin, who finally admitted the subtext was deliberate in Never Sleep Again, remembers things differently. We spoke via email for my article, both because I wanted to talk to as many people involved in the production as possible, and because Mark was making specific allegations about Chaskin that I had to ask for a response to.

There is often a lot of back-and-forth in reporting, and this particular assertion — that Chaskin had spent 30 years “blaming” the movie’s queer coding on Mark — was impossible for me to prove conclusively. I did my best to present things fairly, and I think the piece is ultimately quite favorable to Mark. I’m not sure he felt the same way. When the article was published, his only comment, posted on Facebook, was that he was eager for the documentary to come out so that he would finally be able to tell his story on his own terms. His displeasure seemed clear to me, and we haven’t spoken since. As a journalist, it’s not my job to make the subject of a piece happy, but I’ll admit that I was disappointed that that was his takeaway.

There were certain things that I had pushed Mark on — and this was all on the record, and mentioned in the piece, so I’m not betraying anything by writing about it now. He said that he had proof of Chaskin throwing him under the bus, but that he was saving it for the documentary. I sympathized with his desire to, as he said, tell his story on his terms, but of course that put me in a difficult position. I could only say that he claimed to have that proof. Nevertheless, there was no denying the relentless homophobia he faced, or the way the straight men I talked to for the article seemed to dismiss it. The consensus from Freddy’s Revenge director Jack Sholder was that, while he had compassion for Mark, it was time for Mark to get over these perceived slights against him. And that perspective is very much on display in Scream, Queen! as well.

This is a long-winded explanation of why I put off watching the documentary for as long as I did. And I hope it doesn’t just read as ego: I told Mark’s story to the best of my ability, and I’m glad he shared more of it with filmmakers Roman Chimienti and Tyler Jensen, because his story is very much worth telling. If anything, my apprehension about Scream, Queen! was based on my frustration that I hadn’t been able to tell the story better, that as proud as I was (and still am) of that piece, it ended up letting Mark down. The documentary, despite having nothing at all to do with me, felt like a coda that I was both eager for and wary of.

When I finally got around to watching the movie, it was with the intention of sharing my thoughts, but I discovered there was a bit too much baggage in the way. As a writer, I’ve often been surprised by how much attachment and investment can come with the stories I tell, even if they’re someone else’s. I can’t stress this enough: Mark’s story is his and his alone, and I never felt any ownership of it simply because I once helped tell a part of it. What I did feel while watching the Scream, Queen! (and, indeed, while putting it off) was a slight sense of… maybe failure’s too strong a word. Let’s go with “regret that I was never able to cross the finish line with that piece.” Can’t exactly watch someone else do that, and put bias aside. At least, I can’t.

But since I’d never really told the story behind my story on A Nightmare on Elm Street 2, this felt like the right moment. (I also recognize that it might not be interesting to anyone who isn’t me, in which case… you’ve probably stopped reading by now!)

To be clear, regardless of whatever other feelings I have about the documentary, I’m glad that it exists. Mark is a horror icon who spent far too many years being treated like a shameful blemish on the Elm Street legacy, and I am grateful that he is finally getting his due — yes, on his own terms. What I will say (now that I’ve said I won’t say anything) is that watching Jack Sholder tell Mark to move on was tough to sit through. And that climactic conversation between Mark and David Chaskin didn’t really feel like closure to me. But I do hope it felt like closure for Mark.

And I hope that people continue to discover and embrace Freddy’s Revenge, a film that had a profound impact on the trajectory of my life and my work. If you haven’t seen it, and you’re still reading, do yourself a favor and let it work its magic on you, too.

Photo via New Line Cinema.