I wrote the original version of this post for the Fringe! Queer Film Fest blog. I don’t trust them to pay their hosting bill, so I’m reposting it here.
I was a naive 8-year-old, sneakily watching taped-off-the-TV video nasties round my friend Paul’s house, in the far outskirts of London at the fag end of the 1980s. That’s when I first lost my mind to the Nightmare on Elm Street series - and its razor-fingered star, Freddy Krueger.
I don’t have a clear memory of Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge - known to horror fans as “the gay one” - though Paul’s collection, or more accurately Paul’s much older brother’s collection, was so extensive that I must have watched it at some point.
I’ve rewatched it now, as preparation for the Fringe screening of the documentary Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street, which follows Mark Patton, who in 1985 was a young and closeted star on the rise… until he made the fateful mistake of starring in Freddy’s Revenge. Maybe I was too young to pick up on the gay subtext the first time round. But I’m shocked that even super sheltered 8-year-old me missed it. For this movie is mightily, mightily gay.
Don’t believe me? Here’s a far from exhaustive list of all the times the sweat-drenched, leather-clad, budgie-frying Freddy’s Revenge proved its status as a beyond-camp classic.
Patton’s not happy about what went down on set back in 1985. He’s got his reasons, and more on those later, but first things first. But one strong bit of evidence in his favour is the fact this movie is not only really gay - it’s also terrible. In fact, the greatest argument for the film’s mile-wide gay streak being only semi-intentional is that so little about this film seems intentional!
Filmed off the back of the original Nightmare on Elm Street’s success a year earlier, the sequel was shot on the cheap and in a hurry. It’s no surprise the production manager apparently bailed half way through the shoot - it’s a festival of continuity errors, with crew members clearly visible wandering in the background in more than one scene.
The shopworn feeling extends to the film’s soundtrack: the theme’s the thinnest of thin ripoffs of Debussy’s Après-midi d’un faune, run through what sounds a lot like a Casio keyboard. And let’s not even get started on the stupendously tiny special effects budget.
All this lends a exploitative edge that makes the sleazy moments described below all the sleazier.
That’s enough on the financials, let’s get to the gay bit. Specifically Mark Patton’s original male scream queen, Jesse. He’s introduced to us after a sweaty nightmare, climbing out of bed in his white briefs with a little exploratory tug on his penis.
Soon after, the film introduces us to another important plot point: Jesse’s butt, framed, like in all the best 80s porn, with a tidy white jockstrap. It’s on show about 10 minutes in, following a playground fumble with best friend Grady (more on him later).
And the bum fun keeps coming. Witness - through your fingers - Jesse’s dance sequence while tidying his bedroom to Fonda Rae’s disco classic Touch Me, nudging his dresser drawer shut with his stonewashed 501s.
“You’re my handy man… baby you’re so hot”, Fonda gasps, just before Jesse hits stop on his cassette player, having been interrupted by his love interest/hag, Lisa (a little more on her later).
“Where does this go?”, she asks, brandishing a can of JOCK ITCH, before shoving some of Jesse’s things deep into the closet. Which includes a board game called Probe. The set dresser was definitely in on the subtext, then.
Speaking of probing, this is all just a warm up to the main event: Jesse’s various hot, sweaty encounters with Freddy Krueger himself.
While satisfying himself with the odd grapple with Grady, Jesse goes in for full penetration with his stripy-jumpered paramour. Freddy has a definite dom top vibe, moving inside Jesse’s body from time to time and forcing our hero to go on some murderous rampages.
The scenes between the two are a festival of innuendo. Some sample chat up lines from Freddy: “DADDY CAN’T HELP YOU NOW” and “YOU’VE GOT THE BODY, I’VE GOT THE BRAIN”. Playing coy, Jesse later sighs to Lisa, “he’s inside me and he wants to take me again!”
Anyway, spoiler alert, Jesse turns the tables on Freddy by the end - in a fiery denouement set in a disused electricity substation. Did someone say power bottom?
We’ve had penetration, lets move into some bondage, in the form of Jesse’s sadistic gym teacher Mr Schneider, who, as Grady complains, “always has a stick up his ass”.
Thanks to a series of jaw-to-the-floor plot contrivances, Jesse ends up at friendly local leather bar DON’S PLACE, depicted with all the tact and sensitivity you’d expect from a zero budget horror film shot in the midst of the AIDS crisis and 30 years before gay marriage was made legal.
Up against some stiff competition, S&M-loving Schneider’s the scariest of the scary gays in the bar, and, noticing Jesse, he invites him to do some laps round the school gym. Followed by a nice warm communal shower. Which is a great excuse for a few more soapy butt shots.
Jealous Freddy’s not best pleased by all this. So Schneider’s forced into the showers by various balls of all shapes and sizes (basketballs, tennis balls, footballs) being hurled at his prone body.
Just in case anyone missed the subtle symbolism of this sadistic grand guignol, the coach is then stripped, tied up with towels and slashed from the back. Cue some marginally less appealing butt shots. Shame they didn’t all agree on a safe word back at the bar.
Throughout the movie, Jesse’s also juggling the charms of his “girlfriend” Lisa and his buff bestie Grady. Busy boy! Anyway, Freddy and Schneider might be good for nighttime hookups, but Grady’s definitely the marrying kind. And poor Lisa, despite her fetching collection of dangly earrings, is just an afterthought.
This all comes to a climax when, at Lisa’s pool party, and having had an unappealing grapple with his hostess on the floor of the cabana, Jesse flees home to his buff bestie. “Hey Grady, you remember your dreams?” he asks. “Only the wet ones,” comes the reply. Charmer!
The night all ends in tears though: back at the pool, the hot dogs are catching on fire, the beers are exploding, the visual sex metaphors are multiplying, Freddy’s on the rampage and the oddly flourescent green water gets infused with bright red blood. The boys are too busy in bed to notice, though.
Though there’s an overlap camp isn’t always gay and gay isn’t all camp. On the camp side of the ledger, let’s turn to the fate of Jesse’s pet bird.
Avian attacks have an indelible place in top-drawer cinematic horror. Think Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, to the (genuinely still frightening) horror shocker Q from the early 80s. Director Jack Sholder’s not exactly Hitchcock though, so we have to make do with a killer budgie spontaneously combusting in Jesse’s family living room.
Sidebar: Jesse’s conversations with his parents are loaded with The Room-level non sequiturs, with the dad in particular more concerned with his Elm Street home’s malfunctioning air conditioning than anything else. So it’s no surprise that Jesse gets the blame for the burning bird - “what’d you use, firecrackers?” - for absolutely no reason.
Maybe I’m being unfair though, daddy does suggest Jesse checks into a “methodone clinic”, after he shows up at home one rainy night, naked, covered in blood and accompanied by two policemen. Parent of the year!
Whatever the camp insanity happening onscreen, what was happening behind the camera was even crazier, as is revealed by the Scream, Queen! documentary.
Sholder deserves some credit for getting the film together at all, given the time and budget constraints. Ultimately, Freddy’s Revenge was a modest box office success. But, the documentary suggests, the director in such a hurry that it seems he didn’t notice the mighty gayness of the script, by David Chaskin.
Which meant that Patton, his star, got pigeonholed once Freddy’s Revenge… came out. The movie is “the gay one” because Jesse is “the gay one”. Good luck with getting work in mid-80s AIDS crisis Hollywood after that, kid! Embittered, the young actor eventually left the business entirely - only resurfacing with Scream, Queen! which he crowdfunded.
The documentary is an attempt to redress the balance from all the snickering responses to Freddy’s Revenge - such as this blog post, let’s be honest - and also to put Chaskin on the spot for his script. After all, he’s spent decades denying its life-ruining gay subtext.
Does Patton get some catharsis from his 30-year nightmare? Does Chaskin cop to his queering of the horror movie template? Do we find out happened to that poor animatronic budgie? You’ll have to come and watch to find out - at 4pm, on Sun 17 November at Rio cinema!
And then do the indecent thing and watch Freddy’s Revenge again. I’m definitely going to.