Within the horror genre, we often find the “final girl” trope. It’s so well-known there was even a 2015 film, aptly titled The Final Girls, that was a satirical take on this character. They are just as important and revered as the villains they fight against. Though an expected device at this point, it’s provided some iconic performances, some spanning decades. For instance, Nev Campbell as Sydney Prescott in Scream, or the scream queen herself, Jamie Lee Curtis, who is currently reinventing her character Laurie Strode from Halloween.
This “girl” exists in countless genre films and for the first A Nightmare on Elm Street, it was Nancy, respectively portrayed by Heather Langenkamp. Despite (spoiler alert) surviving Freddy Krueger’s razor-sharp glove, the character doesn’t return for the sequel. Instead, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge found a male lead, as newcomer Mark Patton was cast. Though he’d later be known as the first male “final girl”, Patton’s career at the time was tarnished by the film, as its undertones hit too close to home in a difficult time.
Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street explores the pretty obvious subtext of the slasher sequel. Freddy’s Revenge has long been recognized for having homoerotic themes, becoming a cult film within the gay community, and being one of the first films to represent queerness in the horror genre. On the surface level, it seems like this would be a good thing. Representation is extremely important, but at the height of the AIDS epidemic, the film led to a very real nightmare for Patton.
As a closeted man himself in the 1980s, the themes within this film placed Patton in homophobic crossfire. To the careless viewer, one may not notice it, but for most, the themes are noticeable. It certainly didn’t help that the writer David Chaskin essentially blamed Patton for projecting the gay undertones due to his own sexuality, which were unintentional in his script — so he said. As a result, Patton dealt with critics and typecasting upon release and the subsequent years, putting a stop to his blossoming career.
I found this documentary to be an extremely powerful and insightful film, showcasing the cultural relevance of the horror genre. It highlights the extreme homophobia in the ’80s, which is so prevalent in the words used throughout films of that time. One of the most compelling moments of the film is when Patton confronts Chaskin on not creating a homoerotic movie, but instead a homophobic one. Where the character finds himself in a literal closet hiding. Whether “unintentional” or not, the script’s opportunity to only be subtext, instead poured out from the screen to Patton’s real life.
Though, it doesn’t solely stew in the negative, pointing out the importance and new life the film has taken on in recent years. When the queerness of this film was essentially ignored and dismissed by the creators, the community it unknowingly spoke to has since embraced it.
There’s a wonderful sequence in the film where several men express their appreciation for Freddy’s Revenge. How as kids, dealing with immense bullying for being gay, saw themselves in Patton’s character and their adversaries in Freddy. Connecting with that offered them a vital lifeline during a difficult time. It shows the beauty of representation and how it affects those who see themselves on screen.
Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street is available on Shudder