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Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street makers on shaping the future of queer horror
For decades, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge has been scorned by many horror fans as among the worst of the franchise because it's "the gay one." But in recent years, a queer cult following has arisen around the 1985 slasher sequel that centered on a Final Boy played by Mark Patton, whose rising star was derailed by its infamy. Now the documentary Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street aims to reclaim the narrative for Patton and the queer horror fans who've come to embrace him as a scream queen to call their own.
Ahead of the film's U.S. premiere at Fantastic Fest, SYFY FANGRRLS sat down with Patton and Scream, Queen!'s co-directors Roman Chimienti and Tyler Jensen. Together, they told us how they hope this dynamic doc will reshape the legacy of queer horror, and where they'd like to see this fabulous and frightening subgenre go next.
For Jensen, the hope is that their film will be a formative experience for horror fans just as his favorite horror docs were for him. "We definitely set out to make the film that we wanted to see when we were in junior high," Jensen explained. "I remember watching Going to Pieces [The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film] and Nightmares in Red, White and Blue [The Evolution of the American Horror Film] and getting my horror history from that. And to have made a film that hopefully people will look upon as I did those films is very exciting."
As for Chimienti, he wants Scream, Queen! to push back against the homophobia that still cuts in the horror-lover community.
"So as we're sitting here, I get a notification," he said, gesturing to his phone. "We just put up our new trailer yesterday, right? So, we get comments. And the comment we just got was 'This looked great until the person with more makeup than Freddy Krueger showed up in it.' That's why we made this movie. Because this person thought it was great when they thought it was just going to be in the Elm Street canon, part of horror. You need to come watch this movie, fool, because that's what this is about. So what I hope is that it's going to be viewed by people that used to say, 'Oh, the gay one, I hate that one. Let's go watch Dream Warriors.' No, you really need to watch our movie, and then try again."
Patton shares the hope the film will educate, but he's less concerned about the straight fools. "I'd actually like it to be taught in film and queer studies," he said. "I wouldn't mind it being shown in high schools, actually, because I think it's a deep dive into many issues that young people need to deal with. As for taking it out to those straight people? Not my mission at all. I'm not interested in anybody but gay boys from the age of 13 to 20, because I want to save them. That's my mission."
The heart of Scream, Queen! is Patton's journey from closeted queer icon to out-and-proud LGBTQA+ activist. To that end, he offered, "The burden that's been placed on my heart is for those boys, because I don't want them to have to go through what I went through. I don't want them to hate themselves. I look at myself when I was that boy. People often ask, 'What's it like to see yourself on a big screen?' And I used to have this lie that I told people — and it was a good one — about how fabulous and I knew I was supposed to be there. But the first time I saw myself in Nightmare on Elm Street 2 was at MGM on an IMAX screen, and it was an industry showing. And I thought to myself, 'Oh my God, I wonder if they can tell I'm a fag. I look like it. And oh my God, I just ruined my career.' And that self-hate, I don't want anybody to have. Because I didn't identify it as self-hate, I identified it as somebody else's problem. Now I look at that boy who was me and I'm like, 'Oh my God, you are just flawless creature, just like God bless you.'" To that end, Patton's goal is to bring his hard-won epiphany of self-love to all the boys who saw a bit of themselves in his Freddy's Revenge hero.
But where would this fabulous scream queen and these horror-loving gay directors like to see queer horror go next? "We need a Get Out moment," Jensen said, referring to Jordan Peele's hit horror-thriller that explored Black trauma in America. "We need a film where people can identify with the queer character. Go through that journey, feel that fear and that tension and come out victorious."
Chimienti concurred, explaining, "I think the whole point of a successful scary movie is that it kind of takes you through your own horror and then out of it. And I think we, as the gay community, are still carrying that shadow monster on our backs. It would be nice to have that movie that represents us and allows us to move past it."
Patton thinks queer horror might do best to look back to the past to move forward. "I'd like to have Warner Brothers and Netflix let me take a crack at redoing Nightmare on Elm Street 2 as a seven-story arc on Netflix," he said. "And do it dark and put a boy in there and make it a real true coming-out horror story. With still all the horror in it, but actually have him as identifying that problem."
It's a regret he still carries about playing Jesse in Freddy's Revenge, and one he's tried to correct with Jesse's Lost Journal, a self-published novel that follows his harried hero through events of the film to a happy ending of Patton's imagining, where Jesse and Freddy run off to New York together. But in his proposed Netflix series, the major difference he'd like to see is for the gay subtext of Freddy's Revenge to come out of the closet. "No subtext," he said, teasing, "The only subtext is which boy does he get to lose his virginity to."
And Patton's not the only one in the Scream! Queen trio who'd like to have a hand in molding the future of queer horror. Asked if directing a queer horror narrative feature is something the doc's directors would be interested in, Chimienti nodded while Jensen said, "Absolutely. We may be working on one right now. Who knows?"
"We have very, very different styles," Chimienti said of himself and Jensen. "But we've learned how they can weave together. And I think you have to have that for a movie like that to be successful because it's a dance, all of this. And you can have this grand idea on paper and then it's never going to come out the way that you think it is. So you just have to find the people that add the ingredients that you need. That's a tall order and it takes a lot of courage. But we have that."
"Mmhmm," Jensen added with the flourish of a finger snap.
"Oh, we have it in spades," Patton agreed. "All of the three of us have it in spades."
Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street made its U.S. premiere at Fantastic Fest alongside a revival screening of Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge.