In the fall of 1985, Mark Patton was poised for stardom. Over a few short years, the fresh-faced 21-year-old had made the leap from TV commercials to Broadway and the big screen with Robert Altman's Come Back to the 5 & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, which co-starred Karen Black, Kathy Bates, and Cher. But now, Patton was going from supporting cast to headliner as the Final Boy in the hotly anticipated A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge. However, his dreams of fame would turn into nightmares of infamy because of a public that could handle neither the film's gay subtext nor the truth of its leading man.
This truth comes out in the extraordinary documentary Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street. Produced by Patton, the film reveals the rocky road that Freddy's Revenge took from box office hit to loathed horror flick to queer cult classic — but at its center is Patton, who was closeted when his brush with Krueger torpedoed his career by effectively outing him. In fearlessly vulnerable interviews, this now out-and-proud LGBTQA+ advocate shares what he experienced since stepping out of the spotlight, which included homophobia, isolation, and the loss of his partner, Dallas TV star Timothy Patrick Murphy, who died of complications from AIDS in 1988.
Ahead of Scream, Queen!'s debut at Fantastic Fest, SYFY FANGRRLS sat down with this self-proclaimed scream queen and asked where Patton drew the line on what he'd share with the doc's cameras and, by extension, the whole wide world.
"There was no line," Patton said. "To be honest with you, there was none." For him, he's been seeking to tell his story since the 2010 documentary Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy. "Where it began was when I went on [a convention] tour after Never Sleep Again," he explained. "I didn't realize that I was famous, or notable — let's say notable. Well, infamous for sure. But I didn't want to be infamous, I wanted to be famous."
"The infamy actually was a part that pissed me off," Patton continued, "because I thought Never Sleep Again had done wrong by Jesse (his character in Freddy's Revenge). And I thought they had done wrong by Nightmare on Elm Street. It wasn't their intention. It wasn't a documentary; it was a talking-head piece. And I loved it for what it was. But I went into that situation thinking that they were going to tell the story, and I was going to get my words heard. And that wasn't it."
Going to horror conventions in the wake of Never Sleep Again's release, Patton saw firsthand the "notoriety" he had among the fandom. So, he decided to use this as a platform to promote the issues that matter most to him: "bullying, homophobia, HIV." To that end, Patton came out as HIV-positive in 2013 on the cover of HIV Plus magazine. Bolstered by The Advocate, his survival story went around the world.
Speaking to why he chose to reveal a status still stigmatized, Patton explained he was dismayed to see how few celebrities had come forward about being HIV-positive.
"I looked on Wikipedia, and there were 20 people, the same old 20 people listed. Greg Louganis has HIV," he said. "Now, I know that there are 35 million people living on the planet with HIV, and some of them have got to be famous. That was me."
In coming out, he hoped to be an inspiration to others, encouraging them to embrace their truth. "When I was ill, I learned the power of the truth," Patton said. "And the truth is nothing to mess with because the truth will set you free. You know what I mean? You can't hurt me if I tell you the truth. If I tell you something about me, and then you go and repeat it, you're getting it from the source. So there's nothing shameful for me. There's nothing shameful in HIV. There's nothing shameful in the fact that Timothy died. And it devastated me. I almost never loved again."
Patton would learn to love again. Today, he is married to Hector Morales Mondragon with whom he lives in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. But looking back to Murphy's death, Patton considered how his grief was dismissed by a society corrupted by AIDS hysteria and Reagan-era homophobia.
"My girlfriend from Mississippi saw [Scream, Queen!] when we played it in Alabama," Patton said. "And she really got it because she would say, 'If you were a woman, you would have been a widow and everybody would've grieved with you, and you would have been held up through your entire life that you were this widow.' But instead, they were just like, 'Oh, you're supposed to get over it.'"
"This man changed my life," Patton said. "And it destroyed me when he died, and in the way that he did die, and the way that he was treated."
The documentary gives Patton some solace in that now his and Timothy's story is being shared on his terms, terms of love and celebration. "I get notes all the time from people saying, 'Oh, I'm so glad you're bringing Timothy back so we can see him,'" he added. "Because people loved him. He was a charming, charming person."
After a beat, Patton proclaimed, "So, I have no secrets in the world." Then, he joked, "I mean, there might be one out there someplace. And if somebody slings it on me, I'll just say it's CGI."
He then changed gears, explaining why Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street became the perfect venue for him to share so much of his life, his agonies, and his triumphs. It was because he'd teamed with Roman Chimienti and Tyler Jensen, gay directors and passionate Nightmare on Elm Street fans he believed would get it right. "I trusted them," Patton said simply. "And it's funny because the idea of trust like — that's what happened with A Nightmare on Elm Street 2. I'd worked before with very big directors in the theatre and films. Altman. Geraldine Page directed me. The director's job is to protect you and not let you look like a fool. And I really came away from Nightmare on Elm Street 2 believing that nobody had read the script, that nobody knew what they were doing, and that nobody would take responsibility for it. I just gave it my all, and they just put me out on the street corner and let them hack away at me gladly for 20 years, 25 years."
Even after being battered by Hollywood and made a punchline by horror fans, Patton did learn to trust again. "I trusted them," he repeated of Chimienti and Jensen. "I didn't ask them one thing, not one concession that something be taken out of this movie. And as you can tell, I talk unfiltered. And so it was. That was the story."
"You can't tell the story unless you're really going to tell this story," he concluded. "And you know you're getting the real deal when you watch it."
Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street made its US premiere at Fantastic Fest alongside a revival screening of A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge.