Mark Patton on the convention circuit (Photo by Lizz Ellis)
Mark Patton’s role in ‘Nightmare on Elm Street 2’ with its gay subtext caused him to end his movie career. Now, like Freddy himself, the actor has been resurrected in a way
GILBERTO R. RODRIGUEZ | Contributing Writer
Freddy Krueger became a horror icon after the box office success of Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street in 1984. That success prompted the sequel A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge in 1985.
Mark Patton was a closeted gay actor in his mid-twenties when he was cast as Jesse Walsh in Nightmare 2. And, despite being a financial success, the movie suffered a strong homophobic backlash from mainstream audiences when horror fans and critics picked up on the gay subtext. Audiences just weren’t ready to accept a “final boy.”
Director Jack Sholder as well as a few members of the cast claimed they were completely unaware of any gay subtext in the script.
But Robert Englund, who played Freddy Krueger, has said he was fully aware and even decided to bring out more of it in the movie, especially in the scenes Freddy and Jesse shared together.
Even screenwriter David Chaskin for years denied being aware of what he was doing in writing the subtext. But he later admitted in interviews that the “gay angle” was just an exploitation element he had written into the script and that Patton’s performance made the movie gayer than he had intended.
When the movie was released, Hollywood movie star Rock Hudson had only recently publicly admitted he had AIDS. That was also the year that had the highest total HIV/AIDS cases. It caused panic in Hollywood, and for actors, being labeled “gay” made it difficult to get roles.
Patton found himself in a closet built by those around him who were guiding his career, and it was then he decided to retire.
In the years that followed, Patton re-branded himself as a successful interior decorator. But just as he was rising from the self-inflicted death of his movie career, after battling what he thought was a severe case of bronchitis, he discovered he was HIV-positive.
In 2010, Patton’s life came full-circle when the makers of Never Sleep Again, an extensive documentary about the Elm Street franchise, tracked him down and asked him to speak candidly about his experience as a part of that legacy.
His road to a second wind of stardom began with the brilliant documentary Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street, an intimate look at the legacy of Freddy’s Revenge from the perspective of the actor whose life it changed. The documentary is exposing, confrontational and as inspiring as it is heartbreaking.
Scream, Queen! details the emotional trauma Patton endured before and after he disappeared from the public eye then decades later re-emerged to take control of his narrative. It also contextualizes the very real paranoia, fear and death in the early days of the AIDS crisis, including the death of Patton’s partner, Dallas star Timothy Patrick Murphy.
Although Freddy’s Revenge had a bad reputation and a long history of being ridiculed, it is now celebrated for being ahead of its time and a queer cult classic. The beauty of it, for the LGBTQIA community, is that they claim it as their own and embrace Mark Patton as the first “male scream queen.”
Michael Varrati, host of Dead For Filth podcast, noted, “Even though there was a willing disconnect with Jesse as a final boy, there were also as many of us who saw him and thought, ‘Wait, this guy is me!’”
Travelling the convention and festival circuits, Patton has gotten the opportunity to meet fans, many of whom are young and gay and who find his character of Jesse inspiring. The subtext that once caused him pain has now made him a hero, and he’s turned what was initially something negative into a personal victory and a chance to forgive and heal.
The theme of survival permeates Patton’s everyday life. “I have every character I’ve ever played tattooed on my body,” Patton told HIV Plus Magazine in 2013. “But I’ve decided to add the name Lazarus … because that’s who I am. I’ve walked out of the grave time and time again.”
Patton, who now lives in Mexico, takes every opportunity to confront issues of bullying, homophobia, and his personal battle with HIV as a way of educating and mentoring others.
The final boy is not ashamed of being a scream queen — and he shouldn’t be.
Mark Patton is currently starring in Carter Smith’s Swallowed. Both his performance and the film are earning rave reviews from audiences and critics alike.