Guest Author: Jordan Phillips
During my Masters’ degree, I decided to explore the nascent field of “queer horror.” This phrase may sound familiar, or it might sound entirely alien. Queer horror is the intersection between queerness – that is, non-heterosexual, non-normativity – and the horror genre. In 1997, a film scholar named Harry M. Benshoff wrote the seminal Monsters in the Closet: Homosexuality and the Horror Film. Benshoff explores the rich and deep-seated connections between homosexuality and horror, dating back to the earliest days of celluloid recording. One of the leading German Expressionists filmmakers, F. W. Murnau, was a homosexual male. He made film versions of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Dracula, and what is now considered an influential masterpiece of cinematic Expressionism, Nosferatu (1922). Yes, perhaps the most iconic image in all cinematic history was created by a gay person. I often get asked, “What is it about horror that’s queer?” I often respond, “What isn’t queer about horror?”
One of the most infamous queer horror films ever made is A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985), the first sequel to Wes Craven’s horror masterpiece A Nightmare On Elm Street from the previous year. Made during the height of the AIDS crisis, Freddy’s Revenge has been subject to rigorous analysis in relation to its homoerotic subtext. The film tells the story of Jesse, a sexually confused boy dealing with Freddy Krueger, a deformed monster who uses Jesse’s pubescent body as a vehicle for his killing. There are many great lines throughout the film, but its most quotable must be the unforgettable: “Something is trying to get inside my body!” Jesse has been identified as horror cinema’s first male “scream queen” (a prototypical role usually reserved for females), which goes hand in hand with the film’s homoerotic charge. There’s also the homoerotic relationship between Jesse and his handsome jock frenemy Grady, as well as Jesse’s gay gym teacher who has a penchant for young boys and BDSM. The latter of which leads to a scene in the film I still cannot believe made its way into a mainstream horror film in the 1980s, in which Jesse goes to a leather bar and sees his teacher kink-slapped to death in the boys’ showers. This actually happened. In 1985. Just let that soak in.The following are some quotes from my Masters’ research, in which I interviewed self-identifying queer horror fans, to demonstrate the kind of identity politics that operate within this movie.
One participant said: “Freddy’s Revenge has a huge gay undertone and, despite it being one of my favourite films, it is one of the most homophobic pieces I have ever seen, not only from the story’s point of view but how the production was handled. The only Nightmare film to have a male lead, a sexually confused lead no less, and I believe the image of Freddy cutting Jesse from the inside… is exactly what it represents: How his latent homosexuality is eating him up…”
Another participant told me: “The entire movie is like a great metaphor for sexual confusion. I’ll never forget the first time I saw it, with a group of straight, male friends while I was deeply in the closet. Their reactions were so off the mark because they just didn’t get it. I felt like saying, ‘Did we see the same movie?!’ but of course, I didn’t.”
I recently spoke with Mark Patton, the actor who played Jesse, about the film and its gay audience. “I have people reach out to me all the time saying, ‘This movie changed my life’, and ‘I pretended that you were my boyfriend’, and ‘There’s someone who would love me back’. They saw themselves on screen. That’s so important.”
The screenwriter, David Chaskin, admitted several decades later that the gay subtext was, in fact, partly intentional. Mark Patton has suggested that the filmmaking process was an unpleasant one as he himself is a gay man (although he did not come out until years later). He said he became typecast as a gay actor, limiting his creative integrity during the 1980s in America when homosexuality was still constructed as a perversion. Patton says: “I always thought that the real villain in my story was David Chaskin, the writer. He insisted for so many years that he hadn’t written it as a gay film, but I knew that he had because we had mutual friends. He would always blame it on me, he’d say, ‘Well I didn’t write it that way, but Mark was just so gay that he made the whole movie gay.’” Due to his frustration with the film’s production and legacy, Patton has crowdfunded a documentary called Scream, Queen! My Nightmare On Elm Street, which he hopes will illuminate these issues.
On the documentary Scream, Queen! My Nightmare On Elm Street, Mark said: “You can see parts of it right now on ScreamQueen.com and on Facebook. It’s a very serious documentary. Although I loved Never Sleep Again and I Am Nancy for what they are, it’s not the same kind of film.” Patton continues: “It’s been very liberating and very healing for me. I don’t think I realised until about a year into the filming of the documentary just how angry I was and how long I’d carried that anger around for. It was as if I’d been robbed of my destiny. I took the narrative of my own life back and that’s what I’m doing now.” Make sure to look out for Mark’s documentary next year to see how the film has affected gay audiences for decades, and also how its reception has changed over the years.
Jordan Phillips is an independent researcher and academic support tutor from Edinburgh, Scotland. His recent Masters’ thesis was an ethnographical study of intergenerational queer horror fans and their performances through horror. He is also a member of Queen Margaret University’s Film and Media research team, a committee member for the 2017 Edinburgh International Film Audiences Conference, and is a regular contributor to Critical Studies in Television Online and The Big Picture Magazine, among others. His other research interests include gender and sexual politics within contemporary superhero texts.