31 Days to Scare ~ Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street

The Facts:

Synopsis: Sets the records straight about the controversial sequel to A Nightmare on Elm Street, which ended Mark Patton’s acting career, just as it was about to begin.

Stars: Mark Patton, Marshall Bell, David Chaskin, Robert Englund, Robert Rusler, Kim Myers, Clu Gulager

Director: Roman Chimienti, Tyler Jensen

Rated: NR

Running Length: 99 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: For a long time, whenever I was in the mood to have a marathon of the films in the Nightmare on Elm Street series I faced a dilemma early on in the run.  What to do about that first sequel?  A completist by nature, I hated the thought of skipping over our first foray back to the world of Freddy Krueger but it was so different than the original and positioned itself as a standalone tale that it pretty much took itself out of the line-up.  Not that I thought the film was bad, mind you, it just didn’t give off the same uneasy vibe of it predecessor nor did it advance the mythology like the next two sequels which are arguably the high-points of the entire lengthy series.  Still, when you see how jokey and not-so-scary Freddy became it’s interesting to look back at A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge and give some credit to the filmmakers for producing another chapter that didn’t come out of the gate looking for cheap thrills.

Debuting to mixed reviews but good box-office, the success of the sequel made it possible for Freddy to go on slicing his way for the next several decades but there was one major casualty of the film and he’s by and large the subject of the new documentary Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street.  Screened at the 2019 Twin Cities Film Festival with the directors and star in attendance, this documentary offers a tiny bit of behind-the scenes info on Freddy’s Revenge but is mostly centered on actor Mark Patton and the journey he’s been on since the movie debuted in 1985.  An actor on the rise, starring in this huge sequel should have cemented his entry into stardom but it wound up closing the door on his dreams.

To hear him tell it, Patton made it big in New York City almost from the moment he arrived.  National commercials led to a role in a Robert Altman play (co-starring Cher) which was then filmed as a well-regarded movie.  Not long after that, he got the offer to star in the Nightmare sequel and though his acting friends scoffed at ever starring in a horror film, he saw it as an opportunity to take his career to the next level.  As filming commenced, Patton came to realize a subtext intended to be subtle in the screenplay by David Chaskin was coming through loud and clear but ultimately trusted director Jack Sholder to ensure his performance wasn’t straying too far off course.  Seeing the film for the first time his worst fears were confirmed and that’s when Patton’s career was forever changed.

Freddy’s Revenge was released in the midst of the rise of the AIDS epidemic when there was still a lot of uncertainty regarding the disease and how it was transmitted.  That led to fear, suspicion, and for most gay men in Hollywood to keep their sexuality a secret for fear of losing jobs and friends.  Patton, a gay man not out of the closet, was living with his actor boyfriend in California and found himself in the spotlight when the homoerotic tones of the movie were pointed out by several publications.  Looking at the movie now, it’s pretty blatant what Chaskin was trying to say and what Sholder had filmed (though Sholder unconvincingly claims he was clueless) so it’s not as if people went seeking for something that wasn’t there to begin with like Room 237 did a few years back.

With his agents claiming they were unable to send him in for leading man roles thinking he could no longer play straight, Patton retreated to Mexico where he lived in obscurity for the next two decades.  He likely would have spent his years there, too, if the 2010 documentary Never Sleep Again hadn’t interviewed him and brought back to the forefront of the Freddy fandom.  Reigniting interest in the movie and sadly fanning the flames of old hatred and bigotry, Patton emerged from his imposed retirement to reclaim his title as the first male Scream Queen and has spent the last years touring fan conventions and meeting the fans he has had an impact on.  Along the way, he achieves (or attempts to achieve) some closure with former cast mates, the director who didn’t realize how high the stakes were for his star, and the screenwriter that originally distanced himself from the movie and blamed Patton for its gay leaning only to begin to take credit when the film found a new audience that embraced its outsider status.

Directors Roman Chimienti and Tyler Jensen have been working on the documentary with Patton for a number of years and it doesn’t hold back from showing the good and bad side of the fame game.  Patton knows this is a business and his job is to show up for his fans because they’re paying a lot of money to meet him at these conventions.  He also knows the toll it takes on him physically and the movie follows him through endless days of travel and public appearances, with Patton miraculously never losing his temper or being brusque after the fans have left for the day.  You get the sense that Patton is genuine in all areas of his life and he’s remarkably candid about his experiences over the years.

At the Q & A afterward, Patton mentioned the movie was edited 70 times and it shows.  While it’s well filmed, it does feel choppy in certain places as it jumps around showing Patton’s home life with his husband, fan appearances, talking about the filming of the movie, and then detailing his personal story growing  up.  There’s also a wealth of interviews from other gay filmmakers, scholars, and horror fans speaking about not only what this particular movie means to them but what it’s like to live as a gay person now and throughout history.  It’s a lot of information to digest and, while valuable, sometimes appears a bit unfocused in what story is truly being told.  Another whole film is in there somewhere about horror movies and the AIDS epidemic and Chimienti and Jensen just needed to flesh it out a bit more.

Patton is such an engaging person that you’ll want to spend this time with him and by the end of the documentary you’ll likely wonder what his career would have been had minds not been so narrow in 1985.  The reality is this.  The movie didn’t feature an awards worthy turn from him and, truth-be-told, some of it is a bit overblown for my taste but it’s certainly infused with more pathos than the genre required.  As for it being a “gay” movie, well, you just have to watch the movie and decide for yourself.  It’s difficult to see the movie now knowing its reputation and not see the signs but considering it was conceived as a quick sequel to a horror film it has had remarkable way of staying in the conversation.  Thankfully, so has Patton.

31 Days to Scare ~ The Willies

The Facts:

Synopsis: Two brothers camping with their cousin try to frighten each other by telling stories.

Stars:  Sean Astin, Jason Horst, Joshua Miller, James Karen, Dana Ashbrook, Kathleen Freeman, Jeremy Miller, Clu Gulager, Michael Bower

Director: Brian Peck

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 92 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review:  It’s around this time of year that I really start to miss video stores.  I know there are a few left here and there but they’re often packed to the brim with overstock DVDs and VHS tapes culled from shuttered mom and pop stores.  These can be an overwhelming mountain to climb, only worth it if you have a truckload of time to spare or are aren’t looking for anything specific.  I still prefer the days when the rental franchises hadn’t kicked in yet and your friendly neighborhood video store had full but not packed shelves of titles to choose from.

Every store did their checkout process their own way but my favorite was always the ones that had the display box sitting in front of the rental case (if it was in).  That way you could always see what movies the store had and could keep an eye on a title if you happened to miss it on that particular trip.  In 1990, when The Willies was released, finding the single copy of the movie in at Good Neighbor Video in South Minneapolis was a nearly impossible feat.  The store didn’t do reservations so you had to be in the right place at the right time to snag a copy.  I remember waiting for weeks to rent it, making a beeline for it’s location every time I entered the store only to be disappointed when there was no rental case in place.  Then, one day, there it was and it was finally my turn to get…The Willies.

Another entry in the line of popular anthology films like After Midnight and Cat’s Eye, The Willies is a teen-targeted horror comedy that’s best viewed now through the lens of forgiving nostalgia.  After looking for a copy and not willing to pay a high price tag (it’s since come out on a cheaper disc), I watched the film on YouTube and was surprised at the quality.  It’s no 4K BluRay but for a low-budget, mostly-forgotten film from the ‘90s it doesn’t look too shabby streaming on the popular website.  In fact, if you’ve been on the hunt for a particular movie (or, better yet, a television movie from the ’70s or ’80s), YouTube is the place to go because I’ve found a lot of good content there recently.

The basic premise of the film finds three boys (including Sean Astin, Gloria Bell) telling campfire tales, each trying to outdo the other in the scare department.  After three initial quick-fire tales that are amusing in their own juvenile gross-out ways (the woman trying to dry her poodle in the microwave has stuck with me for the last 29 years), we move on to two longer tales with a bit more meat on the bones.  A bullied kid finds an ally at school that gives his tormentors something more sinister than a week of detention is a bit rough in the narrative department but boasts some fun performances from familiar faces James Karen (Poltergeist) and Kathleen Freeman (Hocus Pocus).  The next yarn involves a young outsider obsessed with insects that makes the mistake of stealing enhanced manure from a local farmer.  When he introduces the fertilizer to his bugs, they turn the tables on him and do more than put him under the magnifying glass.

Writer/director Brian Peck has managed to put together the film in a neat little package, often suggesting it’s better than it’s obviously small budget.  Most of the effects are handled well, as are the gore and make-up for the more ghoulish scares.  There are some clever in-jokes related to some of the cast members (listen for the reference to The Goonies directed at Astin’s character) and Peck managed to call in a few favors by featuring recognizable TV stars of the time in brief cameos.  Amassing a decent amount of fans over the years, this is one I think would be a nice candidate for some company to pick up for a Collector’s Edition BluRay.  It would be nice to hear more from the people involved in the making of it or at least see the film print cleaned up a bit.  It’s not anything that will keep you up at night (from fear or regret from watching it) but it serves as a nice reminder of how effective a movie can be based solely on positive intent.

31 Days to Scare – The Initiation (1984)

initiation

The Facts:

Synopsis: Tormented by recurring nightmares, a sorority pledge finds an already scary initiation turning hellish when a psychopathic killer targets the pledges.

Stars: Vera Miles, Clu Gulager, Daphne Zuniga, Hunter Tylo, James Read, Marilyn Kagan

Director: Larry Stewart

Rated: R

Running Length: 96 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review:  Released in 1984 at the peak of the teen slasher film craze, The Initiation is one of the better entries in the genre.  Though it could easily be lumped into the same trash heap that so many of these early 80’s college-set slice and dicers fell into, this turned out to be a pleasing and non-fussy diamond in the rough.

Even though you may roll your eyes at the set-up (co-eds stalked by a crazed killer) don’t judge this film by its description alone.  If you do, you’d be passing up a flick less concerned with gawking and hacking at the nubile bodies on display and more interested in crafting a thoughtful framework in which to off its young stars.

Daphne Zuniga (Spaceballs) is Kelly, an average teen starting college that winds up pledging a sorority on campus.  Before the crackdown of hazing on college campuses, pledges were required to do all sorts of crazy things and one wonders if all the pain that the pledges are put through in this particular sorority are ultimately worth it because the girls are all so dreadful.  Still, that makes it all the better when they get picked off one by one by an unseen killer.

The film takes its time to set up the characters and a dark family secret being kept from Kelly by her parents played by above the title stars Vera Miles and Clu Gulager.  Though fairly recognizable names at the time, their presence here smacks of easy money but at least they invest their short time in the film with some convition.

The final task that Kelly has to perform to get into the sorority involves her breaking into the shopping mall her father owns.  With the remaining pledges and a couple of expendable frat dudes along for the ride, the last act of the film is set in the mall (with some amazingly nostalgic store titles on display) as the identity and true motives of the killer are revealed.  Though it winds up not making the most logical sense, there was a certain cleverness to it that I had some respect for.

At 96 minutes, the film is probably about 10 minutes longer than it needed to be but, as it is, this is a better than average nearly forgotten entry in the landscape of 80’s teen horror films.  While it may not provide the kind of scares or T&A than other films of that era, it’s no less gruesome in its kills or creativity.  Worth a watch if you’re a fan of these kinds of films.