Movie Review ~ Swallowed

The Facts:

Synopsis: After a drug run goes bad, two friends must survive a nightmarish ordeal of drugs, bugs, and horrific intimacy in this backwoods body-horror thriller.
Stars: Jena Malone, Cooper Koch, Mark Patton, Jose Colon
Director: Carter Smith
Rated: R
Running Length: 92 minutes
TMMM Score: (4/10)
Review:  The one good thing about getting COVID and being isolated from my partner was that it allowed me time to binge a few random shows I’d been lining up to watch on my own. One was Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Stories for FX on Hulu. I missed the entire first season, and the second season was beginning as I was in the deepest part of the corona-mania, so, not wanting to venture into a whole AHS season (I’m so behind), I thought these little one-off episodes would be fun. While not all winners, there were enough of the typically over-the-top Ryan Murphy and Ryan Murphy adjacent stylings to keep me entertained as I coughed and radiated heat from my fever.

While watching the new horror film Swallowed, I wondered what an excellent episode of American Horror Stories it would have made. It’s campy and creepy to be in alignment with the mission of this weekly horror anthology, filled with enough toned boys in various states of undress to be the non-threatening eye candy for young women and objects of lust for horror queens. It preys on some fairly abject terror of eating the wrong thing and paying a deadly price. Perfect, right?

The problem with Swallowed being a television episode is that at 92 minutes, Carter Smith’s feature film is unfathomably long and can’t justify taking up so much of your time after a critical turn of events around the sixty-minute mark. Until then, though, Smith has let the film cast an awesome skin-crawling vibe over the viewer. Friends Dom (Jose Colon) and Benjamin (Cooper Koch, They/Them) enjoy a last night out together before Benjamin heads out West to begin an adult film career. Dom wants to send his friend off with a little bit of money, so he agrees to assist in transporting what he thinks are drugs, which turns out to be far more trippy.

Delivered by Alice (Jena Malone, Consecration), the little packets must be muled (swallowed and excreted) to safety, and when Dom can’t take them all, Benjamin is forced at gunpoint to take one as well. All would likely have worked out fine, except the men make a pit stop at a rest area, where they get into an altercation, and Dom is injured, causing one of the packets to break inside him. What has been released into his stomach is more than your usual illegal substance and is more than he, Benjamin, Alice, or the demented head smuggler (Mark Patton, Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street) bargained for.

Swallowed is a complex film, not just for its subject matter but for its general griminess. You get the sense that everything in the movie has a greasy feel, so there’s no way ever to feel settled. That’s likely Smith’s intention, and the effect makes that first hour genuinely electric. Unfortunately, the power gets turned off during the last thirty minutes when Swallowed shifts into an all-together different gear, more languid and seedy, skirting on the edge of exploitative. It’s not particularly well-performed or well-filmed either, adding to its growing inertia as the minutes slowly tick away. The lasting result is more than a bad taste in your mouth and a sour stomach…the film gets to be a real pain in your butt as it grasps its way to a crude finale.

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.