KC native Mark Patton has made a documentary about his experience working on the gayest horror film of all time

Mark Patton

Since 1985, Kansas City native Mark Patton has been hunted by Freddy Krueger. 

Initially, Patton’s role as Jesse Walsh in A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge seemed like something to covet. After all, Johnny Depp made his debut in Freddy’s first round of killings. And up to that point, Patton was a busy presence in commercials and had made his big screen debut in Kansas City native Robert Altman’s Come Back to the 5 & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean.

But Freddy’s Revenge was made without Elm Street creator Wes Craven’s involvement, and many fans of the series winced at its campier tone. It’s often called the gayest horror film of all time. And as Patton—a closeted gay man when the film was made—explained to me over the phone last Tuesday, the experience scared him away from acting for decades. Why? That’s the subject of Patton’s new documentary, Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street, which screens tonight (Thursday) and tomorrow at 7 p.m. at Unity Temple, hosted by the Kansas City LGBT Film Festival. 

From watching Scream, Queen!, it seems as if A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge is both the best and worst thing that has ever happened to you.

Mark Patton: I’m very proud of A Nightmare on Elm Street 2, and I loved doing it, but it became problematic for me at one point, and then I stepped back into it, and I’ve used it as a tool for great joy. 

I don’t really think that A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 was ever a negative experience, but I did have a really bad experience, very particularly with the writer [David Chaskin], and the reason is I just don’t like to be lied to, and I don’t like to be bullied. And that was done to me on a pretty spectacular level, on a national or international level. So, that was a drag. I decided to step back and correct that, and that’s what I’m doing now. As for the rest of the people [involved with the film], I’m very close to most of those people, and they’re very happy for what’s happening with this documentary.  It’s all pretty much positive, but it’s very emotional, and especially I think this week it’s going to be very emotional for me. 

Especially because you’re presenting the documentary in your native city.

Well, I’m here where it all began. The film is dedicated to Susan Swant, my high school girlfriend. She’s really responsible for getting me out of Kansas City and walking me through a lot of things, and she passed away a couple years ago. So of course, my high school friends are going to be there, the librarians from my school and my entire family. It’s at Unity Temple, which I consider a huge honor. So it’s going to be exciting, but very emotional for sure.

Horror has been a way to explore ideas like living in the closet that conventional dramas can’t.

Horror and sci-fi work for a reason. They weren’t just meant to scare you. The ones that really resound are about our own terrors. If you think about the concept of A Nightmare on Elm Street, it’s if you go to sleep,  you might not wake up. We all have that feeling as little children, and some older people have it, too. Maybe when I lay down and close my eyes tonight, I won’t come back. 

My own personal terror in regard to show business was that I would be discovered not to be worthy of being what I wanted. I geared my whole life around being an actor and being a star, and I achieved that, and then somebody pulled the rug out from underneath me.

Like I say in the doc, all I heard in my ears was, “Oh, you’re a faggot.” I heard that going up so much, and  had to guard against it so much, and here it was on a national level, and so I left. I stopped.

And at that same time, you were wrestling with some real life monsters. You’d lost the guy you loved [Dallas actor Timothy Patrick Murphy] to AIDS, and you had contracted HIV.

Well, the funny thing is that he didn’t die until after Elm Street was completed. I didn’t become ill until almost 10 years later.

Those timelines get scrunched in film. I was offered movies for a decade after I left Hollywood, and I just didn’t take them. You can see that there’s a line. Most careers, when they end, you can see the scratch marks of the ending because they’re trying to hold on. In mine it’s very clearly, one day I’m an actor, and the next day I’m not, because I just left. Now, I’m so grateful that I did because what was looming on the horizon was more important to me than anything movie. We were about to go into an era where—probably you’re aware, but some younger people are not—we were about to go into a holocaust. We had a president [Ronald Reagan] who wouldn’t even mention it [AIDS]. I mean, I watched all of my friends die. Not just Tim. I watched an entire generate generation decimated, and I was politicized by people like Larry Kramer [of ACT UP].

I became a social activist. Now, I’m a very strong man. At that time,  I was a terrified boy, so yes, there was there was more bubbling beneath the surface.

That 10-year gap is important because by then, there were drugs that could treat your condition. 

Had I gotten sick a year earlier, I would have died. As you saw in the movie,  I had tuberculosis. I couldn’t take protease inhibitors for a year. I had to take all those old line therapies like AZT. AZT would have killed me , and I think it killed many, many people because I developed all kinds of anemias and side effects that were very, very severe from those medicines.

It must be gratifying to have friends like your husband Hector Morales Mondragon, who know you just as you and are surprised to find out you starred in a movie.

Yes. Mexico for me was a whole new life, and it still is. Where I live now is in central Mexico in an area very much like Parkville. It’s got farmland. The people are very Midwestern, actually. They just happen to be in Mexico. Where I live now, they’ve just begun to discover that I’m famous. They’ve played A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 in the town square on the side of a wall because it’s very rural. Everybody loves it, but they’re not overwhelmed by it because they know me. I’m the only white for about 50 miles, so everybody knew me anyway.

What did you do for a living after you decided that acting was only going to give you more grief?

I became an interior designer, on a very high level. I actually worked in Palm Beach, where all the scary trouble is happening. I made a movie with Dina Merrill, who was the daughter of Marjorie Merriweather Post [owner of General Foods] and E.F. Hutton. She grew up in  Mar-a-Lago. She sold Mar-a-Lago to the U. S. government. That’s how Trump got it. Through her connections at Palm Beach, I went to work as an interior designer in that very high-end world. I stayed there for probably at least a decade, and I made as much money as I possibly could, and that’s when I escaped to Mexico, where I opened an art gallery.

I’m a teacher, also, and I’m a purveyor of micro loans for people to turn crafts into art forms. That’s what my store sold in Puerto Vallarta for many years. Basically, I’m an artist. I always supported myself as an artist.

Do you feel something of a burden because you are still here?

Absolutely. Absolutely. I really do feel the entire purpose that I was put on the planet was to do what I’m doing at this moment, that I made A Nightmare on Elm Street 2, just so that I could have this moment. I’m conveying a message, which is really important right now, especially in this political time, when I when I speak to young people. I really invite them to remember. With all this stuff with Trump. In 1937, Berlin was the most exciting place to be in, and with the stroke of a pen, it all changed. We can celebrate all the successes that we have had, but you’ve got to look out for the kids coming behind you because they’re still hurdles to jump over. 

Let’s face it; Freddy Krueger isn’t the only thing you have to worry about. 

Freddy Krueger can be anything you want. He’ll take any shape for you. I used to say to my friends that if you have self-will, you have self-choice. We’re all creators. God will be anything you want. He’ll take any face. If you want the mean, shameful God or the loving God, he’ll become that for you because you get to create it, and I think that’s true with Freddy Krueger, too. He can be your boss, your Mom, or the people that hate you. It’s like the little drag queen says in the film, “You have to  go back and face your monsters.” That the only way you can get healed, so you can confront them. Each of us will do that in a different way. 

Scream Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street. Thursday, August 15, and Friday, August 16, at Unity Temple on the Plaza. 7 p.m. $10. More info here.

Categories: Movies