Thursday 4 October 2012

An Interview with Mark Patton

Shortly before Mark Patton arrived in London to appear at the Entertainment Media Show and to host a very special evening at The Misty Moon Gallery, I caught up with the world’s first male ‘Scream Queen’ and star of Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge.

Mark Patton is a fully paid up subscriber to the notion of serendipity. “I’m a firm believer that if one door closes it’s so another can open”. At the tender age of 11 Mark was offered a recording contract: “I could’ve gone onto become the first openly gay Country & Western singer!” (He had to turn it down due to his father’s objection to him singing in bars at such a young age). In 2011 Mark was scheduled to appear at a signing event in the UK for the first time but injured his back shortly before he was due to fly over which forced him to cancel. Oh yes, and in-between these two events 33 years apart, he would audition for a role in a low-budget horror film to be directed by Wes Craven. The part of Glen in Nightmare on Elm Street eventually went to a then unknown actor by the name of Johnny Depp... “You know at the time I was a bigger name then Johnny Depp. That was his first film. I’d already made Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean directed by Robert Altman, having previously performed the stage play on Broadway and Anna to the Infinite Power and Johnny Depp was just Johnny Depp. Nobody knew who he was.” [Johnny’s door certainly opened on Elm Street – even if he seems to have since forgotten this].  
So Mark didn’t become a Country & Western singer, but when New Line Cinema decided to make a sequel to their original box-office hit it wasn’t long before they contacted Mark for the lead part of ‘Jesse Walsh’. Beating the likes of Brad Pitt and Matt Damon to the role, Mark took up the mantle from Heather Langenkamp’s ‘Nancy’ in the original NOES and proceeded to suffer tortuous nightmares on Elm Street courtesy of Robert Englund’s razor-gloved dream demon Freddy Krueger. “They came back to me on the second one and a week after they interviewed me we started filming it”.

 Now it’s since been comprehensively documented – most notably in the excellent 2007 NOES series documentary Never Sleep Again – that David Chaskin’s script for Freddy’s Revenge was intentionally loaded with gay-subtext. This was however news apparently to the director, Jack Sholder who maintains to this day he was blissfully unaware of this – “...he now teaches film-theory classes at university!”

From NOES2:

Jesse: “Something is trying to get inside of me.”

Ron: “Yeah, it's female and it's waiting for you in the cabana, and you want to sleep with ME.”

For Mark, who was already openly gay when filming NOES2, it was a wasted opportunity and had he been given the freedom and the ‘heads-up’ he would have played the character of Jesse differently. “I would have played Jesse much darker – with a much more depressive The Smiths like-vibe rather than the blond all-American hero character. I mean I would have lived in the closet in the movie.”

It’s fair to say Mark doesn’t feel Jack Sholder was the right choice to direct the film. “He didn’t have any control of the material”. There were two scenes in particular that Mark hated at the time: the dance scene in his bedroom – which he has since grown to love along with all fans of the film – and the attack of the killer parakeet. “Jack had all the elements of The Birds right there if he’d wanted to make a proper homage”. The scene remains as laughably ridiculous today as it did back in 1985. It does however give the film one of the funniest lines. As the unfortunate bird spontaneously combusts and its feathers cascade down in front of the terrified Walsh family, Jesse’s father (played by Clu Gulager) speculates as to the cause of this flammable avian tragedy: “Bird rabies? It's that cheap seed you been buying”.

As for Jessie’s infamous bedroom dance to Fonda Rae - Touch Me, Mark choreographed the dance himself, “...although I'm actually dancing to Tina Turner's Steel Claw [nice pun] but they couldn't afford to pay for the rights so they overdubbed it”. And then there was the ending...” You know I hated the ending of the film. It made no sense to me whatsoever. Lisa (Kym Myers – Jessie’s supposed girl-friend) should have died at the end. Still, I got to readdress that later with my journals...”

NOES2 received mixed reviews when it opened in November 1985. “I did get some pretty nice ones from the New York Times for example...” but the readers of Fangoria were less than receptive to this different take on the concept – in particular Freddy’s ability to break through into the ‘real world’ and in having a male protagonist in what would traditionally have been a female role. Mark counters this: “What you have to understand is that at that time there were no ‘rules’ regarding Freddy. They’d only made one film and there wasn’t an established franchise yet. Wes Craven wasn’t interested in NOES2, and when he came back on board for Part3 he totally ignored our film and the events in it”. Mark believes this was a wasted opportunity as he contends [and I agree wholeheartedly with him] that it would have been interesting for Jesse and Nancy to have appeared together in Part 3.

Despite receiving numerous offers of roles, Mark quit acting a year after NOES2 opened; his last appearance being with George Clooney is the TV series Hotel. “Basically I allowed a group of 14 year old boys sitting at home on their computers to drive me out”, he admits, referring to the negativity of a certain demographic of horror fan. But again, Mark now sees this as serendipity, “In many ways it was for the best, I don’t think I would’ve handled being a big star very well.”

Cut to two years later, and after an extensive search, the makers of a documentary entitled Never Sleep Again, a project covering the entire Elm Street series, eventually find Mark living in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. They convince him to return to LA to appear in the documentary. [There are parallels here with Adrienne King, star of the original Friday the 13th and how the author Peter M. Bracke persuaded her to re-connect with the Friday the 13th fan base.]

After Never Sleep Again –which settled the NOES2 ‘gay debate’ once and for all – Mark was encouraged to embark on the horror convention circuit across both the US and Europe – heading and chairing panels with ‘fellow’ scream queens Heather Langenkamp, PJ Soles, Linnea Quigley. It was during these panels that Mark developed the idea of creating Jesse’s Lost Journals where he would write as the character Jesse and tell the world what really happened on Elm Street, and what became of the character of Jesse subsequently. Initially released through individual entries via Mark’s Facebook account, it was picked up by Static Mass Emporium, an independent online film journal based in the UK. As Mark writes in the preface: “Let’s say I have heard NOES2 from every angle, discussed it like the Talmud, defended it and I believe helped restore it to the place it belongs as the best among the series. This is my final answer to all of you who asked if I liked the ending. Was Jesse Gay? Was Fred Gay? Did you know? Are you Gay? You scream like a girl! Do you feel like you are a part of the real NOES series? Jesse and Mark are homos!”

It’s a disturbing, wickedly amusing and poignant piece of work. Here’s an example from entry #68 where Jesse is about to go and watch NOES2 in the cinema: “The poster boy make me look so big and butch but I have seen a photo of Mark and that is not him, big and butch I mean...more pretty really. I suggested to Colin that he use him in a future shoot, I will think up something fantastic for him (that is if he can act)...”

Today Mark has a very successful art gallery and store, and he also has developed an exclusive range of designer art bags which have proved incredibly popular. For the first time Mark is bringing some of his own art works to the Misty Moon Gallery in Ladywell, and although Mark is understandably reluctant to give too much away in advance of the opening night on 6th October, he does admit that his work can be called ‘dark art’. I’m reminded of a striking quote from the Lost Journals:

“I believe that is where artists are different than most, they accept the Dark and the Light each being true and looking without fear.” (Jessie’s Lost Journals #45).

Speaking of ‘dark art’, Mark has also recently filmed ‘Night’ a film in which Mark’s character is raped and takes his revenge in suitably gruesomely methods. Camille Keaton (who played Jennifer Hills in the original video nasty revenge shocker I Spit on Your Grave) - and now a good friend of Mark’s - is no doubt proud of him!

And how will Mark be celebrating Halloween itself this year? Well he’s only attending a special Nightmare on Elm Street haunted house installation and props exhibition together with Ken Sagoes from Parts 3 and 4 and special guest FX artist/writer/producer/director John Carl Buechler. Now that’s what I call a Scare Attraction!

(On the evening of 6th October 2012, Mark took part in a Q&A at the Misty Moon Gallery before a screening on NOES2. He was joined on the night by his co-star Kim Myers (Lisa) a real first time treat for fans of the film as this was their first joint-appearance in the UK).

Interviewed by Paul Worts.

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