Friday, June 19, 2020

Performance Piece: Mark Patton, "A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge" (1985)

The Performer: Mark Patton

The Performance: Playing "Jesse Walsh" in A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge

Why Him?

So, I mulled over several choices as to who to write about for this month's Performance Piece. For a while it looked like I was gonna write about Heather Matarazzo's memorable turn in Hostel: Part Two, until I decided at the last minute to switch to Mark Patton in A Nightmare On Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge. Patton is a somewhat obvious choice to write about for Pride Month since, hello! Freddy's Revenge is the infamously "too gay" Elm Street installment! Every queer male horror fan has probably talked about this movie in some fashion at this point. However, it has come to my attention that Patton is still getting a lot of unfair criticisms thrown his way (how many years later at this point?) for both his performance as final boy Jesse Walsh and for the film in general. Then, I watched the new documentary about Patton, Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street (Available on Shudder for those who want to seek it out), and my decision was solidified. Especially since, after a rewatch of the former film, I have come to the conclusion that Patton is actually pretty good in this role and really doesn't deserve the blame for any of the film's perceived shortcomings. Nor is he and his performance the cause of the film being seen as "too gay", it's actually largely due to the screenplay he has to work with.

Mark Patton as Jesse in Freddy's Revenge

What do I find noteworthy about Patton's turn as Jesse? Well, first of all, I think Patton brings a lot of vulnerability to the role. In Scream, Queen! this is said to be a major reason as to why Patton got cast as Jesse in the first place, and I totally understand what they describe seeing in him. Several scenes require him to act frightened and distressed by his dreams or by Freddy's (Robert Englund, reprising his signature role) attacks on him, which Patton can deliver. He displays the appropriate amount of fearfulness when being confronted by his predatory gym coach after wandering to the town's gay bar, or whenever he awakens after Freddy has taken over his body to see what fresh hell his body has been used to commit in reality. You really feel for him throughout the movie, as he struggles with having his body invaded by Freddy and cheer for him when he's finally rescued by his girlfriend Lisa (Kim Myers) from the villain's clutches. I think that what may contribute to Patton not being taken seriously is this willingness to show non-traditionally masculine emotion so openly. Something that is also channeled in a "controversial" to some element of Patton's acting in the film: His screaming.

The scream heard around the world

Now, I will be honest: I enjoy Patton's high-pitched screaming. I think that the screaming lends itself to another facet of Patton's acting that I think is legitimately good: Realism. I think that, despite the fact that a portion of Freddy's Revenge is written very illogical and exaggerated especially compared to the original film, Patton does his best to keep things grounded and not too over the top. I feel that if anybody were confronted with some of the things Jesse is confronted with, which includes possession by a dead kid killer, getting a snake wrapped around your neck out of nowhere and finding out you murdered people you knew, you would probably scream the exact same way. Another example that I think of where Patton grounds a set piece as much as he can? The even more infamous dance scene where Jesse dances around in his bedroom. While bumping his butt against his drawer and the toy bit at the end are admittedly a bit much, I don't think the rest of what Patton does in that scene is as over the top as people claim when they critique Patton and Freddy's Revenge. Jesse's just goofing around like a lot of youths do, especially when they're alone as he is until Lisa arrives. If you've never done a silly dance in the vein of Jesse's at some point in your younger days, you're totally lying to yourself.

Finally, I think what helps Patton is his chemistry with his co-stars: While much has been said by others over the years about the nature of the dynamic between Jesse and Freddy, I personally want to focus on the rapport between Patton and two different co-stars: Despite what some think, I think that Patton has fine chemistry with Myers's Lisa. They're often believable as a young couple to me, including in scenes such as one where Jesse reads Nancy's diary to her and in the few they have at school where they're just spending time either together or with other characters like Grady (Robert Rusler) and Lisa's friend Kerry (Sydney Walsh). I think what people might be mistaking for certain shortcomings on Patton's part is that, while I find that Patton does have more chemistry with Rusler's Grady than Myers's Lisa, there's a reason for why I believe that is. Even though I think that Myers does a good job with her material, Lisa doesn't get to do much until the climax. Whereas Grady is not only a fun foil for Jesse, but he's also the only other character besides Jesse who gets something resembling a character arc: He goes from asshole jock to being not only friendly to Jesse, but willing to help him when Jesse recruits him to fight Freddy. When you have one character who doesn't get much to do besides being the supportive girlfriend versus another who not only is Jesse's foil, but also gets to be the only other character who gets fleshed out, who do you think will get the more interesting chemistry with Jesse?

Jesse, with Lisa & Grady

Once again, the perceived "failure" of Patton's abilities is due to the script and not his capabilities as an actor. When you think about the so-called "controversial" and "too gay" aspects of Patton's performance, including his willingness to show emotion many don't traditionally associate with men, his attempts to make certain campy sections of the film more grounded, and his character's chemistry with Grady outweighing the chemistry with Lisa, it all comes back to Patton trying to spin gold out of David Chaskin's screenplay. One can see that Patton really did a good job despite some odds being stacked against him, as well as why he held a grudge against Chaskin for blaming him for Freddy's Revenge's poor reception among horror fans for such a long time, as documented in Scream, Queen! Hopefully, horror fans and Freddy's Revenge haters can take all of this into consideration and give Patton and his performance as Jesse the re-evaluation they both deserve.

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