It’s a glorious time to be a queer horror fan. LGBTQ+ positive horror is being celebrated throughout numerous mediums. Queers are creating films, TV shows, fiction, comics, art, and merchandise, and have flooded the market with sites, podcasts, and film festivals devoted to queer horror. My own Comfort Cove fiction series focuses on a city strictly inhabited by gay men of all sizes, shapes, ages, colors, and belief systems who support, nurture, protect, and love each other, and indulge proudly in their erotic desires, while the threats against their existence are hideous creatures, demons, monsters, witches, ghosts, and other supernatural entities instead of the predictable repressive, hateful, and abusive hetero/conservative/religious extremist majority.
Indeed, a segment of the queer horror community that always longed for genuine queer representation and horror made for queers by queers is at last seeing that (wet) dream come true.
However, over the years since I established Boys, Bears & Scares and began writing my gay horror fiction to help fill that niche, it was a revelation to me that there are many individuals who found horror to be transformative in their lives, crucial to their sanity, or an outlet that served as a coping mechanism, allowing them to feel a sense of worth through identifying with elements of the genre as they came to terms with who they are. That’s an invaluable byproduct of horror for many queer horror fans, and it makes for a richer and more diverse community in which distinct voices with unique backgrounds have something to bring to the table.
My life in horror is splashed all over my site, but before I get into my thoughts on Freddy going gay, let me reiterate how my perspective developed. I’ve never correlated being gay with my love of horror. Horror attached itself to me when I was a kid like a parasite that found something yummy in me to feed off. I was only two years old when my family moved into a house that proved to be haunted, which I detail here. A majority of my nuclear family members were fans of the genre, so I was exposed to it from a young age, and my brothers and I passed the time in our house jumping out from around corners shouting “Boo!” to scare each other. I was a child in the 1970s, an era when everything unexplained was trendy and the existence of ghosts, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, aliens, and satanic cults was splashed across every tabloid cover in the grocery store. I was only four when The Exorcist was making audiences puke in theaters, and my mother was obsessed with the movie and the music, so she played the Tubular Bells 8-track constantly. My brother collected and crafted all the Aurora Universal Monster models, and I longed to have my own to build and paint. In 1975, the movie theater two blocks from my house saw lines for Jaws wrapping all the way around the block for the entire summer. Between 1976 and 1977, my mother was terrified that serial killer the Son of Sam might target one of my older brothers because they had long hair, and the situation hit way too close to home when he ended up shooting my babysitter. In 1979, Long Island, where I grew up, became infamous due to The Amityville Horror transitioning from book to screen. And then the 1980s hit and I was immersed in a teenage wasteland of slashers and low budget horror movies on cable and VHS…along with most other Gen Xers. I may have been a bit more obsessive about horror than your average teen, but horror didn’t make me some sort of freak—it just made me the expert peers turned to when they had a horror question. I also had a whole lot of other shit going on. I was a lover of music, television, movies, and books, and I was into singing, dancing, art, and writing. In high school, I was known just as much for leading an entire song and dance routine to “Fame” in the talent show as I was for dressing up as Freddy Krueger on senior fantasy day several years before Freddy costumes were being mass produced. That move didn’t cause classmates to look at me differently—it made me the most popular kid in school for a day for the first time ever.
My big gay boy horror experience is my own and based on a very particular history, and perhaps my outlook and appreciation of the genre is less complex than it is for others that have faced many more challenges than I have. It’s as I’ve watched the gay horror community grow and come out of its closet thanks to social media that I’ve discovered how different my horror existence is. Horror was never life-altering, cathartic, or an escape from a painful reality for me. It has always been a pure thrill ride. I love being scared. I’ve rarely identified with the monster. I usually relate to and fear for the victims. And I never got the sense that I was somehow not being represented or “seeing myself” in horror if no one was gay. For me, horror consisted of people and monsters. I was always “people”.
And therefore, there’s yet another of the numerous approaches to “queer horror” that I find odd, and that is the applying of a queer eye on just about anything and everything within the realm of horror out of a need to feel some sort of ownership over it, as if it’s not just enough to be a fan of horror—the genre must also speak to and validate queer identity at every turn. Hearing stories of the variety of ways in which horror has deeply impacted queer people is fascinating, yet at the same time, I see the trend beginning to spiral out of control. It seems to me that instead of recounting genuine instances of how and why specific horror changed their lives, many devoted lovers of the genre are going back and rewriting horror history to satisfy their queer feelings now, often deconstructing horror of the past to find queer subversion where there isn’t any or none was intended by the creator, and on the flip side, cherry-picking moments from horror without any analysis whatsoever of context in time and space just so they can say “this hurts my queer feelings and is therefore blatantly homophobic, so we must all denounce it as offensive and it needs to be banished from the horror canon.” Seems like crafting your very own self-inflicted torture porn, and I don’t quite understand the reasoning behind it, but if there are those who find it therapeutic or fulfilling in some way, or feel they are doing a service to others, more power (bottom) to them.
As for me, I’ll make note of sensitive content in films I watch and blog about on my site as a heads up to potential viewers, but I don’t take on the role of queer quality control police doing social media blasts to warn everyone away from every horror that might rub some the wrong way. I just don’t have the desire or negative energy enough to try so hard to seek out reasons to be offended by the very horror that has shaped the horror lover and creator that I’ve become. There will always be horror that upsets me, disturbs me, or makes me uncomfortable and may not be my thing for a variety of reasons, but I’m not going to lose sleep over it (literally), and quite honestly, I’ll give it props for doing what horror is supposed to do (while angrily flipping it the bird at the same time). Besides, the tag line of my site is “if you’re looking for a safe space, you’ve come to the wrong place,” and as a writer of horror myself, I consider challenging the feelings and emotions of those who consume it as crucial to ensuring it affects them. Or it could just be that because I’m the youngest of four boys, I am now getting my own revenge for being teased as a child by getting under the skin of others…
As I finally near the purpose of this post—to homo hack and sissy slash a movie to pieces myself—I shall defend the keepers of the queer horror theory gates by giving them credit for often getting the blatant shit right without killing the charm of the genre by overthinking it. On the other hand, there are also cases when the general queer horror population seems to interpret obvious shit totally wrong! And so we come to a film that has become rather infamous in queer horror discussions in recent years, even more so now that Mark Patton, the gay star, has made a documentary detailing his experience working on the film and how he feels it affected the rest of his career and life.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge has the distinction of being the only Elm Street film featuring a male protagonist. In my opinion—one I rarely try to express in my posts because I spent over a fricking decade doing critical analysis crap while working my way towards a master’s, and vowed never to not have fun reading, writing, or watching films again after that—Elm Street 2 is also the only installment with homosexual subtext that has been misconstrued as homoerotic by many gay boys excited to see a few bare male asses in a horror movie for a change. If you look past the asses and delve deeper into what’s really going on, I see it as an anti-gay film that uses Freddy as a metaphor for the evils of coming out of the closet and disrupting the heteronormativity of society.
While most films in the franchise feature Freddy using a female’s mind to lure victims into his dream world, part 2 has Freddy trapped inside of Jesse, a male lead, and using his body to come out in the waking world to destroy everyone in Jesse’s life.
In other words, Freddy is a metaphor for Jesse’s closeted, sinful homosexual desires…which always involve violence and death. Whenever Jesse lets Freddy come out to play, he does terrible things to hurt other people. Struggling to contain it, Jesse is plagued by guilt and shame.
When we first meet Jesse, he is having a nightmare in which he is a classic case of the high school outsider. He doesn’t look like his waking pretty boy self, but more like a creepy geek, sitting at the back of a bus while two girls stare at him with disdain, whisper about him, and laugh at his expense. When he wakes up screaming once Freddy attacks, the first thing said about him also references his otherness…his sister asks his mother, “Why can’t Jesse wake up like everyone else?”
Next comes the blossoming of Jesse’s bromance with male classmate Grady on the baseball field at school. They get into a very pointless, toxic male fight over sports, during which Grady pulls down Jesse’s sweats and exposes his jock strap-clad ass. Their physical and verbal interactions are attacks on each other’s masculinity, not for the sake of pleasure, and once Jesse stands up to Grady and shows he’s not just a pretty boy (code word for gay), they can become friends.
When their gym teacher breaks up the fight, he tells them to “assume the position”, which appears to refer to a punishment of holding themselves in a push-up position. However, while they’re doing that, we learn the deeper implications—Grady informs Jesse that the gym teacher hangs out at queer S&M joints and likes pretty boys…like Jesse. To squash any possibility that Grady is implying that he thinks Jesse is pretty, he immediately turns to straight guy talk, asking Jesse if he’s mounting his female friend Lisa. Later, when the gym teacher comes up in conversation again, his masculinity is mocked by the boys, who both make reference to him always having a stick up his ass.
It’s after this first male bonding that Freddy comes to Jesse with a clear-cut proposition: “I need you, Jessie. You’ve got the body, I’ve got the brain.” The first thing Jesse does when the scary, predatory man stalks him is call for his father, and Freddy informs him, “Daddy can’t help you now.” This exploration of failed connections between gay boys and their fathers, and the inability of fathers to protect their sons from the dangers of gay threats come up several times throughout the film, as we’ll see.
Jesse’s first liaison with Freddy is followed by…a science teacher lecturing in great detail about the gastrointestinal function of the human colon, almost as if reminding us that the asshole is a dirt road meant for use only as a one-way street. The boys in class make icky fart sounds and it’s all a big joke, reinforcing that real boys find butts disgusting. Seconds later, Jesse, who has fallen asleep during this important lesson, awakens with a long, thick snake winding its way all the way up his body from below, and he screams like a girl at the horror of the phallic invasion. In fact, every time Jesse wakes from one of these metaphorical dreams, he screams like a girl.
One way for Jesse to keep his “Freddy” suppressed is to focus his attention on a girl. When he slips up in private, gyrating like a go-go boy while alone in his bedroom cleaning (to the original version of “Touch Me (All Night Long)” by Wish years before Cathy Dennis had a hit with it), his new female friend Lisa intrudes just in time to give him a reset.
Still, the changes taking place in Jesse begin to tear apart his family. His mother feels they can’t help him and need to take him to a psychiatrist. His father is not supportive or concerned about what he’s going through or the pain he may be suffering, and insists he needs a kick in the ass—the good old tough love approach to make him a man. Jesse even sneaks into his innocent sister’s bedroom (gays bad, gays threat to children), not once, but twice. However, he resists the urge to do something awful to her.
Then there’s the big gay moment when Jesse ventures out to a queer bar under cover of the night following a fight with his dad. While he usually sleeps shirtless, now he looks much more innocent in his flannel pajamas. At the bar he is tracked down by his sadomasochistic pedophile leather man gym teacher, who is punished with a violent, sexualized death for preying on his young male student.
After bringing Jesse back to the school gym and sending him off to shower, the gym teacher digs out some jump ropes, planning to tie up and sexually abuse his underage student, but instead he gets dragged into the shower, tied up, and has his ass whipped by Freddy while Jesse watches.
It may seem gay, but gay sex, even the rough BDSM stuff, doesn’t end with one dude getting slashed to death…the fate of the gym teacher.
Finally there’s a very heterosexual social event…a pool party at which horny adolescent boys and girls get to partner off. When Jesse’s inner turmoil seems about to take over, he sneaks away with Lisa to the cabana and tells her he’s losing it and is going to be taken away due to his abnormal behavior. She insists she can help, so sex is initiated. But Jesse can’t perform because his Freddy tendencies start coming out again, including a big nasty tongue that spills out on Lisa’s breasts, bringing to mind a mouthful of vomit, as if the mere sight of her tits makes Jesse barf.
It’s interesting to note that just as Jesse and Lisa begin to get sexy together, the 1980s hi-nrg gay club track “Whisper to a Scream” by Bobby O starts playing at the party.
After being repelled by the female determined to convert him, Jesse runs to shirtless Grady for comfort…actually sneaking into his bedroom while he sleeps and invading his personal space.
Calling him out on being in a bedroom with another guy when he has a woman waiting for him, Grady tells Jesse to go home and take a bottle of sleeping pills! Sure he’s inferring that Jesse should get some sleep, but considering he suggests taking a bottle rather than some sleeping pills, it almost seems like he’s telling his gay friend to just go kill himself. Jesse keeps begging for help, asking to sleep there and requesting that Grady watch him while he sleeps in case he does anything weird. Grady agrees, essentially allowing himself to be seduced by his friend. As a result, Jesse’s inner urge comes out once again and kills Grady. And who does Grady scream for? His father…who is locked out on the other side of the bedroom door, listening in horror and powerless to do anything as his son is taken by another man. It’s also not lost on me that with all the more masculine 80s pop culture posters hanging on Grady’s walls, the one that is totally prominent when he dies at the hands of Freddy with sweat glistening all over his shirtless body is that of Limahl, former lead singer of U.S. one-hit wonder Kajagoogoo. Honestly, back then it would have been bizarrely queer for a straight high school guy in the U.S. to have a poster of Limahl gone solo on his wall.
So how can Jesse squash his Freddy compulsion once and for all? He has to accept the love of a woman. He runs back to Lisa, who tells him to fight the feeling inside. It’s an internal struggle that has been tearing Jesse apart.
It’s rather tragic when Lisa is coaxing Jesse to let go of the Freddy inside of him, because Freddy responds, “He’ll die with me. He’ll die with both of us.” The line speaks to the tragic truth about gay men who deny their sexuality and chose to fake a heterosexual life with a woman…they die inside and never actually get to live their life. But in Jesse’s case, Lisa’s words and a heterosexual kiss cure him of his sinful behaviors and send his big gay inner demon to hell.
And there you have it. Me going all queer theory on your ass to argue that Elm Street 2 is not homoerotic, but horribly homophobic. I also have a confession to make. When I saw it in theaters as a teen in 85, I didn’t think much about the queer stuff, but I was happy to see man butt. When I realized as an adult just how anti-gay the film is…I didn’t give a shit. To this day it remains my second favorite Freddy movie after the first.