Most of the “screamers” in horror movies are women. These include the likes of Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween, Adrienne King who plays the sole survivor in Friday the 13th, and Heather Langenkamp as Nancy Thompson in the first Nightmare on Elm Street.
But in the midst of this cacophony of female screams, you can hear the single shriek of a gay teen boy. Mark Patton stars as Jesse Walsh in Freddy’s Revenge, the 1985 sequel to A Nightmare on Elm Street, which marked its 30th anniversary on Monday. Despite being among the genre's greatest scream queens, Jesse is a "queen" who has been consistently overlooked.
Freddy's Revenge follows a happy all-American family as they move into the home where Freddy Krueger's first wave of killings began five years earlier. Viewers are first introduced to Jesse while he's having a terrifying nightmare; in it, Krueger has taken over a local school bus, and is driving Jesse and two girls off the edge of a canyon. The serial killer then threatens them with his rusty blades, slashing away, right before the dream ends.
But Jesse is not necessarily terrified for the reasons you think. Although Freddy's Revenge presents him as a straight man, our protagonist is—by all indications—a closeted homosexual who is more threatened by the prospect of being outed than by dying at the hands of Krueger's razor-sharp talons.
Based on the original movie poster, Freddy’s Revenge positions Jesse as the story's straight hero by romantically linking him to classmate Lisa (Kim Myers). This doesn't translate well onscreen, however, because the pair seem more like loyal friends than smitten lovers. Jesse doesn't show an active sexual interest in Lisa: They rarely kiss, and their time together is mostly spent trying to exorcize his inner demons. What's more, Lisa's attempt to “save” Jesse—that is, restore his heterosexuality—plays into the straight politics of Freddy’s Revenge.
As the film progresses and Jesse's nightmares of Krueger become more frequent, it's clear our protagonist is afflicted by a bad case of self-loathing. More than just your run-of-the-mill neighborhood villain, the killer embodies Jesse's fear of being perceived as gay, as well as his repressed homosexual urges. To release his frustrations, Jesse screams (he's prone to emotional excess, which is one of many characteristics he shares with his female "scream queen" counterparts).
Jesse is...a closeted homosexual who is more threatened by the prospect of being outed than by dying at the hands of KRUEGER'S razor-sharp talons.
The inclusion of an explicitly gay character, in the form of lecherous gym teacher Coach Schneider (Marshall Bell), confirms this interpretation of Freddy's Revenge.
In one dream-like scene, Jesse leaves the safety of the suburbs to go to an S&M leather gay bar at the edge of town. After ordering a drink, he is accosted by Schneider who then forces him to run laps school. This scene’s blurring of reality and fantasy suggests Jesse is confused in trying to negotiate his queer inner world with his straight exterior.
It’s no coincidence, then, that Schneider gets slashed. We assume he’s attacked by Krueger, but Jesse is ultimately the one seen wearing the villain’s iconic leather glove. The coach’s death in the showers—a scene that looks like a bad bondage show, thanks to the ropes binding Schneider—is a manifestation of Jesse’s self-loathing; he kills the film's only explicitly homosexual figure because he can’t handle his own gay sexual urges. After this point, Jesse is no longer at risk of being outed or acting on these urges because his only threat has been eliminated.
By the end of Freddy’s Revenge, however, it seems Jesse will always be haunted by the demons of his repressed homosexual desires. He will never be able to get rid of the snarling leather-faced Krueger, who embodies these desires.
Given that the film was released at the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis, gay men—then seen as the primary “carriers” of HIV/AIDS—were widely seen as a threat to the suburban family. And effeminate gay boys who needed to be guided away from their homosexual tendencies, like Jesse, were seen as being the most vulnerable to HIV/AIDS. Indeed, Jack Sholder’s choice to include an openly homosexual male character, and then have him brutally killed, mirrors the social climate for gays at the time.
Thirty years later, it’s hard not to read Freddy's Revenge as a treatise on the threat of gay men and the HIV/AIDS virus that panicked suburban middle America.