While views on equality are improving from day to day, LGBT cinema is still seen as an alternative to mainstream film and queer visibility remains remarkably low among the blockbuster films of today.
It's no wonder then that the LGBT community often strives to identify with films and characters who are themselves perceived to be outsiders, that defy the status quo. As a result, horror films and the final girl trope in particular are often discussed within the queer theory, which looks for a subtext that filmmakers could only subtly code into their work.
Of all the horror franchises out there, A Nightmare On Elm Street is one of the most enduring. It's been more than 30 years since Freddy Krueger first slashed his way into our dreams, but actor Robert Englund still works regularly, although he hung up the claws and striped jumper some time ago.
As one of horror's biggest icons, Englund is in a unique position to discuss the impact of his horror franchise that most overtly strove to appeal to LGBT audiences. In an interview with The Advocate, Englund discusses the gay side of Freddy Krueger and the ways in which the LGBT community has responded to his work over the years.
On why queer horror fans responded strongly to Nancy, the first heroine of A Nightmare On Elm Street, played by Heather Langenkamp, Englund said:
“There’s always been a great affection in the gay community ... for the survivor and the diva. I think young teen boys and girls in the late '70s and early '80s who were gay made their transference with characters like the survivor girl, which is a great ingredient of the horror movie, starting with Jamie Lee Curtis and coming to full blossom with Heather’s character in Nancy.”
If the first A Nightmare On Elm Street held appeal for fans within the gay community, then the sequel Freddy's Revenge escalated this to a whole new level, making a bold choice to replace the traditional final girl with a male protagonist, played by the closeted gay actor Mark Patton.
LGBT audiences at the time of the film's release got a huge kick out of the gay subtext that screenwriter David Chaskin deliberately included in the movie, yet most of the cast and crew deny being aware that Freddy's Revenge contained any of these themes.
Englund of course tells a different story, admitting that he was not only aware of Chaskin's intentions, but that he actively sought to bring the LGBT subtext to the fore:
“I was aware of it and I think people were more aware than they disclose now ... like where Jesse crawls into his best friend’s bedroom and gets in bed with him. ... It’s sexy, and it’s redolent with the undercurrent of that scene. My interpretation of what Freddy was doing throughout the film was he was picking up on that subtext, on the boy’s latency. He was exploiting that and teasing Mark’s character with it.”
Englund even suggested additional performance tics to the director in an attempt to explore the LGBT themes of the film further:
“I certainly remember asking the director if I could get real sexy with Mark’s [Jesse's] mouth in another scene — that moment where Freddy literally circumscribes Mark’s mouth with the blade. ... Is Freddy going to kiss him? Is it an oral sex innuendo? I remember wanting the audience to go crazy with that and playing with the fact that Freddy is in the libido. He’s in the subconscious and playing with it all the time.”
Later in the interview, Englund delves into greater detail about the impact the franchise had as a whole on LGBT fans and other "outside" communities:
“Early on, the Nightmare On Elm Street films were seen as a sort of outsider art before they became overhyped, and they were embraced by various cultures — not just gay culture, but piercing culture, goth culture. ... I think a lot of my fan base, and Nightmare’s came from people who felt like an outsider in some way in their early life. I love that people found safety in others like them through my films or learned about them from a fellow outsider."
With the news that another installment of the Nightmare franchise is in the works, Englund hopes it'll take a different direction to the last reboot, suggesting a remake of Freddy's Revenge that actively embraces the gay subtext for a modern audience:
“I think it would be real interesting to see, in this day and age, how they would treat the relationship between the two boys. I think the main character would need to be closeted in the beginning, and at the other end of the arc, in his battling of Freddy, he knows who he is. He comes to terms with it and he’s proud of it. Instead of the survivor girl, we have the survivor boy. I’d like to see a new film going where the original logically leads. I certainly think audiences are ready for that.”
With all of the LGBT subtext that's apparent within Nightmare On Elm Street franchise, is it any wonder that others have compared the series to X-Men, another movie that features outsiders trying to fit in?
All of the interview extracts in this article were taken from The Advocate's interview with Robert Englund, which you can read in full here.
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