A Brief Look at Modern Queer Horror

A Brief Look at Modern Queer Horror

Horrorific content by jessicagomez on March 07th, 2020 | Horror News |

Gay cinema has been around as long as film has existed, whether or not it was publicly recognized as such. Only in the last decade has gay marriage become legal, but it’s clear while watching films from the likes of gay filmmakers such as James Whale, that these underlying themes have been an important part of cinema long before it was an accepted part of society. Considering the internal turmoil and societal discord a queer person is forced to endure, it’s no surprise that LGBTQ themes have long held a place in ruminative horror films. We anticipate seeing a deeper dive into many of these films in Sam Wineman’s upcoming documentary for Shudder, which will focus exclusively on queer horror.

We cannot discuss queer horror in the modern era without first mentioning The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The first film of its kind, a strange pathway was paved for films regarding gender and sexual fluidity. Over time, it has become a cult classic for the gay and trans community. Though bizarre and perhaps now problematic in its representation, the 1975 film and its follow-up Shock Treatment did feature a number of LGBT actors, and it brought a light-hearted movie centered around sexual freedom to the masses, eventually landing itself in queer canon. 

The 80s were an especially difficult time for gay people, with the AIDS epidemic creating widespread panic and undeserved exclusion and hosility. Through these times of aggression and uncertainty, filmmakers like Tony Scott and Clive Barker thrived on their expression of haunting imagery while exploring gay themes. Scott’s The Hunger was a stylish metaphor for the AIDS crisis, while Barker’s Nightbreed and Hellraiser both played with the theories of gay outcasts who have been banished for their sexual preferences. Hellraiser did so more obviously with its sexual and hedonistic overtones, but the “monsters” featured in Nightbreed were actually good guys who were unfairly marginalized.

During this culturally significant time for gay cinema, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge was released. It departed from the original’s rules to serve a different purpose - Jesse (Mark Patton) didn’t have to be asleep to be attacked by Freddy, because the nightmare he was living was his real life. It got terrible critical reception, and it’s been argued on both sides whether this film is pro- or anti-homosexuality (it hasn’t helped that director Jack Sholder and writer David Chaskin have been cagey about it even having queer themes, even though it’s obvious to anyone who has watched). What is clear is that Jesse’s struggle with his sexuality was eating him alive. The 2019 documentary Scream, Queen! discusses both the film’s implications and Patton’s claims that the role ruined his career in a time when gay roles sent actors into pariahdom.

Movies with gay overtones have consistently been overshadowed by films with gay undertones, the likes of which may not have originally been considered having gay themes at all. Take Carrie, for instance. What on the surface looks like a classic tale of an introverted, bullied girl who exacts revenge on her tormentors, becomes something deeper than that when you throw in her religious zealot mother, who is hellbent on making Carrie feel shame over her own sexuality. The 2013 remake was directed by a gay woman (Kimberly Pierce), where she dove more obviously into the repression many ostracized gay teenagers feel. Fright Night, a film that doesn’t discuss gay subject matter, featured a number of LGBT actors, and Jerry Dandrige, while not identified as gay in the film, is widely recognized as a queer villain. Even in Interview with the Vampire, Louis and Lestat have no overt sexual relationship, yet they’re confined to an intimate relationship for life, raising a young girl together as if she was their daughter. For straight people at the time who had never read the book, this may have been a simple gothic vampire movie, but in retrospect, it’s become clear to most that the homoeroticism was not an accident. The 1988 slasher Hellbent took it a step more obvious with their queer stereotyped characters getting slashed, but the film never made it as mainstream as others that were more covert about their subtext - though Don Mancini was successful with his integration of outward gay themes, with a gay main character in Bride of Chucky and a gender nonbinary storyline in Seed of Chucky.

Past films have leaned more heavily into the gay male subconscious, but films about queer women have found their place. Heavenly Creatures, Jennifer’s Body, and Black Swan (and even Single White Female/The Roommate) are less obvious in their self-loathing, and these films turn their sexual urges outward into obsession. They explore a dark side of shame surrounding bisexual and lesbian tendencies - all with catastrophic outcomes due to unactualized fantasies or toxic relationships.

Reimaginings of older films and even some true events have been finding better gay representation as of late, with films such as Lizzie, with a lesbian twist on the Lizzie Borden story, and Luca Guadagnino’s remake of Suspiria. We’ve seen more horror films with clearer queer storylines, such as in Raw and Knife + Heart, and we await with great anticipation the new film from Dee Rees - an upcoming Blumhouse horror about a black lesbian couple living in rural America. Queer horror has always been an integral part of the genre, and with time, we’re hoping to see more LGBTQ stories, heroes and heroines.

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