It Came From The Closet: How Horror Is Queer

Pride month has ended but Queer people still exist - crazy, right? Being a lesbian and a dedicated horror fan, I have always been fascinated by why the horror community online is heavily populated by LGBTQ+ individuals. Horror as a genre is,at its roots, about 'otherness'. I believe many queer people relate to this at some point in their lives.

             Horror has always been Queer

Deena and Sam in Fear Street 1994
Courtesy of Netflix

Fear Street 1994, Netflix's new slasher trilogy bringing to life R.L Stine's popular book series 'Fear Street' has brought the LGBT horror force back into action this week - trending on Netflix and Twitter.  It features Deena (Kiana Madeira) fighting to successfully save her friends and ex-girlfriend Sam (Olivia Welch) from a native witch and her undead army of murderers.
Deena and Sam are essential to the story - catalysts of many emotional and stimulating moments, no background queer development that could be cut out and remain the same narrative. It feels special to many viewers, including myself - a 90's homage bleeding with Scream references and alt girl playlist dream. The nostalgia of old horror classics met with modern inclusion of queer relationships and quirky sidekicks is comforting - though wasn't horror always queer? 

From my own experience of the horror online community, many members of the LGBTQ+ community have an affinity for horror films, including myself, and I have been fascinated by the origin of why. Horror is about knowing you shouldn’t look but wanting to see, which many LGBTQ+ people can relate through repression – ‘While straight participants in such experiences usually return to their daylight worlds, the monster and the homosexual are both permanent residents of shadowy spaces' (Benshoff,1997). Despite Hays Code censorship of homosexuality being lifted in the 1960’s, LGBTQ+ representation often hides in the shadows alongside the monsters, but as horror evolves, we have seen characters queer people can relate to breaking down the closet door as heroes,vengeful antiheroes or even relatable villains. 

Bride of Frankenstein

From the beginning of horror on screen, the genre has been creatively controlled by the queer community. From F.W Murnau directing Nosferatu (1922) to the legacy of classic horror icons like Frankenstein and camp horror tropes from The Old Dark House (1932) being crafted by James Whale. Gay directors have existed and thrived in expressing their queer-related fears and repressions into their stories. In Bride of Frankenstein, Frankenstein is shown as a victim of a judgemental society, villainized. This idea resonates with minorities, plus the bride in Bride of Frankenstein is presented as a grotesque depiction of the possible extreme societal pressure for heterosexual marital status and family, as she is born of false means to please Frankenstein and nothing else. 

The Old Dark House (1932) even heavily inspired the camp, beloved musical Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) - known as the ‘campest film of all time’ in the general public’s eyes, that liberates queerness as the dominant culture in the community and introduces Frank’n’Furter as a queer spin on the mad scientist trope who reconstructs the male body – therefore expressing rebellion to heteronormative ideas. The Old Dark House (1932) has plenty of queer-coded elements though, one being a man basically locked in a 'closet' in his heteronormative household, then being let out and trying to burn it down. A revolutionist? Maybe so. 

Rocky Horror Picture Show - Camp Classic
Source: The Atlantic 

Many well-loved horror films have been added to my personal list of queer classics, from characters to even compelling subtext, I would like to share some with you!

  • The Haunting (1963)
    For the 60s especially, Theo is a beautiful depiction of sexuality being apparent in subtext but not being the punchline to a joke or tragedy - she simply is gay, and powerful. There are also many themes of repression in this movie that I personally relate to, the metaphor applied to haunted houses. Recently, the incredible TV show The Haunting of Hill House (2018) has explicitly made Theo a lesbian, the fantastic Kate Seigel displaying a fleshed-out, poignant portrayal of the character. If you haven't seen either or just one of the pair, I recommend it wholeheartedly.
  • Jennifer's Body (2009)
    Jennifer's Body was underrated for a long time, now engrossing a cult audience of mostly queer young women. The film was initially marketed through Megan Fox's sex appeal, therefore in general catering to a young male audience - especially the infamous same-sex kiss and the posters and trailer seeming like a film to fetishize lesbianism. The film itself has always been a strong feminist statement about rape-revenge, and the demonization of exploitation. Jennifer’s Body depicts a complex toxic relationship between Needy and Jennifer, plus Jennifer herself being a bisexual antihero creature suffering from trauma because of nonconsensual transformation, reclaiming her power. Essentially, a rape-revenge horror. There are rarely complex queer protagonists who have complicated, dark backstories and dynamics and I believe having this variety in queer character is important.  
  • Hellraiser (1987) and Nightbreed (1990)
    Hellraiser, written and directed by Clive Barker, a gay man, displays allyship with the underbelly of the S&M leather community under the LGBTQ+ flag. It shows, in my opinion, the kinky, dark state that the passion of queer love could not express when under strict censorship. Hellraiser is camp, gross, sadistic and I adore it. Nightbreed, also a product of Clive Barker, is more of a found family dynamic from my perspective, with an allegory for intolerance. 
  • The Craft (1996) - Have you SEEN Nancy?
    Despite Nancy, the crush of many alt girls out there, the group of misfit witches resonates with many minority groups that felt left out in high school. Plus, whoever watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer knows how powerful queer witches are so why not apply it to all witches?
  • Let the Right One In (2008)
    Vampires have always been fascinating in terms of sexuality and gender. In Let the Right One in, it focuses on children, having a pure, innocent take on these subjects. In one scene, Eli mentions they are not a girl when Oskar asks them to 'go steady with him. Oskar responds without questions, saying that's okay. I always appreciated how this scene showed how prejudices are through nurture in the social climate, not innately. 
  • Nightmare on Elm Street franchise (1-3) - 1984 to 1987
    Not necessarily queer - though Freddy's Revenge is known as the 'gayest horror film ever made' - but camp as hell, and Freddy is seen as queerness being the personification of the ability to not be able to control desires, especially in the hypothetical dreamscape of vulnerability. Also, Nancy is obviously a queer girl's epitome of a girlfriend. 
  • The Lost Boys (1987)
    Again, vampires being straight cis people? I don't think so. This film is peak queer subtext and energy, despite no explicit LGBTQ+ representation. 
  • Bride of Chucky (1998) and Seed of Chucky (2004)
    Their child is non-binary in my eyes and it is also camp excellence. Also, Jennifer Tilly - enough said. 

A theory I hold true is that queer people gravitate towards over-the-top characters and actions, as their conditions growing up are heightened through keeping secrets (especially people growing up during the 80’s AIDS crisis), so an adrenaline-filled narrative is somehow comforting. Their anger or repressed state aimed at heteronormative communities (especially in the past, but still as relevant today) are destroyed on film or the protagonists they feel comforted by either survive (our beloved final girls like Sidney or Laurie) or die in heroic/entertaining ways. 

Horror is a rich tapestry of queer expression when you look closely, and always will be. 

A film student who, surprisingly, loves film. I idolise characters on a daily basis, but who doesn't? Find me in the horror movie section.

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