Scary! In an era of “positive images” for gays and lesbians, can queer characters still get chopped up in horror movies?
“I remember the cute curly-haired teen that gets killed in the kitchen by Michael Myers in Halloween. That awoke something in me,” reminisces Alex Dove, executive producer director of gay horror titles such as the upcoming Handy man. And–as many young, gay horror fans would also learn–he wasn’t alone.
“When I was a kid, I was really drawn to Brian De Palma films, like The Fury or Carrie,” explains Don Mancini, the gay creator of the Child’s Play series, including 2004’s Seed of Chucky. “The visual presentation is incredibly beautiful. And a lot of the aesthetic beauty is in the service of creating suspense–and terror. And I think that for gay guys, there is perhaps an identification factor and a twisted, dark look at wish fulfillment as well. The fantasy of being able to supernaturally punish your enemies is very compelling.”
In the 1970s, ’80s, and early ’90s, gay horror fans pored over Fangoria magazine and rented the latest direct-to-video opus but rarely ever saw themselves. Where were the queer characters?
Thinly disguised homoeroticism filled the bill in many instances. A Nightmare on Elm Street, Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge contains a sequence that begins in a leather-fetish bar and ends with a gym coach being bound in a shower, stripped naked, and whipped to death by Freddy Krueger. Mancini explains, “I think it was used to titillate, but if you get strict about it and read a message into it–the gay gym coach who persecutes the seemingly gay hero–it’s definitely negative.”
Other films presented homoeroticism in a more favorable light, but it was still on the down-low. Mancini continues, “I like the Hellraiser movies a lot. I think those movies, especially because they’re coming from an out gay man [creator Clive Barker], are metaphors for the S/M subculture and not judgmental in a simple black-and-white way.”
Occasionally, gay characters in horror films were actually, well, gay: Eyes of Laura Mars’s lesbian models Lulu and Michele and gay best pal Donald (all stabbed); Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things’ s gay grave diggers (eaten by zombies); Tenebre’s quarreling lesbian lovers (slashed with a razor). We still had a way to go.
Thankfully, not every scenario with gay characters was so gruesome. Some of them were even hot. Paul Etheredge-Ouzts, writer-director of this season’s Hellbent, loved Tile Hunger. “Catherine Denueve’s relationship with Susan Sarandon was positive because it was romantic; it wasn’t treated as something horrific. Except the bloodsucking.”
Individuals and organizations like the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation have made much of the lack of positive portrayals of gays in media. But what about horror films, where the rules are different? Should we spare the gays being chased by the masked killers? Keep them from putting on the hockey mask? Sharon Ferranti, director-cowriter of the lesbian slasher film Make a Wish, thinks not. “How in the world would I avoid lesbians getting killed if I did in fact want lesbians in the horror movie?” she says. “Bring in men for them to kill? I’d really get the shit then.”
Mancini sees a dramatic advantage to making gay characters victims: “In Bride of Chucky something I used to my advantage was making a character gay. It was less common then and hence seen as being kind of P.C. I knew the audience was going to be even less expecting that character to die. So it made his death more shocking.”
But there is a line drawn in the bloody sand that most horror filmmakers would rather not cross. “I don’t think I’m quite ready to see people be villainous or be victims because of their sexuality. I think that message is a little too raw for me,” says Etheredge-Ouzts. “But I absolutely agree we need to be seen as part of society and take with it the good and the bad. I think it’s all about balance.”
Which brings the conversation to the recent High Tension, a slick horror movie with a lesbian lead and a credulity-straining twist. In fairness to those who have yet to see the movie comments here will be kept to a minimum. But suffice it to say, most who have seen the film are very divided on whether or not the lesbianism and the twist are examples of good filmmaking or simply exploitative.
Ferranti was anticipating at least some negative politically correct criticism of the exploitative elements in her film, but she was pleasantly surprised: “You want to know how lesbians reacted to the nudity? ‘How come they didn’t have bigger tits?’ That puts it to bed if you ask me.”
While all of the participants in this discussion feel there should be some balance, they likewise all chafe at the thought of political agendas being laid on filmmakers. “You can’t let your politics affect your story telling. Otherwise you’re just going to write bad story,” asserts Ferranti. Handyman’s Dove agrees: “I’d say death to P.C. Bring out the buckets of blood for the horror fans, throw away the P.C. police, and get to making fun entertainment for an eager audience.”
Abley’s horror screenplay, The Good Rope, is currently in production in Los Angeles.
RELATED ARTICLE: Reel frights.
In addition to the flicks already mentioned, check out these horror and thriller essentials:
Fright Night–The now-out Amanda Bearse and Stephen Geoffreys (a.k.a, porn star Sam Ritter), homoerotic vampire seduction by Chris Sarandon, plus Roddy McDowall as an aging horror host: This movie is so gay it should live in the Castro.
The Wolves of Kromer–Are they gay? Are they werewolves? And isn’t that Boy George doing the narration? Not really scary, but a must for fans of fur-clad pretty boys with British accents.
Vampyros Lesbos–Prolific Spanish horror filmmaker Jess Franco gives us this tale of Count Dracula’s widow, Countess Carody, now working in a far-out strip club. Her “dancing” lures female victims into a life of lesbo-riffic bloodsucking.
Misty Mundae’s entire filmography–Mistys high-energy, low-budget straight-to-video flicks (Witchbabe: Erotic Witch Project 3, Play-Mate of the Apes, and over 40 others) guarantee full-throttle lesbianism, horror, and laughs in equal closes.
The Fourth Han–Dutch-language early effort from Paul Verhoeven, Femme fatale Renee Soutendijk, gay but maybe bisexual Jeroen Krabbe and malleable Thorn Hoffman have a love triangle that will tingle every persuasion’s passions. Until the castrating and eye-gouging.
The Velvet Vampire–Michael Blodgett, the Beyond the Valley of the Dolls bisexual hustler, stars in this early 70s flick about a female vampire who refuses to limit her options.
Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers–After the penis reveal in the first installment, Pamela Springsteen (yes, Bruce’s sister) takes over as the post-op, happy-go-lucky killer Angela. Her murder spree has nothing to do with being transgender and everything to do with making the world a better place.
Seed of Chucky–Glen-Glenda, plastic fantastic spawn of the evil Chucky and Tiffany dolls, has a bit of an identity crisis–boy or girl? And where’s the best place to find one’s true self? Hollywood!–S.A.
Once you’ve exhausted your Anne Rice and Clive Barker collections, give these terrifying tomes a tumble:
Queer Fear and Queer Fear II, edited by Michael Rowe (Arsenal)–Vampires, werewolves, ghosts, and ghouls mingle with boys and girls in these two collections, featuring over 40 stories that range from scary to erotic.
Daughters of Darkness: Lesbian Vampire Stories and Dark Angels: Lesbian Vampire Stories, edited by Pam Keesey (Cleis)–Sink your teeth into two anthologies of tales ranging from gothic to kinky to futuristic fright, from grrrls, dykes, guys, and transgender authors.
Bending the Landscape: Horror–Original Gay and Lesbian Writing edited by Nicola Griffith and Stephen Pagel (Overlook)–This anthology features more fantasy and irony than most, in 17 tales that feature sex and scares.
Vampire Vow and Vampire Thrall by Michael Schiefelbein (Alyson)–This well-written (but also blasphemous) duology follows a vampire who once hit on .Jesus Christ, then became a bloodsucking monk determined to destroy the priesthood by murder and seduction.
Escape From Fire Island by James H. English (Ouirk)–A hilariously campy story that allows you to choose your own ending when zombie drag queens attack Fire island.
Call of the Dark: Erotic Lesbian Tales of the Supernatural, edited by Therese Szymanski (Bella)–Sexual seduction by vampires and ghosts seems the topic of nearly two dozen tales herein, with lesbian sex mixed into the bloody brew.
Shadows of the Night: Queer Tales of the Uncanny and Unusual, edited by Greg Herren (Southern Tier Editions)–Gay and lesbian psychodrama plays out in short stories involving vampires, murder, zombies, revenge, and–for light book club reading–necrophilia.
The Ghost of Carmen Miranda, and Other Spooky Gay and Lesbian Tales, edited by Julie K. Trevelyan and Scott Brassart (Alyson)–Spirits haunt boys and girls in this collection of spooky stories, many of which contain both chills and laughs.
Grave Passions: Tales of the Gay Supernatural, edited by William J. Mann (Masquerade)–Ghosts, werewolves, vampires, and even elves mix blood and lots of sex in this anthology.
Firelands by Michael Jensen (Alyson)–Gay frontiersmen face a hungry wendigo in this violent novel that erases boundaries.–Andy Mangels
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