On the surface, horror may seem like a simple genre; oozing straight-male energy where the only brains involved are dripping down a blood riddled wall. However, the loudest critics of the genre -brandishing this take with the ferocity of a wild axe murderer interrupting a teen party in the woods – seem to be ignoring a large and dedicated proportion of the horror genre fan-base, that being the LGBTQ+ community. Our love for horror doesn’t always make sense, not even to ourselves, and yet many in our community can’t help but be strangely charmed by the brutal and sometimes wonderfully campy gore.
When exploring queer theory in horror, an interesting component is how steeped in subtext everything is. Actual representation of the queer community ranges from rare, to wrong, to downright insulting and yet many in the community still inexplicably love horror (myself included). Academic papers exploring this strange paradox tend to draw on the community’s love of monsters, specifically the misunderstood or rejected.
Creatures like Frankenstein’s monster crop up a lot in discussion, mainly because the real-life director of Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein, James Whale, was gay and his original cut of Bride of Frankenstein was steeped in not-so-subtle commentary about two men raising their adopted monster son. However, even when focusing purely on the original story of Frankenstein’s monster, there’s a breadth of material that may allude to why so many of us in the LGBTQ+ community empathise with the spurned and villainised being. Society rejects the creature for simply existing and even his own creator (or father figure) is disgusted by his abomination and tries to destroy him. With so many in the LGBTQ+ community having faced their fair share of discrimination from loved ones and strangers, simply for existing, it’s no wonder so many relate to the narrative of monster up against the “normal” people.
For queer women, another love for horror villains has apparated – that of the witchy bitchy wife . Witches have been repressed for centuries and in the days of witch trials, many women who unsatisfied or threatened men and their fragile male egos would be labelled a witch. Women who were outspoken, sexually liberated, too old, too ugly, too anything, would be punished for being “different” – for being a witch. Some women have started to reclaim the witch trope and with this rise of popularity, strong, powerful bitches have charmed the masses. Characters like Lilith or Zelda in the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina have dedicated lesbian fanbases who adore them and their cold, sassy, bitchy ways. They’re that bitch, and damn is that hot.
In a slightly darker interpretation of queer-horror theory, it may also be argued that our love for the genre is a fucked-up revenge fantasy. If we are already seeing ourselves as the monster that society hates, then seeing that monster or villain tear apart the normative lifestyles of straight people may be unintentionally cathartic for some. In the case of the witchy bitchy wife trope, they get to live out the ultimate lesbian fantasy – being so powerful that straight men fear them and won’t dare flirt or ask for threesomes. These outcast entities are powerful and even when they are shunned by society, they can retaliate and show why repressing them was a mistake.
Queer subtext hardly lurks in the background shadows of many horror films, in some it’s so clearly out the closet and running rampant it’s a wonder how the straights missed it. Films like A Nightmare on Elm Street: Freddy’s Revenge have been dubbed the most accidentally gay horror film in history thanks to its main character, Jesse, being one of the first male “scream queens”. Alongside our probably-almost-definitely-at-least-a-little-bi protagonist, there’s also a slew of highly homoerotic scenes throughout (Freddy trying to “come out” of Jesse’s body and that infamous BDSM style shower scene to name a few). The accidental camp-tacular nature of this film is largely down to the screenwriter – David Chaskin – who, at the time, was a closeted gay man himself.
The production side of horror plays host to many LGBTQ+ creatives, which may explain all that gay subtext. James Whale; Anthony Perkins, actor of Psycho’s Norman Bates; Hellraiser writer and director, Clive Barker; Childs Play franchise creator Don Mancini – all in the LGBTQ+ community. However, the question still remains – why are there so many in the community working within this genre? Perhaps it’s because horror could push boundaries mainstream genres could not and LGBTQ+ creatives could therefore test the gay limits on screen. Or perhaps it’s simply for the more accepted ridiculously campy nature of horror, from the one-line zingers of Freddy to the brilliant over-acting of Sleepaway Camp.
Even though there are regrettably many negative representations of queer culture in some horror – with us often portrayed as the crazed villain – when those who are actually in our community get the opportunity to produce the stories, that’s where the fun begins. Don Mancini’s Seed of Chucky had one of the earliest portrayals of gender-queer/non-binary identities in mainstream media with the character of Glen/Glenda and produced one of the campiest and yet most successful series in horror history.
Our community has so much love to invest in this genre, and the hope is that the genre starts to invest in us more by allowing even more filmmakers in the LGBTQ+ community to share our nightmares. Some independent LGBTQ+ filmmakers have already unleashed their wonderfully queer horror onto the screen, with films like All About Evil by drag performer Peaches Christ bringing hordes of camp and gore. With these artists creeping into the mainstream, there’s hope queer will no longer be cursed to an existence only as subtext. Until then, our community is still here to welcome in all the ghosts, ghoulies, vampires and creatures from dark lagoon to our family.