Welcome to the Women in Horror column. Every Wednesday, we highlight the work of women in the horror genre.
LGBTQ+ characters don’t often fare well in horror films. Typically, they are horrific monsters or killers, such as in the films Psycho (1960), Dressed to Kill (1980), and Silence of the Lambs (1991). Sometimes, though, lesbian, bisexual and/or queer women get to take the lead in horror, subverting negative stereotypes. The films below are a great start in watching horror films with queer characters that differ from the norm, paving the way for continued representation of queer women in horror.
1. Knife + Heart (2018)
Knife + Heart is the gay giallo film that was missing from the horror cannon for far too long. The film follows Anne (Vanessa Paradis), a gay porn creator, as her actors fall victim to a killer targeting gay men. Despite her recent breakup and the deaths of her actors, Anne presses on, intent to finish her film and maybe even figure out the identity of the murderer along the way. Gritty, horny, and unexpected, Knife + Heart is an under-appreciated queer horror film that deserves credit for being by and about people from the LGBTQ+ community.
2. Thelma (2017)
I’ve sung Thelma’s praises before and I’ll sing them again! Joachim Trier’s supernatural thriller Thelma effortlessly includes Thelma’s emerging lesbian sexuality in the plot. Thelma is having otherworldly experiences connected to her seizures, so she must undergo intensive observation by doctors. At the same time, though, Thelma is a young girl falling in love for the first time and figuring out who she is. Trier balances the supernatural and coming of age with grace, making for a unique thriller that gives agency and power to its young lesbian lead.
3. Annihilation (2018)
In the sci-fi horror Annihilation, four women go on what they believe is a suicide mission to investigate the Shimmer, a mysterious area of mutated organisms caused by aliens. One of the women, Lena (Gina Rodriguez) is a Latinx butch lesbian who casually fills a representation gap that is rarely acknowledged. Lena’s sexuality isn’t central to the story, but it is explicitly mentioned and does not become an issue at all. Lena, like the rest of the women on the mission, is respected for her knowledge and skills. She plays an integral part in the plot and isn’t mocked for who she is, which may not sound like much but is actually a vast improvement compared to the way queer characters have been treated in past films.
4. What Keeps You Alive (2018)
Originally written for a heterosexual couple, What Keeps You Alive is a horror story about a lesbian couple that breaks just about every gender norm you can think of. Jackie (Hannah Emily Anderson) and Jules (Brittany Allen) visit Jackie’s family’s cabin to celebrate their first wedding anniversary. Jules notices things are off with Jackie. At first she’s worried, but quickly her worry grows into fear for her life as she uncovers secrets about Jackie and the fate of her exes. The plot thickens as Jackie senses Jules’ suspicion, making for a deadly standoff between the couple. What Keeps You Alive is satisfying, heart-pounding, and doesn’t make an issue of queerness, making it a perfect lesbian horror film to watch during pride month
5. The Haunting (1963)
One of, if not, the first lesbian characters in horror film appears in this classic, making it an essential film in the queer cannon. Based on Shirley Jackson’s novel The Haunting of Hill House, the 1963 film adaptation tells the story of a group of people as they stay overnight in a haunted mansion. Each person in the home was invited by Dr. John Markaway (Richard Johnson), a paranormal investigator determined to find evidence of the spirits haunting the house. Eleanor (Julie Harris) and Theodora (Claire Bloom), the two women staying at the house, quickly become close. Theodora acts as a source of comfort for Eleanor, who is deeply troubled by the looming presence of ghosts. Notably, Theodora is not villainized for her sexuality. Instead, it’s not part of the central plot, it’s simply a fact of Theodora’s life that she casually mentions when talking about her living situation. The Haunting is both a classic haunted house film and a staple in early queer cinema
6. Jennifer’s Body (2009)
The now-embraced canonically bisexual Jennifer’s Body has garnered a cult following for its positive portrayal of queer love. Jennifer (Megan Fox) and Needy (Amanda Seyfried), though they never have a traditional romantic relationship, have a deep care for each other. Even though Jennifer kills all the men she seduces after she develops powers, she keeps Needy alive. Jennifer kisses Needy and doesn’t kill her, exemplifying a true care for Needy that Jennifer doesn’t hold for anyone else.
7. Carmilla (2019)
Quite a few adaptations of Sheridan le Fanu’s 1871 novel Carmilla have tried and failed to make a mark. Emily Harris’ recent iteration changes things, bringing new life to the story through artistic filmmaking techniques and centering the experience of the young girls. The 2019 film takes a creepy yet beautiful approach to the coming of age narrative, leaning into the gothic aspects of the story. Carmilla (Devrim Lingnau) arrives at a family’s remote home after her carriage crashes in the night. Lara (Hannah Rae), the teenage girl at the home, becomes infatuated with Carmilla. The adults of the house are suspicious of Carmilla, though, fearing she may be involved in vampirism and corrupt their young daughter.The film is moody, queer, and bleak at times, making for an epic gothic horror flick.
8. The Hunger (1983)
Catherine Deneuve as Miriam Blaylock, a bisexual vampire overlord? Let’s go, girls and gays! The Hunger is not talked about nearly enough for how iconic it is. The cast, dreamy set, and classic vampire narrative make it a perfect spectacle for queer lovers of horror. Deneuve stars alongside David Bowie and Susan Sarandan in this epic vampire film. Miriam Blaylock stays alive by drinking the blood of her lovers, who she keeps in coffins in her home, but her comfortable life is put at risk when Sarah (Sarandan) becomes suspicious of Blaylock. The star-studded cast and dark, moody atmosphere helped the film build a cult following that remains to this day.
9. Women Who Kill (2016)
This one is for the queer women who love true crime. Women Who Kill is a refreshing horror comedy that has just the right amount of mystery and thrills. True crime podcasters and exes Morgan (Ingrid Jungermann) and Jean (Ann Carr) are obsessed with female serial killers. Even after their breakup, their popular podcast and codependency keeps them connected. Jean suspects Morgan’s new love interest, Simone (Sheila Vand) may be a serial killer thanks to a series of red flags that Morgan ignores at first. As Morgan is confronted with a possible serial killer in her own life, she reckons with the rose-colored glasses of a new flame that got her into a possibly-dangerous situation.