10 Essential Queer Horror Films

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Bei/Shutterstock (5146922c) Slater, Cruise, Dunst, Banderas and Pitt ‘Interview With A Vampire’ Premiere November 9, 1994:Los Angeles, CA. Christian Slater, Tom Cruise, Kirsten Dunst, Antonio Banderas and Brad Pitt ‘Interview With A Vampire’ Premiere Photo®Berliner Studio/BEImages

From 1934 until 1967, Hollywood movies were shaped by the Production Code, otherwise
known as the Hays Code. Written in 1930, but not implemented until four years later, this set of rules was generally intended to keep movies from “corrupting” the people who watched them. Given that homosexuality was considered either a physical or psychological malady in the early 20th century, the code effectively legislated any limited queer presence out of existence.

While homosexuality was not explicitly banned in the Hays’ text, it was mandated that “no
picture shall be produced that will lower the moral standards of those who see it. Hence the
sympathy of the audience should never be thrown to the side of crime, wrongdoing, evil, or sin.” It was also codified that only “correct standards of life” should be presented,” and that “sex perversion or any inference to it is forbidden.”

In other words, for a long time, cinematic queers were pushed underground, relegated to
existing only in subtext — and most often as villains. In order to get queer stories onscreen,
filmmakers had to find creative ways to subvert the system.

Gender is such a social construct but then there were those who considered the moral
degradation of the audience more important than telling a story. With such important and
exquisite factors present the idea of homosexual representation was much ignored and left out until Cat People which reflected “a growing awareness of homosexuality, homosexual
communities, and the dynamics of homosexual oppression as it was played out in society and the military.” So even though Hollywood execs refused to show explicit queerness, during the first true horror boom in American cinema, they were willing to pay for stories about social outcasts and sexually nonnormative figures. Horror fans thus found themselves awash in some of the genre’s most iconic queer-coded characters of all time.

Cat People (1942)

Legendary producer Val Lewton brought forth Cat People, the story of a Serbian immigrant named Irena who must abstain from intimacy, lest she awakens the curse of her descendants, which doomed the women of her tribe to transform into murderous panthers should their desire be awakened. Irena meets and hastily marries an American man, but she fears giving in to him physically; her reluctance is broadly read among critics to be coded, repressed lesbian desire. In addition to being an outsider in America with different customs and traditions, Irena is further alienated by her inability to consummate her heteronormative marriage.

Blood and Roses (1960)

This version of the ever-adaptable Carmilla was a catalyst for the lesbian-vampire wave to come. It starred Annette Vadim as an early screen version of the infamous undead character. Carmilla is distraught at the engagement of her cousin, Leopoldo — but his betrothed, Georgia, develops an affection for Carmilla that veers into implicit sexual attraction. On the night of the wedding, the unhappy Carmilla finds her way to the old hidden tomb of her vampiric ancestor and emerges a vampire, killing a woman to feed on her, and generally behaving as though she’s fulfilled the tradition of her bloodline. (For more swinging ’60s Sapphic undead horror, see Black Sunday, La Danza Macabra, Le Viol du Vampire, or La Vampire Nue).

Dorian Gray (1970)

This update of Albert Lewin’s 1945 film is at once gayer and less gay than its predecessor. Depictions of sex and sexuality could now be more explicit than they were in Lewin’s day, but in 1970 Dorian (Helmut Berger) is also more apparently hetero than he was before. Either way, Dorian is a character built for the decadence and depravity of swinging ’70s London — and the erotic way his body is filmed in this version is most definitely not intended for strictly female fans.

Fright Night (1985)

When the handsome closeted vampire Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon) moves into the neighborhood, the boy next door becomes so fixated on knowing more about him that he starts to ignore his girlfriend. And while vampirism has always been an avatar for queer characters, Jerry and his manservant Billy actually pretend to be a posh gay couple to ingratiate themselves with the neighbors. It’s the queer as a monster hiding behind queer performance to make people trust him. This text! This subtext!

Interview With the Vampire (1994)

Tom Cruise in a scene from the film ‘Interview With The Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles’, 1994. (Photo by Warner Brothers/Getty Images)

As we know, vampire movies are very queer at baseline. But here, you have Tom Cruise’s entire performance as Lestat — and the fact that he and Brad Pitt’s Louis are locked in a centuries-long tangle of love, hatred, and obsession as undead soul mates who also start co-parenting a little girl they spoil into being a total princess. What a modern family!

Heavenly Creatures (1994)

This early-career entry from Peter Jackson features both a queer coming-of-age story and a pair of lethal lesbians. Based on a true-crime story out of New Zealand, the movie stars Melanie Lynskey as Pauline and Kate Winslet as Juliet, teen girls who develop an obsession with each other that becomes a sexual relationship, and drives both of them to kill Pauline’s mother when she dares to separate them. This model of angry LGBTQ killer is controversial in that it plays into the stereotype of the criminal queer, but also explores a rage that might be viewed as righteously manifested in the face of oppression.

Seed of Chucky (2004)

Glen or Glenda is the name of a 1953 Ed Wood film about a man (played by Wood) coming out as a crossdresser to his wife. Glen and Glenda are also the two names of Chucky’s offspring with his girlfriend, Tiffany (all three of them are dolls), who have a gender nonbinary child in Bride of Chucky. In the most outrageous Chucky installment of them all, a surprising secondary plot is the doll child sorting out his/her gender identity, which, honestly, is pretty on-brand for Don Mancini, the originator, and screenwriter of every Chucky movie (who’s also directed the last three). Get wise: Child’s Play is the most progressive and adaptable of all the 1980s super-killer franchises.

Jennifer’s Body (2009)

Screenwriter Diablo Cody cashed in that Hollywood goodwill she generated with Juno in this cheeky coming-of-age horror movie about best friends and how to navigate high school when one half of your BFF codependency is suddenly a man-eating succubus. When Jennifer Check (Megan Fox) is turned into a demon by a blood sacrifice gone wrong, she begins feeding on men (and only men) to stay young and vital. None will be spared, not even the good ones, as long as Jennifer’s spree goes unchecked, and her totally devoted but a so-tired-of-this-bullshit best friend, Needy (Amanda Seyfried), is the only one who can put her down — as long as she can sort out some complicated feelings first.

Lyle (2014)

This modern take on Rosemary’s Baby is just over an hour long and was shot in less than a week. Gaby Hoffmann stars as Leah, a pregnant woman who, along with her wife June (Ingrid Jungermann), is grieving a recent tragedy as she prepares for the arrival of their new baby. But something is going wrong, and Leah’s paranoia leads her to believe that she’s unsafe in her own home. It’s a harrowing thriller where the main characters just happen to be gay. Imagine that!

Raw (2017)

Director Julia Ducournau combines cannibalism, sexual exploration, and black humor in this French coming-of-age story about a new college student learning a frightening truth about her nature. Adolescent transformations are old hat in horror — there was a teenage version of every monster in the 1950s — and cannibalism films practically rolled off the assembly line in the late ’70s and early ’80s, but the beauty in Ducournau’s bildungsroman sets it apart from its peers, as she makes sex and flesh-eating sensual but not cheaply titillating experiences. After eating meat for the first time in her life, Justine is consumed by hunger, and the formerly introverted young girl starts to explore her body — and other people’s bodies, thanks to her gay roommate — and challenge pre-established gender power dynamics as her desires override her behavioral conditioning. This isn’t just great queer horror. It’s great horror full stop.

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