After the London BFI’s LGBT season drew to a close last weekend I couldn’t help but double take at the amount of horror films on the line up. Whilst the LGBT scene and the horror genre may not seem intrinsically interlinked queer horror cinema is a fascinating sub-genre rich with history. From those films that deal with characters who are openly gay to coded references to homosexual lifestyles or even the recurrent themes of forbidden desire and dangerous liaisons in many horror films throughout history I decided to take a look at how this sub-genre has simultaneously liberated and repressed the LGBT community.

Modern horror fiction has roots in Gothic literature. The gothic genre has given modern-day film the classic tropes which we associate with the horror genre. Trap doors, dark castles and the occasional ghost of a tormented soul are all classic symbols of horror in its original form. However, gothic novels were, and still are, heavily steeped in sexual allegories. Heterosexuality was a source of fear for many years dating as far back as the 16th century – sex before marriage, pregnancy and even displays of affection were frowned upon. Sexuality was forbidden and often used as way of control. With this in mind it is no doubt that deviation from the so-called sexual norm came to be viewed as not only a taboo, but something monstrous too.

Sheridan le Fanu’s novella, ‘Carmilla’ [1872] – which pre dates Bram Stoker’s Dracula – tells the story of a young woman who strikes up an awkward and unusual friendship with a seemingly lesbian vampire.

Vampiric stories have always been discussed as a metaphor for sex. The traditional tale of a stranger entering a young woman’s room at night and ‘penetrating’ her with fangs and lusting after her flesh – its pretty clear an aspect of sexuality is present in the horror genre and perhaps serves as a cautionary tale for those who wish to follow the desires and fantasies. Gay authors, and subsequently directors have taken on this sexual aspect of the genre and moulded it to suit the sexual spectrum of their audiences, whilst others have used it to highlight the apparent shame and repulsion at the thought of homosexuality.

1936_DraculasDaughter_img14‘Dracula’s Daughter’ in 1936, directed by Lambert Hillyer, has a strong lesbian overtone, although at the time the production company were apparently keen to dispel the link between the vampire attacks and perverse sexual desire. However, the posters for the film gave a nod to Dracula’s daughter as gay by stating, ‘Save the women of London from Dracula’s daughter!’ and ‘She gives you that weird feeling…’ Many critics have since argued that the film displays the ‘essence of homosexuality as a predatory weakness’. Another significant link to lesbianism is the countess’ desire to ‘cure’ her vampirism – this can be seen as a nod to the idea that homosexuality was previously viewed as a curable psychological disease. The metaphor of trying to hide your true self in order to fit in with society’s standards may chime with gay audiences. Films of this ilk were classically coded queer horrors and often served as a warning against the gay lifestyle.

Hammer studios followed similar suit to ‘Dracula’s Daughter’ in 1970 with ‘The Vampire Lovers’. Taking strong inspiration from Le Fanu’s ‘Carmilla’, it cast Ingrid Pitt as the lusty vamp feasting upon bosomy prey. The Vampire Lovers is a faithful adaptation, with strong performances and some genuinely startling scenes. It was the first of three Hammer films featuring lesbian vampires, known as the Karnstein Trilogy – Lust for a Vampire (1970) is so-so, but Twins of Evil (1971) is among the studio’s best. The seventies saw the shift from coded to implied lesbianism and played on the titillation of lesbians for straight-male viewers.

The-Vampire-LoversIn the late 1990s and early 2000s, cult film director David DeCoteau began making “horror for women.” Films like Voodoo Academy (1999) and The Brotherhood (2001) often featured attractive men in their underwear in homoerotic situations but never fully gay-themed storylines. These films quickly caught on with gay male audiences, to whom they were more often marketed, but with the safety of “Horror for Women” label so as not to out themselves at the local video store.

In 2004 production simultaneously began on two films marketed specifically for gay audiences as “Gay Horror.” October Moon was directed by Jason Paul Collum and featured a deadly gay love triangle in the vein of Fatal Attraction (1987 film). Hellbent was directed by Paul Etheredge and styled itself as a modern slasher film with a story of gay men stalked by a masked killer during a Halloween parade in West Hollywood, California. Both films were released theatrically in September 2005.

Since then, gay gothic films have flourished, and continue to break barriers. ParaNorman [2012], the first children’s film with an openly gay character, is steeped in gothic horror conventions, albeit with a PG certificate. The marriage of queerness and gothic has also spilled over into mainstream television – think Willow, the nervy lesbian witch in Buffy the Vampire Slayer[1997-2003], or several of the male vampires in True Blood [2008 to present].

Whilst there are many openly or coded queer horror films there are also those horror films which border between creepy and camp and it is sometimes unclear if the queer aspect is intentional or accidental. Think about the man-on-man subtexts in horror films Lost Boys [1987] and The Covenant [2006].

One horror blockbuster which is frequently debated is ‘A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge’, released in 1985.

936full-a-nightmare-on-elm-street-part-2-freddys-revenge-screenshotThe sequel features an all male cast of victims for Freddy to attack – something that is not often seen in slasher horror films. From its camp tagline (“The Man of Your Dreams is Back”) – to, well, everything it seems that this horror film is warning against homosexuality – although whether or not it was intentional is yet to be confirmed.

Jesse, played by out actor Mark Patton seems to be experiencing inner turmoil at the hands of Freddy and his razor sharp hands.

The film sees the gym teacher killed naked in a shower after being brutally supernaturally spanked with a towel (seriously), while poor Grady is sliced up in his boxers after Jesse has failed to consummate his relationship with his girlfriend, for reasons which remain unspecified. The night sweats, the gay references and the fear of the unknown is often cited as allegories for the gay male’s battle against AIDS and perhaps serves as a distasteful warning against homosexuality – does Freddy represent the murderous consequences of homoeroticism?

The fact that Freddy does not remain in dreams in the sequel and seems to be physically breaking out of Jesse – Freddy is taking over Jesse’s body and committing murder in reality – could suggest that Freddy is representative of Jesse’s gay self.

Many horror films can be viewed as a parable for being gay. The subtle coded references or the homophobic cautionary tales reflect the stigma attached to the LGBT community. If the message isn’t being subverted so that only those who are gay can enjoy the themes without straight audiences feeling uncomfortable then it is sadly that the message of ‘different’ sexuality acts as a source of horror and fear. Whether it is the lesbian as soulless predator, the gay man as the aids addled fiend battling against his own dreams or the Frankenstein monster who is perhaps a horrendous representation of those who are transgender it is fair to say the queer in horror is very real and perhaps the most scary sub genre as there is some truth about our society which exists in these subtexts.

About The Author

Emily Stockham

Emily is from South London and has a degree in English Literature. Emily is a marketing assistant who writes about films and music in her spare time. Horror and grindhouse are her thing - although she will happily watch anything if it means a trip to the cinema.