daughters of darkness

10 queer icons of horror

Contributed by
Oct 27, 2018

Halloween. Being queer. Two good things! And thus, with love in our hearts and in our nether regions, we here at SYFY FANGRRLS present to you teen iconic queer horror movie characters. Is it the only list that includes 1936 Universal horror classic Dracula's Daughter and Seed of Chucky, the Gremlins 2 of the Child's Play franchise? Just maybe! Roll with it!

And please, comment with your favorite lesbian vampires. You have a lot to choose from.

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Elizabeth Bathory, Daughters of Darkness

Just a heads up here so you know what y'all are getting into: There are going to be a lot of lesbian vampires on this list. Because cinema loves lesbian vampires. A lot more than they love gay male vampires, in fact, probably because of the #malegaze. But the #malegaze does not take away from the fact that the great Delphine Seyrig wears some truly excellent clothes as Countess Elizabeth Bathory, Daughters of Darkness' lesbian vampire par excellence. Elizabeth loves good clothes as much as she possesses a simmering — but still classy — disdain for men, which in the annals of film is what really makes a lesbian vampire.

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Isolde, The Shiver of the Vampire

The good thing about lesbian vampires is: They are lesbians. Also, they are vampires. The bad thing is that the subset doesn't give us a ton of variation. The lesbian vampire of film is almost uniformly languorous, seductive and sophisticated. (Or, as Susan Sarandon says of Catherine Deneuve in The Hunger: "She's European.") Each lesbian vampire, however, has their own characteristic that sets them apart from the others. Elizabeth in Daughters of Darkness has great clothes. Diane from The Velvet Vampires lives in the desert, which is weird for a vampire, but you do you, I guess. Miriam in The Hunger is followed around by doves wherever she goes. Carmilla is the lesbian vampire from whence all other lesbian vampires came. And Isode, from lesbian vampire auteur Jean Rollin's The Shiver of the Vampire, is really great at making an entrance.

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Mrs. Johnson, She Killed in Ecstasy

What would you do if your beloved scientist husband was driven to suicide after a committee of his bosses determined — rightly, by the by — that he was verging a bit too close to mad scientist territory and should probably not be given any more money to mess around with human embryos on the sly? If you're Soledad Miranda in Jesús Franco's She Killed in Ecstasy, you vow to seduce and murder the people — three men, one woman — you blame for your husband's death. Franco, like Jean Rollin, was a big proponent of the lesbian vampire movie, though he dropped Rolin's oftentimes slow-paced artistry for heaping doses of sleaze (and tits). Franco and Miranda collaborated on the 1971 lesbian vampire movie Vampyros Lesbos, and Miranda's Sapphic bloodsucker character in that film was pretty cool. But — unlike Mrs. Johnson in She Killed in Ecstacy — she never smothered a woman to death mid-sex using a plastic pillow straight out of someone's 1970s swinger's pad. 

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The choice of which character to include on this list was therefore obvious.

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Marie, High Tension

Cécile de France's Marie is one of the most badass characters you'll find in one of the most infuriating movies on this list. Scratch that: the most infuriating. Director Alexandre Aja turns in a tight, well-constructed horror thriller about a woman (de France) trying to rescue her best friend/object of unrequited affection (Maïwenn) from the clutches of a truck-driving French redneck. Things go along great until about 20 minutes before the end of the movie, which is when Aja throws in a twist that makes no goddamn sense at all. Seriously. Don't even bother trying to figure out how the final act of this movie adheres to things like "logic" and "the basic rules of storytelling," because it doesn't. Just enjoy de France's intense, riveting performance, watch High Tension, and then feel free to vent at me about the final act on Twitter.

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Angela, the Sleepaway Camp series

SPOILERS

Tradtionally, the horror genre has not been kind to trans people. The most prominent example to be found in the genre is The Silence of the Lambs ' Buffalo Bill, who pretty much hits the bingo of "Ways in Which the Horror Genre Can Be Really Transphobic:" the pairing of gender dysphoria and violence, the use of trans identity as a ~shocking~ plot reveal, the casting of a cis actor. All three of those things are also true of the character of Angela (Felissa Rose) in the 1983 cult classic Sleepaway Camp, where — surprise — all the murders were committed by the shy, bullied girl, who — surprise again — audiences were introduced to in the first scene as a little boy named Peter. Peter's father died in a freak accident, after which the child was adopted by an aunt who decided she'd really rather have a daughter instead of a son.

Sleepaway Camp's approach to gender politics: Not great, Bob!

But things take a twist in the sequels, which, though less well-known, are absolutely worth the watch. They go the more traditional teen horror route by adding more comedy, more mullets, and way, way more boobs. Here, Angela is no longer a tormented child beset with psychological trauma brought about at least in part due to her gender dysphoria. She is, instead, a transwoman whose defining character traits are:

  1. Chipper.
  2. Loves summer camp.
  3. Kills teenagers when they behave like little sh*ts, which is basically all the time.
  4. Once dressed up like Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to kill a dude. Angela, like the best slasher villains, knows that if you don't mix things up, you're gonna get bored.

One suspects that the reason the Sleepaway Camp sequels don't make a big deal out of Angela's trans identity is that the writers didn't really have anything to say about being trans other than the typical, regressive "ooh, how ~freaky~," which the first Sleepaway Camp already covered. That's not good, obviously. But it does have a silver lining, which is that the sequel version of Angela becomes the rare trans character in horror who's defined by something other than her sexual identity. That something is: Disrespect summer camp, and she will mess you up. With a smile!

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Countess Marya Zaleska, Dracula's Daughter

There are a lot of characters in older horror films — Norman Bates in Psycho, Charles Laughton's character in The Old Dark House, etc. — who are commonly read as LGBT but are not explicitly identified as such within the text. Times were different then, and you couldn't outright say "hey, this character is gay as hell." Among that number is Countess Marya Zaleska (Gloria Holden) from 1936's Dracula's Daughter, the first direct sequel to the original Dracula. So what warrants Marya's place on this list, while Norman Bates is left out? Let's just say that Dracula's Daughter was really, really unsubtle about its title character's preference for women. There's an erotically charged scene where Marya, a painter, has a woman come into her studio and strip for her. Countess Marya Zaleska: Snazzy dresser, careful eyebrow groomer, cinema's first lesbian vampire. Witness:

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Jesse Walsh, Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge

There are almost 50 years between Dracula's Daughter and Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freedy's Revenge, but the two quite disparate films have one thing in common: central characters who, unlike other characters on this list, aren't explicitly identified as being LGBT... but the implications are just too damn blatant to be unintentional. Jesse Walsh, the teenager whose dreams Freddy Krueger chooses to haunt this time around, goes to an S&M club. He has a baseball teammate with whom he has a rivalry...

....but whom he also appears to be really into? As in, Jesse has some Freddy possession shenanigans, and his girlfriend is right there, and instead he chooses to go over to his frenemy Grady's house to spend the night. He also wakes up from nightmares a lot shirtless and sweaty. You connect the dots.

Carmilla

Carmilla

Every other character on this list hails from a movie. You'll have to pardon me for the change in gears here, though, because for the OG lesbian vampire, you gotta go right to the source. Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu's gothic novella Carmilla, about an isolated family whose houseguest turns out to be a vampire preying on the family's young daughter, predates Bram Stoker's Dracula by over 25 years. It's had several direct adaptations, including a web series and several film adaptations, some looser than others. However, Carmilla's influence can be felt throughout the lesbian vampire subgenre in the way Le Fanu describes Carmilla's feelings for her female victims: as an intense, erotic obsession, something to be explored not in a moment of bloodlust but drawn out as a courtship. Writes Le Fanu's protagonist:

"The vampire is prone to be fascinated with an engrossing vehemence, resembling the passion of love, by particular persons. In pursuit of these it will exercise inexhaustible patience and stratagem, for access to a particular object may be obstructed in a hundred ways. It will never desist until it has satiated its passion, and drained the very life of its coveted victim. But it will, in these cases, husband and protract its murderous enjoyment with the refinement of an epicure, and heighten it by the gradual approaches of an artful courtship. In these cases it seems to yearn for something like sympathy and consent."

What Carmilla didn't introduce is another staple of the lesbian vampire movie: A boyfriend or husband of the human woman who's such an asshole that you can't help but root for the vampire to steal his girl. But don't worry: The next movie on that list has that covered.

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Miriam, The Hunger

The assh*le here is Tom (Cliff De Young), lover and coworker of Sarah (Susan Sarandon), who goes positively apesh*t when Sarah spends a couple hours hanging out with her new friend Miriam (Catherine Deneuve). "For three and a half hours, you talked? So what did you talk about? The weather? Fashion? It just seems like three and a half hours is a hell of a long time to have a conversation." IDK, maybe they found out they had the same taste in Netflix Originals, Tom. OK, in actuality they boned down and went skinnydipping and Miriam turned Susan into a vampire, but Tom didn't know they were scissorinng instead of playing Scrabble. Anyway, Miriam, a vampire who seduces male and female companions alike throughout the centuries, is easily the coolest person on this list! Exhibit A: She's Catherine Deneuve. Exhibit B: You have to be cool to have gently wafting draperies and doves following you around practically everywhere you go. Exhibit C: She's Catherine Deneuve.

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Glen/Glenda, Seed of Chucky

Among the Child's Play franchise, Seed of Chucky gets a bad rap, because it's goofy as hell. But it shouldn't, because... it's goofy as hell. Seriously, Billy Boyd voicing a positively Dickensian orphan doll positively quivering with sweet, innocent feeling at the prospect of meeting his parents, only to find that those parents are infamous killer dolls Chucky and Tiffany. Chucky and Tiffany, who didn't know they had a kid, can't figure out whether their child (which has a Ken doll crotch) is a boy or a girl. It turns out that the kid (alternatively called "Glen" and "Glenda," in a nice little Ed Wood reference) doesn't know either... and by the end of the movie, the consensus is that they don't have to!

Glen/Glenda isn't "iconic" in the sense that they're especially well-written or historic or important to the way the LGBT community is represented throughout the history of film. That said, Don Mancini, Child's Play creator and director of Seed of Chucky, has noted that "as a gay guy, I love the fact that over the years, [to] the people who saw that movie as children, the character of Glen really meant something to them, and that’s very cool." But they are the only character on this list who's accidentally killed John Waters by drenching him in sulphuric acid. So: That's a plus!

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