To toast the wrap-up of Pride Month, we're celebrating the best in queer horror. Just like the colors on the pride flag, there's plenty of variety under the umbrella of LGBTQIA+ representation when it comes to horror movies. So, we're spreading the love around, offering up films about misunderstood monsters, lusty vampires, and love-seeking slashers.
Talking a walk back to the early days of cinema means that, along the way, there will be problematic faves. But for better or blundered, these are the horror films that made queer audiences feel seen. They slink into subtext, splash blood, throw shade, relish in camp, and chill spines. They focus on fears of heartbreak, rejection, ostracism, death, and love. They offer happy endings and harrowing ones. They aren't all scary, but they are all fabulous.
Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
"To a new world of gods and monsters!"
One of the first queer horror masterpieces, Bride of Frankenstein was alive (ALIVE!) with camp, queer sensibility, and LGBTQ talent. The sequel to the 1931 smash hit Frankenstein was helmed by openly gay director James Whale, and starred "rumored bisexual" Colin Clive as Doctor Frankenstein, and out, proud, and unapologetically flamboyant Ernest Thesiger as the eccentric and campy Doctor Pretorius. Its story centers on a misunderstood "monster" (Boris Karloff) trying to find a love of his own while society rejects him as an abomination. Enter Elsa Lanchester as the iconic bride, a vision of hyper-femininity twisted with the glamour and a touch of horror. Her dark lipstick and sharp brows are as bold as the streak bouffant atop of her head. And for 80-plus years, she's been giving us life!
"It's only a piece of rope Phillip, an ordinary household article. Why hide it?"
More than a decade before he unveiled Psycho, Alfred Hitchcock unfurled a tale of curdled love and abject horror set primarily — and unnervingly — in a lovely parlor room. Rope begins with two young men throttling a third to death. Then, the killer couple swiftly tucks the corpse into a large wooden chest before having over his family, friends, and fiancée for a small party. Confined to one setting, claustrophobia and tensions mount as they smile, lie, and try to cover their tracks before a suspicious professor (James Stewart). Will these vain and vicious murderers be caught? Or have they truly committed the "perfect murder?" And why did they kill? The pair will rattle off snooty justifications. But many read their real motive as the horror convention of the "return of the repressed," where a repressed desire resurfaces monstrous and violent. Likely inspired by the notorious real-life killers Leopold and Loeb, Rope is a riveting thriller that grabs you by the throat and won't let go.
The Hunger (1983)
"You'll be back. When the hunger hurts so much it knows no reason!"
Three years before he brought "that loving feeling" to Top Gun, Tony Scott made his feature directorial debut with an unabashedly sultry story of bisexual vampires, starring Catherine Deneuve, David Bowie, and Susan Sarandon. In The Hunger, the stigmatizing stereotype of bisexuals as ravenous sex fiends is made bitingly literal with seductive vampire queen Miriam Blaylock (Deneuve), who stalks nightclubs with her mate (Bowie) for hook-ups to eat alive. The too-real fear of AIDS is expressed through the fate of Miriam's vampiric lovers, whose beauty, youth, and lives are stripped away as the cost of experiencing physical pleasure. Might sharp-stared scientist Sarah (Sarandon) have the answer to this horrible affliction? Less concerned with logic than mood, The Hunger may not make you scream, but you will swoon. Once criticized for its emphasis on atmosphere, this erotic horror film has since found its tribe, who embrace its style, sensuality, and queer bravado.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge (1985)
"He's inside me, and he wants to take me again!"
Because of decades of rampant homophobia, queerness in cinema was often been expressed in subtext and subtlety. Then there's Freddy's Revenge, a slasher so gay that it's absolutely outrageous that its screenwriter David Chaskin spent decades denying it! This Nightmare on Elm Street sequel puts teen boy Jesse in the role of the Final Girl. But instead of being stalked and killed by Freddy Krueger, the scarred slasher enters his body via possession. More telling, Freddy surfaces every time Jesse is in a potentially lusty situation, be it making out with his girlfriend, running into his leather-daddy-looking teacher at a gay bar, or sneaking into the room of a horndog male frenemy. On top of all that, the Gaze — that is typically turned onto naked female bodies in slasher-horror — repeatedly focuses on the often shirtless and sweaty Jesse, including close-ups of his backside and thrusting crotch during a random dance scene. Like in Rope, repressed desire twists a young man into a monster. But with graphic gore, outrageous prosthetic effects, and a gleefully ghoulish sense of humor, Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge has a lot more fun with this recurring theme.
"It's Shangri-La on dope. We love it!"
Written and directed by openly gay horror-master Clive Barker, this wildly original movie is full of color, creatures, and subtext! Cult film director Alejandro Jodorowsky famously declared Nightbreed "the first truly gay horror fantasy epic." And it's easy to see why. Its story follows Aaron Boone (Craig Sheffer) who fears something horrid lurks inside him. He dreams of a monster-filled land called Midian. As a series of home invasions leave breeders bleeding to death, Aaron becomes convinced he is the killer and a monster himself. But this is less "return of the repressed" and more "misunderstood monsters." Sure, Barker offers plenty of deranged spectacle when Aaron and his girlfriend stumble into Midian. But they soon learn these so-called monsters are a caring community who hides from a world that hates them for their differences. And that the real monster was hiding in plain sight (and played by David Cronenberg)! With a dense mythos, extraordinary creature effects, and a Midnight Movie performance style, this fantasy-horror stunner will drop your jaw and keep you gagging.
Interview With The Vampire (1994)
"No one could resist me, not even you, Louis."
Based on the popular Anne Rice novel, this sweeping studio production follows a mournful vampire through lifetimes of heartache and bloodlust. Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise star as Louis and Lestat, powerful vampires and oft-feuding partners who find pleasure, pain, and parenthood together. But once their darling daughter puts a wedge in between them, the relationship will be forever changed. Yet their bond is eternal. While its sequel would stumble, this adaptation was satisfyingly sexy and sinister. Sumptuous in its scope, decadent in its production design, and rapturous in its swells of passion and spurts of violence, Neil Jordan's Interview With The Vampire is horror grand, glamorous, grisly, and gay.
High Tension (2003)
"You can't escape from me."
The slasher genre received an injection of fresh blood with this deeply f*cked up French film that helped give rise to the "torture porn" horror trend. With a pixie cut and a pristine white t-shirt ready for blood, Cécile De France strutted onto the screen as a lesbian Final Girl who'd fight tooth and nail to keep her crush (Maïwenn) safe from the blood-caked mitts of a mysterious spree killer. Director Alexandre Aja pulls no punches in kill scenes, spraying gore, and mercilessly slaughtering a kid in a cornfield. While critics largely sneered at this gruesome thrill ride, High Tension became a must-see for horror fans hungry for something different and outrageously vicious. But be warned: this one is not for the faint of heart or stomach.
Seed of Chucky (2004)
"Sometimes I feel like a boy. Sometimes I feel like a girl. Can I be both?"
Horror has had several iconic trans characters, from The Silence of the Lamb's Buffalo Bill to Sleepaway Camp's Angela to Psycho's Norman Bates. But as lauded and loved these films are, they don't explore queer perspective as much as they exploit queer identity for shock value. By contrast, a funky franchise about a killer doll dared to center its story on a complicated trans character. The child of Chucky (Brad Dourif) and his bride Tiffany (Bound's Jennifer Tilly), Glen/Glenda (Billy Boyd) is so much more than an Ed Wood reference. They are a gender-nonconforming darling discovering their identity, whether that means being a boy, a girl, or a murderer like their parents. On top of this horror-comedy's surprisingly charming coming-out narrative, Seed of Chucky also relishes in camp humor, celebrity-skewering (both literal and metaphorical), and allusions to horror classics, like The Shining. Plus it boasts a cameo from queer cinema legend John Waters as a snooping paparazzo.
Blue My Mind (2017)
"I want to try."
Lisa Brühlmann's directorial debut is a unique coming-of-age story with a fishy twist of body horror and a splash of sea lore. Luna Wedler stars as 15-year-old Mia, who experiences strange desires, like the urge to guzzle salt water and eat her mother's pet fish. Her body is changing in ways she feels uncomfortable with. Specifically, she's growing scales. She's unsure of who she is becoming and afraid revealing that her truth to her best friend (and crush) will sink their relationship. But how long can Mia bury her fear in a haze of shoplifting, booze, and dangerous games? With a blend of wistful fantasy, frank gore, and insightful teen drama, this ultimately exhilarating Swiss film offers a fresh take on queer horror that blends the beautiful, brutal, and the surreal.
"You ever get the feeling… that something is in the dark with you?"
There's the kind of terror that jumps out of the closet and the kind that creeps in like a cryptic phone call in the middle of the night. That kind lingers, refusing to let you rest. That's the kind that stings in Icelandic writer/director Erlingur Thoroddsen's masterful slow-burn horror-thriller. Two former lovers are drawn back together by a such a call, and such a creeping sense of terror. Afraid for his ex Einar (Sigurður Þór Óskarsson), Gunnar (Björn Stefánsson) travels to a remote village where the air is cold, the landscape is bleak, and their relationship may not be the only thing that's dead by the end of the week. Grounded by performances restrained yet riveting, chilled with an atmosphere of dread and regret, and spiked with a moment so scary you'll want to rewind it just to scream again, Rift is deeply spooky and startlingly poetic look at how breaking up can be hell.
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