Since before the dawn of the Hays Code in 1934, LGBTQ characters have graced every movie genre, including horror. The Hays Code was a set of rules that movies had to follow in order no to corrupt people who watched them. That led directors and writers to hide things like LGBTQ characters or love in plain sight. This worked well for directors who wanted to showcase the evils of being LGBTQ. They had a chance to make villians seem gay as a cautionary tale. This did not deter LGBTQ people from falling in love with the horror genre. In honor of October and Halloween, I thought I would share some of the rare LGBTQ themed horror movies that you can watch.
The Bride of Frankenstein
In the 1930s and 40s, we saw queer directors have to use the common trope of gays as monsters in their movies. It was a way to draw in LGBTQ people to see the movie as well as guarantee making money off the films. During this time, one of the biggest and openly gay directors is James Whale. He is most known for the follow up to Universal Monsters Frankenstein, the Bride of Frankenstein. This movie had a lead villain-esque character, Doctor Pretorius, played by gay actor Ernest Thesiger. Pretorius was enamoured by the works of Doctor Frankenstein and wanted him to help create a new creature. Pretorius convinces Frankenstein to leave his new wife so that they can run off and become “same-sex” parents of their new creation. There are those that draw a line of two men removing women from the equation of creating life. Others have taken that a bit further as showing two men together creating life in an alternate fashion as a true “fuck you” to God and creating life. For me, this movie is a favorite due to being directed by James Whale and included a cast of gay men, at a time when being that out was a true detriment to your career.
1936 gave us the first look at a bisexual vampire in Dracula’s Daughter. Gloria Holden plays Countess Marya Zaleska, a female vampire who wants to shed her curse and live out her life as a normal human. The Countess seduces both men and women, to drain them of their blood. The movie focuses on her struggle to tame her wild impulses. Her repression fails every time and so she seeks out a psychiatrist to help her exorcise her curse. This movie was used to show that LGBTQ people can be repentant and seek to cure themselves of their “curse.” Nonetheless, it is a good movie for a late night binge
As the 1960s came in, the world watched a rise in civil, feminine, and LGBTQ rights, By the end of the 1960s, Stonewall will erupt LGBTQ rights into mainstream media. Also during this time, the Hays Code was finally removed to make way for the first version of the modern film rating system. This era would rocket lesbian characters to the forefront as predators in the shape of vampires. Bur it also showed the first openly non-predator lesbian lead in, the Haunting. Now, I am sure many of you saw the remake with Catherina Zeta-Jones and Owen Wilson (gags at the thought). That version had Wilson losing his head over the role, okay bad pun. Jones did an amazing adaptation of Theo in the 1999 version, but it was the original that allowed a lesbian lead to be a highlight of the movie. In this version, Dr Markway invites two women to be a part of the study of paranormal activity at Hill house. A house built by Hugh Crain for his first wife, who died tragically. Theo is played by Claire Bloom and becomes a close friend to the other woman of the movie, Eleanor. This movie has all the awesomeness of 1960s horror and a first time message that lesbians are not deviant predators on the hunt.
The Vampire Lovers
As the 1970s progressed, we saw sexual liberation explode around us as well. With this we saw horror monsters become hypersexualized and at the same time LGBTQ characters “came out” into the light of movies. The one thing I love about horror movies from the 70s was the sheer amount of nudity and sex that was involved. Some of my favorites from that era would be the Wickerman, the Virgin Witch, and Vampire Lovers. Female characters were strong leads and homosexuality became somewhat normal. The Vampire Lovers, a Hammer Film follows a new adaption of the Carmilla character. In this version the young female vampire Mircalla Karnstein goes by the name or Carmilla and is set in an 18th century European town. Here we watch as Mircalla seduces young women for feeding and killing all others. The movie is filled with beautiful scenery and imagery. Mircalla is often seen wandering the scenes in flowy gown projecting sexuality and power. For me, this is one of my favorite Hammer Films. The story is as amazing as the cinematography.
The 80s definitely brought LGBTQ people into focus and not always in the way we would have hoped. The 80s was known for the beginning of the AIDS epidemic and the media painted us as disease spreading villains. A trope that lasts until this day. During this time, we saw LGBTQ people return to being monsters in horror movies. Take Fright Night for example. This movie takes place in a nondescript suburb where new neighbors move into the vacant house next to Charley Brewster. Enter Jerry Dandrige and his “friend” Billy who pretend to be a posh gay couple to be accepted by their neighbors. Charlie becomes caught up with Jerry and starts to notice differences in him. It is then that he suspects he is actually a vampire. Okay, we all know that often vampirism is a gay subtext and this movies plays that to the hilt. Chris Sarandon plays the role of Jerry Dandrige, amazingly. If you have not seen this one, it worth the cost of renting it.
As the 1990s came in, queer cinema changed again. It was much easier to write movies that paralleled what LGBTQ people were going through. We also saw movies becoming unapologetic about their LGBTQ character’s faults and not pandering to conventions and popular mindsets. A good example of this is one of my favorite movies Nightbreed. This was a movie that had an impact on me, as well as my pledge brothers in college. So much so that we named our pledge class after it. Though, at the time, I doubt that myself or my fellow pledge brothers saw the subtext that was rampant in this move. The hero of the movie is Aaron Boone, a man who plagued by dreams of a city full of monsters. Boone soon has his “coming out” moment in realizing his true monster on the inside. As he accepts his inner persona, he becomes so much stronger. He becomes the activist that unites his monster brothers to fight against the humans. This movie was written by gay author Clive Barker, of the Hellraiser franchise. The quote that really tugs at me from the movie is spoken by Boone when he is trying to rally the monsters. “If we want to survive, we can’t hide! Brothers and sisters, it is time to fight!” It is almost the mantra of every civil rights fight and has been a theme in LGBTQ rights. In order for us to survive we have to come out of the closet “darkness” and fight.
Seed of Chucky
In the 2000s, LGBTQ characters were no longer cast as only monsters, killers, and outcasts. We finally get to see them in roles of the protagonist. Queer characters are able to go out camping with their friends and be terrorized by horror movie psycho killers, like everyone else. I am sure most of us have seen at least one Child’s Play movie. You know the one, a doll possessed by a mad man killer who terrorizes his unsuspecting victims. Each installment of this franchise saw the doll reborn and ready to be your “friend to the end.” This franchise continued into 2003 where Chucky and his girlfriend Tiffany happen to have a child who is gender nonbinary. Director Don Mancini shows the doll trying to come to terms with their gender identity. Their persona seems to split as their anger rises to the point of killing someone. The Child’s Play franchise has been called one of the most progressive and adaptable of all the super killer franchises from the 1980s. So invite someone over, grab a blanket, and watch this murderous doll romp of a good time
Over the years, there have been more horror movies dealing with LGBTQ characters and content. Here are a few honorable mentions.
Chillerama, a movie of short vignettes that showcases I Was A Teenage Werebear. A young man comes to terms with his sexuality after meeting a group of leather werebears that change his life forever.
Let The Right One In, a Swedish horror tender love story about a bullied boy, Oskar, who befriends a genderqueer vampire named Eli. After Oskar starts to grow close to Eli he asks Eli to be his girlfriend. Eli them tells him that he is not a girl. Oskar is not put off by this and still asks Eli if they can be together. Eli becomes Oskar’s protector and the two see their mutual queerness as something to love instead of horrified by.
And lastly, The Gay Bed and Breakfast of Terror. In this movie we watch as a group of LGBTQ men and women arrive at a B&B for what they think will be a weekend of big gay celebrations. In fact the place is ran by an straight, ultra religious, conservative Republican that asks her guests what they think about the sanctity of marriage. The rest of the movie follows the normal kill gays because they are bad, routine. In this we get to see LGBTQ folx rising up against their oppressors, but who will make it out alive.
With October here, get out there and watch some of these films. If there are horror movies you feel should have made this list but didnt, drop me a line and let me know in the comments. I love growing my horror movie library.