8 Queer Horror Film Recommendations
In celebration of Pride Month (though every month to me is Pride Month), I wanted to compile an off-the-cuff queer horror film list for readers. There are plenty of films I won’t get into since they’re already so widely covered for having LGBTQ+ themes and undertones, such as A Nightmare on Elm Street 2, Sleepaway Camp, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I love these, but I wanted to challenge myself to look through my own personal collection of other queer horror films – many I’ve only just watched over the past couple of years. They don’t encapsulate the entire LGBTQ+ spectrum, and most are either just gay or lesbian themed. I’d personally love to see more contemporary and racially diverse horror films that feature transgender and nonbinary protagonists (if you have recommendations, please let me know). As we’ve seen from films like Sleepaway Camp, Deadly Blessing, Terror Train, and even Splice, the monster is often queer-coded, and a gender switch occurs. And here I said I wasn’t going to get into Sleepaway Camp (it’s a classic!). Without further ado, let’s get started.
My introduction to queer horror was The Rocky Horror Picture Show (I came across it on TV as a kid, confused and mesmerized by Tim Curry’s Frankenfurter, then later rewatched it in my teens). But the first “hard R” queer horror for me would probably have to be the gay slasher Hellbent. I came out in 2018, and during my quest to play catchup on all the gay movies I missed out on, Hellbent came highly recommended across multiple Facebook horror movie groups. I ordered a worn DVD copy off Amazon (here’s to hoping they’ll release a Blu-ray, though I’m not sure there’s enough of a demand for it). The film follows a typical slasher format – a small group of gay friends go to an event (the West Hollywood Halloween Carnival), and they’re stalked by a mysterious figure (a shirtless muscle man wearing a devil mask). The killer is quite anonymous, a faceless Grindr profile pic come to life. We don’t get his name, background, or a reason why he’s targeting gay men. We don’t know if the character’s gay and repressed that part of himself, and we don’t know where the character goes when he’s not killing (we do see a scene where he’s in a barn sharpening his weapon). Although it’s a “one by one the characters die” movie (isn’t that what most slashers are?), the characters are quite endearing, and you get a lot of screen time with them before the killing starts. The first kill in the main group, quite an innocent guy, was tough for me. I don’t think any of the characters really “deserved” it. Often, you’ll have those stock characters that are so unsympathetic that you basically root for the killer, but here, they’re all likable.
Another great gay flick is William Friedkin’s Cruising, starring the great Al Pacino. Though it’s categorized as a crime thriller, it very much plays out like a slasher. Like Hellbent, the killer is similar in that he’s ambiguous and anonymous (actors whose characters are killed sometimes end up playing the killer in other scenes, furthering the idea it could be anyone). Pacino plays a detective who goes undercover in the gay S&M world to hunt down this serial killer. While Pacino’s character is presumably straight, he seems intoxicated by the underground no-holds-barred decadence of the leather bars. If I remember correctly, I think he starts to question parts of himself and what he’s capable of. At one point he even requests to be removed from the case because it’s eating away at him. I won’t bombard you with too much history behind the film, but it’s fascinating. There were lots of protests against this movie’s release because people felt it was exploitative to the gay community. On the Arrow Blu-ray, there’s a lengthy conversation with Friedkin who argues the film’s not intended to represent the entire homosexual world; he wanted to set a story about a series of real unsolved killings against this S&M backdrop. He also states he filmed all the activity that occurred in the bars naturally and as-is, as if he were just a spectator who happened to walk in. I love this movie – the bar scenes are fantastic (you can practically smell the leather), and you really get pulled into it – but I can also see the concern with Pacino’s character. There are several things suggested about him. Did the “gay world” unleash something dark and dormant in him?
BUTCHER, BAKER, NIGHTMARE MAKER (1981)
The gay slasher subgenre is really only a part of queer horror, so I’ll finish this section with one more movie that’s near and dear: Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker. I think since its release, it’s gained a cult following and appreciation as one of the earlier horror films to feature gay characters in a positive light. While the main character Billy (what is it with all the Billys in 80s horror?) isn’t gay, he’s accused of being gay by the film’s bigoted police detective. Billy’s a high-school basketball player who lives with his Aunt Cheryl (Susan Tyrrell). Billy’s parents died in an “accident” when he was a child, and his aunt raised him and has developed an unhealthy codependent relationship with him. From what I remember, Cheryl’s very religious and has seriously repressed her sexuality. The love she has for Billy is the only love she knows. When a repairman visits the house, she tries seducing him, and when he refuses her advances, she murders him. This sets the foundation for the film, as Billy’s the prime suspect. The detective believes Billy was in a love triangle with his gym coach and the repairman (who were lovers), so there’s definitely some heavy gay themes. Billy’s coach, Tom, is one of the most supportive (and heroic) characters in the film. Most of the film has the bigoted detective on the warpath, interrogating Tom and various characters, trying to get them to out Billy as a homosexual. What’s great about this film is that even though homosexuality is portrayed as a sin – it’s only portrayed that way by some of the most awful, evil, bigoted characters in the film. It plays around with the idea of “Who’s the real monster here?”
THE VAMPIRE LOVERS (1970)
Now that we’ve given gay films plentiful attention, let’s switch over to lesbian horror. I have two in my collection that are now all-time favorites. Let’s start with Hammer Films’ The Vampire Lovers. This movie was my introduction to Hammer Films and set the tone for my Hammer-watching expectations going forward (which is funny, considering it was one of the later and apparently “weaker” Hammer horror films). They don’t make them like this anymore – fog-shrouded chateaus, torchlit halls, ballroom parties, gossipy pubs, horse-drawn carriages with sinister figures seemingly needing help – I loved it. The Vampire Lovers is based on Sheridan Le Fanu’s 1872 novella “Carmilla,” a story about a female vampire who preys upon a young woman. In the erotic Hammer adaptation, Carmilla is played by the impeccable Ingrid Pitt (Countess Dracula). I can’t see anyone else in this role. I think originally there were reservations that Pitt was too old to play Carmilla, but that’s bollocks. Pitt adds a softness and emotional depth to a character that could’ve otherwise been portrayed as straight-up cold. She’s a lonely, loveless vampire always under the thrall/control of the Man in Black (you discover more about this situation in the other films of the Karnstein Trilogy, Lust for a Vampire and Twins of Evil). When I watch The Vampire Lovers, I question how much of Carmilla is her, and how much of what she’s doing is because of the Man in Black. I’d like to think Carmilla wants a person to call her own, but she can never have that – she drains the life of anyone she gets close to. Carmilla goes from one household to another, ruining lives and preying upon innocent women. In Lust for Vampire and Twins of Evil, there’s some heavy lesbian erasure and her character seems more attracted to men. Pitt turned down starring in the other movies and I don’t blame her. The trilogy as a whole is entertaining, but there’s something special about The Vampire Lovers and its portrayal of toxic love.
HIGH TENSION (2003)
I don’t know if there’s a pattern here or if I happened to pick two movies with similar themes, but High Tension is also a lesbian horror film about fixation and obsession. I watched it when I was in high school, and it’s definitely stuck with me as one to mention when someone’s looking for something dark and twisted. It’s also the most brutal, unforgiving, and gritty of the films I’ve mentioned so far (some scenes were cut down for the American version). The amped up gore factor might be hard for some to stomach. This grisly French slasher (with not-so-great English dubbing) follows two college friends, Marie and Alex, who are off to stay with Alex’s family at their farmhouse for the weekend. Just a quiet weekend of studying in the country – what could go wrong? Well, that farmhouse quite literally becomes a slaughterhouse, and Alex is abducted by the killer and thrown in his truck. Marie sneaks into the truck and we follow her for the remainder of the film as she tries to free herself and Alex – but nothing’s what it seems. This is one of those OMG twist-ending films. I’d rather not spoil the ending, but let’s just say we’ve been led astray. You might even be angered by how misled you’ve been. I would have liked to learn more about Marie and her background. I can’t remember if it’s mentioned how long she knew Alex, but I think they met at school. I also wish we’d been given a little more time with this friendship, to watch them interact and whatnot before it all goes to hell. In any case, worth checking out if you want a mean-spirited slasher.
THE OLD DARK HOUSE (1932)
Slashers and vampires and fatal attractions aside, it’s worth diving into queer-coded horror (“We’re not explicitly saying it’s queer, but it is”). Openly gay Hollywood director James Whale’s The Old Dark House is a perfect example of this, and the earliest of the films mentioned here. Whale also directed Universal Monster movies Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, and The Bride of Frankenstein (this is proof horror has always been queer!). The Bride of Frankenstein in itself is a masterclass in camp and queer subtext, but let’s stick with The Old Dark House. Five people are caught in a storm and seek shelter at an old country house belonging to the kooky and eccentric Femm family. Horror legend Boris Karloff (Frankenstein, The Mummy, Black Sabbath) plays the Femm family’s mute and unstable butler Morgan. It’s suggested by siblings Horace and Rebecca Femm that Morgan’s a violent drinker and the guests should proceed with caution if they want to stay. The eldest sibling, Saul Femm, is a pyromaniac who’s kept locked away at all times. Saul and Morgan are ultimately the monsters of the story. What makes this film queer is the revelation that the family “keeps Morgan because of Saul.” It’s heavily implied the men are partnered; this is something I never thought I’d see in an old Universal film. This gay monster couple was almost erased from Universal Monster history, but the film’s since been restored thanks to Curtis Harrington, a friend of Whale’s. He relentlessly contacted Universal to get them to locate the film negative. It makes you wonder how many films are sitting in a vault all dusty, just waiting to be rediscovered!
FEAR NO EVIL (1981)
Frank LaLoggia’s directorial debut Fear No Evil is a perfect example of a horror film that maybe unintentionally features a queer-coded villain. A high-school student, Andrew, is slowly coming into his power and realizes he’s the Antichrist. A sort of gay stereotype, he’s a shy outcast who excels in school, gets bullied, and doesn’t have many friends (stereotype nonetheless, I’m sure some of us can relate to this). As the movie progresses, Andrew rejects his everyday school clothes and dons a skimpy flowing gown. He wears heavy eye shadow and his movements and overall demeanor become a bit more flamboyant. But before this physical change occurs, there are telltale signs at school. There’s a shower scene where one of Andrew’s bullies kisses him, and Andrew holds on and doesn’t let go. This in turn frightens his attacker, who’s targeted and gets his just-desserts later in the film – Andrew’s devil-magic gives him breasts. Mentioned earlier, this gender-bending transformation features frequently in queer horror. Sleepaway Camp, Deadly Blessing, Terror Train, and Splice all feature monsters that transform from female to male, or are revealed to be male. I think in recent years or maybe the last decade, these movies (especially Sleepaway Camp) have been embraced and celebrated by the LGBTQ+ community. Instead of interpreting these films as “They’ve made us the monsters,” we’re taking back the narrative with “Wow, I relate to these monsters. I was also made fun of, ostracized, viewed as an outcast, etc.” And very often in these films, the people who cruelly acted against the monsters are punished. There’s a sense of balance and the righting of wrongs.
I can’t think of a better film to end with than gay writer/director Clive Barker’s Nightbreed – it’s the ultimate celebration of otherness and being different. There are no evil monster-creatures here – the humans are the monsters. Humans drove the peaceful monsters to near-extinction, and the surviving monster community hides in an underground city below a large cemetery. Aaron Boone (Craig Sheffer) dreams of this city (Midian) where the monsters are accepted, and this place calls to him. Boone’s driven away from humanity by his evil psychiatrist (David Cronenberg), who convinces him he’s a serial killer. Boone’s discovery of Midian reignites the war between humans and monsters. It’s really laid on thick that the humans are the evil slimeballs – especially the detectives/officers hot on the case. Not only are they trying to find Boone, but they also want to find this city of “freaks” and destroy it. While there doesn’t seem to be any outwardly LGBTQ+ characters in the film, Nightbreed is widely accepted as a queer allegory because we have a group (the monsters) being persecuted for simply wanting to exist. Nightbreed isn’t a perfect film, and it suffered heavy studio interference. There are several cuts of the film, and I think the Cabal Cut and/or Director’s Cut are closest to the version(s) Barker intended. Scream Factory put out a fantastic 3-disc limited edition boxed set several years back, as well as a two-disc Blu-ray/DVD combo pack.
Indies and Honorable Mentions
I hope you might find some new favorites among this list! These make up some of my favorite films the queer horror genre has to offer. They certainly don’t represent the entire genre, and there are so many others I didn’t mention, like the gay Hitchcockian thriller Stranger by the Lake (2013) and Lucky McKee’s bisexual psychological horror flick May (2002), starring the wonderful Angela Bettis. There’s also a bounty of new and recently released independent queer horror gems, including the slashers Death Drop Gorgeous (2020) and Teacher Shortage (2020), and the religious horror-thriller Children of Sin 2021 (read my Horror Oasis review). What would you add to this list, or what are you watching during Pride Month? Please get in touch with me if you have recommendations!
Bret Laurie is an editor, writer, and longtime horror fan living in Massachusetts. He received his B.A. in English at Worcester State University and currently has six years of editing and social media marketing experience.
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8 Queer Horror Film Recommendations
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