Erin Day is an actress and budding screenwriter with a handful of credits to her name and her sights set on creating her first feature length film. She’s also a lifelong horror fan and pansexual woman who has found a place in her life where she’s finally comfortable.
Day sat down with me for an interview for Horror Pride Month and took me on a journey through her life, highlighting the moments and films that stuck out to her and her own personal intention to change the way the genre portrays queer women.
Growing up, she had a mom who was really open to letting her kids watch the movies they wanted to watch. Having a natural curiosity, Day absorbed everything that caught her eye but two films, in particular, were formative to her becoming a horror fan.
“The first was Killer Klowns from Outer Space,” Day explained. “That was when I knew that I liked being scared. I mean, I didn’t like it, but I liked it! It was such a weird, complex feeling for me. Then when I was about 11 or 12, I saw The Exorcist. Mom asked if I was sure and I told her I was so she sat down and we watched it together.”
From that moment on, Day was hooked, and despite a brief period in her mid-teens where she lost her taste for them, she’s remained a horror fan ever since.
As for her identity as a queer woman, that took a little more time.
“I knew I was different when I was probably eight or nine years old,” she told me. “There were lots of little things like I always wanted to wear boy bathing suits when I was a kid and didn’t understand why I couldn’t do that. I was totally different, but my mom never once made me feel different. I still fought it pretty hard, though. I didn’t come out until after I had been married to a man for a year and he was the first person I came out to.”
Her journey continued from there as many of ours do with counseling and acceptance of who she was as a person, and yet, her newly accepted personal identity began to chafe against her love for horror.
“About five years ago, I decided I wanted to make a difference in how queer people, and especially queer women, are portrayed in horror,” Day explained. “I feel like it borders on pornographic and it’s definitely fetishized and to an extent, I get that. It’s horror. It’s tits and ass and blood.”
Still, it didn’t sit well with her, especially a lot of the queer coding that has gone on in the past.
For those unaware, queer-coding is a term that describes giving certain traits to a character that may imply that they are queer without actually coming out and saying it directly. This is, unfortunately, most often used for villains in everything from horror films to Disney movies, and it has a direct effect on how queer audiences view films.
Day recalled one instance in particular when she was building a character backstory for a role that she was set to play. While in prep, she asked the director if her character was actually in a relationship with a woman.
“He responded by telling me it wasn’t that kind of movie,” Day said. “There was like this dirty sense to what he was saying. I wasn’t trying to make it pornographic. I was just figuring out my character!”
The actress says she’s run into the same kind of reaction from people when she’s talking about the film she’s written.
Dusso tells the story of a non-binary person in East London in the late nineteenth century. Forced into prostitution, Dusso begins a relationship with a woman named Rosalee. Rosalee’s father becomes enraged when he finds out who his daughter is spending time with, and things spiral out of control.
Day says the story has an almost Tim Burton-esque quality to it with larger than life characters and actions that place it somewhere between Sweeney Todd and Jack the Ripper.
“It’s kind of a body horror love story,” she said. “But when I tell people about it they assume it’s somehow going to be some dark, pornographic story and that’s not what it’s like at all. It makes me sad that people assume that.”
Fortunately she says that she has seen some change in the portrayal of queer women in the genre particularly with films like Stewart Thorndike’s Lyle, a film that feels a bit like Rosemary’s Baby but with a central lesbian couple, and the wonderful way that shows like The Chilling Tales of Sabrina has openly embraced the spectrum of sexual orientations and gender identities.
A particular favorite of Day’s is Ingrid Jungermann’s Women Who Kill.
“It a dark horror comedy and there are a lot of lesbian characters in it, but you hardly even think about it while you watch it,” she explained. “That’s how I feel like horror should be evolving. You’re not sitting there thinking, ‘Hey, I’m watching a lesbian movie!’ It’s more like you’re just watching a movie that happens to have lesbian characters in it.”
This kind of normalized representation is what many of us in the queer community are hoping for ultimately, and possibly what the larger studios who produce horror content don’t understand is that they don’t have to make a big deal out of a queer character being in their film.
Just write a normal, every day queer person who happens to find themselves in the midst of the horror like everyone else. If you do it, and you do it well, the queer community will surely provide all the hype you could ever want.
Check out the trailer for Erin Day’s Dusso below. While the film is still in the process of heading toward production, it never hurts to know what’s on the horizon from such a talented queer artist.