Michael Varrati is a very busy man. The writer, producer, director, actor, podcaster, and ComicCon panel host always has something going on and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I don’t like to sit still,” he told me in a recent interview. “That’s not who I am. I get very fidgety if I’m idle. If I’m not working on a feature, I’ll write a short film. If I’m not not writing a short, I’ll work on an audio play. It’s in my blood. I can’t not be doing something.”
No matter how busy he might be, however, he always finds time to talk about the relationship between the LGBTQ community and horror. In fact, his podcast is dedicated to just that subject.
Dead for Filth, which is only around a year old, is partnered with REVRY a queer streaming platform and distributor, and every week there’s a new episode dedicated to queerness in horror with filmmakers, writers, producers, actors, etc. as his guests.
Varrati is passionate about the subject and as I discovered throughout our interview, it’s not the idle passion of someone who is simply interested in the subject. No, as in all other aspects of his career, that passion is put to use in the form of activism.
Whether he’s hosting his podcast or the Queer Horror Panel at ComicCon, he feels like he’s exactly where he’s supposed to be and shaking things up in the best ways he knows how.
“I feel like my career in horror from the very beginning has been linked to my queer identity,” he said. “I’ve always known there was a link and that the queer community can find themselves in the themes of otherness that we find in horror. So, for me, I’ve spent most of my career rattling the cage on this subject because this is where I see myself and can find myself.”
Varrati points to the connections that he himself felt when he was growing up to characters like Laurie Strode in Halloween. In many ways, Laurie was an outsider even in her circle of friends, but that strength she found from being on the outside helped her survive.
He also points out that queerness is not new to the genre.
“It’s existed in horror since the beginning,” he explained. “Go back to the Gothic novels of the Victorian Era and you find Carmilla which is about lesbian vampire. There were queer characters in the classic Frankenstein film. It’s not new. We’re just now getting around to talking about it.”
For all that the work may be tiring and frustrating some days, Varrati says that the emails and messages he gets online from young people around the country makes it all seem worth it.
“I’ll get a message suddenly that says I’m a teenager in West Virginia and I feel like no one understands me,” he said. “I’m gay and when I watch horror movies it makes me feel better and I thought I was the only one, but I hear your shows with someone like Jeffrey Reddick who created Final Destination and it helps me.”
“It’s 2018,” he continued. “Female superheroes, black superheroes should not be a revelation in 2018. It should be the norm. I want a lesbian final girl who has a final girlfriend. I want a gay vampire film with the same reach that Twilight had. I want a trans person to save us from the zombie apocalypse. Not only do we want these movies, but we deserve these movies.”
It would seem in the year 2018 that the rhetoric remains unchanged, however, especially in some more conservative circles. The inclusion of LGBTQ characters or other minorities is often called out as pushing an agenda, even if a character is canonically queer, black, Asian, etc.
It, rightfully, brings out the activist in Varrati and others in the community when these statements are made for example, about “The Walking Dead.” When a gay couple was introduced a couple of seasons back and at one point they *gasp* kissed each other good-bye, some of the more conservative audience members lost their minds, with many claiming they would no longer watch the show.
“Here’s the deal,” Varrati laughed, “and this is where I get radical. If you’re watching a movie or a TV show and you have a problem that there are queer people in it, or black people or strong female characters, then go away. We don’t need you.”
He points to that fact that minority audiences have grown up watching television shows and films that were not geared toward them, and furthermore, many times had no representation of characters who looked or felt the way that they did.
“But we found ourselves in them anyway,” he said. “I’m here to tell people who think that the “agendas” are going too far to take a step outside themselves. Try to connect to someone who isn’t exactly like you and you might still find something you like.”
In the meantime, Varrati is focused on creating content that includes those characters that he wants to see, and celebrates those other people in the industry who are doing the same.
“I was asked recently what I would think if someone else started a queer horror podcast,” he said, “and I responded that I hope they do! I’m not the queer horror guy; I’m a part of the queer horror community. No one can carry all of this alone. We have to support one another and be in it together.”
Varrati is debuting his latest horror-comedy short this Summer. It’s called He Drinks and it centers on a gay couple who have entered couples’ therapy. The film stars genre mainstay Tiffany Shepis as the therapist who discovers there’s a lot more going on with this couple than meets the eye.
He also recently announced a new project with drag performer and horror aficionado Peaches Christ. That film, titled Slay Gardens, is co-written by Varrati and is set for release next year.
As our interview came to a close, Varrati offered me a piece of advice that I think applies to so many arenas in all of our lives that I thought it should be shared here.
“Never let anyone tell you that you’re being too radical or that you should take a break from the fight for equality; you shouldn’t. This is your life. It happens too often that the person who tells you that will quickly push you to the side as soon as you shut up about it.”