In honor of Pride Month, Shudder, the horror/thriller streaming platform, has put together a specially curated collection. The Queer Horror Collection contains 12 films that are reportedly either in and of themselves queer or made by queer filmmakers.
Some of these titles, even the problematic ones, make sense, while others need a little more digging to explain their inclusion, and that’s why we’re here. Let’s break down the Queer Horror list and see what they’ve included for your Pride Month Viewing pleasure.
Okay, so the first title on the list is Clive Barker’s Nightbreed.
Based on his novella Cabal, the story here centers on a troubled young man named Boone (Craig Sheffer) who is convinced by a psychiatrist (David Cronenberg) that he’s a serial killer. On the run from the authorities, Boone finds himself in a refuge for “monsters” called Midian.
Never mind that Barker is probably the most recognizable out queer horror novelist of the last 40 years, Nightbreed itself offers an essentially queer story. The Midianites are hunted simply for being who they are and so they hide themselves away, creating a space where they can openly be who they are.
Coded bars down dark alleyways, private bathhouses, invite-only house parties, and “gayborhoods” have served as Midian for many of us in our lives. Our very existence has been criminalized and continues to be in certain parts of the world. We have been likened to monsters that people warn their children and parishioners and constituents about.
And yet, much like the Midianites we endure.
Nightbreed might just be the perfect queer horror movie for Pride Month viewing.
Let the Right One In
Tomas Alfredson’s 2008 film Let the Right One In based on the novel by John Aljvide Lindqvist, who also wrote the script, took the world by storm. Here was something different, something we’d never quite seen before.
The film tells the story of young boy named Oskar who finds himself drawn to his new neighbor, Eli. Slowly Oskar realizes that Eli is not like other children. In fact, Eli is a vampire.
Despite this, their bond slowly solidifies with Eli protecting Oskar from the bullies at his school and Oskar becoming the friend that Eli has never had.
While it isn’t entirely spelled out in the film, it was suggested that Eli was not a girl in a key moment when Oskar asks Eli to be his girlfriend. Eli replies they’re not a boy. Many just assumed that they meant they weren’t a girl in that they were a vampire.
However, on a little closer inspection, and in reading the source material, it’s revealed that Eli was actually a boy who was castrated centuries earlier by a vampiric nobleman. Lindqvist neatly tied this into the novel, but chose a more ambiguous reveal in the film.
Despite this ambiguity, the film is a beautiful and harrowing queer horror story and one that is well-placed in Shudder’s collection.
The second of Clive Barker’s films in the collection may be even more controversial than the first.
For those who haven’t spent a lot of time studying queer theory and history, you may or may not be surprised to find that Barker has been both hailed and admonished from members of the community over the years for his depictions of the “monstrous queer.”
Some say he’s perpetuating the idea of queer people as monsters while others point out that he’s frequently shown that it’s the non-queer characters who are monstrous.
This shows up quite blatantly in Hellraiser. It’s not hard to look at Pinhead and his fellow Cenobites and read them as hedonistic, S&M queer characters. Everything from the leather aprons to the body modifications rather point directly to a subset of our queer community.
Yet, truthfully, the Cenobites are not the villains of this story. In fact, they are eloquent, reasonable characters, especially when confronted with an innocent like Kristy.
“We are explorers in the further regions of experience. Demons to some, angels to others,” Pinhead explains. This, in and of itself, while somewhat ambiguous, leads us to believe that there are those seek out the Cenobites specifically to explore beyond the limitations of the experiences they’ve been afforded in their lives by circumstances beyond their control.
It’s definitely time for a re-watch of Hellraiser.
Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama
Ostensibly a B-movie variation on “The Monkey’s Paw,” David DeCoteau’s Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama released way back in 1988.
I’m not entirely sure how to describe the film so I’ll include the official synopsis from IMDb:
As part of a sorority ritual, pledges and their male companions steal a trophy from a bowling alley; unbeknownst to them, it contains a devilish imp who makes their lives a living Hell.
Yep, that about covers it! The film starred Linnea Quigley, Brinke Stevens, and Michelle Bauer, and it’s just about as gloriously campy as you can imagine.
DeCoteau, who was mentored by Roger Corman himself, has always had a way about him, and his films have often reflected his own gay sensibilities. This especially moved front and center with his later franchises like Voodoo Academy and The Brotherhood, as well as the 1313 series.
Sweet, Sweet Lonely Girl
A.D. Calvo’s Sweet, Sweet Lonely Girl is one of those films where going in cold is actually a good thing because the sequence of events is almost impossible to describe without giving too much away.
Honestly, the most I can tell you is that it tells the story of Adele who travels to live with and care for her agoraphobic aunt. As her life becomes more and more isolated, she meets the beautiful and seductive Beth, and the twisting and turning begins.
Drawing on themes from Le Fanu’s Carmilla, the film is stunningly shot in a way that belies its more recent creation, giving the audience a feel for those old haunted house flicks from the 70s.
While this trope has been done a million times, Calvo seems to breathe a little life into the old thing and takes his audience on a hell of a ride. If you like slow-burn storytelling, Sweet, Sweet Lonely Girl is sure to fit the bill.
Swedish film Alena tells the story of a girl who is sent to an elite boarding school only to find herself the subject of bullying by the resident mean girls. Alena makes a new friend, however, in Josefin and her new bestie will not allow those girls to pick on Alena anymore.
Is Joesfin real? Is she a spirit? Is she a manifestation of Alena’s own psyche? It doesn’t seem to matter because her methods are brutally effective.
Daniel di Grado (Jordskott) directed this film based on a script he co-wrote with Kerstin Gezelius and Alexander Onofri. It’s adapted from a graphic novel by Kim W. Andersson.
Of the films on this list, it’s the only one I haven’t seen so I can’t comment to its queer horror themes, however the setting in an all girls boarding school gives us a good indication where its queerness lies. I only hope they handled it well.
I can’t even write that title with a straight face…
Also, how many predatory lesbian stories does one queer horror collection need?
Released in 1971 and directed by Jesus Franco, Vampyros Lesbos was an undeniable hit with European audiences especially probably for the exact reasons you’re thinking. It’s undeniably an exploitation-style film with bigger dreams and its glorious color palette and elaborate settings have earned its place in the campy tradition of the lesbian vampire trope.
Many have tried to capture the romantic and seductive nature of Le Fanu’s Carmilla, and few have succeeded, but there are moments when Vampyros Lesbos comes close. Unfortunately, it loses steam when it lets itself slide comfortably back into the exploitative milieu ultimately becoming more enamored with the lesbian storyline than the fact that vampires were involved.
Still, it was one of Franco’s few hits, and it’s become a part of queer horror history because of and in spite of that fact.
Better Watch Out
Presented as a Shudder Exclusive, Better Watch Out has garnered its own growing cult following since its release in 2016.
The film tells the story of Luke (Levi Miller), a boy with a serious crush on his favorite babysitter, Ashley (Olivia DeJonge). One fateful evening Luke decides it’s time to make his move but he’s interrupted by a menacing intruder.
I can’t tell you more without giving away the plot, but Better Watch Out is a wild and twisting ride that you have to see to believe, and while there is nothing overtly queer about the film, it was written and directed by out gay creator Chris Peckover.
Peckover is a bit of a rising star with several projects in the works. He’ll also be featured in an interview later on this month in iHorror Horror Pride Month series.
Every so often one of those films come along that just knocks your socks off. One of those films for me has been Rift.
Written and directed by Erlingur Thoroddsen, Rift is a gorgeous and haunting Icelandic film with the sensibilities of Hitchcock.
It tells the story of two men whose relationship has ended. Months after they’ve broken up, Gunnar receives a call from Einar. He has apparently isolated himself in a family cabin and he does not sound well. Despite the fact that he’s trying to move on, Gunnar makes his way to the cabin and the two men soon find themselves wrapped in a deadly mystery.
It’s a film you have to see for yourself to truly appreciate and Björn Stefánsson and Sigurður Þór Óskarsson are brilliant as Gunnar and Einar.
There have been rumblings of an American remake, but please, please watch the original first!
The Old Dark House
James Whale’s pre-code haunted house flick The Old Dark House is as campy fun as it is thrilling.
A set of travelers lost in the rain find themselves stranded and holed up in the Femm household. Yeah, you read that right, the family’s name is Femm. Siblings Rebecca and Horace live in the home and Rebecca is definitely in charge. Horace, meanwhile, has a quick tongue, a slightly effeminate manner, and is fastidiously dressed regardless of circumstances.
Derive what you will from that, but openly gay Whale basically had a field day creating the film. He also brought Boris Karloff, who he’d previously directed in Frankenstein, along for the ride.
If you’re looking for something that’s not too heavy, but definitely has atmosphere for days, you’re looking for The Old Dark House.
Many, I repeat, many have put their own spin on the tale of Lizzie Borden, and more than a few have suggested sexuality and queerness as motives for the murder of her father and stepmother, but few have gone quite so frankly into that territory as Craig William Mcneill and Bryce Kass with Lizzie.
The film tells the familiar story of the murder of Lizzie’s family with the added twist that Lizzie (Chloe Sevigny) has also become involved in a relationship with the family’s maid, Bridget (Kristen Stewart), both of whom have been abused by Lizzie’s father.
Both actresses give brutally raw performances and the film easily ratchets up tension despite the viewer’s previous knowledge of the crime.
I saved this one for last because I’m honestly not sure why it’s included in the queer horror collection. There will be spoilers in the information below. You have been warned.
I had never seen the film before this morning and I was intrigued by the premise, so setting aside work, I sat down and watched it.
This is one of the most twisting, turning films I’ve ever seen. Honestly, it’s not a bad film, though there are problems within it and its connection to horror is loose at best.
Ethan Hawke stars as a time-traveling agent attempting to stop a massive bombing from taking place in New York City. While undercover he meets a man who tells him the story of how he grew up. It turns out the man was intersex and did not know it until, while giving birth, the doctors had to do a c-section and discovered he had an extra set of reproductive organs inside him which were actually male organs.
They had to do a hysterectomy on him and while he was unconscious, made the decision to bring those reproductive organs to the outside and begin transitioning him to male…
Go ahead and read all of that over again, because yeah, it’s confusing.
It is problematic that this character was played by a woman, though the same actress played the character before and after transition, but I’m telling you, it becomes even more confusing when you find out that Ethan Hawke is the same character later in life.
Anyway, if you’ve read this far, it’s not hard to spot the problems here. It’s also difficult to see the connection to the LGBTQ community.