Queer Fear: A Film and Lecture Series on Horror Films and Queer Culture

In June 2017 The Rue Morgue’s “CineMacabre” resurrected the queer film series Queer Fear. Created and hosted by Joshua Dare, “Queer Fear” screens horror movies- some well-known classics, some obscure gems- with varying levels of queer content, themes and subtext. The series was previously hosted by Video Fag and, after a hiatus of a few years, has returned to The Royal on College Street. For its inaugural instalment at the larger venue, Dare invited his audience to consider the comically dense queer and homoerotic subtext in Friday the 13th Part 2: Freddie’s Revenge. The evening also featured a drag show performed by Igby Izzard, Leelando Calrissian, and Allysin Chaynes and a post-show panel discussion with Rue Morgue’s Executive Director and sociologist Andrea Subissati, queer horror film maker Mark Pariselli, and myself, queer cultural academic, Cameron Crookston.

Critics and horror fans have historically reviled the second installment in the Nightmare franchise, both for its less than subtle homoerotic subtext and its departure from much of the standard Elm Street “rules”. Unlike the six other Nightmare films, which centre on a female protagonist, the prototypical “last girl” who survives to the end of the film, Freddie’s Revenge is centered on a teenage boy, Jessie (Marc Paton). Also, unlike the other film in which Freddie is physically responsible for the deaths of most of the cast and merely, in part two Freddie needs to physically possess Jesse who acts out the murders on the former’s behalf.

Freddie’s desire to possess Jesse’s body, or “be inside of him” along with Jesse’s general indifference to his high school sweet heart Lisa, his homoerotic relationship with his oft topless best friend Brady and the strange inclusion of their openly gay, S&M enthusiast, gym teacher Coach Snyder lend an easy queer reading to the frequently forgotten sequel. And while it might sound, for this brief description, that “Queer Fear” is about pointing to a camp horror flop and repeatedly exclaiming “that’s so gay”, Dare curates an analysis of the film that considers the more complex factors that contribute to the film’s overt and covert queer themes, as well as how it speaks to the wider relationship between horror cinema and queer culture.

Horror Cinema has a long history with gay culture. Between 1910 and 1918 six different adaptations of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray were made as silent horror films. Many of the most iconic horror movies of Classic Hollywood (Dracula, Frankenstein) were directed by the openly gay James Whale, for more on this see Sir Ian McKellen as Whale in the 1998 film Gods and Monsters. In the 1970s and 80s with the budding development of an openly gay cinema, gay film makers exploited this link between horror cinema and queer coding with campy pastiche pictures like Multiple Maniacs, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and the stage play, Vampire Lesbians of Sodom.

However, even when not the product of queer artists, horror nonetheless has historically appealed to queers and to a queer reading. Film scholar Harry M. Benshoff explains: “[b]oth movie monsters and homosexuals have existed chiefly in shadowy closets, and when they do emerge from these proscribed places into the sunlit world, they cause panic and fear” (Benshoff 2). He goes on to explain the structure of horror requires that the monster poses a threat not only to the physical safety of the human characters but also threatens the romantic connection between the protagonist and their love interest, that monster “might be understood as being ‘about’ the eruption of some form of queer sexuality into the midst of a resolutely heterosexual milieu” (Benshoff 4).

Nightmare on Elm Street Part II walks an interesting line in its relationship to queerness. While Freddie Kruger is the creation of heterosexual film maker Wes Craven, the script for the sequel was written by then closeted gay man David Chaskin and starred Marc Paton, who had previously appeared as a gay character in Come back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean. And while Chaskin initially blamed the overtly queer feel of the film on Patton’s performance, in 2010 the writer admitted to his own contribution to the film’s abundance of queer subtext. Beyond the innumerable double entendres about penetration, both monster and victim contain several subtler layers to queerness. As was discussed in the post-show panel, Jesse’s secret torment by Freddie and his need to hide his possession from both his straight laced parents depicts Freddie as a metaphor for Jesse’s prohibited homosexuality in much the same way that Mina’s growing desire for Dracula points the monster as a symbol of prohibited or queer sexuality more broadly. Moreover, Jesse’s physical possession by an evil male figure causes him to turn away from his girlfriend, who is eager to “love him” back to sanity, in a move that, again, strongly parallels a heterosexual reaction to a loved one “suffering” from homosexual urges.

In a recent interview with by Alex Davidson of the British Film Institute dubbed “Under the Influence”, RuPaul’s Drag Race winner Sharon Needles (Aaron Coady) discusses how 1980’s slasher films both offered her solace as an awkward gay youth growing up in a small town, and later influenced her drag persona. “They’re revenge films”, Needles explains, “and the archetype for the victims in ‘80s horror movies was always ‘the college jock’ and ‘the popular girl’”. Needles admits that these depictions of queer characters, from Nightmare on Elm Street to Sleep Away Camp, create problematic representations of the queer other who are invariably vilified though never completely dehumanized. Nevertheless, horror movies offer an escapist fantasy in which queerness is a source of power and strength, which for Needles, contributed to their vicarious appeal.

Since June, Queer Fear has screened the Bride of Chucky in August and, most recently, Carrie on October 12th. Check out the link bellow for updates on the series and more on the Rue Morgue, as well Sharon Needles interview with Alex Davidson. Dare will also be launching a queer horror podcast, Closet Monsters, later this fall.

Works Cited

Benshoff, Harry M. “The monster and the homosexual.” Horror: The film reader (2004): 91-102.

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