Celebrate Pride like a queer horror fan, by viewing one of these LGBTQ+ horror films!
When it comes to the history of horror one thing is clear, horror is often harmful and problematic when representing queer individuals. Queer representation isn’t a rarity in the genre, but what we often get is the tokenism of queer characters, in an effort to be inclusive without giving those characters any real substance. A lot of this stemmed from the use of the Hays Code in Hollywood. A system of film censorship outlining the ways in which the system was meant to protect audiences from sympathizing with the “side of crime, wrongdoing, evil, or sin.” This system is why we often see villains in horror being queer coded characters to this day.
Thankfully, the Hays Code was abandoned in the late 1960s, and director James Whale Frankenstein, an openly gay man, played a big part in lobbying for the censorship of queerness to end in Hollywood. Even still, when representation occurs, it is typically hidden in subtext, largely negative in nature, or down right stereotypical. Queer representation in media has had a long and difficult history, made more complex by the necessity for queer-coding, and the popularization of mostly harmful stereotypes that are still seen to this day.
While we have instances where horror films depict fully formed queer characters and get representation right, those occurrences are few and far between. In my opinion, it’s getting better with several films over the last several years giving us a collection of prolific characters and themes. Queer themes in horror are often ubiquitous. Many of the most popular horror movies for queer audiences involve some form of “queer coding”. What is queer coding? It’s the sub-textual coding of a character in media as queer. A character’s sexual identity may not be explicitly confirmed, or a character might be coded as queer through the use of traits and stereotypes recognizable to the audience. A great example of this is Jesse Walsh (Mark Patton) in A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985).
If you’re on the hunt for queer horror films, you can honestly just research horror films featuring vampires. Themes of queerness and sexual exploration often arise throughout cinematic history in stories with vampirism. Here are my recommendations for LGBTQ+ horror films you should be watching, and yes, quite a few vampire films make the list.
Alien (1979), directed by Ridley Scott, with a screenplay by Dan O’Bannon, is a groundbreaking science-fiction horror film you probably didn’t even know was queer. After a space merchant vessel receives an unknown transmission as a distress call, one of the crew is attacked by a mysterious life form, and they soon realize that its life cycle has merely begun. If you’re looking for gender-nonconforming representation, and a non-binary coded sole survivor, this film has queer subtext all over it. Even the Xenomorph, this perfect alien being, displays a mixture of masculine and feminine traits. Alien manages to be a queer film and a feminist one.
Let the Right One In (2008), directed by Tomas Alfredson, is based on the 2004 novel of the same title by John Ajvide Lindqvist. The haunting Swedish horror romance follows Oskar, an overlooked and bullied boy, finds love and revenge through Eli, a beautiful but peculiar girl who happens to be a vampire and transgender. To say this is one of my favorite queer horror films is probably an understatement. I love it so much that I even made a point to see the National Theatre of Scotland’s stage adaptation by Jack Thorne when it toured Seattle.
What Keeps You Alive (2018) is a Canadian thriller written and directed by Colin Minihan. It follows a young woman fighting for her life in the remote wilderness, after a shocking event shakes her reality, while celebrating her one-year anniversary with her wife. If you ask me, this film was a great representation of queer villains that aren’t driven to darkness by their queerness. You’ll just have to watch it to see what I mean.
Bit (2019), directed by Brad Michael Elmore, follows a transgender teenage girl on summer vacation in Los Angeles in a fight to survive, after she falls in with four queer feminist vampires, who try to rid the city’s streets of predatory men. It’s queer, it’s feminist, and packs powerful representation. Queerness is often explored through the lens of the vampire figure, and this film is no exception.
Knife+Heart (2018) is a queer horror-thriller film directed by Yann Gonzalez, who co-wrote the screenplay. This French thriller is set in the summer of 1979 and follows Paris-based filmmaker Anne, a gay porn producer. After her editor and lover Lois leaves her, she tries to win her back by shooting her most ambitious film yet with her trusted, flamboyant sidekick, Archibald. While shooting, one of the actors turns up murdered and Anne is caught up in the strange investigation that follows. I was personally caught up by the film’s style and homage to giallo horror films of the 1970s, like Dario Argento’s Suspiria (1977).
The Hunger (1983), directed by Tony Scott this horror film includes a very sexy love triangle and an interesting take on vampirism, but most importantly, it’s central character is bi-sexual vampire Miriam Blaylock (Catherine Deneuve). The erotic, queer horror film revolves around Blaylock, her companion John (David Bowie) and new lover, Dr. Sarah Roberts (Susan Sarandon), who specializes in sleep and aging research. The film is stylish, and I love it for everything it is and everything it isn’t.
Daughter of Darkness (1971), is an English-language Belgian erotic horror film directed by Harry Kümel and starring Delphine Seyrig as the Countess Elizabeth Bathory. I was initially intrigued due to my love of true crime and interest in the history of the Hungarian Countess, who is said to be the most prolific female serial killer in history, having murdered hundreds of young women during the 16th and 17th century. The film follows Newlyweds Valerie and Stefan who stop at a French hotel on their way to England. The film is a stylish and sexy slow burn, yet again using themes of vampirism, lesbianism, and feminism. Female companionship in the film is a sort of escape from male dominance and violence, and this is a queer horror film must-see.
Hellbent (2004), held up as the first gay slasher, and directed by Paul Etheredge, isn’t the greatest film ever made, but it’s an important one for the horror genre and queer horror overall. The film follows a group of gay friends, who are celebrating Halloween in the West Hollywood neighbored of Los Angeles, California, where a killer wearing a devil’s mask is prowling for victims. In a fun twist, you don’t find out who dies and who survives the night until the very end.
The Retreat (2021), directed by Pat Mills is a new queer horror film that follows Renee and Valerie, a couple at a crossroads in their relationship, who leave the city to spend a week at a remote cabin with friends. This film was released only a month ago, so the fact that you haven’t seen it yet, isn’t surprising. Written by Alyson Richards and loosely based on her own cabin-in-the-woods experience, the film attempts to subvert the usual tropes by centering it around a lesbian couple. The film explores queer vulnerability. For those that enjoy revenge horror, this one’s for you.
The Perfection (2019), directed by Richard Shepard, follows musical prodigy Charlotte who befriends the star pupil of her former school, Lizzie. This psychological horror thriller is truly twisted, and in addition to the queer factor, you’re going to get bugs and body horror. So, if you can’t stomach those things, steer clear. Personally, I found this one really difficult to watch, but in the end, it’s worth it.
Check out the trailer for “Hellbent” 2004!