Villains to Victims to Victors
Queerness has always been synonymous with the horror genre, with the genre often perpetuating the stereotype of “queer evil.” This was illustrated to the viewers by points of heterosexual monogamy, reproduction, strength in power, and religion. The visibility first displayed in the film industry had not yet been expressive with its homophobic rhetoric and pandering, with the first hints of the agenda being displayed after the Hays Code was created. Under the ruling, anything seen as explicit (profanity, nudity, violence, or rape), was unable to be portrayed on screen and thus needed to be alluded to. This code, pushed heavily by the conservative viewers in America, led to general exclusion of queer people in horror films and movies in general. The only times queer characters were explicitly portrayed that way ended with them meeting a tragic fate, as mandated by the code. To this day, queer representation in horror is still an untapped market of creation, with films such as Jennifer’s Body, It Follows, and the Fear Street trilogy being standouts in an otherwise mediocre line-up. The three films in question each present the viewpoint of the queer community at the time of their creation, with each film focusing on the community not as villains but as victims and, soon, victors.
Jennifer’s Body (2009): The Villain
Jennifer’s Body, directed by Karyn Kusama, was released in 2009 to catastrophic hatred for the content of the film. A lot of hate stood on the backbone of the idea that the genre wasn’t a place for portraying female characters the way they had with men, with the titular character – Jennifer Check (played by Megan Fox) – holding tremendous power over the men around her. The opening scene is one of the biggest representations of queerness in the film, in which Anita “Needy” Lesnicki played by Amanda Seyfried stares longingly at Jennifer, who is in the middle of a performance for the school pep rally. The rest of the film explores the two girls’ relationship, with a line forming between a fraught friendship and a budding romance. Jennifer – a succubus consuming numerous men throughout the film – creates an analysis that Jennifer’s cravings for the men are heightened due to her inability to “be” with Needy. Any man who stands as a blockage for Jennifer becomes her next victim (Colin and Chip) creating a scenario where the only person Needy has left in terms of love is… Jennifer. Towards the end of the film, Needy and Jennifer engage in a fight, with Jennifer finally dying after Needy rips off the heart necklace she shared with Jennifer, cutting the connection between the two girls and ultimately killing the monster. Interestingly enough, the titular character is never fully portrayed as a villain and is ultimately seen as a victim who turned to villainy due to her circumstances, similar to that of Carrie White from Carrie, in a way. Both girls, though committing heinous acts, have a sense of naivety in them that creates a morally gray image of them.
It Follows (2014): The Victim
After the portrayal of queer evil through Jennifer, queerness began to receive a more humanistic approach in terms of portrayal, shown heavily in the film It Follows. Released near the time of the marriage equality act, It Follows by David Robert Mitchell is a unique film that explores life in a sexual shaming society where heteronormativity compels people toward conventional monogamy. The supernatural force would hold no power in a society that embraces a system with multiple partners in a feat of mutual support and open communication. The main character, Jay Height, fails to positively highlight the logic of monogamy and instead makes a case for the ethics of a queer lifestyle through her initial failure at finding another partner to pass along her curse. It Follows does not receive its queer reading from the main character like in Fear Street or main antagonist like in Jennifer’s Body – instead, its queer reading comes from the message presented through the curse. The curse in question is an allegory for AIDS; the lesson of the film is not an avoidance of sex but an attempt at safety. Having a sex life is inevitable, but the dangers are not primarily sexually transmitted diseases but the objectification and stigmatization that follows these actions. A key point we discover is that Jay is not a virgin at the start of the film, which helps emphasize that her curse is not due to her “impure” actions of premarital sex but a lack of safety during sexual acts. An interesting idea that is never specified is what truly passes along the curse, leaving the room for numerous queer readings. Does anal sex between two men count, does fingering between two women count, and does oral sex between any two partners count? Viewed through a queer lens, the idea of pre-AIDS culture in juxtaposition with post-AIDS culture presents the stories of numerous queer people often forgotten by history, giving them a vulnerability not often applied to victims of the virus.
Fear Street (2021): The Victor
The Fear Street Trilogy from 2021 by Leigh Janiak as of right now stands as the best queer representation in horror. The films follow a group of friends in the 1990s as they try to break a curse that plagues their small town. The film draws on past classics such as Scream and Friday the 13th but manages to make its queer love story the main focus. Deena and Sam subvert the “bury your gay” trope and instead fill the place as the heroes of the story, ending the hundred-year curse and surviving in a film that references those they wouldn’t make it out alive in. The films were highly explicit in presenting the love between Deena and Sam, making it known that they are queer characters and didn’t censor any love between the two, even going as far as to show the two girls engaging in sex along with other characters, not making a spectacle out of their love. Deena truly stands out as a phenomenal queer lead, being a multi-faceted person who isn’t perfect but tries her best. She is the switch it took for queer horror to gain a resurgence with films such as Bodies Bodies Bodies, They/Them, and Knock at the Cabin, and more coming out in the subsequent years. Through Western films, the LGBTQIA+ community has often been portrayed as an “other,” with their sexualities and gender identities being the reason for the disconnect from heteronormativity. The “othered” characters in this film aren’t seen as villains but as victims of outside circumstances who, at the end, become victors.
Fear Street Trilogy Official Netflix Trailer