Guess What? Horror Films Are All Extremely Gay
Why has horror always appealed to queer men?
I had always loved horror films, even if I didn’t quite understand why.
I was 12 years old when I first saw the William Asher-directed eighties horror film Night Warning and felt the early stirrings of same-sex desire. It was on a VHS tape and I was curled under my blanket, primed for a gloriously low budget slasher.
The words “gay” and “queer” were still largely alien to me at the time as a country boy in regional Victoria, and the only indication I’d had that they might bear some alignment with my sexual identity was my affinity for singing torch songs by Mariah Carey.
Sure, the thrill of feeling frightened when Rosemary discovered her newborn child was the son of the Devil in Rosemary’s Baby, or when Poindexter tried to escape from a pair of evil siblings in The People Under The Stairs, was certainly part of it.
But there was something more.
And as I began to watch Night Warning, the reason became glaringly clear, along with my predilection for men.
The film centres on jock Billy (Jimmy McNichol), a young man partial to gym shorts and averse to wearing anything above the waist, and a small-town murder investigation.
Early in the film, the murder victim is revealed to be the gay lover of Billy’s high school gym coach, leading the homophobic detective assigned to the case to assume Billy was the culprit, supposedly fuelled by a jealous rage and clandestine queer feelings.
While the accusation ultimately acts as a red herring in the film, it was enough to send my pre-pubescent mind into a spin.
I may not have recognised its lasting impact at the time, but seeing queerness coded into a horror film deepened my appreciation for the genre, and in a small way coaxed me to confront my own sexuality as a young teenager.
Seeing these-gym-shorts-are-so-short-I-may-as-well-be-wearing-underwear Billy’s sexuality held under a spotlight in Night Warning forced my own under there as well. It was an instance of horror rejecting mainstream Hollywood archetypes and heteronormativity as a way to represent disenfranchised audiences, something horror films have done time and time again.
This is why horror has always attracted a fan base among queer men; rather than chastise the outcast, horror films speak to and herald them.
We Don’t Need Another Hero
For every #mascformasc guy cast in a leading Hollywood role, horror provides a relatable alternative.
This means that queer men who don’t see themselves in the stoic — often straight, often white — heroes of action, comedy, or romance, finally have protagonists they can truly identify with.
Hypermasculine, He-Man characters are regularly eschewed in favour of an outcast or ‘final girl’, and when they are included in horror films, they’re among the first to be picked off.
In a film climate that exhaustingly centres straight men as the answer to many of life’s complications, there’s something empowering about watching beloved Scream Queen Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) decapitate notorious killer Michael Myers in Halloween H20.
Or watching the unpopular Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) exact pyrotechnic revenge on her high school tormentors in Carrie. Or even watching the previously timid Alice Johnson (Lisa Wilcox) don boots, a studded belt, and makeshift gloves to fight Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare On Elm Street 4: The Dream Master.
The fourth instalment of the horror trope-savvy Scream franchise went one step further, during a classroom scene that saw two students defining contemporary horror.
Speaking to survivor Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), they said: “The only sure fire way to survive a modern horror movie… you pretty much have to be gay.”
Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby
Horror films also frequently explore sex and the body in abject ways, skewering traditional ideas around monogamy and relationships in ways that mainstream Hollywood films rarely can.
For queer men whose sex lives have long been relegated to the fringes of society, seeing queerness injected into the representation of sex and bodies on screen (and often in dark and gruesome ways) can help to satirise the cookie cutter straight world we are exposed to on the regular.
In the recent horror film It Follows, a supernatural entity relentlessly hunts down its victim, unless the victim ‘passes it on’ via casual sex with someone else. Whether an allegory for STIs, HIV and AIDS, or sex panics, the film punctures a hole in outdated anxieties around non-monogamy and casual sex, making them the key to survival instead.
And in the eighties body horror film The Fly, Seth (Jeff Goldblum), slightly intoxicated and worried that his girlfriend Veronica might be rekindling a relationship with her ex, decides to try and teleport himself using his latest invention, unaware that a housefly has flown inside the ‘telepod’ with him.
Some incredible and ghastly of-the-era special effects ensue, as Seth begins to morph into a human-fly hybrid, something that could be read as a punishment for his jealousy and sense of ownership over Veronica. Monogamy bites the dust again.
And tapping into horror’s queer fan base, the early noughties even saw the release of Hellbent, an explicitly gay and slightly trashy slasher film (come for the camp sensibility, stay for the muscle Mary killer and his ripped chest).
Gay Horror Films
In recent years, the diversification of characters and stories on the silver screen has been significant for a host of minorities including women, people of colour, the trans community, and queer people. It has allowed vulnerable members of our community to feel seen, and to foster a deeper connection to the films they consume.
Gays really love horror films don’t we? Why do you lot think that it?
— Louis Staples (@LouisStaples) October 22, 2018
But for queer men, in particular, horror has done this from the beginning. I identified with the outcasts and queerness of horror long before mainstream Hollywood picked up the bat.
Dreamboat Billy and his gym shorts represented my coming-of-age, and for that my 12-year-old self will always be grateful.