top of page

Photo courtesy of  @jack_farrar_

A5B05F6B-E940-4300-B79B-8D82DC2ECFB9.JPG

26 June 2023

Scary Monsters and Super Freaks: How LGBTQ+ youth are carrying on the relationship between horror and queerness

INDIA-ROSE BARGE

“Kill everyone now! Condone first degree murder! Advocate cannibalism! Eat shit! Filth is my politics, filth is my life!” ring out the eternal words of the great artist, drag queen and provocateur Divine. She stands a vision in red, with caked makeup and eyebrows stretching towards her hairline.

A devilishly stunning yet horrifying sight.

 

This is one of the stand-out scenes in John Waters’ epic black comedy Pink Flamingos which sent audiences reeling upon its 1972 release. It has been described as “The most outrageous film ever made” and, most importantly, it is quintessentially queer. 

Waters depicted the experience of the outsider in extreme satirical strokes, an experience that members of the LGBTQ+ community are well acquainted with. In a world where being queer was seen as the most offensive thing a person could be, Waters set out to demonstrate to the world that there were far more scandalous deeds to be seen. Although arguably the most famous to do this, Waters wasn’t the first and will not be the last. 

Horror and queerness are inextricably intertwined - one cannot be separated from the other.

 

Even from the inception of horror as a genre, campness reigns supreme. Nosferatu is widely considered the first horror film, a vampire epic in which characters cower at the Count’s mere presence. Waiting. Frozen in fear and suspense at the potential of fangs sensually sinking into skin. The Count indulges in a way deemed forbidden. Perverse. The film’s director, F.W Murnau, suffered a tragic death in 1931, upon which rumours of his homosexuality were solidified. 

As a child, I was terrified of everything. The Muppets, The Incredibles, even Father Christmas. You name it, I cried over it. But as tastes and minds develop, so does identity. As I thought less of glitter gel pens and more of kissing girls, I found myself sucked into an obsession with campy horror. The candy-coloured fever dream of Suspiria, the gory gothic drama of Hellraiser, even an American Horror Story obsession that punches me in the gut with cringe to this day. 

According to Stonewall, Gen-Z identifies as LGBTQ+ more than any other generation in the UK, a statistic carrying a wealth of revelations and expectations. As queerness evolves, so too must horror. From classics to fresh meat, five LGBTQ+ GenZ-ers have given me their top queer horror picks, compiling the ultimate movie marathon. So, sit back, relax, and enjoy the show... 

Film 1 The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) with Nathan Barlow 

Nathan is a man of enthusiasm. When we spoke, he came armed with a vinyl box set of various Rocky Horror soundtracks. What could have been a beautiful relic of a bygone era continues to live, breathe, scream and moan (and even do the time-warp). 

His pick is the epitome of a cult classic. Passed down from an era of punk glamour and anarchic hedonism, the film is a camp mishmash of the horror and sci-fi classics. This film acts as an heirloom within the queer community, but Nathan had the experience of being shown this film by his straight father. 

Now, he works as a director of children’s theatre. But at 13, his Saturday mornings would follow the comforting rhythm of domestic life. He grew up in a busy household of brothers, parents, aunts and grandparents, meaning that time alone for him and his dad was a rare occurrence. It was on one of these peaceful Saturday mornings that his dad said “Oh, I think you’ll like this ”, and from there an obsession was born. 

“I did know there was something different about me, it was the same year I figured out I might be gay” Nathan says. After his dad pressed play, with welcome arms and sneaking suspicions he left Nathan alone to watch the film. A move Nathan tells me he appreciated. He says,

 

“Looking back, it was an acceptance without anything needing to be said”. 

For his dad, a love for the film was built on its punky energy and punchy music after a visit from the local “dodgy Dave” selling video tapes. The queerness of the film seemed to pass him by, with Nathan being the one to tie up the loose ends. “To him, it never really was that deep,” Nathan says. “Now it really has changed over and become our thing. I don’t think he ever understood how important it was for me because I didn’t have the words to say it.” 

Part of Rocky Horror’s cult following has developed from its interactive element. Fans swap slacks for stockings, dressing as characters and carrying out the unique call and response rituals that have been carefully curated over the show's 50 year history on stage and screen. As someone who devours these live performances, Nathan says that for younger audiences the experience takes some getting used to. “Every now and then, I’ll listen to old performances to get an idea of the call outs. I think a lot of the fear in queer culture is that of being wrong or ostracised, so you’d hate to be ostracised from something so welcoming”. 

Now older and more secure in his sexuality, the film has taken on a new element of queerness. “What interests me now is the stuff about gender, it's almost the next step in my self-questioning”. I wonder if this sentiment will be more commonly shared as our generational awareness of gender continues to grow. 

For all the life this film carries, Nathan tells me that one thing is for certain “I can’t see it ever dying because it would have died by now.”

Film 2  Nightmare on Elm Street 2 (1985) with Fardeen Sheikh 

Fardeen has chosen an 80’s slasher epic. He talks about this film with a kid-in-a-candy-store grin, befitting the drama of these slashers. Growing up, his family didn’t stick to one country, hardly even one continent, but Sweden is now where he calls home. It’s with this childlike glee that he first entered the world of horror. He and his cousin would watch films like Scream or Texas Chainsaw Massacre. They would make fun of the grandiose villains and obviously fake bloody props with cries of “oh my god, it’s KETCHUP!”, followed by giggles and elbows in ribs. 

It's not just Fardeen’s opinion that Nightmare on Elm Street 2 is an incredibly gay film. Even though the queerness lies only in the subtext, it has been called “the gayest horror movie ever made”, with the maker of this film originally denying any gay imagery - a claim Fardeen feels a thrilling injustice towards. “It’s VERY campy. I mean Freddy Kreuger is always pulling one liners, making puns constantly, there’s even a scene in a leather fetish bar.” 

With a fire behind his eyes, Fardeen reels off the seemingly endless list of gay imagery throughout the film.

“There’s one scene where he’s dancing around and he has this toy that he’s stimulating as if it’s his dick! I kid you not! He’s literally on his fucking bed like this”, Fardeen then leaps up and recreates this moment, imitating holding a toy over his crotch in a campy reimagining of an already campy scene. 

Although part of a franchise, Nightmare on Elm Street 2 is yet to get the 21st Century reboot treatment. With the growth from the 80’s classics to modern horror Fardeen says

 

“Now it’s less subtextual, it’s way more overt. There’s no need to hide people’s sexuality anymore.”

 

He likens the queer undertones in this film to the Scream franchise, the makers of which admitted these undertones were very much intentional and, in the 2022 remake even include ‘out’ LGBTQ+ characters. 

Although any sign of gayness was long denied by cast and crew of Nightmare on Elm Street 2, in a 2010 documentary Never Sleep Again the film’s writer David Chaskin admitted that these gay themes were in fact intentional.

 

Even classics are now given the space to be what they truly are with the development of progressive attitudes. 

As with many queer people, Fardeen’s gay horror experience lies not just within the screen but in the real world. Following the movie marathons with his cousin in Sweden was a discovery of “Gay Christmas” – the joys of Halloween. The film’s antagonist, Freddy Kreuger, has long been a Halloween staple. The costume still remains a favourite to this day, bringing the legacy of the slasher film into the modern era.

Film 3 – Cthulhu (2007) with Oli Letters 

As a filmmaker, Oli has a keen eye for all things cinematic. Unlike those who fall into the film-bro stereotype, his love for cinema comes not from ego but from a genuine love of storytelling. This, he tells me, is why representation matters. Unlike other films in the line-up, Cthulhu is an independent film. This allows for more creative risk and room for subversion, something Oli is no stranger to in his own work. 

Representation isn’t an original idea conceived by the ‘snowflake, wokerti’ of Gen-Z but it’s something this generation sees as vitally important. For Oli, the experience of watching Cthulhu resonated with him deeply. This retelling of the H.P Lovecraft epic of the same name is an imaginative retelling, with a gay protagonist. One scene shows a typical dinner-table-interrogation which Oli says

 

“is so realistic. I think everyone who is queer has had a situation where they’ve been in a room with someone who is hellbent on asking the most uncomfortable questions with no regard to how you feel. Putting that on screen is so important.” 

As a cinephile, Oli’s film knowledge is seriously impressive. The man is a walking IMDB page. And with this comes a honing of the cinematic palette. He says “for me, it’s the subtlety, the emotion and the poetry that I love from modern cinema”, a trend that is rising in both horror and queer cinema respectively. “For me, that campiness and unapologetic weirdness is something that should be carried forward. But to my own personal taste, I would love to see more queer horror films that carry on this trend of emotion-led narrative. They show what life is actually like.”

He leaves me with these words

 

“As much as people want to criticise identity politics and say it doesn’t matter, it does matter. It absolutely matters. Being able to see yourself on screen has always mattered.”

Film 4 – Let The Right One In (2008) with Ava Mcneily 

Ava talks to me with passion, humour and a dye job that would rival the bride of Frankenstein. For her, Let The Right One In sits not only at a unique positionality within queer horror but also in trans horror. It’s a Swedish vampiric love story following the shy, serial killer obsessed Oskar (Ava laughs, “I bet he listens to all the true crime podcasts”) and the new-in-town Eli, who just so happens to be a vampire. In this iteration, Eli is shown as a transgender girl. In previous and future iterations of this film, her gender takes on a more complex relationship, with the 2022 TV adaptation virtually erasing her transness. Ava says “I think it’s meant to be reparative, but it’s kind of worse”. In this version, her transness is displayed however isn’t used to enhance her evil, as is often the case for trans women in horror. When her gender is spoken about in the film, Ava says “There’s no drama, there’s no shock-horror, there’s no ew, you’re a freak. The only negative things that are thrown at her are because she’s a murderer. In such a weird way that’s really refreshing”. 

Let The Right One In was a major film, taking in 11.2 Million dollars at the box office, making the trans representation even more exciting and surprising. Ava says “Where trans women in horror do really well is in things like B-movies. Because it’s further away from mainstream audiences and moral panic you can kind of get away with more.” 

Trans representation often takes on insidious forms, furthering dangerous rhetoric about transness being predatory.

 

Ava believes that it is an artists responsibility to combat it “100 fucking percent. At the end of the day it comes down to who tells what story.” Even current non-threatening trans representation struggles to portray the trans experience well. As Ava says “I’ve never seen a film where a trans person just goes to the shops or drives a car. No, their life always must be miserable just because they want to wear trousers instead of a skirt.”  

It's fair to say there is a lot of work to be done. As Ava says, the fringes are where we see the most explosive art that packs the punch to push progress forwards. Most recently, this has been seen in the BFI’s series of transness in horror but also the luscious and volatile trend of female rage films. Recent successes such as Ti West’s Pearl and X encapsulate aggression in feminine form. It is power with crying, hysteria and a lick of mascara. Ava says that they “love it. Obviously I love it because I want to be these girls!”.

For now, this female rage seems contained to cis women or problematic trans representation, but there is a clear future here for Gen-Z to work towards. Ava tells me

 

“I would love to see a trans femme rage film, that would be such a milestone. But imagine the TERFs! Cinemas would be burnt to the ground!”