We’ve been re-watching some of our favourite horror films this week! We’ve put together a list of five spooky films with queer representation or themes for you to enjoy. With a lot of media, the queer representation isn’t always positive, so we’ve included a short synopsis of what to expect. Have we left any of your favourites out? Get in touch and let us know.
Some spoilers lay ahead – you have been warned!
The Old Dark House (1932) Dir. James Whale
CW: ableist language
Plot synopsis: A dark and stormy night forces strangers to take refuge in an old spooky mansion owned by the curious Femm family. The guests are unsettled by locked doors, disembodied laughter, and the foreboding Butler. The Femm family are hiding secrets… Will the guests last through the night?
Spookiness: This movie is a classic comedy-horror, and is full of beloved tropes of the genre. There is some physical violence towards the end of the movie, but most of the spooky feeling comes from the atmosphere and setting. The noise of the raging storm, flickering candlelight, and the unexplored spaces of the mansion help to build the tension.
Queerness: The director, James Whale, was an openly gay man who made films before and during the establishment of the Hays Code (which banned depiction of homosexuality on screen). Looking back, we can now see that many of Whale’s movies, including Frankenstein (1931), are rich with queer subtext. In The Old Dark House, the interior of the mansion can be read as a queer space which is breached by heterosexual ‘normality’ when the strangers arrive. The Femm family subvert traditional gender roles; Horace Femm is a well-groomed educated gentleman who exudes effeminate and nervous energy, and some critics have highlighted hints that Rebecca Femm, the stern and religious head of the Femm house, experienced incest desire towards her sister. An emotional scene later in the movie shows Morgan, the Butler, carrying the body of a man upstairs and wailing with intense distress. Interestingly, elements of The Old Dark House have clearly inspired cult hit The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985) Dir. Jack Sholder
CW: mentions of suicide and mental illness, violence, gore
Plot Synopsis: Nightmare 2 begins with teenager Jesse moving into a new house with his family. Why does this house look so familiar? Of course! Nancy, our final girl from the first movie, was plagued with nightmares from the notorious Freddy Krueger in the very same house! Jesse has similarly gory dreams, and as he uncovers Freddy’s story, it seems that Freddy wants more from Jesse than the creation of another grisly corpse… As Jesse later screams, “He’s inside of me!”…
Spookiness: Freddy is a creepy slasher villain stalker with excellent prosthetic burns which makes for some great body horror – one nightmare sees Freddy pulling the skin off his skull to reveal the brain underneath. Snakes and rats permeate both the dream sequences and waking scenes, and one notable instance sees ants bubbling out of a leg wound. Typical for slasher movies, there is a high body count and a lot of blood.
Queerness: Freddy’s Revenge has reached cult status as one of the gayest horror movies ever made. Where to even start? There’s the iconic room cleaning scene where Jesse suggestively closes a drawer with his ass and the scenery is peppered with queer iconography and phallic imagery. In a dream, Jesse ends up at a bar filled with leather-clad, muscled folk, followed by seeing his gym teacher tied up with skipping ropes and whipped naked in a shower with towels. Jesse later runs from a sexual encounter with Lisa straight into the bedroom of his bare-chested best friend Ron. Jesse is hailed as the first male scream queen, a title which unfortunately came with a barrage of homophobia. Mark Patton, who plays Jesse, recounts his experiences in the documentary ‘Scream, Queen!’ (2019), a must-watch for horror fans exploring the history of queerness in the genre.
Jennifer’s Body (2009) Dir. Karyn Kusama
CW: institutionalisation, violence, ableist language, self-harm, fatphobia
Plot Synopsis: Teenagers Jennifer and best friend Anita ‘Needy’ live in an aptly named small town called Devil’s Kettle. Their biggest concerns are school and boys, until they go to a gig at a bar where the singer of an indie band suspiciously takes an interest in Jennifer’s virginal status. A strange fire starts, engulfing most of the customers in flame. Jennifer and Needy escape, but Jennifer is lured into a van by the band. Jennifer returns from incident changed – covered in blood with a taste for boy flesh …
Spookiness: Jennifer’s Body is a horror-comedy, and plays on genre tropes for both laughs and jumps. As Needy says in the opening line – hell is a teenage girl. She returns home after the fire to an empty dark house, and the tension rises as she hears a knock at her front door – but nobody is outside. Jennifer seems to magically appear in Needy’s house throughout the film, and the first time she appears she is covered in blood, making demon noises and spewing black spiky bile. Turns out Jennifer was coerced into a satanic ritual gone wrong, so we get to see what demonic possession looks like for a modern day teen girl – levitation, deep voices, and seducing and devouring men. The horror works on multiple levels, also showing the real-life horror of women continually not being believed by others as Needy desperately seeks to warn others about Jennifer’s possession.
Queerness: The audience get a sense early on of Needy’s longing for Jennifer – she watches Jennifer cheerlead and another student calls her ‘lesbigay’… At the bar, Jennifer holds Needy’s hand and the smile across Needy’s face is one of blissful content. In one interesting scene later in the movie, Needy awkwardly having sex with her boyfriend alternates between Jennifer seducing and eating a boy. Afterwards, Jennifer turns up in Needy’s bedroom and they make out. As Jennifer herself says, she goes both ways. Jennifer’s Body was regarded as a flop when it was released, but years later is considered to have gained cult status as a feminist revenge fantasy. We love it.
Black Swan (2010) Dir. Darren Aronofsky
CW: ageism, suicide, bulimia, disordered eating, assault, self-harm, drug use, flashing images, mental illness
Plot Synopsis: The film follows ballet dancer Nina as she strives to be cast for the lead role in Swan Lake. In the dance, a ‘virginal’ girl becomes stuck in the body of a white swan and needs love to set her free. Her lustful twin tricks and seduces the prince, and the white swan kills herself. Nina is frequently reminded by her lecherous dance teacher, Vincent, that she is the embodiment of the white swan – Nina still lives with her mother, and her bedroom is pink and covered in butterflies. She strives for perfection. Vincent tells her that to get the part of the black swan she must let go. He questions her about her sex life and repeatedly tries to kiss and touch her. When Nina is given the lead role, the careful control she has imposed on her life begins to unravel.
Spookiness: Black Swan is a psychological horror, and early one we see Nina imagining her double walking past her and in mirrors. The movie also shows some slow but dreadful body horror. Nina’s bones click and her skin bleeds as she forces herself to practice. She begins to grow a strange rash on her shoulder, her skin becoming bumpy and raised. She picks at her skin and nails. The tension grows as the movie goes on, with Nina slowly transforming into the black swan, trying to pick apart her webbed feet and pulling black feathers from her arms. She imagines gruesome things happening, which we are unsure are part of reality or not – in one particularly stressful scene, Nina visits a ‘retired’ ballerina in hospital and sees her stabbing herself in the face with a nail file.
Queerness: When Lily, a new dancer joins the group, Nina is awed by her impulsivity. It’s a little – do I want to be her? Or do I want to sleep with her? A quandary that many queers discovering their sexuality know all too well. Lily pushes Nina out of her comfort zone, encouraging her to stay out, take drugs, and flirt with men. After a night out dancing, Lily touches Nina’s leg in the taxi home and Nina pushes her away. Back at Nina’s house, Nina initiates kissing Lily and they have sex. Nina imagines her own face on Lily’s. Lily isn’t there when Nina wakes up – was she there at all? Black Swan is full of repressed desire and sexuality, and is left open to interpretations.
Thelma (2017) Dir. Joachim Trier
CW: flashing images, medical abuse, mental illness, seizures
Plot Synopsis: Thelma moves away from her overprotective parents to study at University, and while she skips the regular calls from her family, she is lonely and isolated. Her conservative Christian upbringing is sharply contrasted with the her studies and the peers around her. She begins to experience violent seizures that suggest telekinetic psychic abilities heightened by her newly-forming relationship with Anja. Seeking medical help, Thelma begins to unravel a series of repressed childhood memories that reveal her power…
Spookiness: Categorized as a thriller, the film is at times slow and quiet, but burns with tension. Thelma’s abilities are entwined with animal imagery, including deer, birds, and snakes (snakes, symbolic of sin, add an extra layer of meaning to scenes with Thelma and Anja…) The scenes of Thelma in medical settings leave us with a sense of dread – particularly given the genre’s general portrayal of mental illness as historically stereotyped and negative, although this movie instead portrays mental illnesses as complex and often manipulated by those who hold societal standing. Overall, the growing tone of unease means the moments of violence can be shocking.
Queerness: Thema’s freedom from her family allows her space to explore her sexuality. Thelma’s moments of longing for Anja – her thoughts causing Anja to physically appear at her apartment, Anja slowly stroking her thighs at the theatre, a dream-like fantasy of kissing Anja – culminate in a sudden wish to repress her desire. Underneath the storyline of supernatural ability lies a coming-of-age love story.
A few honourable mentions of movies we love but haven’t seen recently:
- The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) Dir. Jim Sharman
- The Lost Boys (1987) Dir. Joel Schumacher
- Let The Right One In (2008) Dir. Tomas Alfredson
- Paranorman (2012) Dir. Sam Fell and Chris Butler
- All Cheerleaders Die (2013) Dir. Lucky McKee and Chris Sivertson
- The Babadook (2014) Dir. Jennifer Kent
- Raw (2016). Dir. Julia Ducournau
Happy (spooky) watching!