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Queer Fear: LGBTQ+ Representation in the Horror Industry

"Queerness and horror have always been intertwined" - Sam Damshenas

There is no denying the popularity of horror. Sitting within the top 5 genres of film and fiction writing, its ability to shock and repulse is both mentally and physically stimulating for audiences, often described as addictive. Horror’s roots lie in gothic novels, the first of which was written over 200 years ago - so there are a lot of creative people to thank for the adrenaline rush! But did you know about the influence of queer people on the genre as we know it today?

Horror has always been gay

The Castle of Otranto (1764) by Horatio Walpole is widely agreed to be the first example of a gothic novel and has been studied endlessly not only for its significance in literary history, but also for the homo-erotic symbolism present throughout. While the words ‘gay’ and ‘homosexual’ hadn’t been invented yet, many gothic writers including Francis Lathom and William Thomas Beckford “sublimated them and expressed them in more acceptable forms”. Their lives and homosexuality greatly impacted their work - and provide an extra level of subtext through which to read and understand it from the very beginning.

Influential author Mary Shelley, the inventor of modern-science fiction, was also bisexual. She published Frankenstein (1818) at only 20 years old: a classic novel centred around the interactions between a creature raised from the dead and the doctor that created it. In a letter written after the death of her husband, she recalled: “I was so ready to give myself away – and being afraid of men, I was apt to get tousy-mousy for women”. The term “tuzzy-muzzy” is old slang for vagina, and with evidence suggesting a love affair between Shelley and another woman, one can easily view Frankenstein’s creation as a vessel to explore and express repressed feelings.

“The creation is wholly sympathetic despite being viewed as a monster, a common theme that would continue throughout queer horror storytelling.” - BJ Colangelo

In 1872 Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu published Carmilla, a vampire story predating Bram Stoker’s Dracula by 26 years, and a major inspiration for the latter. The novel is undeniably queer – the title character is a lesbian who details her attraction to women without disguise.

Aside from the inclusion of extremely similar characters, many believe that Dracula was influenced by the treatment of Stoker’s close friend Oscar Wilde, who was put on trial for his homosexuality. This traumatic event is said to have inspired the ostracization of Count Dracula; the idea of “otherness” is still explored in the horror genre today.

From page to screen

As horror stories were transferred to the medium of moving image, queer people were once again pulling the strings.

German expressionist director F. W. Murnau moved from Berlin to Hollywood to pursue a life where he could live more comfortably as a gay man. He was responsible for Nosferatu (1922), a classic film inspired by Dracula that still holds up 100 years down the line and is argued to be one of the best and most significant films of all time.

James Whale was openly gay throughout his career as an incredibly successful horror director, famous for his adaptations of Frankenstein and H.G Wells’ The Invisible Man. His homosexuality is featured as subtext in many of his films. In comedy-horror The Old Dark House (1932), he created many of the camp horror tropes said to have inspired Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) – the “campest film of all time”.

In recent years, there are many more horror films and franchises celebrated by the LGBTQ+ community. Here are a few queer directors and creations you need to know:

  • Clive Barker

Famous for the iconic Hellraiser series, which is considered representation of BDSM by the LGBTQ+ community. Despite this, he is not widely known to be gay, and doesn’t see his sexuality as important to his work.

  • Don Mancini

Creator of Chucky and heavily involved in the Child’s Play franchise. According to an article on The Line Up, Mancini’s stated that homosexuality was not integral in the creation of Child’s Play 1-3, but “he expressed his loneliness in his home as he came to accept himself and his queerness, as a result he subconsciously made Andy fatherless to depict this feeling”.

  • Stewart Thorndike

Gained attention for the innovative distribution of her movie Lyle (2014), described by herself as “a lesbian Rosemary’s Baby”. She made the film available to view online for free with an option to contribute to her next feature and has been very successful as an independent director and queer woman.

  • Jennifer’s Body (2009, Diablo Cody & Karyn Kusama)

Although neither of its creators has come out as queer, the films they make together repeatedly explore the lives of queer women. Cody has confirmed that the sexual tension between main characters Jennifer and Needy was written intentionally, and that the film “speaks to women and their relationships with other women in a way that men do not understand”.

“Horror as a genre is, at its roots, about ‘otherness’. I believe many queer people relate to this at some point in their lives”.Maya Lotus

Today there are more LGBTQ+ creators and (explicitly) queer characters in horror than ever, but there is still a long way to go. Surprisingly, most horror films featuring queer women in recent years were directed by straight white men, despite there being many talented women working in the genre. In the future we can hope to see more female-identifying directors who are openly queer – representation off-screen is equally as important!

But there is one thing we can be certain of, worded perfectly by film analyst BJ Colangelo:


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