Water is wet, and horror is queer. By depicting monsters living on the periphery who antagonize a society that others them, the horror genre has always found ways to speak to the queer experience and struggle. As time has passed, the genre has evolved from showing queerness strictly at a subtextual level to bringing it to the surface.
As a way of highlighting that long history, and offering viewing options for those looking for something to watch during spooky season outside of the usual staples, below is a list of 10 great horror films with queer themes. The first half has modern horror films with visibly queer characters, while the second half is comprised of spooky classics with queer connotations.
Seed of Chucky (2004)
With the arrival of Bride of Chucky and the introduction of Tiffany (Jennifer Tilly), Chucky’s doll companion, the Child’s Play franchise moved further into horror-comedy fare than before. Then came Seed of Chucky, the series’ fifth installment, which was a further advancement in a different way.
Besides acting as a slice-and-dice slasher film and Hollywood satirization, Seed of Chucky is a poignant depiction of familial acceptance and gender identity. When Chucky and Tiffany reunite with their offspring Glen(da) (voiced by Billy Boyd), they wrestle with how they want Glen(da) to identify. Chucky wants to claim their child as a boy while Tiffany says she wants a daughter. Ultimately, it’s up to Glen(da) to muster up the courage to tell them their choice, saying they can be both and, in fact, feel like both. Given how nonbinary visibility is scarce in the horror genre, Glen(da) remains an icon in their own right.
A rare slasher film with a group of entirely openly gay characters, Hellbent is an outlier of its time that’s also a fine example of a story with queer protagonists that goes beyond the traditional “coming-out” narrative. Our main group of friends — Eddie (Dylan Fergus), Joey (Hank Harris), Chaz (Andrew Levitas), and Tobey (Matt Phillips) — are already out of the closet and are adults instead of the usual doomed teenagers.
As they go out on Halloween night with a mysterious, devil-masked assailant shadowing them and picking them off one by one, Eddie pursues his handsome crush, Jake (Bryan Kirkwood). Given how Eddie is the main character, his acting on his romantic affections disproves the notion that the archetypal final survivor must be purely chaste in order to prevail. Both subversive and gripping, Hellbent is a worthy watch for those wanting simple slasher-movie thrills.
Hellbent is available to stream on Here TV, or for digital rental or purchase via Amazon.
Stranger by the Lake (2013)
Although Stranger by the Lake is more in Hitchcockian thriller territory than traditional horror fare, it still possesses a chilling atmosphere. This is particularly due to its desolate setting on a gay cruising beach and the use of shadow by cinematography maestra Claire Mathon. When Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) becomes sensually fixated on Michel (Christophe Paou) even after witnessing him drown another man in the ocean, Franck is always enraptured in shadow, whether it’s in a nighttime scene or he’s encased by his own silhouette during the day. Franck always being engulfed in darkness encompasses his temptation leading him to danger. Franck’s mixture of compulsion and apprehension are well illustrated in Deladonchamps’ expressive eyes. Meanwhile, Patrick d’Assumçao impresses in equal measure as Franck’s congenial beach companion Henri.
Stranger by the Lake is available to stream for free with a library card on Kanopy, or for digital rental or purchase via Amazon and Vudu.
Julia Ducournau’s Palme d’Or-winning masterpiece is not just a movie; it’s an experience. Titane starts off as a twisted slasher film before morphing into a profound body horror piece that, like Seed of Chucky, centers on gender identity and familial drama. Once serial killer Alexia (Agathe Rousselle) goes into hiding and poses as “Adrien,” the long-lost son of fireman Vincent (Vincent Lindon), what follows is a touching story about two broken strangers forming a strong kinship. While the car sex and extreme violence do leave an imprint in one’s mind, it’s moving scenes like Vincent saying he accepts Alexia/Adrien for who they may be that still heavily linger thanks to the performances by Lindon and Rousselle. Both actors say more with simple body language than what plenty of actors do with pages of dialogue.
Titane is available to stream on Hulu, or for digital rental or purchase via Apple TV, Vudu, and Google Play.
One highlight of the new sequel to the original Scream is its depiction of Mindy Meeks-Martin (Jasmin Savoy Brown). Thanks to her whip-smart horror knowledge and deadpan wit, Mindy serves as a strong entry in the slasher heroine pantheon. Mindy being openly queer is a less defining character trait, which is admirable and makes Scream an antidote to the use of homosexuality as a punchline in its predecessor, where the character Robbie Mercer blurts that he’s gay just to avoid Ghostface’s wrath. While Scream 4 remains a solid franchise entry, the visible, matter-of-fact manner in which Mindy is depicted shows how franchises can still evolve in terms of representation.
The Invisible Man (1933)
Kicking off the “classics with subtext” portion of this list is one of the classic Universal Monsters. Based on the novel of the same name by H.G. Wells, The Invisible Man follows Dr. Jack Griffin (Claude Rains), who initially seeks a way to reverse his invisibility before the thrill of being in his condition has him drunk with power. Once Griffin enlists the help of fellow scientist Dr. Kemp (William Harrigan) as he wreaks havoc on the village where he went into hiding, his own fiancée, Flora (Gloria Stuart), becomes an afterthought. More fixated on his companionship with his male partner and antagonizing a society uneasy by his mere presence, Griffin is a figure with his own queer undercurrent like the monster in Frankenstein, another horror masterpiece from openly gay director James Whale. If you liked that, you may be into this.
Cat People (1942)
As someone fascinated by werecreatures, they always strike me as a queer metaphor. The concept of having to hide who you are or being afraid of who you are because you fear you’ll be perceived as a monster offers slight parallels to the anxieties felt by those in the queer community who are afraid to reveal themselves out of fear of being othered. Those worries serve as the basis for Jacques Tourneur’s 1942 classic Cat People. When Irena (Simone Simon) discovers she can turn into a werepanther when sexually aroused, she initially expresses fear. Yet, once her fiancé, Oliver (Kent Smith), grows closer to his assistant, Alice (Jane Randolph), Irena starts to accept the monster within as she tries antagonizing them in this effective horror pic. One with purr-fect use of sound and shadow.
Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964)
After What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? became a smash hit, director Robert Aldrich and star Bette Davis reunited two years later on Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte. Because in Hollywood, you always stick with what works, they again collaborated on a horror film that continued the “psycho-biddy” subgenre that Baby Jane originated. It also amped up its gay-friendly camp factor with not just more theatrical actressing, but some queer undertones. In Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte, Bette Davis delightfully dials it up to 11 as berserk spinster Charlotte, who lives alone with her maid, Velma (Agnes Moorehead). Velma is devoted to serving Charlotte and especially becomes vigilant when Charlotte’s dubious cousin Miriam (Olivia de Havilland) suddenly arrives. Yet, Velma’s fondness feels deeper than it lets on.
As the loyal and subtly sapphic Velma, Agnes Moorehead gives a performance of unhinged brilliance that earned her a fourth and final Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. At the time of its release, the film attained the record of having the most Oscar nominations of any horror picture, with seven. So, for those who’re Oscar completists as well as horror fans, this one is a must-see.
While all three film adaptations of the famed Stephen King novel are amazing in their own right, the original Carrie by Brian De Palma arguably remains the best. Thanks to its melancholic score by Pino Donaggio and the famous prom scene, the 1976 version is the best depiction of King’s dark fable of a teenage outcast with telekinetic powers who enacts revenge on her tormentors. Since Carrie White (a spellbinding Sissy Spacek) is ostracized simply for not conforming, her struggle speaks to those that real-life queer youths are forced to endure. Her mother, Margaret (Piper Laurie), a nightmarish epitome of religious Puritanism, literally forcing Carrie into a dark closet only furthers the story’s reflection of such struggles. It’s people like Margaret and Carrie’s classmates who are why so many queer adolescents are afraid to come out and be their best selves.
The Lost Boys (1987)
Vampires aren’t just immortalized creatures, but will always live forever on screen. After the vampire trend spurred by the success of Twilight, the famed nightly creatures are experiencing another resurgence thanks to projects like Day Shift, The Invitation, and the new TV series adaptation of Interview With the Vampire. But the 1987 Joel Schumacher classic The Lost Boys remains an early reminder of their undying allure.
Once Michael (Jason Patric) bonds with the mysterious David (Kiefer Sutherland) and his biker gang, their daredevil lifestyle draws him to them. However, as they’re revealed to be vampires, Michael slowly turns into one himself. Michael must then wrestle with whether or not to give into his newfound urges and possibly live a life on the margins with his leather-clad, newfound brotherhood in this sultry, occasionally humorous tale that’s still as terrifying as normal adolescence.