It’s the most wonderful time of the year — October! With that comes the pumpkins on neighbors’ doorsteps, decorations on every home and business, and best of all, scary movies! Horror movies are my drug, and they come in so many flavors and varieties and you can never overdose. With Halloween (the BEST holiday every year) just a couple weeks away, I wanted to make a list of some LGBTQ-horror films worth your time if you want to watch something scary, creepy, suspenseful or just plain campy, and every film on the list comprises of either LGBTQ themes, characters, actors, directors, political statements, or are just damn fun to watch! Here is a list of 8 good LGBTQ-related horror films worth a watch this Halloween season.
The Perfection: R (2019)
Director: Richard Shepard
Starring: Logan Browning, Allison Williams
First up on the list is a very underrated, fresh new horror-thriller available on Netflix about two lesbian cellists who meet in Shanghai, China and form a friendly relationship that turns into a romantic relationship, and then turns sour very quickly. The Perfection combines modern day horror with a blend of disturbing suspense and a very sweet throwback to the gory-but-beautiful artsy films of 90’s Japanese, Korean and Chinese horror films like the iconic Japanese horror director Takashi Miike’s Audition. What makes The Perfection so unique and worth the watch is the way it seems to be a formulaic rival vs. rival, All About Eve type of thriller, but soon changes direction; but it doesn’t just turn left or right, it removes itself off the tracks completely and starts going in a new direction, not once but twice, and leads to an ending you will never see coming. The ending scene alone of The Perfection is worth the watch, with a final scene so dark-but-beautiful it will make you gasp and cover your mouth. Led by two powerhouse performances by Logan Browning (Dear White People) and Allison Williams (Get Out), The Perfection is not just one of the best horror films on Netflix, it is one of the top 5 best films of 2019.
Bound: R (1996)
Director: Lana and Lilly Wachowski
Starring: Jennifer Tilly, Gina Gershon, Joe Pantoliano
Next up on the list we have the 1996 noir-thriller that was the debut of the two iconic transgender directors Lana and Lilly Wachowski. Bound is a very dark and grisly crime movie that tells the story of Violet (Tilly), a mobster’s girlfriend who falls in love with her ex-con new neighbor Corky (Gershon) and devise a plan to rob the mafia of $2 million dollars and frame Violet’s boyfriend for it. The film has a lot of violence, as most crime-noirs do, but it presents itself as a slow-burning game of chess between the mobster boyfriend (Pantoliano) and the two female leads, with the women working tirelessly to stay one step ahead of the brutish male figures in the movie as each intense scene plays out, more suspenseful than the one before it. Bound is a highly sexual film, with Tilly and Gershon sharing many romantic scenes together in their pursuit to get their hands on the mafia money; and ends in a dramatic fashion that is both fun to watch and crammed-full of suspense. Bound launched the careers of the Wachowski’s and put them on the Hollywood map as a force to be reckoned with, opening the door for them to bring us other classic movies and TV series such as The Matrix, V for Vendetta and Sense8.
What Keeps you Alive: R (2018)
Director: Colin Minihan
Starring: Hannah Emily Anderson, Brittany Allen
What Keeps you Alive is a Canadian horror film that shows us the dangers of falling in love with the wrong mate. The film is about a young woman named Jules (Allen) who is brought to a remote cabin by her wife Jackie (Anderson) to celebrate their first anniversary. Upon arrival, the two women are met by Jackie’s childhood friend Sarah, who calls Jackie “Megan”, which raises a red flag for Jules. Jackie explains to her wife that her name used to be Megan and she changed it after one of her friends drowned in a lake when they were children. Jackie believed it was her fault that her friend drowned so she changed her name to begin a fresh new life. Jules soon begins to suspect that Jackie is not entirely the woman who she thinks she is, and we quickly witness Jackie reveal one twisted secret after another. To reveal any more details about What Keeps You Alive would spoil the film, and I would not forgive myself if I did that. What I can say is that What Keeps You Alive is like The Perfection in that it changes direction quickly and ramps up the blood and suspense enough to please any horror lover. Think Friday the 13th meets The Hunger Games. It’s that good.
Sleepaway Camp: R (1983)
Director: Robert Hiltzik
Starring: Felissa Rose, Paul DeAngelo
We come to the first and only horror-comedy on the list, Sleepaway Camp, a film so ridiculous and campy (no pun intended) it cannot be ignored and is the first of its kind as far as “killer reveals”. The film opens with two gay men going on a boat outing with their children, Angela and Peter. After a horrific accident leaves Angela orphaned, she goes to live with her mentally unstable aunt, Martha. Martha sends Angela and her own son, Ricky, to Camp Arawak, which seems like a typical summer camp for young boys and girls, but soon turns into a playground for a killer on the loose. What makes Sleepaway Camp so much fun is the deliciously funny characters that are so cartoony we cannot help but laugh out loud at them, most notably an overweight cook who comes off as the biggest pervert in recent memory (don’t worry, he gets his come-up-ins early in the film). Rotten Tomatoes gives Sleepaway Camp an 82% approval rating and a critic consensus of, “Sleepaway Camp is a standard teen slasher elevated by occasional moments of John Waters-esque weirdness and a twisted ending.” When the killer is finally revealed, audiences are sure to be left scratching their heads wondering, “Are they serious!?” I can’t say why the ending is so memorable and legendary, but anyone who has seen Sleepaway Camp can back me up when I say it is the first (and will probably be the last) of its kind.
Stranger by the Lake: Not Rated (2013)
Director: Alain Guiraudi
Starring: Pierre Deladonchamps, Christophe Paou, Patrick d’Assumcao
Another foreign film, this one brought to us from France, Stranger by the Lake tells the story of Franck, a middle-aged man who visits a gay nude beach buried deep within the woods. Franck stumbles upon a man named Michel and the two instantly become attracted to each other. One day, when Franck goes back to the beach to find some solitude, he discovers Michel drowning another man in front of him, and rather than run for his life, Franck grows more attracted to Michel. When the body of the man Michel drowned is discovered, police begin to question the townspeople and hunt for the killer. Michel, nervous about Franck’s ability to keep his mouth shut, begins a pursuit to find Franck before the police can. To reveal anything more would spoil the film, but there is a reason Stranger by the Lake garnered worldwide praise and won Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival. Movies like this remind us of the fatal mistakes we can make when we love the wrong person or become attracted to someone who we know is bad for us but cannot control our animal desires. The homosexual elements of the film are what make it so relevant; if this were a “straight” film, the story and acting would not be believable and the ending probably wouldn’t work. Think Brokeback Mountain remade as a suspenseful thriller directed by Alfred Hitchcock.
High Tension: NC-17 (2003)
Director: Alexandre Aja
Starring: Cecile de France, Maiwenn, Philippe Nahon
Another French film, High Tension, (also known as Switchblade Romance or Haute Tension) is an EXTREMELY violent, gory, vicious slaughter fest drowning in a bathtub of blood and finished with a twist ending you cannot possibly see coming. Let me just say first and foremost, as someone who saw this movie in theaters in 2003 and again at home earlier this year, the ending to this film is a letdown and a very big disappointment. It does not make sense, does not fit with the series of events that led up to it, and when it comes you may feel cheated and upset. It is definitely one of those films you have to just “enjoy the ride” rather than anticipate a big payoff ending. Despite all this, High Tension is an extremely well-made horror film and is worth the watch for its sky-high violence and blood-soaked scenes that will turn your stomach inside out and test your true ability as a horror fan to keep watching when every voice in your head is telling you to look away. This is not for everyone and this warning needs to be thrown out before discussing the plot.
The film stars Cecile de France as Marie and Maiwenn as Alex, two lesbian lovers who visit Alex’s family in a secluded home for a weekend to unwind and relax. Little do the girls know they have been followed on their journey by a madman (Nahon) driving a huge, rundown rusty huge truck that acts more like a prison cell on wheels than a car. The first night they arrive, the madman invades their home, slaughters the father, mother, and young son, and kidnaps Alex in the back of his truck. Marie sneaks into the truck and tries to save Alex while she is being kidnapped and gets locked in the back of the truck herself. The rest of the film is a game of cat and mouse as Marie tries to save her friend and lover while also remaining out of sight from the deranged killer. High Tension is so over-the-top that the MPAA could not rate it R and gave it a rare NC-17 rating for its violence and gore. Believe me when I say it earns that rating. If you are the ultimate gore hound just looking for a tense thriller filled with blood and guts, this is for you. Anyone else, stay away…far…far…far away. You have been warned.
The Craft: R (1996)
Director: Andrew Fleming
Starring: Fairuza Balk, Robin Tunney, Rachel True, Neve Campbell
Here comes the film most of you have probably seen out of any on this list. The Craft is a very fun, entertaining teen-thriller that brings back nostalgic feelings of high school and the angst of being called a weirdo by the popular kids and wishing you had the power to cast a spell on them. Robin Tunney stars as Sarah, a young girl from San Francisco who is new to the L.A. area and sent to a private school where three other outcasts Nancy, Bonnie, and Rochelle take her in to be the “fourth” in their coven. The girls reveal themselves to worship a magical being named Manon, and practice spells and incantations in hopes of becoming powerful witches. The Craft has become a wildly popular cult classic since its release and is almost a right-of-passage to any young teenager in the LGBT community. I have yet to meet a single person in my entire life who can’t quote The Craft or has not tried to play “light as a feather, stiff as a board”. The themes of being a loser or an outcast, chasing the desire to get revenge on those who hurt you, and the consequences of that revenge all play a heavy role in this film. New York Times film critic Stephen Holden praised the film as being a “celebration of adolescent nonconformity and female independence.”
There is a loose connection with the LGBTQ community where Sarah represents someone ostracized just for being who she is, and the other girls accept her for being “weirdos” like them. Every queer person in America can identify with one or all of the four main characters and everyone can point to a time in elementary or high school when one of the popular jocks or rich girls ripped you a part for no reason and you secretly fantasized about getting revenge in a magical way. The Craft is definitely the one film on this list where we wished we were the characters themselves, performing spells and rituals, enjoying the torture of our bullies, and cherishing the feeling of having a handful of friends that you would die for and whom would die for you.
Just be careful not to betray your friends, because as Nancy says in the film, “You know…in the old days, if a witch betrayed her coven…they would kill her”.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge: R (1985)
Director: Jack Sholder
Starring: Mark Patton, Kim Myers, Robert Englund
If you know your horror films, then you knew I had to include this movie on the list. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge is universally regarded by horror fans and film scholars as “the gay one” when talking about the different Freddy Krueger films. The burnt-skin boogeyman with knives for fingers stalked and terrorized kids in their dreams throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s through seven films and later in 2003’s Freddy vs. Jason, but most Nightmare fans would agree that the first sequel is one they would rather forget. It stars Mark Patton as Jesse, a teenage boy who moves into the old home of Nancy Thompson (the heroine of the first Nightmare film) and begins to suffer from the same scary dreams she did about a strange man with razor-bladed fingers attacking him. Why this film belongs on this list and is primarily known for being “the gay Freddy movie” is because of the obvious undertones and themes that occur in the film. There is no sub-text here, it is so blatant it’s mind boggling.
First of all, Jesse is almost never fully clothed in most of the movie; in one scene at school during P.E. class, one of the jocks gets into a scuffle with Jesse and pulls his pants down to reveal Jesse in a jockstrap. The coach breaks up the fight by pushing the boys and shouting, “Assume the position!” While doing push-ups as punishment, the jock tells Jesse how the coach can usually always be found at gay bars when he is not at school. Jesse asks his new jock friend Grady, “Hey Grady, do you remember your dreams?” to which he replies, “Only the wet ones.” Jesse is later shown in his home, cleaning his room and twerking his butt against his dresser.
When Jesse first meets Freddy Krueger face to face, Freddy pins him back against a wall and gently caresses Jesse’s face and lips with his blades and tells him, “I need you, Jesse. We got special work to do, you and me. You’ve got the body.” Mark Patton later confirmed in an interview that the original script had Freddy sticking one of his blades into Jesse’s mouth as a phallic symbol. Jesse later seems to be suffering from sleepwalking, and while sweating profusely wanders out of his home and into the town gay bar “Don’s Place” where he is approached by his P.E. coach wearing leather pants and a leather vest.
The scene that takes the cake…
The coach takes Jesse to the school gymnasium late at night and forces Jesse to run laps around the basketball court to get even more sweaty. When Jesse runs past his coach, he is shoved into some chairs and told to “hit the showers,” the coach then walks into the locker room office and is attacked by all of the balls. The basketballs, kickballs, golf balls, volleyballs, tennis balls, water polo balls all fly off the shelves and continuously whack the coach in the face, knocking him down. Two jump ropes slither like snakes to the coach and wrap around his hands, dragging him into the shower. They pull him up flat against a wall and his clothes quickly tear off his body. A towel then hovers behind him and whips his butt a few times before Freddy appears and slashes the coach to death with his razor fingers.
Jesse’s somewhat-girlfriend in the film comes to his home to comfort him, and while she tries to seduce and calm Jesse down, he abruptly leaves her and runs to his jock friend’s home, breaks into his room, jumps on him in bed, covers his mouth and tells him that someone is trying to get inside his body. The female lead in the film is virtually nonexistent and she and Jesse have no chemistry or screen time to form any sort of love interest. The film’s writer, David Chaskin, spent decades denying the homoerotic themes in the film, only to finally confess he purposely wrote it that way in 2010. He then tried to spin his writing and claimed he only wrote Jesse that way to represent young boys dealing with their homosexual urges, and Freddy representing their inner demons that eventually always come out despite harmful mental and physical suppression. Mark Patton has continuously expressed that he felt betrayed by Chaskin and the film crew since they knew he was gay at the time but was in the closet.
Watch the film for yourself and you will see why A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge is literally regarded by critics as “the gayest horror film ever.” Yes, there are some bloody kills and good special effects, but the homoerotic sub-text overshadows everything else so dominantly (no pun intended) that it is all any viewer can see. The scares are drowned out by the inadvertent humor and the kills all have some sort of gay sexual undertone to them. Still, if you want to just have a fun night with a few friends and laugh at a movie so-bad-that-it’s-good, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge is the film for you.
What are some of your favorite LGBTQ horror films?
About the Author:
Brian Moniz is from San Jose, Calif. He studied filmmaking and writing at San Jose State University from 2010–2013 and got his bachelor’s degree in Radio-TV-Film. Throughout his high school and college years, he worked as a music and movie journalist and critic. Having only recently come out of the closet himself in 2014, Brian enjoys writing about LGBTQ issues. His only regret when it comes to his sexuality is that he didn’t come out sooner.