Queer themes are more ubiquitous in horror than you think…
By Courtney Hardwick
If you’re a horror fan, you know that queer characters and themes aren’t always out in the open throughout the genre. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t there—you just have to look a little harder and keep an open mind. Many of the most popular horror movies for queer audiences involve some form of “queer coding” which is “coding” characters as some variation of “not straight,” or implying characters aren’t entirely straight or cisgendered through subtext.
Horror comes in all shapes and sizes and the genre continues to evolve bringing more opportunities for meaningful representation, but if you’re looking for some thinly veiled coming out metaphors and gay-coded characters to go along with your gore and jump scares, these 10 horror movies will be right up your alley.
Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge
The second instalment in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise has become a cult classic since it came out in 1985. Full of homoerotic subtext and not-so-subtle sexual tension between villain Freddy Krueger and main character Jesse Walsh, the film is often called “the gayest slasher film ever made”. Although the screenwriter denied that he meant to imply (pretty blatantly) that Jesse was gay, it didn’t take long for audience to notice all the signs. It may not be the best in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, but Freddy’s Revenge is required viewing for any fans of the genre and anyone with an interest in queer themes in film.
Horror writer-turned-filmmaker Clive Barker made his directorial debut in 1987 with Hellraiser, the beginning of a franchise about a murderous group of demons from another dimension called “Cenobites”. The creatures’ main personality trait is that they can’t differentiate between pleasure and pain and are constantly pushing the limits in various forms of sadomasochism—and that includes murder. Barker, who is openly gay, has said “the look of the Cenobites, such as the pins in their leader’s head, was inspired by S&M clubs” and the overall themes of the movie explores how the all-consuming need for pleasure can lead you directly to hell—a theme that some believe is also an AIDS allegory. Another Barker film, Nightbreed, is about finding your own family in a group of “misfits”, something many LGBT people can relate to.
2014’s The Babadook wasn’t intended to be a metaphor for trying to come out and feeling ignored and unwanted. But after Netflix accidentally categorized the film in the LGBT section, queer audiences embraced the creature and interpreted that he represented resilience in the face of homophobia. For example, the Babadook tells the people who try to banish him, “I’ll make you a bet. The more you deny, the stronger I get.” Its confinement to the basement and the family of the house knowing it’s there but refusing to welcome it could also be interpreted as the closeting many queer children face from their families.
Sleepaway Camp is one of those 80s horror movies that turns into an unintentional comedy almost immediately, but it became a cult classic in the genre for that reason, among others. A serial killer is terrorizing the campers at Camp Arawak and it becomes clear pretty quick that Angela, a quiet outsider, is the perpetrator. No spoilers, but the ending is a shocker that is pretty blatantly problematic by today’s standards. Still the character of Angela represents experiences that are common for many LGBT youth such as bullying, feeling like an outsider and trying to hide parts of herself.
Many interpret David Cronenberg’s 1986 remake of The Fly as an allegory for AIDS. After the scientist, played by Jeff Goldblum, accidentally mixes his DNA with a fly, one plot line involves his pregnant girlfriend worrying that the contaminated DNA might have been passed on to their unborn child—a fear that may have hit close to home for HIV-positive men in the 80s and 90s. Cronenberg maintains that the movie is more generally about aging and death but the story of an eccentric outsider who died in his prime is something many in the LGBT community had to witness happen to their loved ones.
Netflix just released a remake of the 1940s classic Rebecca based on the novel by Daphne Du Maurier, but the original includes one of the most iconic queer-coded characters in history: Mrs. Danvers. The housekeeper is obsessed with the late Rebecca de Winters to the point that she comes off as a grieving lover. She treats the new Mrs. de Winters coldly, never hiding her contempt and belief that she is inferior in every way. Mrs. Danvers never admits to any romantic feelings for Rebecca, but her fixation on her is clearly coded as an unrequited love for her former employer.
Interview with the Vampire
Although Anne Rice’s novel Interview with the Vampire is much more explicit with its queer references, the film adaption has its fair share of homoeroticism and queer-coding. For one, the uncommon family dynamic between two men, Lestat (Tom Cruise) and Louis (Brad Pitt) who decide to take in a young vampire girl (Kirsten Dunst as Claudia) is a representation of many gay couples who become parents. Next, the relationship between Lestat and Louis is a constant power struggle between love and hate and the two can never seem to break away from each other—clearly a romantic dynamic, not a platonic one.
Vampires are often considered an iconic allegory for homosexuality with many of their characterizations mirroring the experience of being gay. From having to hide who they really are and the fear of discovery to their uncontrollable passion and insatiable desires that threaten to out them, vampires have been queer-coded as far back as Bram Stoker’s Dracula. In Fright Night, a teenage boy finds out his new next door neighbour, Jerry, is a closeted vampire and becomes obsessed with him. Jerry also has a live-in man servant whom he curates antiques with. Not exactly subtle.
The 1976 film based on the Stephen King novel can easily be interpreted as a gay allegory. Carrie White is isolated and ostracized at school, bullied at home by her religious mother, and afraid of her own sexuality. She also has something special about her that she has to hide because she feels like no one will understand—that people will be afraid of her. The queer-coding of Carrie is just one interpretation but it is so iconic that the film is firmly on every list of must-watch horror movies for queer audiences.
In Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, Norman Bates is an effeminate, cross-dressing serial killer who murders women who stay at his motel. Anthony Perkins himself, who was known to be gay, but not officially out, stated that he purposely played Bates as gay or bisexual, but in the film itself, his sexuality is more ambiguous because of Hays Code, a strict set of rules in the film industry that censored anything of a “perverse nature”. The censors were more forgiving when anything “perverse” (for example, homosexuality) was also portrayed as morally bankrupt (read: a serial killer), so while Norman Bates was never explicitly gay, there were plenty of clues that pointed towards his sexuality.