Queer Horror Films to Celebrate Pride With this Month
E.L. King shares a list of films to Queer Horror films to add to your watchlist.
LGBTQIA+ themes have long existed in horror fiction and cinema. From the queer coded days of the Hays Code to the contemporary films breaking the mold and tearing down the queer tropes of the past, horror has always been and will always be queer. It's comforting when you see yourself represented in a character or the themes of a horror film as a queer person. While queer representation in horror is moving in a positive direction, it has a long and varied history. Horror films have long been a pointed allegory for queerness, painting individuals who defy the tired constructs of desired societal sexual and gender norms in a negative and positive light.
Queer Horror has become an encompassing sub-genre. While not all films appear outwardly queer or contain any pointed queer subtext, when viewed through a queer lens, new themes and subtext may be discovered. Genna Edwards states, "Monsters of all kinds are common metaphors for "otherness" and the isolation that comes with it. A horror film can be "queered" by simply othering a character for being monstrous or mutating heterosexual relationships and the idea of the nuclear family unit. Any rejection of the status quo or religion, or attacks on family and society, "queer" horror spaces."
Here is a list of Queer Horror films that I've identified as "queered horror," whether the subtext is obvious or not.
Written and directed by Julia Ducournau, Titane (2021) is an exploration of human sexuality and gender identity. The thriller follows Alexia (Agathe Rousselle), an exotic dancer with a titanium plate in her head and a destructive attraction to cars stemming from trauma. Amidst a series of brutal and unexplained serial murders, Alexia goes on the run. She takes on the identity of Adrian, a missing boy, and meets his father, Vincent (Vincent Lindon), a firefighter. Overjoyed with the return of his son, Vincent overlooks Alexia’s increasingly difficult-to-hide pregnancy. Titane is a story of love, acceptance, and transformation at its core. Titane is streaming on Hulu.
WHAT KEEPS YOU ALIVE
Canadian psychological horror film What Keeps You Alive (2018), written and directed by Colin Minihan, follows Jules (Brittany Allen) and her wife Jackie (Hannah Anderson). They travel to a remote cabin in the woods for a romantic weekend away to celebrate their first wedding anniversary. What begins as an idyllic trip quickly becomes a fight for survival for Jules as Jackie's intentions are revealed. It's bright and stylish, with solid performances from both leads. The film is currently streaming on the Shudder and is available on digital on-demand on Apple TV and Vudu.
Nicole Maines stars in the queer feminist vampire thriller BIT (2019), directed by Brad Michael Elmore. The film follows Laurel (Maines), a transgender teenage girl on summer vacation in Los Angeles fighting to survive after she falls in with four queer feminist vampires led by Duke (Diana Hopper), seeking to rid the city's streets of predatory men. Their first rule is "you don't turn men." BIT is free to stream on Tubi and available on digital on-demand from other streaming services.
THE FEAR STREET TRILOGY
Queer teens save the day in this three-part film series distributed by Netflix in June 2021. Directed by Leigh Janiak and adapted for the R. L. Stine Fear Street (1989) novels, the films are fun, and they subvert toxic queer horror tropes that support society's fear of queerness, making the queer character the villain or the sidekick being led to the slaughter. The delightful thing is that Fear Street is a mainstream horror film series that gets queer representation right and has two strong female leads, Kiana Madeira and Olivia Scott Welch, at its helm. The series follows a group of teenagers in Shadyside who are terrorized by an ancient evil responsible for a series of brutal murders that have plagued the town. While I love Deena (Madeira) and Sam (Welch), my favorite character is Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr.).
DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS
Director Harry Kümel’s chilling fusion of surreal and expressionist horror elements, Daughters of Darkness (1971), is erotic Euro-horror at its best. It follows newlyweds who fall prey to Countess Bathory and her female consort. The twist is that the legendary Countess is a vampire who cleverly pits them against each other to seduce the young bride. Arthouse icon Delphine Seyrig is the perfect and elegant embodiment of the Countess. It's currently streaming on Shudder and Tubi.
DEATH DROP GORGEOUS
Directed by Michael J. Ahern, Christopher Dalpe, and Brandon Perras-Sanchez, Death Drop Gorgeous (2021) follows Dwayne (Wayne Gonsalves), a bartender, and an aging drag queen fighting to survive a corrupt city's eccentric and hostile nightlife as a masked maniac slaughters young gay men and drains them of blood. It's fun, gore-filled, and full of brilliant one-liners. It's a Slasher film like you've never seen before. This fantastic queer horror film is currently streaming on Shudder.
NIGHTBREED, THE DIRECTORS CUT
If you've never seen Nightbreed (1990), directed by Clive Barker, particularly The Cabal Cut, you're in for a queer horror treat. Barker's allegory on queerness and coming out follows a wrongly-accused man seeking refuge in an underground kingdom of monsters and features David Cronenberg as its magnificent villain. He plays a convincing serial killer, while Craig Sheffer, a resident bad boy heartthrob of the 80s, is in the lead role of Aaron Boone, who becomes the hero of Midian. Of course, the queer horror of it all is in the film's subtext. Nightbreed is streaming on Shudder, Peacock, Tubi, Amazon Prime Video, and other streaming services.
SWEET, SWEET LONELY GIRL
A.D. Calvo’s queer supernatural horror film Sweet, Sweet Lonely Girl (2017) evokes the eerie atmosphere of horror films of the 70s and 80s. It follows Adele (Erin Wilhelmi), who is sent to look after her aunt Dora (Susan Kellermann). When Adele meets Beth (Quinn Shephard), a seductive and mysterious young woman, things improve for her. Still, soon her morals are tested, and she begins spiraling down a psychologically unstable and phantasmagoric path. The film is currently streaming on Shudder.
Bela Lugosi is dead, and vampires are stalking clubs, drinking deep and frankly incredibly sexy. The Hunger (1983) is a sensual and elegant queer horror film directed by Tony Scott and adapted for the novel, The Hunger by Whitley Strieber. It follows John (David Bowie), the lover of the stunning immortal vampire Miriam (Catherine Deneuve), who has been led to believe that he'll live forever, too. As he begins to deteriorate, Miriam becomes obsessed with Sarah (Susan Sarandon), a lovely young scientist, who she seduces in the hopes of creating a new mate. The film is available on digital on-demand from Amazon Prime Video and other streaming services.
The body-swap slasher comedy Freaky (2020), directed by Christopher Landon and co-written with Michael Kennedy, subverts horror trope expectations. The body-swapping twist alone provides an authentic allegory for the trans experience. The film gets queer horror representation right with Josh Detmer (Misha Osherovich), who's an accurate representation of queer youth. On top of that, Nyla Chones (Celeste O'Conner) is an intelligent, strong Black woman that subverts how Black characters are often tokenized in horror films. Freaky is also a feminist coming-of-age exploration. Millie Kessler (Kathryn Newton) leads the film as the serial killing Butcher (Vince Vaughn) after swapping bodies and comes into her own as the strong female character she always was. It's also deliciously gory and streaming on HBO Max and digital on-demand from other streaming services.
Transformation, fear, and a curse are at play in the Cat People (1942), directed by Jacques Tourneur, written by DeWitt Bodeen, and produced for RKO by Val Lewton. Oliver Reed (Kent Smith) meets the beautiful and mysterious Irena Dubrovna (Simone Simon), a fashion designer from Serbia sketching a black panther. After the couple gets married, he becomes concerned about Irena's notion that she is cursed and may transform into a large cat in the heat of passion. It's a queer-coded narrative about a woman resisting her primal urges. She fears being different and an outcast from society. I recommend reading Jason Scott's essay about the film exploring how society tethers queer sexuality and identity. The film is available on digital on-demand from Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV, and Vudu.
Considered one of the first lesbian vampire films with several queer coded scenes, Dracula's Daughter (1936), directed by Lambert Hillyer and inspired by the work of Bram Stoker, sees Count Dracula destroyed by Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan) as the film opens. His daughter, Countess Marya Zaleska (Gloria Holden), is obsessed with eradicating her vampiric thirst for blood. She turns to psychiatrist Dr. Garth (Otto Kruger) for assistance. At one point, Marya confides to Sandor, her manservant, that her curse will be lifted and that she’ll finally be able to “live a normal life now, think normal things” with the death of Count Dracula. Both the dialogue and camera provide evidence of Marya's desire to be with women. Ultimately, she is depicted as a villain, a monstrous femme who is othered by society. The film is available on digital on-demand from Amazon Prime Video and other streaming services.
The science-fiction horror film, Alien (1979), directed by Ridley Scott and written by Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shusett, is about as gender non-conforming as a film can get. The Xenomorph and Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) can be viewed as strong characters with queered binaries. The film subverts gender roles with its phallic symbols, facehuggers, and the alien creature. It's also apt to strike fear in the chests of men. Ripley is, in my opinion, one of the strongest "final girl" characters next to Nancy Thompson. A note on the script read: “The crew is unisex, and all parts are interchangeable for men or women.” In Ripley, I see myself, and Alien is one of my queer horror comfort films. It's available on digital on-demand Amazon Prime Video and other streaming platforms and is free for Starz subscribers. I recommend watching Memory: The Origins of Alien (2019) and taking it in as a double-feature. You can watch that on Shudder and Tubi.
French queer horror-thriller Knife+Heart (2018) was directed by Yann Gonzalez, who co-wrote the screenplay with Cristiano Mangione follows Anne Parèze (Vanessa Paradis), a producer of gay pornography who's been jilted by her girlfriend and editor Loïs McKenna (Kate Moran). Sex, serial murder, and porn, what more could you ask for. Anne pursues her most ambitious film yet, but her actors are picked off by a mysterious killer one by one. According to Katie Rife of The A.V. Club, the film is a "queer tribute to the sleazier side of Giallo cinema." The film is available to watch on Shudder.
THE SCARY OF SIXTY-FIRST
The suspenseful horror thriller, The Scary of Sixty-First (2021), directed by Dash Nekrasova and co-written by Madeline Quinn, who also starred in the film, premiered at the 71st Berlin International Film Festival in the Encounters section, where it won the Best First Feature Award. The story follows Noelle (Quinn) and Addie (Betsey Brown) and begins with the pair viewing an apartment on the Upper East Side. Despite the peculiar elements of the apartment, the two move in. Noelle finds a tarot card on their first evening there, while nightmares plague Addie before meeting a mysterious girl (Nekrasova). While it garnered mixed reviews, it's queer, so give it at least one watch to decide for yourself. It's streaming on Shudder and available on digital on-demand from Amazon Prime Video and other streaming services.