Throughout history gay men and women have had to fight to be seen and heard.
While our current dramas and reality shows have continued representation on screen today, that wasn’t the case on the big screen. Just as gay writers, directors, and actors have had to channel their voices through narrow corners of the Hollywood machine, queer audiences have also identified with unreal, outlandish genres.
If science fiction was a space where anything is possible, then horror was a place for over-the-top characters and a place where victims triumphed.
“Society is always trying to uproot us and we are always waiting to fight back.”
“That’s how we are portrayed in the film. We are the bugbears. The ones that are out to get you.
“The evolution of queer horror parallels the evolution of queer liberation.”
“At least we know we’re out there. Even if we are there to put the fear of God in straight people.
These are just some of the thoughts of contemporary queer actors, writers and directors in the new documentary Shudder, Queer Out of Fear: The Queer Horror Story. Bryan Fuller’s two-part doco (Hannibal, pushing the daisies) and Steakhouse (Disney Launchpad, The Mustang) look back at the included classics Frankenstein (1910), Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1920), Nosferatu (1922), Bride of Frankenstein (1935), the works of Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoker, Mary Shelley and others.
Throughout the document are quotes from interviews with masters including Mark Gatiss (Dracula, Sherlock), Kimberly Peirce (Carrie, Boys don’t cry), Justin Simien (Bad Hair, Haunted House), Leslye headland (Russian Doll, The Acolyte), Cassandra Peterson aka Elvira, and Lea DeLaria (Orange is the new black).
The researchers were certainly exhaustive.
Some references go back to the 1922 Danish film They have1921 The ghost carriage and 1926 Faust but the work of writer Mary Shelley in creating Frankenstein particular attention is paid. Not only was Shelley by her own admission bisexual, but the themes of her story about creating the perfect man resonate with these interview subjects, along with horrific scenes of banishing the monster from society.
There are also films by James Whale, an openly gay director at a time when it was not accepted. Bride of Frankensteinin and The invisible man (1933) “living among men but not seen by them” are among his works here praised, no surprise Show Boat it is not.
(1945The Picture of Dorian Grayby Oscar Wilde, also features, although for me it is on the fringes of the “horror” genre.
There is due acknowledgment of queer characters like ornithologist Mrs. Bundy in Hitchcock’s Birds (1963), Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca (1940) and Brandon and Phillip in Rope (1948) -wait horror, errrr….?
Are they exaggerating with their observations? Maybe some things are in the eye of the beholder, but for closed-in moviegoers in repressed societies, it was easy to indulge in “winks” at the audience in the darkened cinema.
It would not be complete with special attention to Psychopath (1960) for both the character Norman Bates and the personal life of star Anthony Perkins – his son Oz Perkins is one of the subjects of the interview.
Bryan Fuller keeps the quotes and interviewees coming, juxtaposed with archival footage. There are so many that I would have liked some pacing to avoid the feeling of fighting a smorgasbord of smorgasbords, and some like talented stand-up comedy act Michael Feinstein left me puzzled as to their relevance given the subject matter.
However, Queer out of fear is an entertaining and insightful look at sometimes camp, terrifying, subliminal films and how they must have been privately celebrated and reminded: You are not alone.
Queer for Fear: The History of Queer Horror Friday, September 30 on Shudder.