There is still progress to be made in how the LGBTQ community is portrayed in horror and sci-fi films, and this list reflects both where weve been, and where we are now. In retrospect some of these films dont withstand scrutiny, and this list shouldnt be mistaken as advocating or justifying their content. But within the context of a genre timeline these films are essential viewing for a well-rounded gay horror foundation.
Because there are so many more LGBTQ Horror films out there (who would have thought that would be possible 20 years ago?), heres a list of Honorable Mentions, cut to keep the list somewhat equitable:
The Wolves of Kromer, Pornography*, October Moon, Creatures from the Pink Lagoon, Night Shadows, Socket*, I Was a Teenage Werebear segment of Chillerama, Dahmer, Fright Night, Killer Condom, Otto; or Up with Dead People, Antiviral, Single White Female, Daughters of Darkness.
*These are films Ive worked on.
Sean Abley is a playwright, screenwriter, journalist, and zombie enthusiast. His writing has appeared in The Advocate, Unzipped, Fangoria as well as Fangoria.com and ChillerTV.com. His latest book is OUT IN THE DARK: INTERVIEWS WITH GAY HORROR FILMMAKERS, ACTORS AND AUTHORS.
17 Essential: LGBTQ Horror Films
17 Essential: LGBTQ Horror Films #1
While neither amazing nor terrible, this film deserves inclusion on the list because of timing;
Hellbent was the first gay horror film aimed at gay audiences with openly gay characters to break out of the LGBTQ film fest ghetto and receive theatrical distribution. The fact that it failed miserably struck fear in the hearts of producers everywhere and poof! There went gay horror (for a time). Judged on its artistic merits, Hellbent is a decent rental. We follow four gay fellows as they’re stalked and killed on Halloween night by a smoking hot maniac wearing only a mask and workout tights. The fact that there is almost zero sex, or even kissing, is actually a plot point that you may or may not buy. Still, production values are high for a low budget film, and there are some decent kills and performances throughout. (Full disclosure: I was an uncredited production coordinator on this film. And I got fired, but that’s another story…)
17 Essential: LGBTQ Horror Films #2
Nightmare On Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985)
Much easier to recommend now that all involved have finally admitted this is one big gay love story,
NOES2 puts the “sub” in subtext with scenes of leather bars, dream flogging (who didn’t want to get naked with their high school gym coach?), and lots of “He’s inside me!” scenes. Sort of the Halloween 3: Season of the Witch of NOES films, Freddy’s Revenge is largely ignored in the franchise’s continuity. That’s a shame—bringing Mark Patton’s “Jesse” back as an adult (à la Nancy) could have made for a much more layered sequel than the “set ‘em up, knock ‘em down” later installments.
17 Essential: LGBTQ Horror Films #3
William Friedkin has dabbled in both horror (
The Exorcist, The Guardian) and gay ( The Boys in the Band), and the twain meet in this endlessly debated film about a serial killer stalking NYC leather bars. Whether you fall into the pro or con camp, there’s no denying Cruising is impeccably shot, directed and acted. The problem is the script, which critics accuse of demonizing homosexuality and reducing the gay community to one big drug-fueled BDSM orgy. But the film deserves a second look, both for Al Pacino’s committed performance, and showing an (mostly) accurate portrayal of pre-“gay cancer” sexual freedom in NYC.
17 Essential: LGBTQ Horror Films #4
L.A. Zombie (2010)
While several of his low budget, X-rated flicks would be well included on this list (including his previous effort,
Otto; or Up with Dead People), this hardcore Bruce LaBruce gorefest is the perfect response to what the “gay horror” genre thought it was going to be. Playing out like a fever dream, L.A. Zombie’s nominal plot involves porn star, model and fashion designer François Sagat as the titular character roaming around Los Angeles, bringing dead men back to life by fucking their wounds. The film stars some of the highest profile gay porn models at the time of production (including Matthew Rush, Adam Killian, Francesco D’Macho and the late Erik Rhodes), and ends with a blood-soaked, zombie circle jerk. The makeup and gore FX are courtesy of out FX artist Joe Castro.
17 Essential: LGBTQ Horror Films #5
The Hunger (1983)
Susan Sarandon and Catherine Deneuve sex scene anyone? Yes? That’s what we thought. Add a side dish of David Bowie slinking around and you have something for everyone. Deneuve is of course a lesbian icon (Curve magazine was called Deneuve for five years before she sued), and Sarandon’s sexy/smart future-MILFness is in full effect here. Light on plot (vampires preying on humans), high on style (directed by Tony Scott),
The Hunger is a great rainy day Netflix selection for lesbians and straight guys.
17 Essential: LGBTQ Horror Films #6
Make A Wish (2002)
Not a great film, but deserving of inclusion for its pedigree; the first lesbian slasher made by lesbians for lesbians. It might surprise you to learn that when lesbians make horror movies for lesbians, they include tons of nudity, sex scenes, and gratuitous violence. Brava, ladies! (Sidebar: In an interview I did with director Sharon Ferranti for The Advocate, when asked about how the lesbian community reacted to all the nudity, she replied, “You want to know how lesbians reacted to the nudity? These super serious political girls? ‘How come they didn't have bigger tits?’”)
17 Essential: LGBTQ Horror Films #7
Haute Tension (aka High Tension) (2003)
The French horror scene is thriving with smart, uncompromising, visceral films, and Alexandre Aja’s
Haute Tension is no exception. Initially unfolding as a home invasion film with an amazing early sequence featuring Cécile De France’s “Marie” evading the invaders, HT morphs into a road movie, then what feels like a revenge flick. The third act twist had some dismissing the entire film as narratively inconsistent and/or anti-gay, both unfair criticisms. Haute Tension is precisely brutal, angry, and well crafted.
17 Essential: LGBTQ Horror Films #8
Vampyros Lesbos (1971)
This Jess Franco films is essential in many ways, not just because the title contains the word “Lesbos.” The plot concerns a bloodsucking nightclub performer (Franco regular Soledad Miranda) luring beautiful ladies to a life of lesbian vampirism. More for horror film scholars than casual lesbian enthusiasts,
Vampyros Lesbos unfolds languidly, with dream sequences, European flavored nudity, and lots of Sapphic side eye. The 1970’s matte finish film stock and Euro-dubbing make this feel like a hardcore porn with the hard stuff cut out— so, business as usual for a Franco film.
17 Essential: LGBTQ Horror Films #9
The Fourth Man (1983)
Before splitting his time between high gloss genre flicks (
Robocop, Total Recall) and high gloss sex flicks ( Showgirls, Basic Instinct), director Paul Verhoeven combined the two in several Dutch films, perhaps most notoriously in The Fourth Man. His final film before heading to Hollywood, this slow boil thriller stars Jeroen Krabbé as a bisexual writer drawn to Renée Soutendijk’s ice cold black widow and her other lover, Thom Hoffman. Dreams and hallucinations play a part in the plot (The Virgin Mary tells Krabbé that Soutendijk plans to make him her fourth victim), as do scissors and conveniently placed sharp metal bars. Beautiful people in a doomed bisexual love triangle—what’s not to love?
17 Essential: LGBTQ Horror Films #10
Liquid Sky (1982)
Set in the NYC art world of the early 80s, Slava Tsukerman’s low budget opus features co-screenwriter Anne Carlisle in two roles; androgynous male model Jimmy, and bisexual (and also androgynous) female model Margaret. Pint-sized aliens take an interest in the chilly Margaret’s bedroom activities, harvesting endorphins from her sexual partners, including a rapist and Jimmy in a sex scene involving both Carlisle’s characters. Unevenly acted, paced and directed, yet endlessly fascinating,
Liquid Sky makes up for its shortcomings with heaps of audacity.
17 Essential: LGBTQ Horror Films #11
Seed Of Chucky (2004)
Don Mancini took a risk introducing gender confusion in the fifth film of his hugely successful
Child’s Play franchise (he’s written every film in the series, and directed the last two). Glen/Glenda is the plastic, genital-free spawn of Tiffany and Chucky (birthed at the end of Bride of Chucky). Conflicted about gender, Glen(da) spends a good portion of the film wrestling with identity issues while the bodies pile up around the house. As a bonus Jennifer Tilly plays both Tiffany and herself.
17 Essential: LGBTQ Horror Films #12
Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives (2010)
As with all rape-revenge films,
Ticked-Off… is tough to recommend without caveats. The pluses include well-done and thoughtful direction, performances, and cinematography, and a retro feel for that era when you could actually get away with a rape-revenge film without too much scrutiny. And although the transgender characters start out victims, they sure don’t stay that way, exacting violent, bloody revenge on the murderer-rapists who did them (and their friends) wrong. But critics will point to the word “trannies” in the title, the conflation of drag performers with transwomen, and the general sleaziness of the proceedings. Whether you side with the filmmakers or GLAAD, Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives should be part of your LGBTQ Film 101 education.
17 Essential: LGBTQ Horror Films #13
Let The Right One In (2008)
Although the events are straightforward, the issues explored by
Let the Right One In are an onion slowly, beautifully peeled over the course of the film. Putting aside one character’s transgenderism (gratefully presented as neither the reason for any of the bloody murders, nor a personality defect), the main plot concerns the dangers of childhood compounded with vampirism. Oskar, a small boy with a large bully problem at school , meets Eli, a vampire who appears to be a 12-year old girl. Their complicated, but very different, lives lead to a friendship and, ultimately, a bloody climax presented with well-earned moral ambiguity. Watch this version before the needless, yet well-reviewed, English-language remake.
17 Essential: LGBTQ Horror Films #14
Vegas in Space (1991)
This delightfully sweet bite of micro-budget celluloid candy is the result of an almost decade long collaboration between legendary San Francisco drag performers Doris Fish, Phillip R. Ford, Miss X and “Tippi” (among many others). An official Sundance selection in 1992 (no lie!), the story of
Vegas in Space is a tale as old as time—An all-male crew of astronauts transform themselves into women in order to investigate crime on the all-female pleasure planet Clitoris. The fact that you can tell most of the sets were built in living rooms is one of many charms of the film. While not horror, the sci-fi element definitely puts this on the “must see” list for genre fans. Sadly Doris and “Tippi” would die of AIDS before the film was finished, but thanks to Troma, Vegas in Space lives on.
17 Essential: LGBTQ Horror Films #15
Curse of the Queerwolf (1987)
Important not for quality (it’s terrible), but for context. Spun off from a character in writer/director Mark Pirro’s
A Polish Vampire in Burbank, Queerwolf is a prime example of what the LGBTQ community could expect from a bunch of straight guys who thought mincing queens were hilarious. To be fair, the film is purposefully, aggressively awful, aiming for that anti-PC tone eventually made mainstream by shows like South Park. Pirro’s other films are much the same, so no ill intent should be inferred. But still…
17 Essential: LGBTQ Horror Films #16
The Skin I Live In (2011)
The plot of this excellent Pedro Almodóvar film is a guaranteed conversation starter—Can you force someone to be transgender? Your opinion on the topic may or may not change after watching the film, but you will have a lot more to talk about over drinks afterwards. Antonio Banderas is back with Almodóvar after a 21-year absence, and what a welcome return it is. Although gender reassignment is part of the plot, there are more gender and sexual attraction issues throughout, making this more overall queer than specifically trans. An epic tale of revenge presented in a claustrophobic
mise-en-scène, The Skin I Live In is the perfect marriage of Almodóvar’s excesses and the horror genre.
17 Essential: LGBTQ Horror Films #17
Sleepaway Camp (1983)
Admittedly, this grimy little film isn’t the best representation of any letter in the LGBTQ experience, but it sure is fun. Felissa Rose stars as “Angela,” a young girl left an orphan after her brother and gay father are killed in a boating accident. (The scene of her father and his lover on the spinning fantasy bed is worth the price of a rental.) Years later she’s deposited at Camp Arawak by her weirdo aunt (played to the hilt by Desiree Gould, not a drag queen as rumored for years), and soon the murders begin. The big reveal is meant to shock, isn’t handled with care, and taken literally isn’t so much transgender-based but forced transvestism. If you’re anti-bullying you’ll love this film, as the bad guys are dispatched like clockwork in terrifically terrible ways.