QUEER FOR FEAR: the history of mostly coded queer horror

It’s thrilling to have a series focusing on queer horror produced for a major horror streaming service, and I even discovered a few movies and books that I simply had to add to my collection after watching Queer for Fear on Shudder. Yet in an odd way, the 4-episode series feels somewhat hesitant to fully bring horror out of the closet while arguing that horror has always been queer.

Just a very brief background about this project from what little I know. The creative team behind it changed hands after interview videos had already been gathered from dozens of queer horror creators, including myself. All of our footage was scrapped and the documentary went in a different direction. There’s a whole community of queer horror influencers that know each other and have helped bring together a large queer horror fan base through social media and various in-person events, so it’s kind of sad that instead of using interviews with all of these people who are in the trenches every day exploring, discussing, discovering, and creating queer horror, the production team behind this series opted to drag out many of the same old generic queer faces like Lea DeLaria, Bruce Vilanch, and Michael Feinstein (really?), as well as queer “scholars” most people will not recognize but who throw around all the right collegiate vocabulary and just repeat the textbook queer horror theory arguments that have been made a million times before.

Add to that directors with no background in horror (and in some cases, no background in directing at all), and it at times feels that this is more of a pandering project made by Shudder to cash in on a movement that’s actually happening despite no input from the people involved in putting this project together.

Even so, hang in there, because it gets better after the first episode, with more notable horror names chiming in later on, as I’ll outline in my breakdown of what you can expect from each episode.

Episode 1

Episode 1 covers the coding of queerness in classic gay fiction by authors such as Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, and Oscar Wilde, and explores the monster as the symbol for the queer. Naturally it delves into the real or imagined queer identity of these authors in order to fit the narrative of queers being the founders of horrors. Sigh. It’s okay to just be honest and identify that there were actual queer contributors to the horror genre alongside the likes of Poe and Lovecraft just as there are queer contributors to society in general instead of making a claim that queers created horror.

Cassandra Peterson proves to be the most famous horror face in the first episode, and she gets much less screen time than anyone else. There is also a drag queen injected into the mix for some camp value, but because everyone else is so damn sterile and stiff, her shtick feels jarring and out of place.

Episode 2

If episode 1 and episode 2 had been streamlined and edited down into one episode, it would have been a really strong start for the series. Episode 2 is a much better installment, but only covers two directors in an hour’s time. First there’s a look at how director James Whale (The Invisible Man, Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, The Old Dark House) embeds queer camp into his films and how queer viewer’s identify and sympathize with his ostracized monsters.

Then the focus turns to Alfred Hitchcock having worked with lots of queer talent and brazenly yet subtly presented queer characters in his films. He is also considered for portraying queer men as loathing women, which naturally pivots the conversation to his ultimate queer identity issue film—Psycho. Most interesting is Anthony Perkins’ son discussing how that role as Norman Bates affected his father’s career and life, how that extended into his resurgence as Norman Bates in the 80s sequels, and his eventual death of AIDS.

Episode 2 is notable for going a little more high profile horror with some of its speakers, including Don Mancini (creator of Child’s Play) and Heather Matarazzo (Scream 3, Hostel 2).

Episode 3

This episode is one of my faves. It’s all about transformation horror and how being terrified of something inside of us we can’t control, usually sexuality we can’t suppress, simply has to be read as queer horror. Thing is, this could be applied to the sexual awakening in everyone, regardless of gender identity or orientation. When our hormones begin to rage, we change, we transform, we perhaps no longer recognize ourselves, and we are even made by society to feel shame about our desires, no matter where we land on the sexuality scale.

Even so, this episode beautifully explores the parallels between queer identity and monster transformation. There’s a segment on the Cat People franchise being totally lesbian (I couldn’t believe no one made a comment about cats being pussies). The string of “I Was a Teenage…” films is looked at as grooming films in which the older scientists convert kids into monsters. Invasion of the Body Snatchers films are wonderfully dissected as fear of conformity. And this episode notably covers plenty of the great 80s transformation creature features. Awesome.

Episode 4

The final episode focuses on women owning their sexuality becoming the monster simply because femininity as power is frightening to the mainstream.

It begins with a discussion of the real Elizabeth Bathory and movies and novels based on her…and the possibility that she desired women and therefore consumed them. One interviewee even finally uses the cheap cat as pussy joke. Yay!

The episode explores lesbian desires in films like Rebecca and The Haunting, quickly covers all the softcore lesbian vampire flicks of the 1970s that were meant for the male gaze, and then moves into the lesbianism and bisexuality of 80s horror females in films like The Hunger, The Lair of the White Worm, and Vamp.

What’s refreshing here is that there are more interviews with women of color, including Rachel True (The Craft), Rutina Wesley (True Blood), and Tawny Cypress (Yellowjackets).

While I really like the approach to films from the 90s and beyond focusing on queer female characters wanting to take over the bodies and lives of straight characters in this final episode, it does exactly what I feared the series would do…strays from queer fear. In an effort to fit its narrative while relying on well-known film titles, it walks the line by dipping into suspense thrillers and then strays even farther away from the horror genre, making the second half of the final episode come across more as a show about the portrayal of lesbians on film at the turn of the millennium rather than a queer horror documentary.

Fortunately for me, that makes for a perfect segue into my final thoughts. While this was a “history” of queer horror, what the world could use is a “we’re here and we’re queer for fear now” series that celebrates the genuine representation of queers in horror in the past 50 years, both in mainstream and indie horror, and not in coded form. Just browsing the homo horror movies page and does the gay guy die? page on my site, both of which focus solely on films with gay male content, it’s staggering to me how many films with blatant gay content went unmentioned in this series. How about a series focusing on how queer characters are represented in more contemporary horror films, whether as the monsters, the victims, or the heroes? The movies are out there—this series just wasn’t ready to tackle the task of amplifying the prominent queer voices in horror now.

And since all the questions I answered for the original vision for this documentary were left on the cutting room floor, I decided to upload my video responses to YouTube just for fun and so everyone might get a sense of the other direction this documentary could have gone—although there’s also the possibility my answers would have been rejected for clashing with the angle that documentary was going for as well. Heh heh. I would encourage other queer horror contributors who participated in that original plan to do the same. If you do, shoot me a link to your video or channel on YouTube and I’ll share them on my Boys, Bears & Scares social media. Here are my clips, broken into two parts.


About Daniel

I am the author of the horror anthologies CLOSET MONSTERS: ZOMBIED OUT AND TALES OF GOTHROTICA and HORNY DEVILS, and the horror novels COMBUSTION and NO PLACE FOR LITTLE ONES. I am also the founder of BOYS, BEARS & SCARES, a facebook page for gay male horror fans! Check it out and like it at www.facebook.com/BoysBearsandScares.
This entry was posted in Johnny You ARE Queer - Gay Thoughts and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.