THE HORROR PRIDE CHALLENGE with seven queer creators

While I was revising the first few novels in my Comfort Cove series to bring some homo horror pride to the month of June, I thought I’d also get some of the gay horror creators I’ve followed for quite some time to join in. I asked them all to tell us a little bit about 1 or 2 of their favorite queer horror movies and/or novels—with a catch. These days, when queer horror analysts are slapping a queer horror label on every piece of horror the way gay guys used to convince themselves every straight man was gay (I seriously just saw someone post that a Stephen King classic about an inanimate object is queer), I requested that everyone aim to make their selections specifically queer, with queer content and queer characters, not merely something that could be interpreted as queer. I must thank everyone, because they made this blog a goodie, so let’s see what they came up.

BRYAN ELLIS is a fellow Long Islander and an absolute lover of the slasher genre (we’ve had plenty of discussions about gay horror and gay slashers), so it’s no surprise that his first novel, Season’s Bleedings, is a gay slasher, which I cover here.

I’ve known Dan for quite a few years now. When he asked if I wanted a part in this I couldn’t say no. I’m a gay horror fan, so to talk about queer horror, that’s heaven. I was trying to think of a few I love. While I love Hellbent and A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 (Mark Patton is Daddy), they are the most talked about. I want to introduce everyone to a few lesser known works. I’ve chosen two novels and two movies to discuss. The two novels I’ve chosen are Asylum by Mark Allan Gunnells, and Camp Carnage by Elliot Arthur Cross and Joshua Winning. These are two of my favorite gay horror novels. Asylum is a short novel about the undead rising while a group of LGBT adults takes hold in a gay bar. It’s very reminiscent of Night of the Living Dead (my favorite zombie film). The characters are delightful, interesting, and super likable. The novel is even sexy in places. This was my introduction to Gunnells as a write and I’ve gone on to read much more of his works. Asylum stands out to me because it is so unapologetically gay and fun, while still being scary. And again it’s set in a gay bar so there are tons of hot men, including strippers in thongs. What’s not to love?

Camp Carnage is a slasher novel set in a gay conversion camp. The funny thing is I was writing a camp conversion slasher novel as well when I discovered this book. I put mine on hold to work on other stories but I did sit down and read Camp Carnage. The novel was a quick read. I could not put it down. The characters were tons of fun and the deaths were gory and brutal. There are a couple surprises along the way. What really works for me is the final boy. I won’t state who as it is a fun twist on things. The final boy isn’t your generic virginal type. He’s sexy, bitchy, and witty. I absolutely loved every scene with him. Camp Carnage was very 80s inspired (my favorite decade) and also made a statement on the terror that LGBT people face day to day.

I had to think long and hard on gay movies, before deciding on Teacher Shortage. I absolutely love slashers and this is a recent one that I just love to pieces. It was written by, directed by, and starred a couple of gay male actors playing gay men, including the final boy. The film is fun and gory and has a great lead in Ryan. He is cute, funny, and his scenes with Roger Conners are incredibly sexy. I was very happy that him being gay had nothing to do with his personality or the plot. He wasn’t “the gay character”. It wasn’t his entire personality. It was just who he was. When looking at how to write gay characters, I look to Ryan as an example.

One last movie I want to bring up is the low budget zombie effort Dead Don’t Die in Dallas, also known as Kicking Zombie Ass for Jesus (I wish they stuck with this title). This movie is another take on Night of the Living Dead but it’s about a mixture of LGBT people and straight Bible-thumping Christians. The movie is a fantastic blend of horror, comedy, and just a bit of camp, and it all works perfectly for me. Our final girl is a drag queen played by the great Willam Belli. While the film is fun and gory, it also has a bit of heart and something to say. There is a reverend who speaks God’s gospel, but he ends up being the most evil person. He blames everything on LGBT people, but the LGBT characters are the ones helping him. How ironic. This film is very underrated and definitely inspired me in a zombie story I want to write.

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MARK ALLAN GUNNELLS pumps out queer fiction in all our favorite subgenres, such as ghosts, slashers, and zombies, so I’ve covered quite a few of his books, interviewed him here, and covered his book 324 Abercorn from last year. Meanwhile, he already has a new one out called Before He Wakes.

I didn’t even have to stop to consider my favorite two gay horror novels. I’ve read many great ones by a lot of great writers, but two immediately come to my mind.

The first is Drawing Blood by trans writer Poppy Z. Brite which came out in 1993. I had read his debut novel Lost Souls shortly after it came out, and I noted the queer representation, mostly of the bi variety. This did not prepare me for the beautiful queerness of Brite’s follow up. Drawing Blood is an exciting story of the past haunting a person, but it is also a hot and heavy gay romance. He didn’t shy away from being explicit at times and showing a gay relationship in all its glory. It was almost a revelation to me to see this presently so frankly and unapologetically.

The second is Sacrament by Clive Barker. I’m a huge Barker fan, and this one actually isn’t in my top ten of his novels, and yet it is perhaps the one that had the greatest impact on me. This book came out in 1996 shortly after Barker came out publicly in an Advocate article, and I can’t stress enough the profundity of a huge New York publisher putting out a major hardcover mainstream release by an openly gay author that had a gay protagonist and dealt deeply with gay themes. I know now that the publisher initially balked but all I knew at the time was that I was seeing a doorway opening for me. I saw a place at the table for gay writers in the horror field.

I haven’t experienced much in the way of gay horror cinema I must admit, not like I have in the world of literature. However, one immediately comes to mind. The Hunger, the 1983 film based on the Whitney Strieber novel. When I saw that as a young person, I was struck by the lesbian relationship that developed between Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon’s characters. It was presented as something romantic and heartfelt, not something meant to be perverse or titillating. It was just two people falling for one another and wanting one another. Normalizing same-sex relationships helped me feel normal even when the world around me was telling me I was abnormal.

This is why entertainment and representation in stories are important.

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VINCE LIAGUNO is a prolific queer horror writer, and like Mark Allan Gunnells and myself, enjoys dropping queers into popular horror situations, which is why all three of us ended up in my gay slasher fiction post several years ago! And I know Vince has a man, but I sometimes think he might swing the other way for Jamie Lee Curtis if given the chance. Check out Vince’s website.

One of my favorite queer horror novels is The Living One by Lewis Garnett. This was a strange but captivating little slice of spooky gothic gayness that was published in 1992 and not well reviewed at the time. The story concerns a handsome teen named Torrance who’s summoned home from California to his kooky father’s coastal New England mansion, where he learns of a centuries-old family curse. There’s a weirdly emotionless manservant named Pip, a dozen vicious dogs, psychics, coming-out angst, and some downright creepy voyeurism with cameras—oh, and some lusty sex between Torrance and a fellow swim team member. Modernizing elements of the epistolary novel popularized in Dracula, Gannett tells his story through the creative use of videotape transcripts, diary entries, and historical records. But the eternal youth angle here leans closer to The Portrait of Dorian Gray than Stoker’s classic bloodsucker.

The novel was Gannet’s debut; he’d go on to pen one more novel—1996’s Magazine Beach—and then fade into literary oblivion. Despite not often getting mentioned in the pantheon of LGBTQ horror,  The Living One was a remarkable undertaking considering its time and the national discourse over gay rights in general, given fuel and fury over the ongoing AIDS epidemic.

Switching over to film, category is: Slasher extravaganza! I’m an unabashed slasher movie aficionado and, while Hellbent is the standard go-to for queer slasher fans, I’m actually a big fan of Glenn Douglas Packard’s Pitchfork, the writer-director’s ambitious 2017 debut. Final boy Hunter (Brian Raetz), who’s just come out to his parents over the phone, returns to the Michigan farm where he grew up. Unsure of how his homecoming with his conservative parents will be received, he brings along a gaggle of slasher fodder friends for moral support. Like the best slasher films of the early 80s golden age, Pitchfork is filled with stock characters spewing wonderfully bad dialogue, a miniscule budget, and incohesion to spare. The titular killer has the identifying garden implement surgically attached to his arm and wears an animal mask in a weird mash-up of Leslie Vernon and Leatherface. Still, the film’s barn dance and fully-choreographed dance sequence(!) are worth the price of admission alone. Pitchfork manages to give us homage, rip-off, and a little something different all at the same time.

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JEREMY LOWE (aka: Germ T. Ripper) is a media and creative slut! Comedian, author, member of a punk band, and writer for horror sites, he’s asked me to contribute several times to his own “best of” horror lists for his publications. His first published short story mixes punk and horror in the collection Kids of the Black Hole, and he even created a playlist to go along with it.

As far back as I can remember, I’ve been a fan of slasher films. The suspense, gore, and brutality brought me back again and again. Films like Terror Train (1980), The Prowler (1981), and My Bloody Valentine (1981) quenched my appetite for violence. 

I think like any young nerd that didn’t quite fit in, I identified more with the killer of these films. Of course, at the time, I didn’t think much of it. Now looking back, subconsciously I found joy in the tearing down of heteronormative society. The dances, parties, and coming-of-age rituals that I never fully took part in were torn down right there on the television for me to celebrate. 

I think I was probably sixteen when I first saw Cruising (1980). I couldn’t sleep, turned on the television, and there it was. At the time, I didn’t quite understand what it was about the film that appealed to me so much. As I got older, and came to terms with my sexuality, Cruising made a lot more sense. The level of realism is shockingly accurate, and I think that it is why it was off-putting to a lot of the queer audience at the time of its initial release. Nobody likes a mirror held up to the ugly side of their culture. The mixture of American slasher and Italian giallo make Cruising so unique. Combining the two textures elevated the film. Cruising was the first openly queer horror film I ever saw, and arguably the best.

More recently, Hellbent (2004) stands out as a gay slasher film that not only supplies great kills, but also plays up the campy roots of the slasher film. When I originally saw it in the theater it was only because my boyfriend at the time believed “we need to support the gay arts“. He dragged me to every gay indie film that would play in the theater. Most gay indie films are horrible, and I was expecting the same from Hellbent. Luckily, I was wrong. Instead of a bunch of bubbly bimbos showing off their tits and getting hacked up, the audience is treated to bare-chested hunky boys getting torn to pieces.  Hellbent has a great cast, and a killer soundtrack that keeps the film feeling modern. At the same time, it captures the realism and giallo aspects of Cruising while adding facets of high camp that bring to mind the later entries of the A Nightmare On Elm Street and Friday the 13th franchises. It’s a definite stand out in queer horror. 

Now in my forties, and far from the age I was when I first started watching slasher films, I’m happy to see characters and situations reflect the queer community regularly. It’s all thanks to films like Cruising and Hellbent. Representation matters, even in violence and gore.

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ARMANDO D. MUÑOZ is a horror fiction writer and horror filmmaker, and I’ve covered his films and his novels on my site. If you follow him on social media, you know he totally lives and breathes horror.

I tend to treat Pride Month like I do every other theme day – with marathon viewings of body count horror films centered on the special occasion, a marathon thirty days long under the umbrella of Pride. This means cramming in every film I can find that can be classified as “gay horror”, the majority in which queerness is through a secondary character, or hidden beneath the surface and only for those who know the community’s secret code words and signals. Gay Freddy may be my favorite of the series, but can A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge really be classified as a Pride film? What about Night Warning, Cruising, The Hunger, or Deliverance? Nightbreed, well, an argument can be made that it is. But the subject of Pride seems to be curiously absent from most films in the queer horror universe.

That all changed for me in 2019 when I saw Yann Gonzalez’s French giallo Knife+Heart. This is the Pride horror film I’ve long been waiting for. What makes it stand out and stand supreme is its level of community representation. We have a cast of protagonists in equal parts lesbian, gay, trans, and bisexual. These groups have their own history, aims, and desires, and must band together as one joined queer unit. They become political in their art and their actions to get equal protection from the straight society that rejects them. Our heroes are fighting for their rights as they try to solve the mystery of the masked killer targeting them for their sexuality. Success is achieved only through unity and visibility. Pride is required for our community’s survival.

Knife+Heart also takes a stab at wide age representation within its community, which is distinctly adult here, eighteen and over only. The one thing Knife+Heart is not is a story of youth coming out. For that topic, I’ll stick with A Nightmare on Elm Street 2. Knife+Heart is my new Pride horror high standard that all others will be compared against.

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JOSHUA SKYE has written numerous queer horror and speculative fiction novels and collections, several of which I’ve covered on my site, along with an interview I did with him here. And I will just say in advance that his selections were purely his own; I exchanged neither money nor sexual favors to influence his opinions.

As Pride month swings around once again, my husband and I plan our celebrations quietly. We don’t get out much these days, being parents and all, so home is where the heart is, and home is where we most often celebrate. Pride and Halloween are my favorite times of the year, the flamboyantly gay and the profoundly scary in equal measure. So it’s only natural that I think about gay horror films to watch with my husband for our own little Pride revelry, and LGBTQ+ genre novels for my own private celebration.

There’s a virtual ocean of queer-coded horror films out there, but few that actually are unquestionably LGBTQ+. One of my personal favorites is a stylish gay slasher comedy called You’re Killing Me (2016). The charmingly oblivious George falls for a disturbingly honest serial killer. The mutual affection has devastating consequences for George’s friends. The comedy is spot-on, the deaths are shocking and gory, You’re Killing Me is an absolute winner and one I will definitely be watching two or three times this month.

Another film I can wholeheartedly recommend is Cthulhu (2007). Returning home after his mother’s death, a gay professor finds himself tangled in an esoteric cult’s web. This modern noir has some beautifully stark imagery, but don’t look for a special effects extravaganza. Director Dan Gildark goes for a ‘less is more’ approach and it works. Taut, tense, and boasting a strong presence/performance by its lead, Cthulu is often overlooked and criminally underrated.

When it comes to the written word, I love Daniel W. Kelly’s work, of course, but chances are, since you’re here, you’re already aware of his openly and unapologetically gay horror outings. That being said, I still have to sing his praises. Like movies, it’s not so easy to find unrepentantly queer horror stories out there, ones that don’t reduce us to cardboard caricatures. Most of the mainstream stuff skews homophobic, while much of the indie fare just isn’t very good. With Kelly, you know you’re getting characters you can relate to and cheer for, not just fodder for murder or killer stereotypes. I would have to recommend his Comfort Cove series, with No Place for Little Ones being my favorite. Kelly may have wanted something a bit different here, but he should know he’s a standout in queer horror and deserves the recognition. Besides, it’s definitely time for a return visit to Comfort Cove for me. Check out the series, you won’t be disappointed.

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H.L. SUDLER and I bonded while spending hours at book fairs in New York City whoring out our goods (and by that I mean our books). He writes a variety of genres, so I was flattered when he asked me to write the foreword for his collection The Looking Glass: Tales of Light and Dark. He also has a story in the anthology Darker Than Night, which I cover here.

One of my favorite debates is whether or not A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 is a gay film, and more specifically, a gay horror film. In it, Freddy possesses a teenaged boy, a kid whose family moves into the house that was the primary location of the first film. The movie starts by showing the boy waking, nearly naked, in nightly sweats, screaming at the top of his lungs. Later in the film he wanders through the rain into an underground bar, where he finds his high school coach dressed in leather. What follows is a bit of S&M before the bloody death of the coach, and later still the birth of Freddy from the body of the teenager. By the end of the film, the viewer is left wondering if Freddy is symbolic of the teen’s budding/repressed sexuality, despite him having a girlfriend, and having killed, as Freddy, his very good-looking, also nearly naked, best friend. This makes this one of my favorite Freddy films for this question it poses.

My second favorite debate is whether or not Sleepaway Camp can be considered a gay horror film. The last three seconds of the film is a jaw-dropping revelation, but does it classify it as a gay horror film? It is also one of my favorite horror films for this question it poses, and which horror fanatics like myself debate over constantly.

With my works, I enjoy posing questions and not answering them. I want debates! Often, my works that feature primary characters from the LGBTQ community get slammed. Not for the story. Not for pacing. People love that in my work. Heterosexuals—especially women—cannot get beyond gay characters in primary roles in horror, describing them as “different” or “disgusting”. However, films like A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 and Sleepaway Camp gave me license to write horror that features LGBTQ characters. Characters that should be given just as much play as cis characters, good or bad.

My only wish is that there are more modern films that do for horror what A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 and Sleepaway Camp have done. Not just the featuring of gay characters, but putting them in groundbreaking situations and exploring groundbreaking themes. The LGBTQ community is not a peripheral community. The LGBTQ community is indivisible of the mainstream community. And we need more LGBTQ characters in horror. Happy scares! Happy Pride!

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.
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