Looking for horror with gay subject matter that isn’t your usual fluff? Unhappy Birthday and Jack Be Nimble explore darker evils than your typical slasher treat.
UNHAPPY BIRTHDAY (2011)
Unhappy Birthday is very promising, with a bizarre and creepy setup and intriguing sexual tension. Couple Sadie and Rick and their gay friend Johnny head to an isolated island called Amen to find Sadie’s long lost sister. But before they even get to the island, Sadie has nightmares…while Rick and Johnny sneak off to another room and have sex! Okay. I’m paying attention.
They get to the island, ignore the woman standing on the side of the road with a sign that reads “Leave Amen or perish” (how do they know that’s not Sadie’s sister?) and then things get freaky pretty fast. Yet the threesome goes on its merry way and finds the sister’s house. The sister is a bit of a religious nut, and although Sadie feels uncomfortable around her, it’s not long before she’s revealing a secret that any fool could tell would make a religious nut nuts!
Unhappy Birthday flirts with this sense of foreboding and awful things to come—it’s actually a great slow burn horror thriller—but it never really goes for it! The slow burn just fizzles out instead of turning into a raging fire. Like when Sadie reveals that she knows Rick and Johnny are fucking, she nonchalantly suggests they all do it together, and they do. So I guess gay Johnny was actually bisexual, not gay.
There is an obligatory run-in with the locals at a bar (it involves golden showers), there’s something up with a scarecrow that’s hanging in a field behind the sister’s house, and the sister does eventually drive a wedge between the three. That’s actually the problem. It’s all about the cozy little threesome and their distrust of the sister, so you never get the sense of the “crazy village” that has evil plans for them. It’s hard to buy that the sister could so easily get the upper hand, especially considering they’re all suspicious of her behavior.
But she does, and shows she’s no slouch with a shovel (all I’ll say is “ouch!”). There’s molestation you’d never see coming…and a fricking Creepshow moment on the beach. All you Creepshow lovers know what I’m talking about. Then, with little fanfare, the movie ends. It’s disappointing that such a well-crafted movie delivered no pay off.
JACK BE NIMBLE (1993)
I’ve said it before. Alexis Arquette is shamefully ignored as an actor. (S)he has an amazing ability to play butch, femme, gay, straight, male, female. It’s like being trans has allowed Alexis to tap into every facet of sexual orientation and gender identity.
In the trippy and dark film Jack Be Nimble, Alexis and his sister are abandoned by their parents as children and adopted by separate families. The sister lives in a nice home, but because she is totally preoccupied by thoughts of being reunited with her brother, she is cruelly treated in school by both her peers and her teachers. A fight with another student ends in her acquiring psychic powers.
Meanwhile, Alexis was adopted into a family with four daughters. The parents wanted a little “man” to add to their household. But Alexis isn’t quite what they’d hoped for. He’s “sensitive.” He can’t bear to watch his father slaughter animals on the farm. He wants a cat. He gets very close to the boy next door (who has a cat). And he gets viciously abused for it.
This is where things get really fucked up. Alexis creates this lamp thingy that can hypnotize people so he can make them do what he wants. And he’s a vengeful young man. He’s pretty much a psycho! He uses the lamp to his advantage to escape his home.
Jack Be Nimble moves along like a disturbing drama…until the horror hits in the last half-hour. Alexis is totally losing it and does some awful things. Meanwhile, his four sisters are looking for him, and they are fricking creepy as hell and incredibly violent. And just when you think things can’t get any more insane, Alexis’s sister pulls out her Carrie powers!
Jack Be Nimble is definitely not a conventional horror film or an in-your-face gay horror film. It focuses on serious drama and only implies the gay issue before finally packing a horror punch at the end. In comparison, Unhappy Birthday is high on suspense and gay situations throughout then pulls back just as it’s ramping up to the final horror. Combined, they’d make one helluva gay horror flick! But as is, they work perfectly as a double feature if you’re looking for something a little heavier than a night of jump-out-of-your-seat scares.