By: Daniel Reynolds, Editor, The Advocate Magazine
Viewers in the LGBT community have a unique relationship with horror films. Since many of us have been demonized in our lifetimes, we have a special place in our hearts for the demons, monsters, and other outsiders who wreak havoc and revenge upon heteronormative society. But we also know what it’s like to be victimized. And so the stakes who survives and who perishes at the hands of evil can be even higher.
Due to this dynamic, there are some horror films in particular that speak to LGBT folks. Whether it’s their victims or the villains, or perhaps just a unique sense of camp, we “get” them in ways most straight audiences can’t.
In celebration of Halloween, here’s a list of 16 movies that only LGBT people understand and are available to watch in the Xfinity LGBT Film and TV Collection.
‘The Fly’ (1986)
Jeff Goldblum has never looked more delicious, or more terrifying, than in the 1986 version of “The Fly,” a remake of the 1958 camp classic. In this science-fiction horror directed by David Cronenberg, Goldblum plays a scientist who is determined to invent a teleporter. He tries the device on himself, and unwittingly scrambles his DNA with a fly. At first, he seems to benefit from the mixture, obtaining super-human strength and senses. However, as the insect’s instincts grow stronger, Goldblum loses his humanity and morphs into something more monstrous.
Upon its release, many interpreted the film, which is set in New York, as an AIDS allegory. Indeed, a plotline involving Goldblum’s pregnant girlfriend, played by Geena Davis, involved worry that the fly’s DNA may have been passed on to the unborn child. While Cronenberg maintains the film speaks more broadly about aging and death, the sad tale of an ambitious outsider who died in his prime will have special meaning for many in the LGBT community who watched their loved oned experience the same fate. -Daniel Reynolds
What LGBT person hasn’t identified with Carrie? The 1976 film, based on the Stephen King novel, centers on a lonely teenage girl (Sissy Spacek) who is tormented by bullies and a religious zealot of a mother. She gets her revenge at that high-school bastion of heteronormativity, prom, in a bloody, fiery scene that is one of the most iconic in horror history. Lines like “I can see your dirty pillows” also cement this terrifying tale as among the pantheon of queer camp. – Daniel Reynolds
‘The Haunting’ (1963)
It’s not only a movie that can scare the pants off you without any visible monsters or graphic violence. “The Haunting” features a beautiful, chic, successful lesbian — who, by the way, has ESP. At Hill House, New York antiques dealer Theo (Claire Bloom) joins an investigator of the paranormal, Dr. Markway (Richard Johnson), another woman who’s had supernatural experiences, Eleanor (Julie Harris), and the house’s heir, Luke (Russ Tamblyn) in an effort to determine if the creepy old mansion is truly haunted. Director Robert Wise and screenwriter Nelson Giddings adapted Shirley Jackson’s great novel The Haunting of Hill House for the screen, and made Theo’s lesbianism a bit more obvious than in the book. When I first saw the film, at age 12, it went over my head, but now I can fully appreciate Theo, in her Mary Quant outfits, rebuffing Luke’s advances and flirting ever so coyly with Eleanor. Just make sure you have company when watching “The Haunting,” as it will scare you witless. And skip the totally unnecessary 1999 remake. – Trudy Ring
‘The Black Cat’ (1934)
Dr. Vitus Werdegast (Béla Lugosi) and Hjalmar Poelzig (Boris Karloff) were former friends and soldiers in the war years before. Upon their reunion on a dark and stormy night, they bicker like old queens. Lugosi’s character has a morbid fear of cats (crypto-misogyny). Karloff keeps dead women in glass cases (not-so-crypto-misogyny). In 1934, this much misogyny was how one indicated homosexuality. Add onto that some Satanic rituals and Karloff, shirtless, being flayed alive and you have one big scary gay film. The film also succeeds in defining Moderne design as architecture of cruelty. – Christopher Harrity
The film that pretty much kicked off a whole new genre by mashing up science fiction and horror, Ridley Scott’s Alien holds up as more than a scary-as-hell masterpiece. It’s tropes and fetishes are so deeply grounded in delicious psychoanalytic fodder that it’s been a staple of genre and feminist film classes for decades.
A devastatingly fetching Sigourney Weaver stars as Warrant Officer Ripley, whose formidable chops as an action hero would become the stuff of queer girls’ fantasies for years to come. Ripley and her fellow crew encounter alien eggs while investigating a distress call from their spaceship Nostromo’s computer system, which happens to be named “Mother.” Character actor John Hurt’s Kane becomes the first host for the titular Alien, and the blood, guts, and ooze proliferate from there.
Beyond Weaver’s obviously appeal with queer women – the laconic sensibility, competence, strength, and those cheekbones – not to mention an entire scene toward the end of the film during which she battles the teeth-baring alien wearing nothing but a tiny tank-top and underwear – “Alien” peddles in feminist iconography of tunnels and dark spaces evoking vaginas, ovaries, and wombs and it caps that off with recurring primal scenes of birth and rebirth. It’s one thing to watch Alien for its mastery but it’s totally another thing to make an evening of discussing it with other queer girl film geeks. – Tracy Gilchrist
‘The Birds’ (1963)
Never has a pair of seemingly innocent lovebirds wreaked as much havoc as in Alfred Hitchcock’s apocalyptic masterpiece “The Birds.” Quintessential Hitchcock blonde Tippi Hedren stars as Melanie Daniels, the San Francisco outsider who descends upon the sleepy enclave of Bodega Bay with those troublemaking outsider lovebirds. Clad in her form-fitting sage skirt suit and glamorous fur that would make Cate Blanchett’s Carol Aird swoon, Melanie also sports a most impeccable up-do that “The Birds” just can’t help but dive into. While Melanie’s trip to Bodega Bay is ostensibly to better acquaint herself with the rugged Mitch (Rod Taylor), it’s her scenes with Mitch’s spurned friend Annie (a sumptuously husky-voiced and decidedly pants-sporting Suzanne Pleshette) that sizzle with tension. Scenes of Melanie and Annie smoking are so iconic that there are entire YouTube mash-ups dedicated to them.
Beyond the calculable lesbian energy set off when Melanie and Annie interact and Melanie’s fabulous wardrobe, there’s an argument to be made for those love birds (they’re called love birds after all) as an allegory for forbidden love shaking things up. Bodega Bay was perfectly fine and set in its ways before Melanie, with her progressive ideas and those winged outsiders turned up and created a feathered maelstrom. -Tracy Gilchrist
‘What Ever Happened to Baby Jane’ (1962)
Baby Jane Hudson may have been the first former child star terror, but she certainly wasn’t the last. The queer community owes director Robert Aldrich and the famously feuding divas Bette Davis and Joan Crawford a million thanks for delivering one of the most enduring, quotable camp classics of all time.
Davis plays aging child star Baby Jane Hudson, while Crawford stars as Blanche, an actress whose career jumped from vaudevillian child stardom to the big screen until she was “mysteriously” run down by a car, leaving her paralyzed, wheelchair bound, and vulnerable to her sister’s twisted machinations while holed up in their decrepit mansion. Between crooning out hits like “I’m Writing a Letter to Daddy,” accompanied by her creepy in-house pianist, Jane torments Blanche most memorably by killing her parakeet and serving it to her on a silver platter. Is there anything more deliciously awful than that? If that’s not enough, we have Baby Jane to thank for the oft-quoted taunt, “But you are, Blanche, you are in that chair.” – Tracy Gilchrist
“A boy’s best friend is his mother” said serial killer Norman Bates and many gay taxidermists throughout history. Actor Anthony Perkins, who portrayed Bates, was gay, and his casting added an additional layer of delicious subversion to one of Alfred Hitchcock’s most celebrated films. Also, the blood in that famous shower scene was actually chocolate. Yum! – Daniel Reynolds
‘Nightmare on Elm Street 2’ (1985)
This sequel to Wes Craven’s critically-acclaimed Nightmare is said to be full of gay “subtext.” Well, that would imply there were veiled references to homosexuality — instead there were leather bars, male shower scenes, and a “final boy” who is more interested in hanging out with his cute guy friend than making out with the beautiful gal pal. Star Mark Patton was closeted at the time and says much of the gay themes were pushed by writer David Chaskin, who initially denied it. Later, Chaskin would admit the opposite and say he was appealing to teenage boys’ rampant AIDS-era homophobia.
In Beetlejuice, Lydia (Winona Ryder) is the only living person who can see the ghosts played by Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis. There’s a reason. As outlined in the handbook for the recently deceased, “live people ignore the strange and unusual.” Lydia reasons that “I myself am strange and unusual,” which allows her to see what others ignore. LGBT people also understand what the book and Lydia are saying. Historically, queer culture has revolved around the celebration of the strange and unusual, which mainstream society often overlooks. Beetlejuice is a ghost story. But it is also a coded fable, which notes what can be achieved when the living and the dead, the usual and the unusual, and the straight and the queer work together. – Daniel Reynolds
In this French nailbiter, a meek wife and a brazen mistress team up to rub out the man in their lives. After they drug him, drown him, and dump his body in the pool, the corpse goes missing. Where is the abusive lout? The not-so-subtle Sapphic undertones between the female protagonists is one of the pleasures of Les Diaboliques and the mistress role (played by Oscar-winner Simone Signoret) is pure diva perfection. And that ending and epilogue! Les Diabolique may have the best closure in all of 20th-century horror. – Neal Broverman
‘The Descent’ (2005)
A horror film starring six kick-ass women? Neil Marshall’s “The Descent” was like nothing that preceded it, featuring strong grown women (not helpless girls) spelunking into a cave and encountering some very bad creatures. In the midst of all this was some serious friendship drama and emotional heft. LGBT audiences particularly took to this very bloody British horror, and much of it had to do with how it subverted gender roles in the middle of a pulse-pounding, claustrophobic thrill ride. – Neal Broverman
There is not a lot of “subtext” in “Hellbent.” In fact, the opposite is true. Directed by Paul Etheredge-Ouzts, the film made history as the first gay slasher, which puts the lives (and deaths) of gay men front and center. While straight audiences might also enjoy this bloody romp through Los Angeles’ gayborhood, details like its setting in the real-life West Hollywood Halloween Carnaval and depictions of cruising culture will send extra shivers up the spines of queer viewers familiar with its milieux. – Daniel Reynolds
Maybe only a gay director like Clive Barker could have thought of a movie as inventive and twisted as “Hellraiser.” The film, also written by Barker, explores the all-consuming hunt for pleasure (something familiar to many gay and bi men), and how that craven desire can literally lead us to hell. There may be some AIDS allegories there, but the film is memorable more for its beautifully disgusting visuals, which include several homages to sado-masochism and a man literally torn to shreds. – Neal Broverman
“Teeth” is an example of the unicorn of film genres: the feminist horror movie. The story centers on a member of a teen abstinent group (Jess Weixler) who finds herself the victim of sexual abuse. In fighting back against her male aggressors, she finds herself in possession of an unusual gift: vaginal teeth. Ultimately (and perhaps surprisingly for some), “Teeth” is a tale about empowering women, queer or otherwise, to defend themselves against the worst aspects of the patriarchy. It also empowers vaginas, which is something everyone should celebrate. – Daniel Reynolds
‘The Craft’ (1996)
With its feministic centrality, wicked cast and spellbinding storyline, “The Craft” will ignite your inner witch faster than you can say “light as a feather, stiff as a board.” The 1996 film stars Robin Tunney, Fairuza Balk, Neve Campbell and Rachel True as Catholic schoolgirls who swear off boys and focus on their favorite hobby: witchcraft. Although the girls all gave powerful performances, Balk steals the show with her insane portrayal of the coven’s HBIC Nancy Downs. Her high-goth style, badass attitude, and creepy one-liners made her an icon to high school weirdos and “queerdos” everywhere. – Levi Chambers
‘Silence of the Lambs’ (1991)
Jodie Foster as Clarice Starling stole our queer hearts with every step of her harrowing journey with Anthony Hopkin’s Hannibal Lecter. While it was easy to root for Jodie her as the #powerlesbo she is, it was and still is much more complicated to grapple with the depiction of Buffalo Bill as a psychotic, deranged transgender killer. Many activists spoke out against the transmisogyny of the character and damned it as a poisonous queer depiction, because it led people to think that his transgender identity was the core of his evil actions. Transgender people are all-too-often villainized in real life while, really, they are disproportionately the victims of countless hate crimes. This year has proved the deadliest year on record for trans folks with 23 people murdered so far; 21 of them being trans women of color. The depiction of Buffalo Bill as a queer villain provoked the activist group Queer Nation to stage a protest that turned violent at the 1992 Academy Awards. – Allison Tate