Academic journal article Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts

Elliott-Smith, Darren. Queer Horror: Film and Television-Sexuality and Masculinity at the Margins

Academic journal article Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts

Elliott-Smith, Darren. Queer Horror: Film and Television-Sexuality and Masculinity at the Margins

Article excerpt

Elliott-Smith, Darren. Queer Horror: Film and Television--Sexuality and Masculinity at the Margins. New York: I.B. Taurus, 2016. 252 pp. hb. ISBN 978-1-78453-686-2. $94.00.

Darren Elliott-Smith examines the complications resulting from "queer appropriations of horror conventions" in Queer Horror: Film and Television--Sexuality and Masculinity at the Margins (3). In considering the apprehensions that ensue when gay men experience "judgement by heteronormative standards" that are inherent in the horror genre, Elliott-Smith argues that "these anxieties encourage a homonormative apeing of heterosexual culture which, in turn, feeds further anxieties surrounding the cultural conflation of gay masculinity with a shameful femininity" (3). To address these concerns, Queer Horror conducts a multifaceted psychoanalytic interrogation. Though he offers this framework as a method for understanding how the phenomenon of queer horror works in general, he notes that "these readings ... rely on close textual analysis and interviews with the directors and producers of these films, who themselves invest, to a varying degree, Freudian theory in relation to the horror films into their work" (9). Considering that recent theorists like David Halperin have called the ongoing stigma of psychiatric brokenness into question and considering how long queer individuals have labored to rid themselves of the negative stereotypes associated with cinematic depictions of themselves informed by psychoanalysis, many queer theorists would understandably shudder at any attempt to traverse this troubled terrain. However, Elliott-Smith treads this path carefully, providing space for his work to make a critical and useful intervention in the perilous field of Queer Horror.

Elliott-Smith emphasizes specific texts to ground his analysis throughout the six paired chapters that are grouped roughly into three parts. Chapter 1 addresses the complexities of monstrous femininity depicted in Brian De Palma's 1976 film, Carrie. This film remains central in Chapter 2 where it becomes literally incorporated into a short film by Charles Lum that deals with anxieties about HIV and AIDS. Chapters 3 and 4 focus on films that embody what Elliott-Smith calls "Gaysploitation" horror. Chapter 5 addresses the messaging in Paul Etheredge-Ouzts' 2004 queer-inflected slasher film, Hellbent, whereas Chapter 6 deals with recent and ongoing homo-horrific representations including those in limited television series.

Because celebrated iconoclastic filmmaker Brian De Palma famously claimed Alfred Hitchcock's psychoanalytically inflected narrative style as a key inspiration, it would make a great deal of sense for Queer Horror to include Carrie (1976) at some point in its analysis. As it turns out, Elliott- Smith dedicates not one but two of his chapters to this horror classic (9). The first chapter, "'Queering Carrie': Appropriations of a Horror Icon," includes a review of Carol J. Clover's gender-bending concept of the Final Girl in horror narratives, the creators of which assume an audience that is "largely male and heterosexual" (28). Elliott-Smith bridges this theoretical model to Peter Hutchings' argument that heterosexual men experience a masochistic pleasure in a "temporarily disempowering occurrence" that takes place when viewing the struggle between the masculine-inflected Final Girl and a feminized, albeit male, monster (29). Ultimately, of course, the monster is vanquished, the Final Girl softens, and the patriarchal order is restored. But how, Elliott- Smith asks, do gay men find affiliation with such characters?

In proposing a response to this central question, Elliott-Smith never discounts the misogyny inherent in Stephen King's original novel, which becomes even more pronounced in De Palma's cinematic interpretation. Though the hyperbolic representation of women may afford gay men the opportunity to reevaluate their disempowered subject position, Elliott-Smith reminds his reader that "the radical and liberating potential of such ironic performance may also be made at the expense of those genders being performed" (37). …

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