"I remember the cute curly-haired teen that gets killed in the kitchen by Michael Myers in Halloween. That awoke something in me," reminisces Alex Dove, executive producer director of gay horror titles such as the upcoming Handy man. And--as many young, gay horror fans would also learn--he wasn't alone.
"When I was a kid, I was really drawn to Brian De Palma films, like The Fury or Carrie," explains Don Mancini, the gay creator of the Child's Play series, including 2004's Seed of Chucky. "The visual presentation is incredibly beautiful. And a lot of the aesthetic beauty is in the service of creating suspense--and terror. And I think that for gay guys, there is perhaps an identification factor and a twisted, dark look at wish fulfillment as well. The fantasy of being able to supernaturally punish your enemies is very compelling."
In the 1970s, '80s, and early '90s, gay horror fans pored over Fangoria magazine and rented the latest direct-to-video opus but rarely ever saw themselves. Where were the queer characters?
Thinly disguised homoeroticism filled the bill in many instances. A Nightmare on Elm Street, Part 2: Freddy's Revenge contains a sequence that begins in a leather-fetish bar and ends with a gym coach being bound in a shower, stripped naked, and whipped to death by Freddy Krueger. Mancini explains, "I think it was used to titillate, but if you get strict about it and read a message into it--the gay gym coach who persecutes the seemingly gay hero--it's definitely negative."
Other films presented homoeroticism in a more favorable light, but it was still on the down-low. Mancini continues, "I like the Hellraiser movies a lot. I think those movies, especially because they're coming from an out gay man [creator Clive Barker], are metaphors for the S/M subculture and not judgmental in a simple black-and-white way."
Occasionally, gay characters in horror films were actually, well, gay: Eyes of Laura Mars's lesbian models Lulu and Michele and gay best pal Donald (all stabbed); Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things' s gay grave diggers (eaten by zombies); Tenebre's quarreling lesbian lovers (slashed with a razor). We still had a way to go.
Thankfully, not every scenario with gay characters was so gruesome. Some of them were even hot. Paul Etheredge-Ouzts, writer-director of this season's Hellbent, loved Tile Hunger. "Catherine Denueve's relationship with Susan Sarandon was positive because it was romantic; it wasn't treated as something horrific. Except the bloodsucking."
Individuals and organizations like the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation have made much of the lack of positive portrayals of gays in media. But what about horror films, where the rules are different? Should we spare the gays being chased by the masked killers? Keep them from putting on the hockey mask? Sharon Ferranti, director-cowriter of the lesbian slasher film Make a Wish, thinks not. "How in the world would I avoid lesbians getting killed if I did in fact want lesbians in the horror movie?" she says. "Bring in men for them to kill? I'd really get the shit then."
Mancini sees a dramatic advantage to making gay characters victims: "In Bride of Chucky something I used to my advantage was making a character gay. It was less common then and hence seen as being kind of P.C. I knew the audience was going to be even less expecting that character to die. So it made his death more shocking."
But there is a line drawn in the bloody sand that most horror filmmakers would rather not cross. "I don't think I'm quite ready to see people be villainous or be victims because of their sexuality. I think that message is a little too raw for me," says Etheredge-Ouzts. "But I absolutely agree we need to be seen as part of society and take with it the good and the bad. I think it's all about balance."
Which brings the conversation to the recent High Tension, a slick horror movie with a lesbian lead and a credulity-straining twist. …