Queer for Fear: The History of Queer Horror

The work of queer filmmakers and the way they winked to audiences in a heightened genre is the subject of a new doco series.

Throughout history gay men and women have had to fight to be seen and heard.

While our current dramas and reality shows have ongoing representation on screen today, it wasn’t the case on the silver screen. Just as gay writers, directors and actors had to channel their voice through narrow corners of the Hollywood machine, queer audiences also identfied with genres that were unreal, outlandish.

If Science Fiction represented a space where anything is possible, then horror was a place for over the top characters and a place for victims to triumph.

“Society is always trying to eradicate us, and we’re always waiting to fight back.”

“That’s how we’re represented in film. We’re the bogeymen. The ones who are out to get you.”

“The evolution of queer horror parallels the evolution of queer liberation.”

“At least we know we’re out there. Even if we are there to put the fear of god into straight people.”

These are just some of the thoughts from contemporary queer actors, writers and directors in the new Shudder documentary, Queer for Fear: The History of Queer Horror. The two part doco from Bryan Fuller (Hannibal, Pushing Daisies) and Steak House (Disney Launchpad, The Mustang) looks back upon classics including Frankenstein (1910), Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1920), Nosferatu (1922), Bride of Frankenstien (1935), the works of Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoker, Mary Shelley and more.

Throughout the doco are quotes from master interviews including Mark Gatiss (Dracula, Sherlock), Kimberly Peirce (Carrie, Boys Don’t Cry), Justin Simien (Bad Hair, The Haunted Mansion), Leslye Headland (Russian Doll, The Acolyte), Cassandra Peterson aka Elvira, and Lea DeLaria (Orange is the New Black).

The researchers have certainly been comprehensive.

Some references extend back to Denmark’s 1922 film Haxan, 1921’s The Phantom Carriage and 1926’s Faust but the work of writer Mary Shelley in creating Frankenstein is given special attention. Not only was Shelley by her own admission bisexual, but her story’s themes of creating the perfect man resonate with these interview subjects, along with hideous scenes of banishing the monster from society.

The films of James Whale, an openly gay director in a time when it was not accepted, are also featured. Bride of Frankenstein and The Invisible Man (1933) “living among men but not seen by them” are amongst his works praised here, no surprises Show Boat is not.

1945’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde, also features -though for me that’s on the fringe of the ‘horror’ genre.

There is due acknowledgement of queer characters such as ornithologist Mrs. Bundy in Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963), Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca (1940) and Brandon and Phillip in Rope (1948) -wait horror, errrr….?

Are they over-reaching with their observations? Perhaps some things are in the eye of the beholder, but to closeted viewers in repressed societies, it was easy to indulge “winks” to the audience in the darkened cinema.

It wouldn’t be complete with special attention to Psycho (1960) both for the character of Norman Bates and the personal life of star Anthony Perkins -his son Oz Perkins is one of the interview subjects.

Bryan Fuller keeps the quotes and the interviewees coming, juxtaposed with archival screen footage. There’s so many of them I would have liked some pacing to avoid a feeling like I’m fighting a smorgasbaord buffet, and some such as talented cabaret act Michael Feinstein perplexed me as to their relevance given the topic.

Nevertheless, Queer for Fear is an entertaining and insightful look back at sometimes camp, terrifying, subliminal films and the way they must have been privately celebrated and reminded: you are not alone.

Queer for Fear: The History of Queer Horror Friday September 30 on Shudder.

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