SQIFF: Queering the fear – LGBTQ+ themes in modern-day horror

Credit: Tiu Makkonen

Credit: Tiu Makkonen

Nella McNicol & Elisabeth Graham
Writers

As early as the 18th century, LGBT themes can be recognised as a major subject within horror fiction. However, it has not become an established genre in its own right until the last few decades. Therefore, it seems fitting that, through a diverse range of eccentric and gory films, the Scottish Queer Independent Film Festival (SQIFF) would let us venture into the fascinating world of Queer Horror.

Although a relatively obscure form, this should not undermine its value as a surprisingly insightful, as well as entertaining, category of our ever evolving cinematic history. Despite its comedic elements, films screened like Otto; or Up with Dead People by Bruce LaBruce and even Fright Night by Tom Holland used conventional features of the renowned horror genre to explore serious subjects yet to be fully considered within mainstream film studies, particularly sexual repression and recurrent depiction of homosexuals as ‘monsters’.

Fright Night starts as a campy film that careens into chaos, and it is the most fun you will ever have watching a horror film. William Ragsdale plays Charley Brewster, the protagonist whose main concerns are his failing trigonometry grade, his overbearing mother, and his prudish girlfriend. All of that gets turned on its head when two strangers move in next door with all of the telling signs that they are vampires. Hellbent on exposing the fiend, Charley seeks help from a retired TV monster hunter, and adventure ensues.

While there is nothing observably queer about Fright Night, the film utilizes an array of engaging symbols to show what it’s like to repress a part of your sexuality. For example, Charley has spent the past year trying to sleep with his girlfriend Amy. However, Charley suddenly loses interest in making love with Amy when his two vampiric neighbors move in. Charley becomes obsessed with ousting and destroying Jerry Dandridge (the film’s lead vampire played by Christopher Sarandon) as soon as possible. Charley’s obsession with the vampires points to a homoerotic interest; vampires have been used as symbols for sex and desire ever since Dracula crawled out of Transylvania. Having Charley fixate on the need to destroy this symbol could pointWW to his own desire to eliminate the monster that is his own repressed sexuality.

By contrast, Otto; or Up with Dead People leads the viewer immediately and very graphically to a “new wave of gay zombies” on the streets of Berlin. Following Otto, a young zombie amidst an identity crisis, the audience is introduced to radical filmmaker Medea Yarn who protects Otto from the living in return for his participation in her experimental film on the inevitable zombie uprising ‘Up with Dead People’. Otto seeks to highlight how our conservative society marginalizes particular groups to the point that they are unable to express their true selves. Despite their apparent assimilation into the city, the undead like Otto are still persecuted for being different. The link between sexual suppression and those in a zombie-like state used within the film is an incredibly effective and relevant metaphor to this day.

Above all, Otto reveals a long standing representation of homosexuality through grotesque images of the undead feasting on human flesh, or ‘meat’. Through acknowledging the hidden meaning behind Fright Night and Otto, we should ask ourselves the question given by Medea Yarn to Otto: “What is the privilege of the dead?”