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No Longer Subtext: Queer Slasher Films

The time for queer horror is now!

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Knife + Heart

The time for Queer horror films is now!

Slashers are the most popular horror subgenre. This genre that horror academics say began with Psycho (1960), followed by Black Christmas (1974) and Halloween (1978) which then introduced the Golden Era of Slashers (70s/80s) that highlights Friday The 13th (1980), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984), and many more.

In addition, the 90s opened a new renaissance with Scream (1996) which begins the Post-Modern Slashers with Urban Legend (1998), I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997), Valentine (2001) and Behind The Mask: Rise Of Leslie Vernon (2006). Finally, the 2010s saw fresh new slasher takes with Happy Death Day (2017), The Final Girls (2015), and the 2019 reboot of Halloween. Horror fans know the ins and outs of slasher films. The common themes of slashers include increased body count, increased gore, interesting and popular villains, a cast made up of stereotypical teens, sex, drugs and the final girl.

RELATED: 37 Awesome Scream (1996) Quotes

Even though the slasher genre serves mainly as exploitation, it also brought social commentary like human behavior, gender and sexual politics, family drama, religion, and cultural values, race, and many more. In the NowThis Nerd YouTube video, host Charlie Lopresto talks about the historical approach of how horror and specifically the slasher genre was born because of the glorifying violence that ancient civilizations entertained its citizens with.

According to Lopresto, slasher films manage to transform themselves in different time periods and even certain societal cultures. Examples of this are the Reagan administration, the Vietnam war, the 70s era of serial killers, exploitation, and many others which inspires the Golden Age Of Slashers. By 1996, Scream reinvented the slasher genre, although the genre has always been reinvented by many horror artists. For Scream, Wes Craven brought a new take on the genre for the second time after creating the horror classic, A Nightmare On Elm Street that later became a franchise. This new reinvention introduces the Post-Modern Slashers as well as expanding the Scream franchise. The 90s slasher films brought new takes on slasher themes with rich character developments and self-awareness.

As the new millennium opens, the 90s Post-Modern slashers expanded with inventive films like Final Destination (2000), Valentine (2001), and Behind The Mask: The Rise Of Leslie Vernon (2006). However, new interesting additions to previous slasher franchises like Jason X (2001), Freddy vs. Jason (2003), and Rob Zombie’s Halloween (1 &2) reboot appeared. For the 2010s, the slasher genre reinvented itself again through nostalgia and explicit social commentary. In the case of nostalgia, David Gordon Green’s Halloween (2018) brought an expanded storyline for final girl Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and Michael Myers AKA The Shape (James Jude Courtney).

However, recent slasher films that played with nostalgia like The Final Girls (2015) and Black Christmas (2006 and 2019 versions) transform slasher rules while bringing modern elements and themes. For new slasher reinventions, Happy Death Day (2017), Happy Death Day 2U (2019), Ruin Me (2017), Party Hard Die Young (2018), and many more bring a new modern renaissance to the slasher genre. With imperfect final girls like Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) and explicit social commentary which appeared in the 2019 version of Black Christmas, the slasher genre expanded once more.

As the slasher genre reinvents itself, a new wave was occurring backstage for a specific audience, Queer Slashers within the Queer Horror subgenre. Unfortunately, most slasher films toned down to subtext or erasure of the LGBTQ+ community; even though, queer artists like James Whale, Clive Barker, Don Mancini, Jeffrey Reddick, and Kevin Williamson contributed and expanded the horror genre. In the YouTube video essay series, Queering The Slasher by vide0 n4sty, it explains how queerness began as the closet monster in the universal classic monsters movies like James Whale’s The Invisible Man (1933) and transitions into different types of subtexts in the slasher genre like A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985) and Scream.

Queer horror engaged in an existential battlefield to be seen and address their issues in the 20th century which marked the Stonewall Riots, the Gay Rights Movement, and the horrifying AIDS Crisis. Fortunately, Queer horror gained momentum in the 2000s with its first explicit queer slasher Hellbent (2004); however, the Queering The Slasher essay acknowledges that other queer slashers like Make A Wish (2002), High Tension (2003) and 9 Dead Gay Guys (2002) were made before Hellbent. From there, the slasher genre presented explicit issues and LGBTQ+ representation for the community to see. In this final article of my When We Are At The Center Of Horror column, Queer Slashers take the spotlight to address their challenges as well as the opportunities it brings to the slasher subgenre.

RELATED: How To Watch The Scream Movies In Order

Hellbent

Hellbent (2004)

Hellbent (2004) written and directed by Paul Etheridge takes place in West Hollywood, Los Angeles where a group of queer men are stalked by a devil masked killer as they party on Halloween Night. Our final boy, Eddie (Dylan Fergus) is a police officer who falls in love with Jake (Bryan Kirkwood) while his friends: Chaz (Andrew Levitas), Joey (Hank Harris) and Tobey (Matt Phillips) are individually killed. Hellbent takes the slasher tropes and subverts them into gay culture like camp, leather community, gender norms, body image, drag culture, and masculinity, according to Queering The Slasher and the Horror Queers podcast by Trace Thurman and Joe Lipsett.

The introduction of Eddie as a final guy who is gay is interesting as it pays homage to various final girls. For example, Eddie resembles final girls Laurie Strode and Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) as he displays his personal and friendship values and expresses his sexuality to Jake. According to Queering The Slasher, Hellbent follows slasher tropes like the use of the phallic weapon (sickle), male depiction violence, and homoerotic violence. In an interview between Paul Etheridge and Nora Scally at Gayly Dreadful, Paul adds the anonymity of the killer as a central theme to the production of the film and as a smart technique for a horror film.

He also explains the challenges to produce and market the film as well as the opportunities that it brought to Queer Horror. Nevertheless, Hellbent brought a fresh take on Queer Horror and the slasher genre by subverting tropes that aligned with the representation of the LGBTQ+ community.

You’re Killing Me

You’re Killing Me (2015)

You’re Killing Me (2015) is written by Jim Hansen and Jeffery Self and directed by Jim Hansen in which serial killer Joe (Matthew McKelligon) falls in love with YouTuber George (Jeffery Self). The film takes a meta slasher comedy approach as George is naïve that Joe is seriously confessing his crimes by murdering George’s friends. The film subverts slasher tropes as it balances horror comedy and meta slasher within the Queer Horror subgenre. One subverted trope is the romance between Joe and George as they become boyfriends (killer and survivor). However, their relationship is tested by the approval of George’s friends and Joe’s parents which align with coming out with friends and family.

According to Queering The Slasher, the film uses camp, self-referential and meta techniques as queer text written by gay men; additionally, it critiques heterosexual culture as represented by George and Barnes (Bryan Safi) characters. In addition, it portrays gay men of the 2010s due to the hilarious approach and facets of their self-awareness. As I rewatched the film, it was hilarious and innovating the use of meta approaches through the film to address each the plot and the characters’ traits.

You’re Killing Me essentially mixes different genres like romance, comedy, and horror into a single tale that blurs fiction and reality. Finally, the main star is Joe who subverts the killer role by addressing his obsessive personality towards George and his comfort zone. Nevertheless, You’re Killing Me is an essential Queer Horror film that pays homage to meta slashers and brings a unique perspective on romantic relationships and the portrayal of gay and straight relationships.

Killer Unicorn

Killer Unicorn (2018)

Killer Unicorn (2018) is written by Jose D. Alvarez and directed by Drew Bolton where a group of queer people are stalked and killed by a unicorn masked killer during the Annual Enema Party in Brooklyn, New York. Danny (Alejandro La Rosa) is a gay man who suffers from trauma due to an assault in a past Annual Enema Party which later becomes a crime scene around his friends. The resulting incident is what ignites the Unicorn Killer (Dennis Budesheim) to stalk Danny and his friends. Killer Unicorn is an interesting queer slasher that portrays inventive, gory, and disgusting death scenes which aligns to violence against queers as Sam Wineman explains in an episode of the Horror Queers podcast.

The film also goes into comedy horror by playing and subverting slasher tropes like not contacting the police, ignoring danger when it is fully displayed, convoluted relationships and even killing important characters. The Horror Queers podcast highlight some of the problematic elements that impact the queer community like social media, drug usage, assault, queer representation, and problematic relationships among queers which are important if properly developed. Sam Wineman highlights the big difference between Killer Unicorn and Hellbent in terms of Queer Horror representation; Hellbent acts like a gay slasher (focus on gay culture) while Killer Unicorn acts like a queer slasher (focus on a broad queer culture). Nevertheless, Killer Unicorn goes further in bringing more queer culture and creative horror, which is remarkable aside from its flaws.

Midnight Kiss

Midnight Kiss (2019)

Midnight Kiss (2019) is written by Erlingur Thoroddsen and directed by Carter Smith as part of Blumhouse’s Into The Dark series in which a group of gay friends and a straight person are stalked by a killer during New Year’s Eve. Our group composed of Cameron (Augustus Prew), Joel (Scott Evans), Logan (Lukas Gage), Zachary (Chester Lockhart), Ryan (Will Westwater) and Hannah (Ayden Mayeri) are stalked by a masked killer due to the titular game, Midnight Kiss.

The game that Joel creates has three rules: kiss a random stranger, kiss must be consensual, and decide if both participants hookup between midnight and sunrise. Paying homage to slasher classics, Midnight Kiss opens with Ryan’s death as a representation of Marion Crane’s (Janet Leigh) shower death in Psycho. From this moment, our killer who wears a kinky pup mask will stop at nothing to destroy Cameron and his friends at Joel’s home where they stay together. Slasher tropes are immediately followed and subverted with Cameron, Joel, and Hannah as well as our killer. The film pays homage to Hellbent as it focuses on a gay majority group, but dealing with social issues like gay culture, love, hookup apps, loneliness, betrayal, and friendships.

Last year, I explained in my article Happy New Slasher Year about the highlights of this film that pays homage to various horror films like Sorority Row, Psycho, Knife + Heart, Hellbent, and so on. In the same article, I talked about the representation of the gay community and its internal social issues which reflect in how gays interact with one another. In a review by Terry Mesnard from Gayly Dreadful, he says “Erlingur’s script examines the emblematic trend of hook-up culture in the gay community at large” which is true given the killer’s motives. Also, the killer’s costume gives a trend of queer slashers in putting the antagonist to wear kinky clothes as a method to target the queer audience. Debauchery is given its own spotlight given the sexual party during the holidays that Cam and his friends go in New Year’s Eve to display gay culture activities during holidays. In the end, Midnight Kiss is an essential slasher that subverts tropes to examine the internal challenges of the gay community while giving vibes to previous slasher films.

Knife + Heart

Knife + Heart (2018)

Knife + Heart (2018) is written by Yann Gonzalez and Cristiano Mangione in which a serial killer stalks a group of gay porn actors in 1979 Paris, France. Anne Pareze (Vanessa Paradis) is a lesbian gay porn director who suffers a troubling breakup with her film editor Lois McKenna (Kate Moran). This breakup becomes an obsession for Anne as she tries to save her relationship. Unfortunately, a leather masked killer starts targeting gay porn actors: Karl (Bastien Waultier), Thierry (Felix Maritaud), Martin/Misia (Thibault Serviere), Luis (Noe Hernandez) and Nans (Khaled Alouach).

The brutal murders inspire Anne to create a film called Anal Fury, later recalled Homicidal. However, as the killings go out of control, the police turn defiant and the queer community goes frightened. It forces Anne to uncover the identity of the killer and save her friends. Her journey leads to a devastating tragedy about fear, anger, revenge, and exploitation which soon ignites hope on a rebellious closeted community. In my review, Love + Revenge + Rebellion: The Faces of Knife + Heart, the film became the most amazing and important Queer Horror movie ever. It explores a broad range of human emotions during a changing time period for the gay rights movement.

The film takes a traumatic incident during a fearful historic transition from the Gay Rights Movement to the AIDS Crisis. Knife + Heart presents an array of interesting characters that are impacted by the heinous murders which examine their weaknesses and strengths. The film also mixes symbolism and magical realism with the European Giallo horror films. Terry Mesnard says in his review, “a film that isn’t an homage, necessarily, but a film that could fit perfectly in the 70s era of grindhouse films, Euro/Italian gialli and De Palma-esqe psychological thrillers”.

As many times as I watch this film, I see many elements like magical realism (killer’s background), retrofuturism (M83’s soundtrack and neon aesthetics), a love story (Anne and Lois), a rebellion (ending) and an existential philosophical approach (scene credits). Additionally, queer representation is broader with erotic content, identity, and historical background of the gay lifestyle in the 70s. Terry Mesnard perfectly explains how Knife + Heart flips the narrative and brings emotional depth with the story which relates to me about the emotional development of seeing queer violence occur until the outrage sparks a revolution that brings hope. Nevertheless, Knife + Heart is the most essential slasher film that not just subverts slasher tropes but also brings queer cinema to the front in putting the queer community in its highs and lows.

Overall, the horror genre is most famous for its slashers which brought many opportunities for horror creators to address social issues while creating masterpieces. Among these people, queer filmmakers and actors brought some of the important horror films ever. Even though they couldn’t explicitly express queer themes in their horror films, their actions inspired a new generation to highlight the queer community. Among the many subgenres, slasher films always appealed to the queer audience with the final girls and their social challenges.

Thankfully, the above-mentioned movies showcase how queer representation has changed and diversified by bringing inclusive stories and important topics that still affects the community. Queer Horror has changed from subtext to actual text and will continue to do so thanks to queer artists like Sam Wineman, Michael Varrati, Yann Gonzalez, Carter Smith, Erlingur Thoroddsen, Paul Etheridge, Drew Bolton and many more who are moving further queer slashers and Queer Horror.

These slasher films subverted classic tropes of a culture that didn’t include the queer community; instead, the queer community band together to make their own. These films brought impressive final boys and final groups, great friendships, stylish killers, emotional storylines, historical background and their voice that only queer people can relate too. Personally, Queer Horror has been a cornerstone of horror entertainment that led me to write stories about and for queer people while opening the broader audience to understand our voices.

It is an immense challenge like this column that addresses explicit Queer Horror content. Why? Because the new generation of queer people (artists or not) deserve to be seen and be given the opportunity of inclusion without fearing for their existential presence; like Sam Wineman famously said, “THE TIME FOR QUEER HORROR IS NOW.” So, thank you to everyone who has read so far alongside me to read about Queer Horror and for Ghoulish Media in aiding me to contribute these pieces.

Recommendations

Highly recommend visiting the Queering The Slasher video essay by Video Nasty on YouTube, hear Horror Queers podcast, and read Gayly Dreadful’s Pride Month collection which addresses Queer horror in subtext and actual text. Also, take the time to read my Queer horror articles on Medium as I mentioned in this column.

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