6 Queer Horror and Sci-fi Short Films
Welcome to ‘When We Are At the Center Of Horror‘, a column for PHASR that delves into how sexuality, gender, and horror films intersect. I will highlight the following queer horror and sci-fi short films where Queer identity and existence are shaken to its core from either external and/or internal forces. These short films cross cultures, time periods, realities, and much more while analyzing the social issues that still impact LGBTQ+ communities through a horror and/or sci-fi perspective.
Poltergays is written by Brendan Hayley and directed by Andrew J. Ceperley. The short film presents several interviews between Benji The Doc Producer (Brendan Haley) with straight, religious fanatic couple, Perry Myers (Peter Stickles) and Tiff Myers (Clarke Wolfe) and gay couple, Derek (Francisco Chacin) and Tanner (Charles Chudabala).
The Myers couple confesses that upon moving to their new home in West Hollywood, California, they become victims of ghosts who are gays. In the flashbacks, Perry and Tiff struggle to ignore Derek and Tanner, a couple who are currently living in the home. In addition, Perry and Tiff misunderstand the couple’s intentions due to their hateful views of equating homosexuality with evil and other biases on marginalized people. While Tanner and Derek try to fit in with Perry and Tiff, the confrontation increases to a devilish twist.
Poltergays is a horror comedy that perfectly tackles the misconceptions surrounding homosexuality as seen as something worse than a sin. It plays with the haunted and demonic tropes by placing Derek and Tanner (gays) as ghastly entities and Perry and Tiff (straight, religious saviors). Ignorance is bliss, but for the Myers couple, they get something worse. With a comedy tone, the audience understands the external and internal personalities of both couples. David W. Kelly states that the comic timing is perfect in his review of the short film. Confirming that comedy and horror can analyze further the themes it wants to convey through its characters like the Myers couple and Derek and Tanner.
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Rapture in Blue
Rapture In Blue is written and directed by Ryder Houston. The short film centers on Jason Aylwood’s (Bryce Lederer) displeasing encounter with the handsome young man Sebastian Brown (Tanner Garmon) at Jason’s former childhood home. Sebastian is the new owner of the house, much to Jason’s ire which unexpectedly leads to chemistry between the young men.
Unfortunately, Jason starts losing control as he tries repressing his urges for Sebastian while being forced to have sex with his girlfriend, Valerie Monroe (Sarah Greenfield). To make matters worse, an unseen stalker is documenting and threatening Jason’s activities. Eventually, by the finale, Jason soon learns a dreadful revelation whose solution isn’t so easy for him.
Rapture In Blue is an experimental horror that examines queer awakening amid repression. More so, in the challenge of internal homophobia in order to please heterosexuality via having sex with the opposite gender. The creation of the entity that targets Jason symbolizes a manifestation of repression in physical form. In a film review for Boys, Bears & Scares, Daniel W. Kelly presents the following points:
“This is a compelling dive into the fear of coming out and the shock of feeling same-sex desire for the first time. Concepts of self-loathing and the closet are presented as horrifying specters that terrorize the main guy to his very core.”
As stated through queer explicit text and symbolism, Jason’s repression is the true horror where the creation of Jason’s stalker entity is the repression’s physical form. Rapture In Blue successfully displays Jason’s distorted mind by acknowledging the true horror that is causing it.
Off Track is a short film directed by Henry Darrow McComas and written by Travis Bryant. In this story, Travis (Travis Bryant) and Jack (Jack Merridew) work as two YouTubers who act like a couple for fun. However, the reality is that Travis and Jack are not a couple since Jack has a boyfriend while Travis has deep and bizarre feelings for Jack. These feelings soon get twisted as Travis sees a terrifying portrayal of Jack taunting him about their relationship. Complications arise to a deadly finale as Travis wants to confirm and engage his obsession for Jack in bizarre ways.
Off Track is a thought-provoking horror short film that mixes social media, body trauma, and psychological horror. The short film depicts various topics on gay male perception of fantasy and reality colliding on social media (in this case, YouTube videos).
Horror Queer‘s podcasters, Trace Thurman and Joe Lipsett discussed Off Track as part of their Micro Queers collection that highlights queer horror short films. Both Thurman and Lipsett discussed some of the dark issues of the gay community that involves kink violence (choking) and mental illness (Travis’s inability to differentiate fiction and reality, leading to unhealthy obsession).
Additionally, Thurman mentions how the story hits close to home in terms of friendships on social media who act differently online than reality. Travis examines these issues as he faces repression and obsession towards his feelings for Jack. As such, Travis’s unstable capacity to blur fiction and reality turns violent around many moments and in different ways before the bloody finale.
I concur with Thurman in the need for Off Track to expand its story concept into a feature-length film that expands Travis and Jack’s story and further examine its depicted themes, which the gay community must tackle in the realm of relationships and social media.
Sauna the Dead: A Fairy Tale
Sauna The Dead: A Fairy Tale is written and directed by Tom Frederic. The film follows gay customers, Jacob (Tom Frederic) and Aseem (Kumar Muniandy) in a bathhouse that soon becomes the site of a zombie outbreak. Jacob who is insecure of handling relationships and intimacy must fight to survive the horde of gay zombie men. However, Jacob finds solace with Aseem who is experiencing similar issues.
The short film is more of a horror comedy that parodies and analyses the gay male experience. Topics such as body issues and bias through race and ethnicity are showed through Jacob as he navigates a sea of men, looking for the ideal one to have sex with.
In a film review, licensedlayminister explains this:
“SAUNA THE DEAD – A FAIRY TALE is inspired by mean guys on Grindr and the idea of the sauna as its own little world. Director Frederic fuses a love of 80s fantasy adventure movies, Disney and zombies to present a genre-hopping modern day fairy tale exploring how the way we treat each other and how that changes online, in saunas and where sex is concerned and how that creates the worlds we live in.”
More important to acknowledge is that the film successfully examines human personality changes and even AIDS allegories through a zombie outbreak. These study perspectives are essential through the zombie subgenre as it tries to understand how humanity must survive a zombie outbreak without breaking from the inside.
For this film, it shows how the gay community must band together instead of tearing each other apart in order to survive the monsters who want them dead/undead. Nevertheless, Sauna The Dead – A Fairy Tale is a remarkable achievement in the zombie subgenre through a queer lens.
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Kiss of the Rabbit God
Kiss Of The Rabbit God is a short film directed by Andrew Thomas Huang that tells a captivating, beautiful, and surreal myth involving a repressed Chinese-American gay man, Matt, who works as a waiter at a Chinese restaurant. As Matt undergoes stress at work, he catches the view of a handsome and stylish man named Tu’re Shen. Their interaction sparks chemistry, leading to acts of intimacy but also reflections of desire and repression. As such, a love story is formed between them that traces back a long history surrounding the Rabbit God, a being from the Qing Dynasty.
Kiss Of The Rabbit God displays a gay awakening and a love story mixed with mythology, one that is still venerated today. According to CHINOSITY, the Rabbit God story tells of the deity being a mortal named Hu Tianbao (story’s second version) that falls in love with an imperial inspector in Fujian. Hu is unable to confess his feelings and unfortunately gets caught peeping at his crush in a bathroom.
When Hu confesses his feelings, he is beaten to death, but in the afterlife, the king of the underworld ordains Hu to manage love and sex between homosexuals. As CHINOSITY mentions, the Wei-ming Temple in New Taipei City is the only temple dedicated to the Rabbit God and the world’s only shrine for homosexuals.
In Short Of The Week, Ivan Kander explains that:
“After all, this is a story of sexual repression, and, ultimately, discovery – a reserved protagonist teetering on the precipice, terrified of letting go and finally gaining the courage to give into his desire.”
Additionally, director Andrew Thomas Huang highlights in Short of the Week:
“Kiss of the Rabbit God is a confession and a love letter to my queer Asian community and tells the story of a lover’s quest for self-possession to own one’s desire and unlock sexual intimacy through spiritual embodiment.”
In my view, Kiss Of The Rabbit God tells about acceptance to confront repression and embrace individuality (in this case, sexuality). The short film is fascinating with its cultural and spiritual portrayal of a deity that protects and guides the queer community in a world where a big part of humanity rejects them.
We’ve seen various depictions of queer subtext and actual text from mythologies in Norway, England, Greece, Rome, and Egypt, but not from China. Thus, this short film creates a bridge of queer acceptance, religion, and humanity in actual text from a very important deity whom I believe needs to be taught more.
We Are Animals
We Are Animals is written and directed by Dominic Haxton and takes place in an alternate but relatable timeline of 1985 when the AIDS epidemic was ravaging the gay community.
The film presents the U.S. Government’s enacting of the Sodomy Laws and other systemic violence towards the gay community to eradicate AIDS and homosexuality. Concentration camps and a pill called Celebron (homosexual cure pill) are some of the tortures being forced on the gay community.
On the other hand, a rebel group called the Pink Panthers begin forming to fight against the authoritarian government. Meanwhile, gay nurse Nathan (Daniel Landroche) is forced to apply compulsory castration on the Pink Panther leader, Peter (Clint Napier). Peter’s rebellious attitude and revolutionary spirit changes Nathan’s life in their first interaction, leading them on a struggle to fight back against the system.
We Are Animals is a brutal reminder of the AIDS tragedy and systemic violence against the LGBT community. The film presents a more gruesome alternate reality through Nathan’s eyes as he struggles with being gay while taking Celebron, and followed by his interactions with Peter. Comments on sexual urges, repression, disease, and tyranny is what moves the world of We Are Animals.
As David Hall mentions in his Gay Celluloid review:
“For this is a nightmare scenario of a world descended into chaos and of a government that will go to any means, no matter how extreme, to stop the spread of a killer virus on its shores. And it’s the reality of times past, that makes this an all more alarming tale.”
Indeed, the film doesn’t shy away from the horrors of the AIDS epidemic and its impact on a prejudiced society, which only increased afterward. However, the film brings hope via a revolution to confront against the hateful society and save the humanity of queer identity as seen through Peter’s character.
Nevertheless, We Are Animals is an important apocalyptic tale that details the biggest tragedy in LGBTQ history while bringing hope to the survivors and the rebels.
These queer horror short films are rich and provide great insight into several queer struggles, both past and present. Internal and external conflict happens to everyone, but for queer people, there are specific issues that are carried through history. This impacts their physical and emotional well-being to the brink of annihilation, as is intended by their oppressors.
However, there is a light at the end, as seen in these various short films. Additionally, Queer horror and Queerfuturism are thriving in today’s world through the short film field.
Horror streaming service, Shudder, has increased its Queer Horror collection by incorporating both short and feature-length films. Horror film festivals like Frightgown and the Soho Horror Film Festival are celebrating Queer Horror by highlight queer filmmakers and promoting their films (short and feature-length) during this Pride Month and extending it further into July.
No matter how short or long the story is, if it provides an impact as these mentioned films did, then a positive influence can be made to the queer community and its contribution to the horror and sci-fi genres. This is a step so that we are at the center of horror.