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Stacie Ponder – In Gay Horror Movies, Equal Rights Means Equal Frights

stacie_ponder_callout.jpgRecently a movie titled The Gay Bed and Breakfast of Terror, a fun romp about a terrifying gay bed and breakfast, popped up on my radar. My first thought was “Now that’s what I call a descriptive title!”; my second thought was a complex tapestry of critical analysis — regarding the history of both horror and gay cinema, the evolution of gays in horror, and how I haven’t had any French fries in quite some time and it might be nice to change that. French fry cravings aside, what my thoughts boil down to is this: Gay horror cinema is becoming a subgenre in its own right and it’s about time.

The Lesbian Vampire
Of course, there have been gay characters in horror movies since the genre’s earliest days, even if, at times, the gay relationships were implied rather than actualized. Take, for example, that ol’ standby trope, the lesbian vampire. The sapphic sucker subgenre finds its roots in Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s 1872 novella Carmilla, in which the titular vampiress beguiles the nubile young Laura. The story has been translated to the screen (in varying degrees of faithfulness) countless times, and its cinematic influence is felt as early as 1936 in the Universal picture Dracula’s Daughter , a sequel to the successful Dracula starring Bela Lugosi.

The movie features Gloria Holden as Countess Marya Zaleska, the
daughter in question who tries to fight her vampiric urges to no avail,
eventually putting the bite on a beautiful young model. Universal was
well aware of the lesbian overtones and attempted to both avoid and
court controversy — though some scenes were altered to downplay the
notion that Marya suffered from a bad case of The Gays, the promotional
material for the movie insinuated the very same notion, as is evident
in the tagline “Save the women of London from Dracula’s Daughter!” Dracula’s Daughter
is often viewed as a negative, if implied, portrayal of lesbianism:
Marya’s attempts to cure her vampirism certainly work as a ripe
metaphor for the theory that homosexuality can be cured. In the 80
years since Dracula’s Daughter graced the screen, the lesbian
vampire has proven to be a tried and true star of horror movies; women
still put the bite on each other in everything from European art films
(such as Roger Vadim’s Blood and Roses) to the laughable soft-core flick, such as The Sexy Adventures of Van Helsing. One thing is for certain: The lesbianism is certainly no longer merely implied.

Homosexual = Homicidal
The “homosexual as homicidal deviant” theme is also evident in horror, such as the 80s slasher Hide and Go Shriek.
Enjoyably bad, the movie pits a group of obnoxious teenagers against a
mincing gay killer who, uh, can’t seem to let his prison boyfriend go.
It should come as no surprise that the movie comes off as more
homophobic than homofriendly, a charge also railed against Jonathan
Demme’s Oscar-winning horror/thriller The Silence of the Lambs .
Gay rights activists protested the movie’s release, citing it as yet
another example of “homosexual = homicidal.” The villain of the movie,
Jame Gumb, is, after all, a transvestite. While it’s admirable to
expose cinematic homophobia (especially when it’s so recurring that the
“gay killer” is a familiar stereotype), activist missed the mark here.
As even Silence‘s Dr Lecter explains, Gumb isn’t a homosexual
or even a true transvestite — he’s simply a vicious outsider trying on
personalities until he finds one that fits, just like those snazzy
“woman suits” he fashions.

Killers Who Just Happened to Be Gay
The advent of gay
horror movies means that there will be gay killers; what separates
progression from stereotype, however, is that in gay horror films the
villain’s psychosis isn’t necessarily a direct result of his or her
sexual preference. In other words, a gay cuckoo nutso is just a cuckoo
nutso who happens to be gay. This notion is explored in Make A Wish,
a movie touted as the first lesbian slasher. To celebrate her birthday,
Susan takes a camping trip with all of her ex-girlfriends. The only
thing that makes this idea even worse is that a killer shows up and
offs the women one by one. Though I admire the fact that it’s the first
of its kind (hard to believe it took until 2002 for someone to come up
with the idea), Make A Wish ranks as one of the worst slasher
movies I’ve ever seen… and that’s really saying something. Though the
intentions behind the flick are noble, it comes across as a horror
movie made by people who have never seen a horror movie — a simple
case of great idea/bad execution. Still, it’s a start, and the idea
evolved into something better two years later with HellBent,
the first gay slasher. This story of a masked killer stalking the West
Hollywood scene is a fine example of a horror film that happens to also
be a gay film: It’s gory, fun, and at times scary — exactly what you’d
expect from a slasher.

The gay horror genre is still coming into
its own, but it’s certainly a burgeoning cottage industry. As more and
more of these films are produced, gays and lesbians will no longer have
to watch a movie that derides their sexuality; there won’t be any more
grasping at overtones, hoping that maybe that quick glance between two
same-sex characters hints at a relationship; a character’s sexuality
won’t necessarily foretell his or her doom. Meanwhile, if the genre
continues to grow and flourish, straight audiences will be treated to
some good horror movies. Isn’t that what we’re all hoping for anyway?

A fan of horror movies and scary stuff, Stacie Ponder started her blog Final Girl so she’d have a platform from which she could tell everyone that, say, Friday the 13th, Part 2 rules. She leads a glamorous life, walking on the razor’s edge of danger and intrigue.

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