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Course & Subject Guides

Queer Horror @ Pitt

A guide to queer horror at Pitt

How to "Read" Queer Cinema

Many of the films in this guide don't outwardly appear to be queer. To the casual heterosexual viewer, many of these films may not seem to contain any queer subtext. Allow me to explain.

When you view a film under a queer "reading mode," you'll find subtext that may have been missed during a first watch. Due to production codes and social stigma, many horror filmmakers have had to discuss queer topics and identity under the guise of other metaphors and symbols. This means that your run-of-the-mill vampire movie, for example, likely contains queer subtext, as vampires and monsters of all kinds are common metaphors for queer "otherness" and the isolation that comes with it.

The films on this list include films read through a queer lens given the role of directors, screenwriters, and stars, as well as films that are more explicitly queer. This guide is by no means an exhaustive list of all queer horror films and horror films with queer subtext- rather, it's a curated collection of queered horror. 

By "queered" horror, I mean both explicitly queer texts and texts that contain queered elements. "Queer" being a verb here. Many monsters and myths queer the monster themself. Or, rather- the act of being queer can be portrayed as being monstrous, in the same way that being "monstrous" or "physically deformed" makes you an "other," an outsider. "Dangerous," posing a threat to the status quo. 

In this way, a movie can also be "queered" by simply other-ing a character for being monstrous or mutating/changing heterosexual relationships and the idea of the nuclear family unit (Carrie, The Last House on The Left, The Bad Seed). Any rejection of the status quo or religion, or attacks on family and society, "queer" horror spaces. 

As genres and genre studies expand, more and more films can be added to this list. Many films on here also occupy a multi-genre space, which is quite common within horror subgenres and queer horror especially, as aspects of camp tend to exist in tandem inside the main horror storyline. For example, a slasher film can delve into supernatural elements (Nightmare on Elm Street 3) or a horror-comedy can contain a slasher-esque storyline that itself feels a bit campy (Jennifer's Body).

I've learned that it's difficult to identify and label films as queer, in the same way that I sometimes struggle with labeling films as feminist. (The Neon Demon claims to be both queer and feminist, but all I remember is two hours of women hurting each other and men hurting women, which doesn't feel too "feminist" for me.) Because horror film and film in general has been historically dominated by men in all aspects- production, direction, marketers, reviewers- identifying queer horror becomes a matter of whatever your individual reading strategy is. 

Having a gay or queer character does not a queer film make. The criteria here involves some camp and intertextual relay- for example, the casting of a known queer actor, or a film's association with a queer director or producer (Ryan Murphy, etc.) 

Reading modes change over time. For many years, gay and/or trans characters have been treated as monsters that threaten mainstream societal values and morals. I have not included many films like this, for I believe we're coming a bit further along in America. I don't enjoy watching queer people be harmed. 

For more on queer reading modes in the horror genre, look to the general critical texts below.

General Critical Texts