‘Monsters In The Closet’:
An exploration of homosexual/queer themes in horror.
It’s no surprise to anyone that homosexuality is not a theme widely explored within Hollywood and in particular, the horror genre. Sure we have films such as ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’ ‘Hellbent’ and ‘The Gay Bed and Breakfast of Terror’ which heavily identify themselves as catering to the gay demographic of horror films as well as the heterosexual audience, but when you really think about it, how many famous horror films explore themes that academics deem ‘queer theory’? I’m not talking about your obscure bargain bin section film here; I’m referring to both widely known films, and, to an extent, ones that could be referred to as ‘cult classics’ among genre nuts, but very well established within the horror fanbase.
There might be more than you would think and there are a lot of LGBT horror fans, myself included. Some films use the struggle to cope with ones sexuality and identification as a powerful weapon to scare and unnerve the audience, as well as adding interesting subtext to further explore upon viewing. A lot of your favourite villains fit strongly within what is broken down as queer theory through well known LGBT traits.
The first of these themes which we shall explore is that of transexualism/transgerdism, now, I’ll start right off the bat here by saying that because an individual is transgendered or a transvestite, it does NOT mean that they are a homosexual. However, that being said, it does fall into the queer theory category, and, as a gay horror fan myself, I have encountered several transgendered and transvestite people in my life who, thus far, have had not had the urge to off me…as far as I’m aware, anyway.
The first film notable film to feature a transvestite antagonist is Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’, which, if you have heard the word ‘horror’ or even ‘film’ in your entire life, you are aware of this film. We of course refer to Norman Bates who dresses up as his deceased mother when he commits his crimes. Now, although it is heavily implied that Bates suffers from a personality disorder, as he actually becomes his mother, but if we are to psychoanalyse his character to an extent, he not only becomes his mother in his mind, but also through appearance. Like many other killers within the genre, his form of disassociation with his crimes comes from changing his gender, although he looks at Janet Leigh’s character with sexual lust, I can’t help but think there’s a certain envy in his eyes with her beauty and freedom as a sexually active woman. It is no secret that the actor that portrayed Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) was himself a closet gay man during a time which Hollywood didn’t particularly accept homosexuality, and, to an extent, it still doesn’t, I’m betting that there are at least some actors typecast as action heroes who are having to hide their sexuality in order to retain these roles, but I digress.
Let’s fast forward to 1973 with Tobe Hooper’s infamous film, ‘The Texas Chain Saw Massacre’, a film which I always seem to be able to incorporate into any horror film discussion, but if we’re honest, it really has so much substance to it that it’s hard not to include it in most horror topics. Anyway, I again digress.
We of course focus on the antagonist of the film, Leatherface, who in himself is a very complex and interesting character when we get past the ‘big scary man with a chainsaw’ exterior. Leatherface is a cross dresser, which we see in the final third of the film where he changes his regular ‘killing’ mask to that of an old woman and trading his bloodied butchers apron for a more feminine apron. When he dons this outfit after his two brothers arrive home with our screaming protagonist, his personality completely changes to that of a calm, more inquisitive and passive role within the household. Where his two brothers are the ones who leave the house and both run the family business as well as gather victims to bring home to be made into dinner, Leatherface actually stays at home and is a non-violent individual unless provoked, ordered or threatened. He clearly has an identification disorder, like Bates, and he also takes on the motherly role of the home which is only inhabited by male figures (let’s just not even consider Texas Chainsaw 3D). This is not the only time that Leatherface wears the skin of a female within the film, he dons the skin of a female victim who has been heavily clad in lipstick, blush, eye shadow and a woman’s wig, almost making Leatherface look like a drag queen. The fact that Leatherface is for the most part of this film, a passive character is particularly interesting, as well as the fact that his family do not question his more transvestite qualities, at one point his brother embraces it by asking him if he likes Sally Hardesty’s face.
This original film isn’t even the only time that he has these transvestite qualities to him, although the majority of Texas Chainsaw Massacre sequels are awful beyond belief, we cannot deny their inclusion of the character and expansion of these qualities. In 1994’s ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation’, Leatherface once again wears the skin of an old woman and make up clad woman, however, along with the latter, he also wears the female chest skin of a woman, becoming even more engrossed in his transgendered exterior. ‘Texas Chainsaw 3D’ briefly explores these transgendered qualities but only as a continuity issue, not in a particular case in which it wants to explore these qualities of the character further. It is only noted through a passing comment from a character and a few brief shots of Leatherface is womanly clothing and his ‘Pretty Lady’ mask from the flashback segment. It is unknown as to the future of the Chainsaw series, but if there are going to be any sequels to the original franchise or if yet another reboot will rear its ugly head, I would like to see them explore these themes once again as they are just as important to Leatherface as his chainsaw.
Enough about the Sawyers now, let’s move onto another one of cinemas best baddies and quite a contemporary one at that. Buffalo Bill from 1991’s Academy Award winning horror film, ‘The Silence of the Lambs’. Of course, when people think of this film, Anthony Hopkins amazing portrayal of Dr. Hannibal Lecter springs to mind, however, we must remember that Jame Gumb a.k.a Buffalo Bill, was the true villain of the film. Now he doesn’t particularly bring anything new to the whole transgendered serial killer archetype, but he does expand upon Leatherface’s idea of wearing female skin, except Buffalo Bill intends on creating an entire skin suit made out of the flesh of female victims. Now, although Lecter clearly states that Gumb is not a transsexual, however, I think it’s fair to say that Lecter is a textbook example of an unreliable narrator. Even so, Gumb believes himself to be transgendered and he did have a boyfriend at one point and although he may not be diagnosed as a transsexual by Lecter, he does have what we could describe as ‘queer’ qualities to him, what’s for certain is that he’s definitely not straight. There are other aspects to his character apart from the above which further his more flamboyant side, I mean in all honesty, having a poodle called ‘Precious’ running around isn’t exactly the kind of thing that John McClane would sport. Not only that, but Mr. Gumb sports a dashing nipple ring and likes to tuck his Buffalo Billy between his legs as films himself sporting his prototype skin suit while dancing to Q Lazzarus. Gumb doesn’t just want to dress as a woman to express how he feels at a certain point in time like Bates and Leatherface do, he actually wants to become a woman through the use of the skin suit, to be reborn as a female and acquire the ability that woman have to birth new life (an obvious metaphor for the Death’s-head Hawkmoth). ‘Silence of the Lambs’ even came under some controversy at the time for its portrayal of a bi-transgendered psychopath by gay rights groups, this was before the likes of ‘Will and Grace’ showed on television to deliver mainstream gay characters, even some of which appeared in later horror films such as ‘Bride of Chucky’ and ‘Scream 4’ (well, at least he claimed he was gay to save his own skin). Obviously when we fast forward twenty years later, there is nothing to get in an uproar about.
Now, all three of these villains are inspired by the same real life killer, Ed Gein, who I’m sure you’re all aware of, so I won’t go into a long winded discussion of him and his crimes, Google is your best friend if you’re interested in the biggest inspiration of horror as far as murderers go. But it’s not just these three in which transvestism and transgendered quality traits fit into within horror. We of course have the likes of the ‘Dressed to Kill’ which heavily focuses on transgenderism and again, having a character with identity issues become the violent antagonist of the picture. ‘Dressed to Kill’ is more of a thriller than a horror, so it’s worth a mention but not a particularly in-depth analysis. However, there is a transgendered character within horror we can explore. That is of course Angela Baker of the b-movie series ‘Sleepaway Camp’.
We don’t learn that Angela is in fact a male who believes he is a female until the very end of the film, in one of the most shocking endings of cinematic history (that expression that Angela has on her face still gives me the creeps). However, there are a few shot sequences of gay parents within the film which was very bold of the time, in fact, as far as I’m aware, it is the first on-camera sexual embrace of two male characters in the genre. Of course, ‘Sleepaway Camp’ was quite the success, riding on the wave that Friday The 13th left behind, and in these sequels, Angela had undergone a sex change operation, making her the female that she always believed herself to be, or at least, convinced to be thanks to a mentally unstable relative. It’s through Angela’s psychological breakdown in regards to her sexuality and gender identity that caused her to commit the murders of the first film.
Our exploration into the blood splattered rainbow flag of horror doesn’t stop here, no, far from it actually. However, I do think that identification through your own biological identity is a very interesting and complex topic. It’s something we very rarely see in horror these days as film makers believe these aspects to be too comedic to an audience, rather than horrific. I blame them rather than the issue itself; a good horror film maker knows how to make
any issue frightening.
Vampires are no strangers to sexuality, well, actual vampires that is, none of that contemporary crap like that-which-shall-not-be-named. ‘The Lost Boys’ was made shortly after the discovery of AIDS with Joel Schumacher directing, pre-Bat nipple days. We all know the mythology surrounding vampires, so I won’t condescend you savvy readers with some of the most basic aspects of the horror genre, nor will I get into the character of Sam’s fashion. Instead we focus on the protagonist and the antagonist of the film, Michael and David. To spoil a very small aspect of the film and one that probably states on the back of your DVD cover, David is the leader of a small group of 1980’s punk vampires in Santa Carla who inducts Michael into the group by having him drink the blood of a vampire, causing Michael to become a half-vampire. Now, you don’t need to think hard here as to why I mentioned that this film is post-AIDS, it deals with the idea of infection through blood and features many homoerotic moments between Michael and David, battling for dominance over his sexual identity. And you know, the muscular greased up saxophone player really says it all in regards to the films visual innuendo.
Not only do we have ‘The Lost Boys’ to look at for homoerotic subtext, we have the 1994 film ‘Interview With The Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles’ which features the first same-sex undead couple to have a child…ever, I think! Of course this film is based on the novel by the famous horror writer, Anne Rice and she has openly stated that the characters of Louis and Lestat are a same sex couple within her written work, and it seems to have travelled quick faithfully in this respect to the film adaptation. Now although the film does not outright state that they are a couple, their relationship is very erotic even though they technically cannot have sex, nor do they. Their relationship is built firmly upon the fact that they have a daughter, Claudia, a small girl who they have turned into a vampire and deem it their responsibility to mentor and care for. Now considering Louis had a family while he was alive, let’s just assume he is bi-sexual, Lestat on the other hand seduces him into his ‘lifestyle’ for lack of a better term. Now, despite the fact we are referring only to films here, I feel that it is at least safe and relevant to interject that Anne Rice’s vampires are all bi-sexual after they have turned, in the sense that they look for companionship rather than any form of physical relationship, which is biologically impossible for them.
Let’s move forward to a very controversial film within horror in regards to gay undertones, or in this case, gay overtones. That is of course, ‘A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge’. I really think that film needs zero introduction as to why it’s appearing within this article, hell, on the Elm Street retrospective documentary ‘Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy’ (which I highly, highly, recommend), the creators discuss the gay overtones within the film to a certain extent, clearing up an issue that surrounded the film for years by stating that they were indeed meant as subtext and it isn’t the result of over analysing the material.
What we should note about Nightmare 2 is that rather than introducing us to a ‘final girl’ protagonist, we instead have a gender reversal, making it the ‘final boy’. Mark Patton plays Jessie Walsh, the lead character within the film and interestingly enough, he is an openly gay man in reality, so we have to wonder if this aspect was a deciding role on choosing him for the part, as well as his acting capabilities. Jessie is clearly not your typical horror film male character; most of the films within the genre have their lead roles being one of three stereotypes; the rugged hero, the practical joker or the overly horny jock. Jessie, with all due respect, is very flamboyant in most ways, especially with his screams and a certain scene involving dancing. Although there is a female love interest within the film, Lisa, Jessie has more of an interest in his male friend, even fleeing from a sexual encounter with Lisa, to confide in him in his bedroom, even commenting that Krueger ‘wants to get inside his body’ to which his friend replies ‘And you wanna sleep with me?’. Even the way that Freddy emerges from Jessie in the following scene has homoerotic overtones to it, he literally ‘comes out’ of Jessie, killing his friend before taunting Jessie in the reflection of a mirror sat on a closet door, hell, giving us the illusion of Freddy being ‘in the closet’. Of course, heterosexual equilibrium is restored in the finale of the film, but from what Nightmare 2 shows us before this conclusion is that it is more a horror film about a boy coming to terms with his sexuality, rather than that of a burned dream killer, Freddy for the most part, is barely in the film at all.
Jessie however is not the only character that raises questions about sexuality. The first is Jessie’s gym teacher, Coach Schneider who is outright homosexual within Nightmare 2 through various comments made by characters and, you know, he’s seen inside a gay bar wearing a leather harness across his chest. From the short time he is on screen until he’s offed, we can see that Jessie seems to be the type of boy that he targets, sexually, ‘He likes pretty boys like you’, says one character, Grady. The coach is portrayed as being a very masculine and dominant (to use a better word) within the film, which makes his death all the more ironic considering Freddy essentially makes him his submissive bitch within Springwood High’s gym shower rooms by stringing him up, whipping him with towels and for lack of a better word, using some finger play as he slashes him to death. This is a true showcase of Freddy’s form of foreplay, by torturing the victim first.
The aforementioned character, Grady, who is a well groomed and defined jock character who partakes in some playful teasing and taunting of Jessie before becoming his friend when they bond in detention, being forced to do push ups in some very skimpy gym clothes. There seems to be homoerotic tension between Grady and Jessie throughout the whole film, Grady even rips Jessie’s trousers off at one point, revealing his jockstrap as they both wrestle in the dirt of the school’s baseball field. In the aforementioned scene where Jessie goes to confide in Grady, we get another example of gratuitous male nudity, well, nothing full frontal, but the several lingering shots of both Jessie and Grady in their underwear at various points within the film says it all really.
The last of which is Freddy himself who wants to ‘take over Jessie’s body’, becoming a dominant figure in a very sadomasochistic relationship between himself and Jessie. Now, before I’m lynched, I’m well aware that Freddy for the most part, spurts sexual innuendos at female characters, but we also have to remember that he was a child molester as well as a child murderer. The children that chant the rhyme ‘One, Two, Freddy’s coming for you…” were not all female in the following sequels. Freddy has always been an antagonist who uses his victims’ fears and insecurities against them from his first appearance, so naturally if we analyse this film as we have been doing, the pieces all fit together in one big glittery puzzle.
‘A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge’ really does hold up to its reputation as being the ‘gayest horror film ever’, you have everything that you could ever expect within here. The whole film is a story about sexual repression, angst and acceptance.
Right, well, moving swiftly on from Elm Street, we find ourselves with another hat loving nasty. Yep, The Creeper from ‘Jeepers Creepers’ has a few secrets lurking within his closet too. However, we will again be focusing on the second (and so far, last) entry into this series, ‘Jeepers Creepers 2’. It’s no secret that the director of both entries into the series, Victor Salva, is openly homosexual (and I won’t touch his criminal reputation with a ten foot pole here, Google it if you don’t know what I’m talking about) and that comes across strongly in a lot of the imagery that ‘Jeepers Creepers 2’ presents. For example, rather than having the typical gratuitous amounts of female nudity on show, instead we have about a bakers dozen of jocks sunbathing on a school bus roof or openly having a pissing contest with one another. Yeah.
Hell, the first time we see The Creeper within the sequel, he is stalking a pre-pubescent boy in a cornfield, now, I’ve always seen The Creeper as a very sexually intrusive and abusive creature which isn’t exactly a long stretch of what he actually is, think about it. The thing takes the most ‘ideal’ parts of your body, ergo, the attractive portions and uses it to merge with its own body and regenerate itself. Although in ‘Jeepers Creepers’ it targets females and males, it grows a particular taste for the latter in the sequel. Most of the film has the group of teenagers (football players and cheerleaders) trapped in a school bus after The Creeper has dispatched of the few adults chaperoning them on the trip, who in themselves, raise some questions and one particular scene about halfway through the film has The Creeper surveying the group, picking out what body part of which person he wants, almost as if he is cruising them. He eventually gets to one particular male before licking the glass and being aroused just by the sight of him. What’s to note is that none of the typical female slasher archetypes present die at the hands of The Creeper, he is fixated on the male anatomy, even at one point, ripping off one of his male victims shirt before leaving the body on the floor of the school bus.
Not only do we have The Creeper supplying some homoerotism to the film, but the cast of jocks seem to have a constant cloud of sexual tension hanging above them, one member even comments that’s he worried about another member of their football team coming onto him or any other male on the bus. This accusation of homosexuality is constant throughout the film, even after The Creeper attacks. You would think that where someone sticks their junk would be the last thing on your mind when a supernatural monster might just want to eat that particular part of you.
The film is littered with homoerotic subtext, nearly to the extent of ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge’, I have only covered the tip of the iceberg when it comes to LGBT themes within horror films. Don’t believe me? Watch any of these films again with these aspects in mind and still argue that there isn’t something underneath the layer of the piece, intentional or not. As stated before, trying to discover ones own identity can be the scariest thing of all and some of the best horror films truly know how to use this anxiety and fear against the viewer either through the victim or the boogeyman.
– Jozef Hamilton