8 Must-See LGBTQ+ Horror Films
It’s well-recognised that LGBTQ+ audiences have a special affinity for horror movies and adjacent media. Whether it’s that sense of recognising one’s self in the outsider, or just a love for the shameless exaggeration horror can offer, horror films have, often through metaphor and allegory, played a crucial role in countless journeys of sexual and gender identity.
Yet, LGBTQ+ characters rarely take centre stage when it comes to actual horror movies. While it looked for a brief moment in the early 80s like queer characters might be on the verge of normalised depictions in horror narratives, the AIDS crisis sent Hollywood’s most transgressive genre scurrying in conservative retreat, leaving queer audiences to read between the lines for at least another couple of decades.
The push towards intelligent, nuanced portrayals of LGBTQ+ characters in horror since around 2000 has been more successful, despite the continued presence of tropes such as ‘bury your gays’ and queerness itself as a poorly disguised pathology – and yes, there are ways to do both these tropes well in a way that isn’t harmful.
If you’re joining us tomorrow for Renaissance Press Virtual Con’s panel on Writing Inclusive Horror, you’ll hear about some of the tropes, history, and techniques for using queer characters well in horror, among other topics. In the meantime, here are eight of my favourite LGBTQ+ horror movies that hit the right spot.
Knife + Heart (2018, Yann Gonzalez)
A shameless love letter to the Italian giallo films of the 70s and 80s, Knife + Heart is a grisly slasher thriller set in the world of gay porn. There’s plenty of gays – of every gender – to bury here, but that’s mostly because there are hardly any straight characters at all. It’s all queer, all the time, beautifully shot and served up with plenty of thrills and a good dose of humour.
The Limehouse Golem (2016, Juan Carlos Medina)
If you love a good mystery set within the fog of Victorian London, The Limehouse Golem transports you to a world rich with queer sensibility and ambiguous sexuality. What’s not ambiguous is the sexuality of Bill Nighy’s lead character, the detective charged with solving the gruesome killings. Also, imagine, the role was originally offered to Alan Rickman before his untimely passing.
Mulholland Drive (2001, David Lynch)
Oh, Mulholland Drive. Not typically included in lists of ‘queer film,’ David Lynch’s masterpiece Hollywood nightmare continues to confound even its most devoted fans. You might even question its validity as ‘horror’ if it didn’t defy categorisation entirely. But it is scary, and it is… Lynch, with the dreams of a young starlet and the beautiful amnesiac who captures her heart at its centre. Best approached more as a sensory experience than a linear narrative, one trip down Mulholland Drive is essential, though you might want to take two or three just to be sure of what you saw.
Rift (2017, Erlingur Óttar Thoroddsen)
This blink and you missed it gem from Iceland slow burns with creeping psychological horror and the perils of caring too much about your ex. Thoroddsen uses the starkly beautiful landscape to magnificent effect, as its protagonists are haunted by what seems like the spectre of their relationship itself.
The Skin I Live In (2011, Pedro Almodóvar)
My somewhat unconventional gateway drug into Pedro Almodóvar, The Skin I Live In is a Frankenstein tale of abduction, obsession, and seriously twisted gender politics as only Almodóvar can explore them. Bringing a compassionate and nuanced sensibility to a story that could be problematic in the wrong hands, The Skin I Live in stands proud as the creepy cousin in the master’s filmography.
Spiral (2019, Kurtis David Harder)
Not to be confused with the upcoming Saw film of the same name, this intelligent Canadian shocker puts two gay dads at the centre of a small- town mystery that’s equal parts Rosemary’s Baby and Get Out. Though it occasionally leans into cliches, Spiral doesn’t browbeat with its social commentary, allowing the dread to build slowly to its satisfying and shocking conclusion.
Stranger by the Lake (2013, Alain Guiraudie)
A cult hit about the darker side of cruising. What if that hot guy you hooked up with has a taste for bringing his hook-ups to a deadly end? What if you can’t let him go, despite the dangers? Love turns lethal in Stranger by the Lake, with razor-sharp tension and a genuine, surprisingly un-sensationalised warmth toward its subject matter.
Thelma (2017, Joachim Trier)
It’s reductive to call Thelma the Nordic, queer Carrie, though the similarities are there. It’s a familiar story as queerness develops alongside a sense of adult self, alongside supernatural powers, all of them bucking against the rigidly conservative Christian upbringing Thelma has known her whole life. Even if we’ve seen this story a number of times before, it’s rarely done with the style and compassion of Thelma.