Intro to Queer Horror: From ‘Dracula’s Daughter’ to ‘Knives and Skin’

     October 7, 2020

intro-to-queer-horror

Horror films are fascinating for what they reveal about the cultures which created them. The history of queer representation within the genre extends well beyond film as a medium, seen in literary works like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818), Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla (1872) and, of course, Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897), which have literally shaped horror films as they’ve always been known. If we understand that the monster is a symbol or metaphor for social anxiety, then the vampire is perhaps most notoriously queer. Nevertheless, the subject of queerness in horror extends well beyond this one specific subgenre.

The first thing to understand when approaching Queer Horror is that it’s been sculpted in response to The Production (or Hays) Code which officially censored the stories that could be told onscreen from 1934 until 1967. This mode of ‘self-government in business’ decreed three general principles- namely that only ‘correct standards of life’ should be presented, so as to ‘not lower the moral standards of those who see it.’  A loophole was offered in establishing ‘necessary dramatic contrast,’ the impact of which was to effectively erase both queer and Black folks from the screen specifically as human beings. Instead, our likeness was transposed onto the monstrous Other.

In their evolution, these depictions also typically come to feature some element of pathology, institutionalization, and/or scientific experimentation, operating through a logic which equates queerness with mental & physical illness. But as culture has shifted, so too have our roles in horror—a needle often pushed by queer writers and directors themselves (out or not) whose influence is both seen and felt in the films’ treatment. The camera is a gaze, after all.

Of this particular list, I’ve intentionally excluded some of the more obvious films (the Child’s Play franchise, The Silence of the Lambs, The Babadook, etc.) in favor of creating space for movies which feature queer Black characters, who remain wildly underrepresented in the genre at large. My hope is to illustrate the long history of Queer Horror, while showcasing the overripe potential for what Queer Black Horror could be.

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