Nobody does Halloween quite like the queer community. After all, costumes, campiness, and a perverse love of horror are tenets of queer culture at every time of the year. However, despite queer folks’ adoration of all things spooky, they are frequently misrepresented in horror movies. Queer people have always been pioneers when it comes to subversive media unafraid of abjection; yet the horror genre does not always do them justice, usually killing them off after establishing their gayness. That being said, queer horror films have always existed and continue to gain visibility and recognition. Here are five LGBTQ+ halloween films – spanning almost 50 years – that include queer storylines, characters, and aesthetics, or have later been integrated into queer culture. These films prove that not only do queer people exist in horror, but they do it the best.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
It feels wrong to start this list with anything other than Rocky Horror. The movie-musical follows prudish couple Brad and Janet, who stumble into the mansion of mad scientist Dr. Frank N. Furter. From there, things get incredibly freaky in every sense. Perhaps one of the most essential queer films of all time, it continues to be at the centre of LGBTQ+ cultural discourse. Its fluid, sexy, and liberated depiction of gender and sexuality was far ahead of its time, and is still a common talking point in discussions of queer visual culture.
Rocky Horror is the epitome of camp with its absurd and colourful sets, over-the-top makeup and costumes, and legendary musical numbers. It blurs the boundaries between scary and beautiful, especially through the character of Frank N. Furter (played by a corset-clad Tim Curry). But what makes it so special are the theatrical screenings. Independent cinemas usually screen the film around Halloween, and viewers dress up, have a “V” for virgin written on them if they’ve never seen the film, and interject the dialogue with “slut” and “asshole” when appropriate. Montreal’s Cinéma Imperial held a themed Halloween ball for the film just last week. But even if you watch at home, The Rocky Horror Picture Show is truly a one-of-a-kind filmic experience for queer audiences and Halloween lovers in general.
Elvira: Mistress of the Dark (1988)
Although not an explicitly queer film in its content, few films have become quite as endlessly referenced among LGBTQ+ moviegoers as Elvira. Based on the character from the TV series Elvira’s Movie Macabre, it follows Cassandra Peterson as Elvira who goes to a small, puritanical town in Massachusetts to collect an inheritance, but immediately sticks out like a sore thumb. Her massive hair, slinky dress, gravity-defying cleavage, and bold sexuality are all foreign to her new community. This reaction doesn’t damper her spirit; instead, she quickly transforms her surroundings.
Few characters have such campy wardrobes and sexual openness as Elvira, making her an icon to queer viewers despite not being a queer character. Cassandra Peterson, however, is queer herself and is in a long-term relationship with a woman. The film’s hilarious, dirty dialogue also makes it very fun to quote, and is often featured in queer media like Rupaul’s Drag Race. Peterson herself even went on the show as Elvira to guest judge in 2012 and 2019. So, even if the film alone isn’t explicitly “queer,” it perfectly represents the sexuality, campiness, and scariness celebrated by the queer world.
Jennifer’s Body (2009)
Potentially my personal favourite movie of all time and the origin story for many bisexual women, Jennifer’s Body has recently experienced a renaissance and risen to cult classic status. It is the story of Anita “Needy” Lesnicki and her best friend Jennifer who, after a sacrifice gone wrong, becomes a boy-eating demon. Themes of compulsory heterosexuality, the ambiguity of female sexuality, and violence against women underscore a riveting and bloody teen flick that, had it not been marketed to young horny boys, should have been an instant classic upon its release.
Written by Diablo Cody (Juno) and directed by Karyn Kusama, the all-female directorial team clearly understands the complicated dynamics and latent queer desire of young female friendships. The explicit communication of these themes adds another layer to the film’s action, creativity, humour, and cartoonish gore. Like Elvira, it is also endlessly quotable, and Megan Fox’s delivery as Jennifer is campy teen horror perfection. In my eyes a perfect film, Jennifer’s Body is a must-watch queer girl horror movie.
Black Swan (2010)
Unlike the campier selections here, Black Swan is a haunting psychological thriller directed by Darren Aronofsky at his finest. When ballerina Nina is selected to play both the black and white swan in Swan Lake, she becomes so hellbent on perfection that her body and mind begin falling apart. She becomes paranoid about her rival Lily, and the tension between the two escalates to something that is beyond merely professional. Nina’s psychological hallucinations gradually build throughout the film, revealing her desire for Lily. Through Aronofsky’s cryptic filmmaking, we are as unable to tell what is real and what is fake as Nina is.
Nina’s paranoia manifests in a disturbingly visceral manner. She has visions of her nails bleeding and falling off, and wings sprouting from scars on her back as she literally becomes the swan queen. Similar mirages occur with Lily; after an intense love scene between the two, Nina wakes the next day to find that it was another hallucination. Like Jennifer, Nina’s queerness is subliminal, and can only be seen through the horror of what is likely a schizophrenic episode. With Tchaikovsky’s musical masterpiece underscoring Natalie Portman’s Oscar-winning performance as Nina, Black Swan is a thrilling, terrifying, and captivating account of queer and perfectionist desire.
Bodies Bodies Bodies (2021)
The most recent entry on this list, Bodies Bodies Bodies is a satiric horror-comedy that ridicules the oblivion of privileged young people through the use of violence, murder, and chaos. When a group of rich influencer twenty-somethings camp out in a mansion during a hurricane, one gets their throat slit during a murder mystery game. The rest of the group then violently turns against one another as they try to find the killer among them. We watch as their logic slowly deteriorates, with personal plights influencing accusations.
Sophie (played by nonbinary actor Amandla Stenberg) and Bee, the main lesbian couple in the film, are already together when the film starts. This casual representation means that there is no tedious queer relationship trauma to be dealt with. And (spoiler alert), their survival throughout the film topples the trope of swiftly killing off gay characters. Bodies instead dedicates its social commentary to the hilarious ignorance of the characters, who all feign socio-political awareness despite living in a bubble of privilege. Their shallowness is hysterically conveyed in their line delivery, making Bodies not only a definitive queer horror movie, but a quintessentially Gen Z one too.
Of course, what defines “queer horror” is not objective or finite, but these films provide an excellent first foray into an important sub-genre. The conventions of the horror aesthetic have long been synonymous with queer culture, which is why it is so crucial that when queer folks appear in horror films, they are justly represented. Engaging with queer horror films, in turn, encourages proper representation of the LGBTQ+ demographic in the genre. This gives queer artists and stories the freedom to be scary not because of trauma and homophobia, but because of the gore, camp, and excitement that queer horror fans truly love.