Monday, June 1, 2009

Gay Vampires?!: Queer Subtext in the Horror Genre

Although it may come as a surprise, a prominent area of focus in queer media studies lies in the horror genre, which is normally pretty heterosexist.....but what defines this genre is that it plays into our fears. The queer community experiences great fear in coming out of the closet and is very familiar with horrors such as AIDS and hate crimes. Like the monsters in horror texts, the queer community is often perceived as destructive to the moral fabric of society. They are often rejected for being who they are and prevented from living a "normal" life. Yet like the protagonists in horror texts, they also fight to overcome an oppressive and destructive evil.

In the 1980s, a decade that was dominated in America by the conservative religious right, horror texts - as well as homosexuality - were considered evil. Filmmakers (especially gay ones) decided to play with this and invert the conventions of traditional horror films. In many examples of queer horror, the villains (especially werewolves and vampires) are not necessarily evil, just misunderstood. These films skillfully and subtly address the cultural anxieties surrounding the gay community.

In A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge, Freddy Krueger possesses Jesse, a teenage boy, in his dreams to continue his murdering in the real world. Critics and viewers alike have noticed a highly evident subtext of Jesse's repressed homosexuality in the film. He is afraid that "something is trying to get inside my body."

Vampires serve as common media representations of the queer community, and for the most part, they embrace this. It depicts them as an elite group that doesn't follow the usual constraints of society. It is also fairly easy to see the connection between bloodsucking and the AIDS virus, which, in the 80s, was largely believed to be a gay disease. Some prominent examples of queer texts concerning vampires include The Lost Boys (1987), directed by Joel Schumacher, who is openly gay. This film deals with a battle between vampires and a group who call themselves "fighters for justice, truth, and the American way." The vampires seduce a teenager into joining them by having him drink blood. In Interview with the Vampire (1994), Tom Cruise seduces Brad Pitt into becoming a vampire (or a member of the queer community), and the two of them essentially become a gay couple raising their "daughter" (a little girl who they vampire-ize), Kirsten Dunst.

The 2001 horror film Jeepers Creepers and its 2003 sequel were directed by Victor Salva, an openly gay man and convicted child molester who confessed to 5 felony counts of sexual relations with a 12-year-old boy in the late 1980s. Unquestionably, themes of homosexuality and pedophilia do come to the surface in Salva's films. The Creepers franchise is a rare horror specimen in that the victims of the villain (the Creeper) are not virginal young girls, but rather young men (in the sequel, a busload of shirtless jocks). In the first film, the Creeper's victim is the boyish Darry, a supposed "closet case." The monster is completely uninterested in Darry's sister, but he rams his shaft-like truck into the trunk of Darry's car. Here is a good review/queer reading of Jeepers Creepers.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer has a large gay following and is probably the best example of queer horror on television. It features stylish and powerful female characters as well as queer characters, and it makes outsiders cool. Charmed also featured queer themes and characters, as well as lesbian undertones.

Other examples:
- The Rocky Horror Picture Show, a parody of sci-fi and horror movies, whose Dr. Frank N Furter is a "sweet transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania" who creates a blonde, tan man (just like Frankenstein) named Rocky Horror for his own pleasure
- Michael Jackson's Thriller video, in which MJ warns his date that he's "not like other guys" right before he turns into a werewolf

What is it with the connection between horror/the supernatural and sexuality? For more on this topic, click here.

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