Happy Pride, spooky darlings! This is the first of our three-part series on our favourite queer horror picks, selected by the AOAS Squad and some of our favourite horror critics and Grim contributors. We’ve included links to stream or purchase each selection—hope you love these films as much as we do!
Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker (AKA Night Warning) (1981)
This gonzo little melodrama is notable for its scene-stealing Oedipal relationship between Aunt Cheryl (Susan Tyrell) and her 17-year-old nephew Billy (Jimmy McNichol). Focusing too much on the incestual yearning, however, would involve overlooking the film’s sharp critique of the antagonistic relationship between police and queer people. The true villain of this bizarre slasher is not homicidal Aunt Cheryl, but rather homophobic Detective Joe Carlson (Bo Svenson) who decides with laser focus (and zero evidence) that Billy is a murderer solely because his basketball coach is gay.
A film in which the heroes are queer or queer-coded and the true villain is a traditionally masculine police detective? For a 1981 slasher, Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker is a true masterpiece that has to be seen to be believed.
Closet Monster (2015)
Queer coming-out narratives are a dime a dozen, but this East Coast tale of trauma cuts deeper than most. Not only is teenager Oscar (Connor Jessup) caught in the middle of his parents’ ugly divorce, during which he sided with his drunk, mildly abusive father Peter (Aaron Abrams), but he’s struggling with his burgeoning feelings for a sexually fluid French co-worker Wilder (Aliocha Schneider). The issue is that any feelings of intimacy or sexual yearning are accompanied by psychosomatic pangs of agony that stem from witnessing a hate crime as a child in which a gay boy was sexually assaulted with a rebar.
Writer/director Stephen Dunn has created a beautiful, occasionally surreal ode to not just the delicacies of standing up for and accepting yourself, but also the liminal line that divides physical and psychological trauma in queer youth. Gorgeous, haunting and resplendently anchored by Jessup’s performance (who later came out as a gay man), Closet Monster is a Canadian gem.
Availability: Stream on CBC Gem
And now for something completely different: a tale of two men so desperately in love with each other that they find an excuse to take a long, investigative road trip rather than spend time with the possessed supposed object of their affection.
Witchboard has long been part of the queer-coded canon for its combustive, antagonistic relationship between leads Jim (Todd Allen) and Brandon (Stephen Nicols). And while it is often Whitesnake video model Tawny Kitaen (and her mounds of luscious hair) that dominated discussion of the film, queers in the know can sniff out the homoerotic tension between Linda’s two boyfriends a mile away, particularly Jim’s inability to be emotional until something happens to Brandon.
It’s silly, dumb and ridiculous, but I’m forever a stan of these two idiots who should have run away together (perhaps on the blessing of Kathleen Wilhoite’s zany fortune teller Zarabeth). It’s truly telling that the film nosedives when it becomes an ode to a more traditional (read: boring) heterosexual romance.
Availability: Stream on YouTube.
The Handmaiden (2016)
Based on Sarah Waters’s 2002 novel Fingersmith and set in Japanese-occupied Korea in the 1930s, the film follows orphaned pickpocket Sook-Hee (Kim Tae-ri) and her connection with con artist “Count Fujiwara” (Ha Jung-woo). He proposes a devious plot against an heiress, Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee), intending to seduce and marry her with assistance from strategically placed help, then have her committed to an asylum and steal her inheritance. Sook-Hee agrees to pose as a servant, but Lady Hideko’s beauty and charm soon blind her to a forthcoming double-crossing that exposes dark family secrets.
Writer-director Park Chan-Wook masterfully weaves psychological thrills, erotic seductions, and sinister crimes into a visually stunning film. Easily one of my favourite movies.
Availability: Stream on YouTube and Prime Video (US).
Assassination Nation (2018)
Scandal is stirring in post-#MeToo Salem, Massachusetts, in this witch-hunt for the digital age. Sultry high school student, Lily (Odessa Young), and her three besties (Suki Waterhouse, Abra, and Hari Nef) are caught in the crossfire after a nasty data hack online exposes the town’s dirty little secrets. Panic sets in and tempers rise as desperate Salemites search for a face to blame, setting off a chain of violence that explodes into a fiery rampage in the streets.
It’s truly uncomfortable how relevant Sam Levinson’s film is but it captures both the mindless idiocy and the boiling outrage of our current social climate. Consider seeking out Harmony M. Colangelo’s article Assassination Nation’ and the Transgender Gaze for a closer filmic analysis.
If you liked the frenetic style, badass girl gang, and feminist narrative of Assassination Nation, make sure to also check out Bit. Fresh from high school graduation and eager to strike out on her own, trans teen Laurel (Nicole Maines) packs up and hits the road. On her first night in L.A., she checks out an after-hours party with Izzy (Zolee Griggs), an alluring stranger who’s seeking more than privacy at the shadowy rooftop gathering. After being bitten by Izzy, Laurel comes neck-to-face with a new reality and a brood of punk feminist vampires, lead by the menacing Duke (Diana Hopper). When Laurel wakes the next morning with more than a hangover, she seeks out the group who present her with a tempting ultimatum.
Director Brad Michael Elmore offers up a fun and fresh spin on the vampire mythos that gnashes its teeth at the patriarchy and its sexist attitudes. Bonus: it has some killer cinematography, thanks to Cristina Dunlap.
Availability: Stream on YouTube and Prime Video (US).
Honourable mention: Hannibal (2013-2015)
Bryan Fuller’s television series is one of the latest adaptations of Thomas Harris’ novels, with a focus on the early days in the intimate relationship between the enigmatic Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikklesen) and FBI criminal profiler Will Graham (Hugh Dancy). The duo is affectionately referred to as ‘murder husbands’ for their intense involvement and entanglement in the investigation of grotesque yet poetic crimes. Spoiler alert: S/O to the ‘murder wives,’ Dr. Alana Bloom (Caroline Dhavernas) and Margot Verger (Katherine Isabelle) whose bond stems from their shared hatred for Mason Verger (Michael Pitt/Joe Anderson).
This sumptuous show was criminally underappreciated during its original airing period, and, as a ‘fannibal,’ I am grateful that there’s a resurgence in interest with its recent addition to Netflix. Here’s hoping it FINALLY gets picked up for continuation (looking at you, Netflix).
Availability: Stream on Netflix (CAN) and Prime Video (US).
LAURA DI GIROLAMO
Interview With the Vampire (1994)
Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles novel series is infamously horny, and her beautiful brood of tortured immortals feel powerful attraction towards human and vampire alike; men, women, and at least a couple of folks who identify elsewhere. Despite pressure from the studio to keep the 1994 film adaptation of her 1976 debut novel Interview With the Vampire on the hetero side, director Neil Jordan (no stranger to depicting queer relationships in his films) kept in a fair amount of sexual tension and looks of longing between fledging vampire Louis (Brad Pitt, possibly stoned) and his sadistic-yet-charming vampire maker Lestat (Tom Cruise, in what I honestly think is his best role).
The film as a whole is about the toxic dynamics of a relationship built on lies and deceit (Lestat turns Louis into a vampire without his consent), one that adopts a child (perma-kid vampire Claudia, played by Kirsten Dunst at a terrifyingly talented age 12) in order to “save” that relationship, to disastrous results. It’s a power dynamic we’ve seen played out before amongst straight couples, but to have an entire film about Murder Dads trying to raise a disobedient teenage daughter while feasting on the blood of New Orleans is something special.
The Hunger (1983)
Another entry in the horny queer vampire canon, The Hunger is less campy than Interview With the Vampire but still totally dripping in smouldering, androgynous sexuality (Susan Sarandon’s haircut alone is iconic) and depicts an 80s gothic romance that crosses gender lines.
It’s a common theme in vampire fiction—that their hunger for the physicality of human connection, their fascination with fragile mortals, and their immortality causes them to fall in love and lust widely, with little preference towards gender. The Hunger is about just that—the hunger for life, love, music, fashion, violence, and sex; the full gamut of hedonistic human emotion throughout their continuously lengthened lives. As vampire Miriam’s (Catherine Deneuve) immortal lover John (David Bowie) mysteriously begins ageing, he becomes grotesque in her eyes. She is no longer able to see him as Bowie at the height of his swagger. At the same time, it’s her growing obsession and hunger for Sarah (Sarandon) that ultimately pushes Mariam away from men sexually, even as Sarah, herself a mortal woman, feels a frustrating lack of attraction to her male partner. This sexual tension eventually culminates in an infamously erotic sex scene between the two that’s a bit silly on rewatch (so much classical music!), but undeniably super hot.
Let the Right One In (2008)
Every vampire film is about lonely misfits, but it’d be hard to pick one with the same sense of beautiful melancholy as Let the Right One In, a film as quiet and cold as Interview With the Vampire and The Hunger are bold and sexy. The story of an ostracized, socially awkward, occasionally violent preteen boy named Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) who befriends a child vampire named Eli (Lina Leandersson) living in his apartment building, Let the Right One In depicts a relationship of mutual trust that goes beyond gender. When Oskar asks Eli, who he assumes is female, to be “his girlfriend”, Eli answers that they’re “not a girl”. The novel the film is based on is less vague, but the film goes to great lengths to portray Eli as more androgynous, even having another actress with a deeper voice dub over Leandersson’s. Unphased by Eli’s answer, Oskar is only happy to have found someone who truly listens and understands him, regardless of who they are, even if that’s a genderqueer vampire.
Oskar and Eli are ostracized from their friends and family in a way that can be very recognizable for queer people who feel alienated from a heteronormative world, the same way that their love for each other mirrors how deep a connection can be between two kindred misfits recovering from trauma.