Happy Pride, spooky darlings! This is the second instalment 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! Find the first instalment here!
Glen or Glenda (1953)
From Psycho (1960) to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) to Seed of Chucky (2004), Glen or Glenda is the perfect movie to pair with the many popular gender-nonconforming films throughout horror history. Glen or Glenda is a horror-adjacent docudrama written and directed by Ed Wood. Made during a period in history where people identified male at birth could be arrested for dressing as women, the film begins with the suicide of a trans woman. The inspector on her case, Inspector Warren (Lyle Talbot), goes to a Dr. Alton (Timothy Farrell) to learn more about cross-dressing. Dr. Alton launches into the story of Glen/Glenda (Ed Wood), a man who enjoys wearing women’s clothing. Glen is not gay or transgender, he just happens to find women’s clothing attractive and comfortable. After a long backstory and some scary dream sequences, Glen finally admits to his fiancé, Barbara (Dolores Fuller), that he dresses in women’s clothing. While Barbara is initially upset she decides to accept Glen how he is, regardless of how he dresses. Dr. Alton then goes into another narrative about a trans woman.
Although it would be ridiculous to look to a movie made in the 1950s for accurate information about the LGBTQ+ community, Glen or Glenda is a beautifully compassionate film and an interesting look into the famous cult writer and director Ed Wood. Glen/Glenda is played by Wood who was a cross-dresser in real life. Barbara, Glen’s fiance, is portrayed by Wood’s real-life girlfriend at the time, Dolores Fuller. Despite the film suggesting that Glen can be “cured” of his cross-dressing, the main message is that Glen’s wife should, and will, still love him even if he continues to dress in women’s clothing. Knowing that Ed Wood really did struggle with his own desire to wear women’s clothing, having his girlfriend Fuller, who did not know he liked to cross-dress, say in the film that she will accept him seems like a pantomime of Wood’s own hopes and fears, making Glen or Glenda one of the most personal films I’ve ever seen.
If you’re looking for a film suitable for all ages, ParaNorman is a beautiful stop motion animation by Laika Studios. Although the film does have a gay character, whose sexuality is not revealed till the end of the film, the presence of an undercover gay is not the primary reason I suggest this film for your pride month viewing. ParaNorman follows a young boy, named Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee), who can see dead people. He is bullied and shunned by both the kids and adults of his small town, and misunderstood by his family who just wants him to be normal.
Over the course of the film, Norman must figure out a way to stop the town’s witch from coming back and destroying them all. During his journey, he learns that the witch is a little girl named Aggie (Jodelle Ferland) who was sentenced to death for being different. Aggie is unable to let go of the pain of being mistreated until Norman helps her find peace. The enduring pain captured by the film relates to the pain many people feel when they are ostracized for their gender or sexuality.
The Old Dark House (1932)
The Old Dark House is a classic horror film directed by James Whale, an openly gay man who directed many camp-filled horror classics such as The Invisible Man (1933). The film is about five people who take refuge in a mysterious mansion during a flood. In the old mansion, they meet a strange brother and sister duo and a hidden monster. The Old Dark House is the perfect choice for when you want a horror film that makes you laugh. While it does not have any overtly queer characters, the film contains subtle themes related to the LGBTQ+ experience such as androgyny and hidden family secrets. Also, everyone should watch it because I need to know: is the charming Mr. Penderel (Melvyn Douglas) anyone else’s gay icon? I wish I could be as suave.
Double Feature Suggestion: The Neon Demon (2016) and Stripped to Kill (1987)
Directed by Nicholas Winding Refn, The Neon Demon follows Jesse (Elle Fanning), a young beauty attempting to break into the L.A. modelling industry. Stripped to Kill is a classic ‘80s slasher, directed by Katt Shea, depicting Detective Kody’s (Kat Lenz) journey going undercover in an attempt to solve the brutal murder of a stripper. Both films are heavily stylized in an attempt to examine how beauty and aesthetics connect to women’s power. However, in my opinion, only one of the films succeeds in giving agency to its women characters. As a double feature, the films are an interesting peek into the contrasts between a man and woman’s attempts to capture the female gaze and the empowerment of women. Both films also include lesbian characters, and as the saying goes—the more lesbians the better.
For the 2020 version of myself, Scream is very obviously a queer love story buried within a meta-slasher. Centring on the proto-murder husbands, a romantic relationship is gently hinted at between our surprise killers. But the version of myself who saw what would come to be my favourite scary movie didn’t pick up on that at all. For me, Scream stands as one of my earliest lessons in queer coded characters and how these relationships are hidden beneath the surface and put beside explicitly heterosexual ones. I value the opinions of my cohorts who see things in movies that I otherwise wouldn’t, and my best buds, Billy (Skeet Ulrich) and Stu (Matthew Lillard), are on that forefront of my early 2000s paradigm shift. It’s also been one I have continued to learn about, credit to Toronto’s Queer Fear who screened the film after a short and eye-opening lecture on the film’s queer themes (and a Scream-themed drag show), for which I am consistently thankful.
Kevin Williamson, who penned the film, is gay, and it’s no surprise that fans have read queerness into the killers’ relationship, their interactions, and even their stabbings. I defer to my pals, Joe Lipsett and Trace Thurman, who thoroughly broke it down here. And, listen: no shade to Hannibal and Will, but Billy and Stu Forever.
It’s easy to mention this infamous juggernaut of a movie in conversations about the best of anything, but Psycho stands as a study of queer portrayal in media, and the fears associated with it, perhaps by associating queerness with murderous rage. Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) is the titular psycho, and the film suggests the separation between him and his sanity stems from a coddling mother/son relationship (often blamed for ‘making boys gay’), which results in him dressing in his mother’s clothes to take life. Without the personal experience and ability to touch on the nuance, I defer to fellow writers who’ve explored these themes more deeply, for instance, this piece by Justin Lockwood. I’d further encourage readers to research trans writers’ thoughts on the portrayal of Bates as someone who dresses in his mother’s clothes and ‘becomes her’ in order to kill, for instance, this piece by Mey Rude.
The Lost Boys (1987)
Joel Schumacher, immediately after making St. Elmo’s Fire, the college-centric brat pack instalment, would go on to tell the coming-of-age story of two brothers discovering vampires living beneath the darkness of their new town. “Coming of age,” as it were, often includes discovering and examining one’s sexuality, and by using the often toted queer avatar of vampires, The Lost Boys gives an exploration beyond the heteronormative.
Vampires are often used as a stand-in for both otherness and for sexual liberation that allows for more fluid gender and sexuality. Layering this with a coming-of-age tale and the 80s dress of leather jackets and studs associated with the deviants and rebels, The Lost Boys threw together a very real story of the confusion of puberty and burgeoning sexuality. If you want more insight into how this representation was a beacon for kids growing and learning about themselves, you should check out Alcy Leyva’s account on BW/DR. And for a different take that explores the problematic portrayal of queerness in the film, there’s this from Alejandra Gonzalez on Talk Film Society.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988)
Yeah, yeah, I know. Everyone talks about how A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge is the queer one. When we’re first introduced to this instalment’s hero Alice (Lisa Wilcox), she has her mirror covered up in pictures of her friends because she doesn’t like the person she sees in the mirror. She’s uncomfortable in her own skin and stuck in her head, fantasizing about the cute jock Dan (Danny Hassel) while blending into the background. Freddy (Robert Englund) uses the teens’ fears against themselves and it’s revealed that Alice’s big fear is that she’ll be stuck where she’s at; an old, alone waitress in some corner diner. The world is passing her by but she’s too afraid to come out of the closet, take control of her life, parent-be-damned, and become her true self.
And if a movie in which an anxious, quiet, and not-comfortable-in-her-skin woman becomes a self-empowered badass by taking on the powers, abilities, and style of both male and female characters to eventually destroy the dream demon who tells her she’ll never amount to anything isn’t queer…I don’t know what is.
What Keeps You Alive (2018)
On a trip to Jackie’s (Hannah Emily Anderson) secluded cabin to celebrate her one-year anniversary with Jules (Brittany Allen), secrets arise and tensions mount as one of the characters shows she’s not everything she’s said she is. What follows is a cat-and-mouse game between two women, while also really being about the fear of loving someone and trusting them to have your best interest at heart.
The thing that makes What Keeps You Alive so special is that it originally started as a heterosexual relationship and, through casting issues, changed at the very last minute to be about a lesbian relationship. Because of this, things weren’t changed in the script to address the fact that we’re now dealing with an LGBTQ+ couple and not a hetero couple. I think there’s something quietly revolutionary about this because, while one of the women is a villain, she’s not The Lesbian Villain trope we see in films such as High Tension. And the way it digs into what it means to love another person is absolutely heart-breaking.