Senior Gay Correspondent Jon Theiss joins us this week to talk through our five favorite horror films with gay themes. To narrow down, first we threw out all films with girl-on-girl action intended to titillate a heterosexual male audience. We could dedicate an entire show to the female vampire and her ripe bosoms. We’re not going to, though.
What were we looking for? Films that – whether intentionally or not – seemed preoccupied with homosexual themes. In some cases, gay characters get to be actual characters and not just props for vilification or comedy. In others, teenage boys pretend to date Jami Gertz just to be closer to Kiefer Sutherland.
5. The Lost Boys (1987)
Out and proud Hollywood director Joel Schumacher spins a yarn of Santa Carla, a town with a perpetual coastal carnival and the nation’s highest murder rate. A roving band of cycle-riding vampires haunts the carnival and accounts for the carnage, until Diane Weist moves her family to town. While hottie Michael (Jason Patric) is being seduced into the demon brethren, younger brother Sam (Corey Haim) teams up with local goofballs the Frog brothers (Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander) to stake all bloodsuckers.
Sure, Schumacher finds sex appeal in the vampire tale – who doesn’t, though?
What’s interesting is that he finds sexuality that swings. This would certainly become somewhat standard fare in later works (the image of an evil, blond vampire seducing an introverted brunette innocent certainly informed the 1994 Tom Cruise v Brad Pitt bite-off Interview with a Vampire). But back in ‘87, The Lost Boys was sort of the Top Gun of vampire films. (Oh, like that movie wasn’t gay!)
Though it’s Michael and David (Kiefer Sutherland) who do the “will he or won’t he?” dance, it’s Corey Haim’s character that puts this over the top. The androgyny, the shoulder pads! Is that a Rob Lowe poster?
4. Night Warning (1982)
Here’s a weird one. And convoluted, too. Orphaned Billy (Jimmy McNichol) lives with his horny Aunt (Susan Tyrrell), plays basketball, and necks with his girlfriend Julia (Julia Duffy). Aunt Cheryl kills the TV repairman, claiming he was trying to rape her. When police realize the TV repairman was actually the longtime lover of Billy’s basketball coach, an evenhanded treatment of homophobia arises – surprising, given the time period. Not that it’s the point of the film, but it is the biggest surprise.
No one is really trying to unravel the murder mysteries piling up here. Aunt Cheryl is too busy trying to keep Billy to herself while small town cop Joe Carlson (go-to bigoted cop figure throughout the 70s and 80s, Bo Svenson) just wants to know whether or not Billy’s gay.
This is very definitely a low budget, early Eighties horror flick. Don’t get your hopes up. But it is such a peculiar movie. Everyone – the cop, the girlfriend, the aunt – seems to want to have sex with Billy, except his coach, who loses his job over the fear that he might want to. Longtime character actor Steve Eastin offers a commendably layered performance, given the film itself. His Coach Landers is the only genuinely decent adult in the entire movie, which really says a lot for the film.
Susan Tyrrell is fascinatingly unhinged and so, so creepy that you cannot look away, and if you’re up for one hot mess of a movie, this is an especially absorbing time waster.
3. Sleepaway Camp (1983)
A seriously subversive film with blatant homosexual undertones, Sleepaway Camp is a bizarre take on the summer camp slasher.
It may be the shocking finale that gave the film its cult status, but it’s writer/director Robert Hilzik’s off-center approach to horror that makes it interesting. Dreamy flashbacks, weirdly gruesome murders, and a creepy (yet somehow refreshing) preoccupation with beefcake separate this one from the pack.
It’s not scary, certainly, but it is all manner of wrong. Let’s take the honest to god awesome Aunt Martha – I have looked and looked, and I can find no evidence in real life that Desiree Gould is a drag queen. Aside from the obvious evidence of this particular film.
The kill sequences are hugely imaginative, and the subversive approach to the entire film makes it hard for me to believe more people haven’t seen this gem.
2. May (2002)
How about a tale of a wallflower, the blossom of new love, and the efficient use of veterinary surgical equipment and a good-sized freezer? Few horror films are as touching, funny, heartbreaking or bloody as May.
As the title character, Angela Bettis inhabits this painfully gawky, socially awkward wallflower with utter perfection. Director Lucky McKee’s screenplay is as darkly funny as it is genuinely touching, and we’re given the opportunity to care about the characters: fragile May, laid back love interest Adam (a faultless Jeremy Sisto), hot and horny Polly (a wonderful Anna Faris).
By day Polly flirts with a confused but needy May during their workday as veterinary assistants, and by night May pines for her tragically hip and beloved Adam. May just really wants somebody who will love her.
McKee’s film pulls no punches, mining awkward moments until they’re almost unendurable and spilling plenty of blood when the time is right. He deftly leads us from the sunny “anything could happen” first act through a darker, edgier coming of age middle, and finally to a carnage-laden climax that feels sad, satisfying and somehow inevitable.
1. Calvaire (The Ordeal) (2004)
That’s right – it’s Calvaire again. We come up with topics just so we can talk about this movie.
The backwoods horror subgenre is often driven by a rape hysteria – either those giant, illiterate, inbred freaks are going to rape our women, or they like the look of Ned Beatty’s purty mouth. It is not homophobia, exactly – more of a fear of losing our place atop the food chain. So, why put Calvaire atop this list?
Because writer/director Fabrice du Welz takes a somewhat familiar idea and infuses it with so much fascinating, subversive, unexplained insanity – and he examines sexual identity, love, longing, masculinity, femininity, and dance while he’s at it.
Delicate Marc (an absolutely perfect Laurent Lucas) performs as a semi-amateur, highly bedazzled crooner. We open during a show at a retirement home, where the elderly women swoon and one nurse does more. Marc is compassionate but uninterested.
Later his van breaks down well off the beaten path and we learn that basically everyone is sweet on Marc.
The unanswered questions in this film create the most bizarrely mysterious environment – there’s a backstory here that you just feel sure you don’t really want to know. What we do know is that, somehow, there’s not one human female for miles. How the men of the area have compensated is a deeply peculiar tale to unravel, and it’s the absence of the feminine that makes Marc’s presence so volatile.
Whether Marc is gay or straight is beside the point, but the fact that his own sexuality is unclear helps du Welz sidestep the patriarchal, mainstream dread usually generated by this type of film. Lucas’s delicate, supremely compassionate performance and du Welz’s use of darkest humor give the entire film a “what next?” quality that is absolutely unshakable. It may not be the gayest movie on this list, but it is absolutely the best.