Queer For Fear: The History Of Queer Horror
The series uses interviews with various LGBTQ+ creators to explore LGBTQ+ representation and queer coding in the horror genre throughout history, as well as influences from the Pansy Craze and the Lavender Scare to how 1980s vampire films were influenced by the AIDS epidemic.
Queer for Fear: The History of Queer Horror
The first episode looks at Gothic fiction such as Frankenstein and Dracula and its underlying queer and personal conflict themes; the second considers Pre-Code Hollywood and films made in the early years of the Production Code Administration, especially work by F. W. Murnau, James Whale and Alfred Hitchcock; the third highlights different sub-genres of horror, specifically transformation horror and body replacement; the fourth and final episode discusses the portrayal of lesbians and the predatory female trope.
Queer for Fear, a four-part documentary series out now from the horror streaming service Shudder, explores the evolution of horror through a queer lens, in an expansive work from executive producers and horror veterans Bryan Fuller (Hannibal, Pushing Daisies) and Steak House (By Hook or by Crook, Disney Launchpad).
And although the series covers a staggering amount of historical material, the personal is what gives it its tell-tale heart. In a community of chosen family, Queer for Fear is like a scrapbook of sorts, tracing throughlines and documenting generations of a genre in which countless queer people have found a home.
Such an excellent deep dive. My critique: I'm tired of people celebrating Frankenstein without acknowledging the fact that Mary Shelley very deliberately compares the monster to Black people and plays into the anti-abolitionist fear that emancipation was dangerous because enslaved people were "adults with children's minds." It's not a secret. I was really gratified to hear Jewish people discuss the antisemitism in Nosferatu. Unfortunately, it made skipping over the racial aspects of Frankenstein even more obvious. That said, I'm here for the dramatic irony of the one-star reviews calling queers scary names and saying we're trying to make the horror genre "about us"
And so it was with very little surprise but very lotta delight that I met the news that Fuller had been tapped to executive produce the four-part docuseries Queer for Fear: The History of Queer Horror, which is hitting Shudder this week. Bryan and I have been gleefully talking about being penetrated by Xenomorphs for decades. So, I knew we were in capable hands, queer-wise.
Count Dracula may be one of the earliest examples of sexual ambiguity in the genre. Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker, two of the most iconic writers in horror, were, in fact, queer. The subtext of orientation struggles can certainly be found in more contemporary films like 1983's The Hunger, 1985's A Nightmare on Elm Street 2, and recent efforts like the Chucky series on USA and the Fear Street trilogy on Netflix.
We spend a decent amount of time in the second episode looking at the work of gay film director James Whale, a well-known name in early Hollywood. Openly gay at the time (something unusual in Hollywood then), Whale filled his films with queer subtext, and queer actors. The show takes a look at his more famous horror works, The Old Dark House, The Invisible Man, Frankenstein, and The Bride of Frankenstein. It becomes clear that Whale put a lot of his identity into these films, and that it would in ways influence other creators, both straight and queer. As some of the defining foundations of horror cinema, it meant that other films that came after would follow similar themes.
As the new docuseries "Queer for Fear: The History of Queer Horror" begins, lesbian icon Lea Delaria points out that horror exists "outside of society," just as queer people exist outside of society. The four-part series can now be seen on Shudder, a streaming service for the discriminating horror fan.
Through a series of interviews with a variety of queer horror creators, historians, and famous fans, the audience learns that Shelley and her husband Percy may have been engaged in a menage a trois with their friend Lord Byron. Byron and Percy might also have been having sex with each other. It was in this environment that Shelley wrote "Frankenstein." There are definite queer elements in the book, such as when the mad doctor chases his male monster around the world.
from page to screenThe series also documents the sad story of Oscar Wilde, the great 19th-century writer who served hard time in jail for the "crime" of being gay. Wilde was the author of "The Picture of Dorian Gray," considered one of the great horror novels. In that book, a beautiful young man stays youthful as his portrait ages in his stead. Wilde clearly used Dorian Gray as a metaphor for his own queerness.There's a lengthy section on Bram Stoker's "Dracula," considered to be the greatest vampire novel ever written. Stoker was known to have had gay proclivities. He was part of Wilde's inner circle and wrote love letters to the gay poet Walt Whitman. But Stoker underwent a complete turnaround after Wilde was imprisoned, becoming an anti-gay activist who called for all gay writers to be imprisoned.Was the character of Dracula a metaphor for Stoker's queerness? According to "Drag Race" alumnus Alaska Thunderfuck, it was."The Dracula costume kit is basically drag," Alaska says. "You have face paint, and then you have blood red lips, and then you slick your hair back. You put on a cape, you put on fancy antique jewels, and then you go live in a castle. And you can turn into a bat. So this, to me, is the experience of being a gay man." Shudder's horrific history lesson goes far beyond the literary world. Movies are a big part of the discussion. Episode 2 of "Queer for Fear" focuses on the careers of filmmakers James Whale and Alfred Hitchcock. Whale was a gay man who inserted quite a bit of not-so-subtle gay subtext into his films, like the screaming queen mad scientist Dr. Praetorius (Ernest Thesiger) in the 1935 film "Bride of Frankenstein." It was one of two films that Whale and Thesiger made together. In 1932, Thesiger played the somewhat "Nellie" Horace Femm in Whale's chiller "The Old Dark House," a film that was so glaringly gay it's hard to believe that 1930s audiences didn't notice this.
CreepshowsIn addition to Thesiger's Femm, there was a definite lesbian undertone to sister Rebecca (Eva Moore). Meanwhile, up in the attic lies 102-year-old family patriarch Sir Roderick Femm, played by actress Elspeth Dudgeon in bearded male drag. Whale could always be counted upon to include gay overtones in his films.Hitchcock, though not gay, had questionable gay characters in several of his films, such as the male couple who strangles a friend to death in the classic 1948 thriller "Rope." And Hitchcock's most famous character, Norman Bates in the 1960 film "Psycho," showed more than a few gay proclivities as a put-upon mama's boy who took to murdering women; not exactly a positive gay role model.Perkins' real-life son Osgood is interviewed in the film, speaking quite candidly about his father's sexuality and about how his parents tried to hide the truth about how Perkins contracted the AIDS that killed him in 1992.In 1940 Hitchcock made "Rebecca," which co-stars Judith Anderson as Mrs. Danvers, one of cinema's grand old lesbians. In the film Mrs. Danvers is so clearly in love with her former mistress it's a wonder the film got past the censors, whose approval was needed to get a film released in those days.The series continues across the decades, discussing many films and delving into why queer people relate to them. The interviews are thoughtful, insightful, sometimes funny, and always entertaining. Interviewees include cabaret star Michael Feinstein, TV producer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, film historians Mark Gatiss and Harry Benshoff, film directors Kimberly Peirce and Karyn Kusama, and San Francisco's own Peaches Christ. Their words are interwoven with a plethora of delightful film clips.Shudder has done a superb job in putting this series together. It's must-see viewing for LGBT horror fans. www.shudder.comHelp keep the Bay Area Reporter going in these tough times. To support local, independent, LGBTQ journalism, consider becoming a BAR member.
While in the midst of a proliferation of queer horror films, queer horror has an extensive history. Docuseries "Queer for Fear: The History of Queer Horror" rightly asserts that horror has always been queer, ever since its inception.
From filmmaker Bryan Fuller ("Hannibal") and producers of the fantastic "Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror," Shudder docuseries "Queer for Fear" chronicles and celebrates the history of LGBTQ+ horror. Shudder has featured other compelling horror documentaries, including "Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror" and "Leap of Faith: William Friedkin on The Exorcist."
Interspersed with montages and scenes from films, the interviewees in the docuseries consist of filmmakers (Kimberly Ane Peirce, Mark Gatiss, Karyn Kusama, Justin Simien, Leslye Headland, Osgood Perkins), actors (Lea DeLaria), film critics (Alonso Duralde, Nay Bevers, Emily St. James), writers (Carmen Maria Machado, Jewelle Gomez) and drag performers (Alaska Thunderfuck, Peaches Christ). While a conventional documentary format with talking heads in some ways, it feels like a lively soiree with queer friends reminiscing about queer horror.
The docuseries reveals why horror often resonates with queer people. Several interviewees talk about feeling like monsters and outcasts by society and why we as queer people feel empathy with persecuted monsters. Filmmaker Justin Simien says, "The evolution of queer horror really parallels the evolution of queer liberation."
Interviewees discuss how gothic literature deals with suppression and transgression: The queer narrative in "Frankenstein" and how the monster confronts Frankenstein as a reflection of himself; repression in "The Picture of Dorian Gray," its "queer take" on "multiple selves," and the "dangers" of being closeted; resisting sexuality and "fear of queerness" in "Dracula." 041b061a72