Today’s Cinema Adventure is a list of suggested viewing for the Spooky Season.
Halloween (sometimes referred to as “Gay Christmas”) is on its way, and it’s a great time of year to turn off the lights, settle in on the couch with that special someone, and put on a really scary movie. Unfortunately, though the genre seems tailor-made for it, there are woefully few horror films aimed at LGBTQ audiences – sure, there’s always “Rocky Horror,” or “The Hunger,” or the blatantly homoerotic “A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge,” but let’s face it, we’ve all seen those plenty of times.
So if you’re looking for something different this season, I’ve put together a list of alternate choices representing the queer presence in cinema – maybe not overtly, in some cases, but certainly in their subtext and sensibilities.
“Bride of Frankenstein” (1935) – You won’t find a gayer horror film from Hollywood’s Silver Age than this legendary masterpiece. After playing it straight with the first “Frankenstein” movie, out director James Whale pulled out all the gay stops for the sequel. From the metaphor of a hated monster who only wants to be loved, to the presence of the deliciously queer Ernest Thesiger as Dr. Pretorius, it’s a prime example of a slyly subversive subtext inserted between the lines of a mainstream narrative – and also one of the best monster movies of its classic era.
“The Haunting” (1963) – Even if seems tame by today’s standards, director Robert Wise’s adaptation of a short novel by Shirley Jackson is still renowned for the way it uses mood, atmosphere, and suggestion to generate chills. More to the point for LGBTQ audiences is the presence of Claire Bloom as an openly lesbian character (Claire Bloom), whose sympathetic portrayal is devoid of the dark, predatory overtones that go hand-in-hand with such characters in other pre-Stonewall films. For those with a taste for brainy, psychological horror movies, this one is essential viewing.
“Blood for Dracula” AKA “Andy Warhol’s Dracula” (1974) – Although there is nothing explicitly queer about the plot of this cheaply-produced French-Italian opus, the influence of director Paul Morrissey and the presence of quintessential “trade” pin-up boy Joe Dallesandro – not to mention Warhol as producer, though as usual he had little involvement in the actual making of the movie – make it intrinsically gay. The ridiculous plot, in which the famous Count (Udo Kier) is dying due to a shortage of virgins from whom to suck the blood he needs to survive, is a flimsy excuse for loads of gore and nudity. Sure, it’s trash – but with Warhol’s name above the title, you can convince yourself that it’s art.
“Phantom of the Paradise” (1974) – Again, the plot isn’t gay, and in this case neither was the director (Brian DePalma). Even so, the level of over-the-top glitz and orgiastic glam makes this bizarre horror-rock-musical a camp-fest of the highest order. Starring unlikely 70s sensation Paul Williams as a Satanic music producer who ensnares a disfigured composer and a beautiful singer (Jessica Harper) into creating a rock-and-roll opera based on the story of Faust, it also features Gerrit Graham as a flamboyant glam-rocker named Beef and a whole bevy of beautiful young bodies as it re-imagines “The Phantom of the Opera” with a few touches of “Dorian Gray” thrown in for good measure. Sure, the pre-disco song score (also by Williams) may not have as much modern gay-appeal as some viewers might like, but it’s worth getting over that for the overwrought silliness of the whole thing.
“The Fourth Man (De vierde man)” (1983) – This one isn’t exactly horror, but it’s unsettling vibe is far more likely to make you squirm than most of the so-called fright flicks that try to scare you with ghouls and gore. Crafted by Dutch director Paul Verhoeven (years before he gave us a different kind of horror with “Showgirls”), it’s the sexy tale of an alcoholic writer who becomes involved with an icy blonde, despite visions of the Virgin Mary warning him that she might be a killer. Things get more complicated when he finds himself attracted to her other boyfriend – and the visions get a lot hotter. More suspenseful than scary, but you’ll still be wary of scissors for awhile afterwards.
“Stranger by the Lake (L’Inconnu du lac)” (2013) – This brooding French thriller plays out under bright sunlight, but it’s still probably the scariest movie on the list. A young man spends his summer at a lakeside beach where gay men come to cruise, witnesses a murder, and finds himself drawn into a romance with the killer. It’s all very Hitchcockian, and director Alain Guiraudie manipulates our sympathies just like the Master himself. Yes, it features full-frontal nudity and some fairly explicit sex scenes – but it also delivers a slow-building thrill ride which leaves you with a lingering sense of unease.