We’ve coming up on the end of Pride month, so it’s time for the final instalment of our three-part series on our favourite queer horror picks, selected by the AOAS Squad and some of our favourite 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 and the second here!
Jennifer’s Body (2009)
While derided and overlooked at the time of its release, this collaboration between writer Diablo Cody (Juno) and director Karyn Kusama (The Invitation) stands the test of time as a witty, smart, and subversive queer horror milestone. The film follows the story of a pair of teenaged girls, Needy (Amanda Seyfried) and Jennifer (Megan Fox), who navigate the pressures and perils of adolescent girlhood together. Once Jennifer’s demonic possession (and subsequent boy-killing) is thrown into the mix, their friendship starts to unravel and Needy has some very difficult choices to make.
Jennifer’s Body has been accused of being exploitative and queer-baity, with the initial marketing push focusing on Megan Fox’s bombshell desirability and a same-sex kiss that many people considered trashy. Far from queerbaiting, I believe (and have argued) that Jennifer’s Body is actually an incredibly realistic depiction of young and unsure queer love (apart from the murders, of course). Needy and Jennifer share a magnetic and often psychic bond; this co-dependency drives the entire film. Their romantic attachment is telegraphed in the film’s writing, editing, and even musical choices—Needy’s narration introduces Jennifer over the song ‘I’m Not Going to Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance With You’ by the band Black Kids, which includes the lyric “You are the girl that I’ve been dreaming of / Ever since I was a little girl.” As Needy points out early in the film, “Sandbox love never dies.” Granted, this sentiment is expressed before a weeklong bloodbath and prom night showdown calls its veracity into question, but the point still stands. Jennifer’s Body is hot and queer as hell.
Blue My Mind (2017)
Thoughtfully conceptualized and gorgeously executed, Lisa Brühlmann’s Blue My Mind is a lush and evocative coming-of-age film that doubles as a sophisticated and sensitive creature feature. Sexuality, monstrosity, self-acceptance, freedom, and transformation are a few of the heady themes tackled in this story of a recently transplanted 15-year-old girl who struggles to deal with bodily changes and new emotions along with acclimating herself to a new school and wild friend group. It’s best to go into this film without knowing too much about the plot, so I’ll leave it at that.
After you’ve seen the film, check out Vincent Bec’s interview with the director!
The Haunting (1963)
With The Haunting, Robert Wise delivers a masterclass in creeping dread. Striking cinematography, an unsettling setting, a jarring score, and intriguing performances are confidently wielded to bring to life a rich narrative based on Shirley Jackson’s seminal 1959 gothic horror novel The Haunting of Hill House.
Jackson’s Hill House story has inspired a number of adaptations, including two films and a more loosely adapted Netflix series. I will choose the 1963 version every time—with its deliciously moody atmosphere and deceptively simple practical effects, it wipes the floor with Jan de Bont’s overcooked remake.
Both the 1963 film and the 1999 remake featured the character of Theodora (‘just Theodora’); in the former an elegant, subtly coded lesbian psychic portrayed by Claire Bloom, and in the latter an overtly bisexual vamp played by 2000s mainstay Catherine Zeta-Jones. Both adaptations pair insightful Theodora with the naïve and haunted Nell (played by Julie Harris and Lili Taylor, respectively). Although fragile Nell at one point in the 1963 masterpiece lashes out and decries Theo as ‘the monster of Hill House’ and ‘nature’s mistake’ (there’s some classic homophobia for you!), Theo is obviously the best character. She’s stylish, confident, snarky, and just a little bit bad. In other words, just my type.
Um, it’s Rosemary’s Baby with lesbians and Gaby Fucking Hoffman. What else do you possibly need to hear?
The Covenant (2006)
Andrew Fleming’s The Craft (1996) is a film that means a lot to a lot of people, for obvious reasons. It’s got a group of badass witches unabashedly being ‘the weirdos’ and loving it. Now, imagine that instead, those witches were boys, and they went to an exclusive private school, and they were the cool kids. You’d think it would be a huge bummer, right? WRONG! Did I mention that these boy-witches are super cute and they’re like a sexy coven? Everything is going just fine until a new boy shows up, and he’s thirsty….for power. Y’all, this movie was a huge part of my teen years and it wasn’t until I watched it as an adult that I recognized all of the sexuality oozing out of it, none of it oozing in any meaningful way in the direction of female co-stars. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a baby Sebastian Stan magic a baby Taylor Kitsch just to get to a baby Steven Straight.
Les Diaboliques (AKA Diabolique) (1955)
The French are sexy. There is just no getting around it. If you’re going to watch a movie about a wife and a mistress plotting to kill the man who exists between him, you want it to be French, set in the 1950s, and filmed in black and white. From the jump, it’s clear to see why Nicole and Christina might want to get Michel out of the picture: he is an abusive alcoholic and not the kind of guy you want running a boarding school. In order to dispatch him, the women must lure Michel away from the school, and so they go to town and rent a room in a boarding house. (Whatever excuse you need, right?) This movie is full from head to toe with tension (sexual or otherwise) and gorgeous costumes. While the twist at the end brings the whole ‘ship to a regretful conclusion, we’ll always have the boarding house.
Availability: Stream on Criterion or Prime Video (US).
As a cis-gendered queer man, this may shock you: I am not a lesbian. However, I love lesbian motifs in Hollywood classics. I implore you to seek out Uninvited yesterday.
Have you ever wanted the heterosexual love interest to just leave a film before? I think we all have. Gail Russell here is giving us big femme fatale energy… and Ray Milland is here also. The continuing motif of Stella’s love for her mother and (spoiler alert) other mother continues a reverence for the feminine and revealing her true origin sets the ghosts that haunt her free. If that doesn’t scream queen then what does? Oh, I know, Miss Halloway the “unladylike” nurse obsessed with her former patient that is the least subtly coded character ever. This film should be taken with a grain of arsenic as it was at a hateful time when the Hays Code was in full effect. Being gay made you a monster… which I emphasized with, as the villain is always the most interesting character.
The film itself was an early adopter of special effects for ghosts, which were all edited out of the British original release. The film’s costumes were designed by Edith Head… if I have to say more, hand over your freak flag. I would recommend this for everyone whose eyebrows exceed a Victorian-era mansion’s ceilings.
Availability: Available to purchase on DVD or Blu-ray via Criterion.
Heavenly Creatures (1994)
One of the few “based on a true story” films on this list, Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures asks an important ethical question: is it okay to recontextualize a person’s sexuality to tell a more compelling story? The film tells the story of two young teenagers, Pauline Parker (Melanie Lynskey) and Juliet Hulme (Kate Winslett), who meet in 1950s New Zealand. Quickly forming a close bond, they create a world of escapism and eventually kill Parker’s mother to remain together. Peter Jackson with co-writer Fran Walsh based the script on the real life court transcripts and interviews with key witnesses, however, the story is told from the perspective of the delusional fantasies of the characters. Winslett’s Hulme is enrapturing and the chemistry between her and Lynskey is undeniable. Yet, I would be remiss if I did not highlight that portraying these characters as lesbians is not grounded in reality. It comes from salacious tabloid journalism and the girls’ parents’ own fears of their daughters engaging in a relationship that was illegal at the time.
The real Hulme has stated that she and Parker were never lesbians and instead had an obsessive relationship. The film does capture the young love and infatuation of teenage romance as a dark tragedy and is a sumptuous visual feast—the beautiful use of set dressing and now campy visual effects are somehow as off-putting as they are entrancing. If you are in the mood for a dark twisted fantasy (without Kanye), Heavenly Creatures truly reflects the ethos of “be gay, do crimes”.
How do you solve a problem like Lovecraftian Horror? You can marvel at the uncompromising thought of the machinations of a universe so far outside of our control and the fear of what may be occurring all around us—but you also have to reckon with the fact the writer was afraid of anyone that was not a cisgendered white male.
So, how do you adapt this cosmic incel horror into a tragically beautiful story? You deal with a real-life relatable issue—being gay and having to return to your hometown. The film’s title is a misnomer—the big squid god is too diva to make an appearance, and this is instead a loose adaptation of The Shadow Over Innsmouth. Russell Marsh (Jason Cottle) is a Seattle professor returning for his mother’s funeral. His hateful father derides him for his sexuality and he is even brutalized by the police—and all of that real-life horror is recontextualized as the preternatural evil force that exists outside of time. There are issues with lighting, the sound is not pristine, and some of the dialogue deserves a punch-up. A SPECIAL GUEST APPEARANCE BY TORI SPELLING and the fact that the filmmakers sold their possessions to make this film should be reason enough to give this a look.
I also highly recommend a fantastic video essay by YouTuber Harris Brewis (H.Bomberguy) on his relationship with the film and specifically why 2SLGBTQIA+ people connect with the outsiders of Lovecraftian films, despite the author himself being a monstrous bigot that would not have accepted them.
Nadja (1994) is another film shot in black and white, yet this character study into the daughter of Dracula is anything but. There has been a consistent pattern across these reviews of the deep cinematic connections between the self-realization of being a member of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community and vampires/monsters/the other. Vampires also metaphorically represent the exploitation of serfs under feudalism and eventually the exploitation of workers under capitalism. Writer/Director Michael Almereyda gives us both here.
Beginning with an almost stream of consciousness monologue by our title character (Elina Löwensohn) about how her famous father has become rich off the exploitation of his workers in Romania, our Commie Mommy proceeds to drain her date dry. With the death of her father, Nadja feels she can live a new life and meet someone. That person ended up being the married Lucy, whom she feels a deep instant connection with. I feel this experience haunts a lot of us.
The film uses creative camera work in its horrific scenes and a soundtrack of modern mixed with eclectic songs. Small performances by David Lynch, footage of Bela Lugosi, and a good turn by Peter Fonda really make this a film to sink your teeth into. Do I even need to suggest a ’90s throwback date night with your partner?
Availability: Hard to find, but currently on YouTube or available to purchase on eBay.
An Alfred Hitchcock adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s novel of the same name, Rebecca follows a girl (Joan Fontaine) marrying a rich and well-to-do widower (Laurence Olivier) who isn’t quite over his previous wife. After moving into his estate, she quickly finds that her new husband isn’t the only one who seems to be obsessed with his widow. It’s soon obvious to the new bride that the head housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson), has always been enthralled by the mysterious and beautiful ‘Rebecca’ and constantly revisits the dead woman’s belongings and pines longingly for the times she would help her undress. Though heavily coded, Mrs. Danvers is a phenomenal queer icon—especially for the time.
Fun news, Armie Hammer and Lily James were just cast in the new Netflix adaptation set to come out sometime in the future, written and directed by Ben Wheatley.
Availability: Stream on Youtube or purchase the Blu-ray or DVD via Criterion.
The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)
Based on the novel by famously queer author Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray revolves around a handsome, intelligent young man (Hurd Hatfield) with far-ranging sexual appetites and a secret so intense that it is literally locked away ‘in a closet’ so that no one may ever know his true self. Even though it was extremely coded for the time, the Legion of Decency argued that portions of the film “convey[ed] implications of homosexuality.” This novel eventually helped lead to Wilde spending time in prison for indecency but continues to hold up as his magnum opus. There are several other (and contemporary adaptations) of the novel, but the 1945 film still stands to be the best in expressing the desires (and dangers of the time) of living one’s truth.
Availability: Amazon Prime (US).