Representation increased in the last couple of decades in the horror genre. With new writers and creators taking the genre by storm, there is plenty of opportunity for representation across the board. There is a representation that remains stagnant and that is LGBTQ+ representation. While there is more representation in general, it is not the kind that most want.
LGBTQ+ representation has a very complicated backlog of films that have come out into the foreground throughout the years. This was due to the popularizing of study of queer theory/gaze. As for current films, the subject of a queer-led movie in all genres seems to only be about coming out rather than just having them as normalized characters having their sexuality be part of the background.
There has been some stark improvement in the past year in the horror genre. However, it seems that the wrong content gets the spotlight. Overall, it’s a complicated mess that needs fixing. Jump into this messy void with me as I analyze certain films as a member of the community and as a horror fan.
A Sequel that Shocked the World
The year is 1985. Halloween has two sequels at this point, Friday the 13th is on its fifth, and A Nightmare on Elm Street achieved high praise in both critics and viewers. The next move is obvious: it’s Freddy’s turn for a sequel.
This sequel takes a new approach in order to make Freddy bigger than just Nancy’s story on Elm Street. The ambiguous ending of the original implies that no one made it out alive. The final girl swaps out for the final boy and they set out for a new story. Little did they know (well, actually, they FULLY knew) that they would make such a magnificent staple in queer cinema know as A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge.
With a quick revisit to this film, anything I once considered subtext years ago lost the “sub” part of it. The sexual tension between Freddy Krueger and the protagonist–played by a then-closeted Mark Patton–is undeniable. The famous shower scene drips with homoeroticism. I sincerely wish that someone made this film in a different time. It has the groundwork of an analysis on male discovery of sexuality as well as a re-evaluation on what masculinity means.
The fact of the matter it was the mid 80s, which adds to its reputation. All of these things had to remain “subtle”, and the themes came through despite trying to make it subtext, leading to critics panning it. For a time, this was one of the only examples of LGBTQ+ representation. It still remains a staple in queer cinema, but doesn’t Hollywood owe it to everyone involved in this project to make something not as subtle to a more accepting time?
It’s Not Just Horror, But Horror is the Worst of It
Two genres hold the non-subtle projects featuring representation in Hollywood hostage. These genres are drama and rom-coms. However, they don’t represent the LGBTQ+ community in a way that the community desires. All the stories focus on melodrama caused by estranged or condemning family, and the protagonist has to come out multiple times over, almost like the other characters can’t function unless there is a label. The ones that don’t come out have their relationship commented on and pointed out. All of this happens down to a formula that maintains the heteronormative way of life.
Ryan Murphy acts as the cornerstone of the community’s representation in the horror genre, which is a tragedy. He presents such limited representation and has become the butt of the joke in a lot of forums (much like American Horror Story throughout the years). Murphy is for bisexuality erasure as well as repeatedly having straight identifying actors play LGBTQ+ characters rather than hiring someone from the community (looking at you, Darren Criss). As a man also from the community, he caters mostly towards other gay men as well as uses harmful stereotypes in his writing. While I understand he is writing from what he knows, after so many years of his content, the tolerance is whittling away. His writing most of the time comes off as hypocritical and honestly lazy. He has so much power to change the narrative, but actively decides not to.
We should not lose hope however. There are some new players in the horror game that released some amazing content within the last two years. They did so on major platforms as well, with plenty of advertising.
Faith Renewers: Leigh Janiak and Mike Flanagan
Horror had a multitude of Sapphic love stories in less than nine months due to releases from Netflix. By a multitude, I mean two, but that is a drastic change in representation versus the past decades. These two examples will hopefully set a precedent on LGBTQ+ representation moving forward.
The Haunting of Bly Manor
The Haunting of Bly Manor was the first to release in October of 2020. This miniseries was beautifully executed by Mike Flanagan, who created such a beautiful–yet tragic–love story between two of the main characters Dani and Jamie. This love story blooms much like a heteronormative love story. We watch as viewers two people fall in love so slowly and so subtly.
Even with its setting dated back, once they become exclusive, there is no questioning from the outside characters, nor are they put on display. They also don’t fall victim to the fetishization of lesbian relationships. Mike Flanagan does his best to shoot with the female gaze. There is also mentioning of Dani’s fiancée in the past, which she admits she loved. This implies possibly a bisexuality that is open for interpretation and not demonized. Also, this series made me bawl for hours on the couch, because of the ending. I’m going to try to make this as spoiler free as possible, but prepare to get your heart ripped out.
Fear Street Trilogy
The other piece of representation just came out last month. The Fear Street trilogy also features a Sapphic relationship that they posed slightly as a surprise. However, they push forward and not to focus on the strain on their relationship rather than sexuality. Despite the shakiness in the writing for this one, the representation is still extremely impactful. The impact comes from these films formatting themselves as traditional slasher flicks. While Flanagan bent and twisted genres in his Haunting series, Fear Street is a modern take on something we already recognize.
It also offers the modern gimmicks that Ryan Murphy serves in American Horror Story. However, Fear Street felt like a breath of fresh air. Not only was there a non-fetishized lesbian relationship, but it wasn’t spoon-fed to us like we were a heteronormative audience. Much like Bly Manor, it presented a lesbian relationship as it simply is, two women in love with each other and making sacrifices to protect the other. It was representation that is needed, because if you swap the genders in the past sentence with any combination, it applies to nearly all relationships, no matter the sexuality or gender identity.
As an openly-bisexual woman, I really hope to see more movement in the right direction. It is also Ryan Murphy’s turn on the back burner for a bit, as my enjoyment for his work has dwindled as the past few years has gone on. I also hope to see more representation in regards to gender identity, as none of that was mentioned here. I know that Sleepaway Camp has some notoriety. There was an attempt to address topics, however it is the vilifying of a transgender person that has led me not to write on it in this article.
Overall, all we can hope for is for more representation that is not exploitative nor stereotypical. I also hope for more analysis of films from the people taking the time to study views and theories. The more we can learn analytically and the more we listen to voices from the community, the more accurate LGBTQ+ representation we can achieve in this genre.