It’s Halloween, so it’s time to get out the scary movies. No doubt classics such as The Birds, Final Destination, The Orphanage, or Event Horizon are on your list. But ask yourself, is there anything a little queer in there? Two weeks ago Peccadillo Pictures released Unhappy Birthday, a film that can be considered a rarity within the LGBT film genre: it’s a horror.
LGBT film is not a genre where you would normally expect to find things that go bump in the night. Perhaps the first things that come to mind are kitsch and outlandish movies such as the Eating Out series, or glitter-clad classics such as Priscilla: Queen of the Desert. On the other side there are masterpieces such asBeautiful Thing and August, which are devoid of pastiche and gimmickry. But these are distinctly a look at romantic thrills rather than being unromantic thrillers. In Unhappy Birthday, then, we clearly see a departure from the norm.
So is Unhappy Birthday part of a trend of LGBT films moving from the camp to the creepy? Looking at what’s currently on offer, it might seem so. For example, on Boys on Film: Bad Romance, Watch Over Me is a tense and atmospheric short with a supernatural twist. The Iris Prize Festival 2011 also premiered two horror films; The Adored, a slick and seductive lesbian chiller mystery, and Vampires: Brighter in Darkness, a bombastic gay vampire flick. And let us not forget the bizarre and near pornographic Otto; or, Up With Dead People from ground breaking shock merchant Bruce LaBruce, not to mention his even more explicit follow up, LA Zombie.
So what could this mean? A strong opinion that seemed to be shared widely by attendees at the Iris Prize Festival was that LGBT film is becoming more about good filmmaking than simply making an LGBT theme the fundamental premise of a story. So this may be the reason filmmakers are embracing genres such as horror, and why we’re beginning to see more gore with our gay. Murray Bartlett, a jury member at this year’s festival certainly thinks so. ‘I feel like there’s sort of a move now towards stories that have some kind of LGBT element, but it’s not necessarily the main event. I mean, it still can be, and that’s great. But I feel like what we’re seeing now is what I think is just good quality films. The fact they have LGBT content is almost incidental in a way.’
Yet according to Simon Savory of Peccadillo Pictures, a self-proclaimed horror aficionado, LGBT horror isn’t really that new. ‘The horror genre has always been pretty queer-informed, even since the beginnings of cinema. Just look at Nosferatu, directed by Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau (who is gay), and Dracula, written by Bram Stoker who is arguably bisexual. Those blood suckers are soaked in closeted homosexual desire, influenced by the societal guilt of the period.’
But does LGBT horror make for a good horror film? The jury is still out on this. Despite being bold, innovative, and beautifully shot, Unhappy Birthday is still not without its faults and is not as scary as it could be, while Vampires: Brighter in Darkness feels more like Hollyoaks than Hammer Horror. Though we’re starting to see a span across genres, the finesse isn’t quite there just yet. ‘The horror you see at queer festivals is mostly just goofy,’ says Savory. Showing promise, on the other hand, are films like The Adored, which is a strong, eerie, and clever film, and Otto, which is something of a modern cult classic.
Will we be seeing more LGBT horror? Savory certainly thinks so. ‘Whenever the world is going to pot, horror thrives. It is also one of the genres that allows for maximum creativity on a limited budget, and because so little money is going into the arts now, it is a pretty bankable niche. However, I think there are more queer horror films now simply because it is easier and cheaper to make films.’
Whilst it might be some time before we see a lesbian The Shining or a trans Cape Fear, the fact that LGBT films are starting to flirt with a genre that it is not immediately associated with, suggests LGBT filmmaking is no longer just about tragic love stories, dodgy production values, and gratuitous bum or boob shots. It can be argued that there’s now a push towards strong stories and good film-making in LGBT creative circles on the whole. Couple this with an opinion that the current economic climate is ripe for a boom in horror, we’re probably going to see more LGBT films with a bit of bite.
Please note that opinions on Unhappy Birthday, Vampires: Brighter in Darkness, and The Adored are based on film festival screenings. Changes may be made before general release.