As long as there have been horror films, there have been queer horror films. Before homosexuality was formally legislated out of existence in Hollywood by the Production Code — commonly referred to as the Hays Code, which established mandates for “moral standards” in motion pictures and banned depictions of “sexual perversity” — the legendary filmmaker James Whale was building the foundation for American genre cinema with films like Frankenstein, The Old Dark House, and The Invisible Man. Here was Whale, a gay man, building horror in his own image and having astounding box office success as some groups were lobbying Hollywood to censor queerness out of existence. Fortunately, they weren’t creative enough to drive the big bad Other away.
In the century since America became the world’s leader in horror film production, the genre became a bastion for the outsiders, the marginalized, the people made monsters by self-appointed adjudicators of sin, and who saw themselves in the supposed “villains” at the center of stories like Dracula’s Daughter. On rare occasion, queer folks were given real protagonists to root for, like Theo in The Haunting, but it wasn’t until the Hays Code was abandoned in the late 1960s that sexuality outside the bounds of heteronormativity became more overt. (Not to say it was all positive representation, but the lesbian vampire wave of the 1970s certainly signified that the puritans were losing the culture wars in genre.)
The Moral Majority reign of the Reagan Era slammed up against the AIDS crisis, and the excess and tumult of the ’80s gave rise to ultra-stylish and sexualized gore in movies like The Hungerand Hellraiser. The indie cinema boom at the turn of turn of the millennium coincided with the emergence of New Queer Cinema, and eccentric coming-of-age darlings like May and Ginger Snapsprovided an alternative to the glossy studio slashers of the time.
Now in 2020, we can choose from a lesbian domestic drama involving a baby werewolf in Good Manners, a transfeminist vampire movie in Bit, or a French slasher set in a gay porn community with Knife + Heart. The monsters are out of the closet, and they’re never going back in.
Here are our 30 essential LGBTQ+ horror movies, in order of release. – Jordan Crucchiola