Halloween is coming up fast, a favorite holiday amongst LGBT folk- some refer to it as “Gay Christmas.” In the spirit of the season, here’s a list of five queer-relevant spooky movies, mostly off the beaten track (or at least, somewhat forgotten), that might help you get in the mood for the big night, curled up in the dark, on the comfort of your couch at home.
“THE OLD DARK HOUSE”
(1932) – Any list of queer-related horror films would be incomplete without James Whale, the legendary (and openly gay) director from Hollywood’s golden era portrayed by Ian McKellen in 2003’s “Gods and Monsters.” You’ve probably seen his iconic “Frankenstein” and its gloriously queer sequel, “Bride of Frankenstein,” but you’ve likely missed this near-forgotten gem about mismatched travelers seeking shelter from a storm within the walls of a gloomy mansion on the moors. A deliciously macabre vehicle for Whale’s sly approach, it’s almost like simultaneously enjoying two movies- a creepy thriller and a campy comedy- which complement each other perfectly. It was considered a “lost film” a half-century ago, but thanks to its rediscovery and restoration, it’s now possible to enjoy its gothic treats and the surprisingly modern performances of its impressive ensemble cast- which includes Boris Karloff, Melvyn Douglas, Gloria Stuart, Raymond Massey, Charles Laughton, and the magnificently prissy Ernest Thesiger. Queer bonus: An early case of gender-blind casting features actress Elspeth Dudgeon as an elderly man.
(1963) – This classic makes the list for its inclusion of a lesbian character. On the surface, it’s about a scientist who enlists two women- a psychic (Claire Bloom) and an emotionally fragile spinster (the brilliant Julie Harris)- to help explore the secrets of a haunted country estate; simmering underneath, though, is a pressure-cooker of a psychodrama, in which the characters’ interaction creates as much tension as the malevolent spirits surrounding them. Director Robert Wise used all the tricks of his trade to craft an unsettling creepshow without showing anything overtly supernatural, and the ending leaves us to decide for ourselves whether we’ve seen a ghost story or a psychological drama; modern horror enthusiasts might find it tame, but there are some set-pieces that remain terrifying today. Queer bonus: Bloom’s lesbian psychic is portrayed in a sympathetic and positive manner, a refreshing touch in a film of its era.
(1977) – This loopy gem from Italian director Dario Argento is not specifically LGBT-releated, but everything about it makes it worthy of inclusion here. Set at a prestigious dance academy, it follows a new student (Jessica Harper) as a series of gruesome murders leads her to suspect a sinister force is hiding within the walls of the school. Stylistically bold, with disorienting camera work, vivid colors, and extravagant sets and costumes, Argento’s film is an operatic fever dream, reveling in its gimmicky set-pieces and cartoonish gore- which only reinforces the permeating sense of unreality. Queer bonus: Bitchy divas Joan Bennett and Alida Valli, who may or may not be fronting an ancient coven of witches.
(1983) – This is the most familiar queer-oriented movie on the list, but I couldn’t NOT include it. Tony Scott’s exercise in sleek ‘80s style is the quintessential modern-day vampire story, about an ancient undead queen (Catherine Deneuve) seducing a scientist (Susan Sarandon) into becoming her next companion, even as her latest (the sublimely aloof David Bowie) succumbs to the ravages of time. Sure, there’s horror here (the justly famous opening sequence, with Deneuve and Bowie stalking victims under the lights of a chic disco, is reason enough to watch), but this one is really about beautiful sorrow, a lament over the fleeting nature of life and love. Queer bonus: The almost unbearable eroticism of THAT scene between Deneuve and Sarandon.
“STRANGER BY THE LAKE”
(2013) – The last movie on the list is more suspense than outright horror, but it will disturb you as much as any slasher flick. Directed by Alain Guiraudie, it plays out under bright sunlight at a secuded lakeside beach where gay men come to sunbathe- and to cruise. One daily visitor (Pierre Deladonchamps) becomes obsessed with a sexy stranger (Christopher Paou)- who might just happen be a killer- and finds himself drawn, despite his better instincts, into a potentially deadly relationship. It’s a very Hitchcockian premise, and like the master himself, Guiraudie manipulates our sympathies and makes us share his main character’s battle between desire and self-preservation- a battle which has deep resonance within the gay community. That alone makes this French nail-biter worthy of your attention- but you’ll also enjoy the slow-building thrill ride it takes you on, and the sense of unease which lingers long afterwards. Queer bonus: Lots of full-frontal nudity, some fairly explicit sex scenes, and, well, pretty much everything else.