Hilarious exchanges on Tumblr may have jokingly redefined the Babadook as a gay icon — the B in LGBT stands for Babadook, don't you know — but in truth, queer representation has been a part of horror ever since people first started to scream in dark rooms with strangers.
However, it's not all been sunshine and rainbows. For decades, queer coding in Hollywood movies created damaging stereotypes that portrayed the LGBT community as maniacal villains, twirling their perfectly-groomed moustaches as they terrorized and slaughtered heterosexual heroes with abandon. Thanks to the likes of Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs and Basic Instinct's Catherine Tramell, the closet never seemed darker.
Fortunately, there's something positive to take from the Babadook's emergence as a queer icon, even if the intent was originally humorous in nature. Long before we saw positive LGBT representation finally start to appear in mainstream cinema, horror stood at the forefront of gay culture on film, providing the community with a number of endearing queer icons who have still left a mark on our collective consciousness, all these years later.
Irena Dubrovna — Cat People (1942)
Believing herself to be cursed, Cat People was one of the first movies in Hollywood to explore psychosexual themes of lesbian desire. The story of Cat People revolves around the fact that protagonist Irena Dubrovna believed she would turn into a murderous panther if she became aroused. However, women questioning their own sexuality at the time found much to relate to in Dubrovna's struggles. They too felt the need to avoid heterosexual sex, for fear that it could reveal their true identity; that inherent otherness which queer audiences relate with all too well.
Jane Hudson — What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
While she was never portrayed as queer herself, the horrific journey that Baby Jane Hudson and her older sister Blanche take in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? mirrors the gay experience in a number of surprisingly insightful ways, helping to cement the film as the cult camp classic it is today.
From the terror of imprisonment to the constant need to mask abnormality behind a facade of normality, there's plenty for queer fans to identify with here. Plus, it doesn't hurt that the film also stars two of the most iconic and loveably camp movie stars ever depicted on the big screen. It's no wonder that the TV show #Feud sought to shine a light on their story with hilarious yet heart-wrenching realness over five decades later.
Theodora — The Haunting (1963)
The Haunting may contain some of the best haunted house scares ever depicted on film, but what's truly refreshing is that a '60s film based on a book written in the '50s would portray an out lesbian as something other than predatory. Although she's called out at one point for being unnatural — because she's psychic or because she's a lesbian? — Theodora is consistently depicted as smart, capable, and confident living as an unmarried woman. Death takes center stage in The Haunting, yet Theo is never punished for her homosexuality in a morally judgemental way.
Dr. Frank-N-Furter — The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
The first audiences who saw The Rocky Horror Picture Show must have felt as though they themselves had done the time warp, dancing headfirst into a future where sexual ambiguity was accepted far more openly than it had ever been before. Dr Frank-N-Furter may be a self-serving sexual deviant, but he's also a thrilling ode to the type of desire that so many queer fans had felt unable to express before seeing this film, and the #LGBT community is all the better for it. Sign me up for a one-way ticket to Transsexual, Transylvania.
Vasquez — Alien Franchise (1979-Present)
The #Alien franchise contains more genitalia than the Karma Sutra, but the sexual undercurrent of these films hasn't always portrayed LGBT characters in a positive light. In the first film, Lambert's status as a trans woman was hidden, Alien: Covenant wasn't nearly as progressive as we had hoped, and the Xenomorphs themselves were originally designed to symbolize gay oral rape.
However, amongst all of this chaos, Vasquez emerged from James Cameron's sequel as an icon of '80s cinema, despite the ambiguity that surrounds her own sexual preferences.
Speaking to LA Weekly, actor Jenette Goldstein discussed the positive impact of her character's legacy in more detail, explaining that:
“She’s an outsider — she was just who she was. With Vasquez, I never said she was straight or gay, because to her it was nobody’s business... A lot of gay women come up and say, ‘Oh my God, when I saw you, and you had a masculine look to you, I saw myself. But I had straight women coming up to me with the same thing. Someone was going through breast cancer, and she told me that with each round of chemo she would think of Vasquez. A gay man from Guatemala came up to me, and he said, ‘I identify so much with her,’ but he was very feminine. Vasquez is universal.”
Jesse — A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge (1985)
In a bold move rarely repeated since, screenwriter David Chaskin switched up the rules in his sequel to #ANightmareOnElmStreet, casting a "final boy" in place of a final girl. The result became what many refer to as the gayest horror movie of all time, starring closeted gay actor Mark Patton in a variety of queer-coded scenes that brought the subtext to the fore.
From the gay leather bar scene to the moment when Jesse crawls into his best friend's bed, A Nightmare In Elm Street 2 was clearly designed to explore LGBT themes from the get-go — something which actor Jason Englund explained recently to The Advocate in more detail.
“I was aware of it and I think people were more aware than they disclose now ... like where Jesse crawls into his best friend’s bedroom and gets in bed with him. ... It’s sexy, and it’s redolent with the undercurrent of that scene. My interpretation of what Freddy was doing throughout the film was he was picking up on that subtext, on the boy’s latency. He was exploiting that and teasing Mark’s character with it.”
What's even more surprising is that Englund also discussed how Freddy Krueger himself could have been bi-curious too, something which the actor explored through his performance:
“I certainly remember asking the director if I could get real sexy with Mark’s [Jesse's] mouth in another scene — that moment where Freddy literally circumscribes Mark’s mouth with the blade. ... Is Freddy going to kiss him? Is it an oral sex innuendo? I remember wanting the audience to go crazy with that and playing with the fact that Freddy is in the libido. He’s in the subconscious and playing with it all the time.”
In case you're still in doubt as to exactly how gay A Nightmare In Elm Street 2 really is, let us direct you to the scene where Jesse screams “HE’S INSIDE OF MEEEE!,” battling the demonic thoughts that he struggles with internally.
Sam — The Lost Boys (1987)
The titular Lost Boys may have drank fluid from men to survive, but that wasn't the only thing that seemed gay about Joel Schumacher's hit movie. Mainstream audiences may not have noticed, but the majority of queer viewers must have surely suspected that Sam Emerson could be at least bi-curious.
Sure, the flamboyant clothes are all part of the film's '80s charm, but what about the Rob Lowe poster that's hung up in Sam's bedroom? One could argue that the teenager could simply be looking up to this heartthrob as an idol, but his dismissal of women and the scene where he sings 'I Ain't Got A Man' in the bath made Corey Haim's character a gay icon for teenagers in the '80s, regardless of whether the character is actually queer or not.
Otto — Otto; or Up with Dead People (2008)
While queer audiences have spent years reading between the lines to find their idols in horror and beyond, director Bruce LaBruce is one of the few filmmakers out there to go the extra mile and explicitly feature a sympathetic gay character in the lead. The bizarre concept of a lovelorn gay zombie predates the similarly themed (heterosexual) story of Warm Bodies by a few years, although thanks to its highly sexual content, you'll be hard pressed to find Otto; or Up with Dead People in your average theater.
Mitch Downe — Paranorman (2012)
Sure, we're stretching the definitions of both "horror" and "icon" here, but this Laika animation is arguably the most progressive scary movie on this list. By casually revealing that one of the characters is gay towards the end of the film, Paranorman proved that children's films can incorporate a wider spectrum of sexuality in ways that are both dignified and age-appropriate, undoubtedly scaring more close-minded audiences in the process.
At the end of the day, #TheBabadook may wear a fabulous top hat, but that's nothing compared to these real icons of horror who are here, queer and bringing the fear. Let's just hope that the genre continues to innovate and progress queer representation to a point where these icons are easier to find.
Which queer icons of horror resonate with you? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below!