Those who’ve seen a drag queen in the morning light after Mardi Gras have known true terror! But does the gay community’s connection to horror run deeper? With Halloween upon us, it’s time to open the vault on the ‘other’ gay Christmas.
Mission America founder and right-wing pundit Linda Harvey has slammed the celebration of Halloween, saying the holiday’s ‘Satanic’ (right-wing nutter-speak for anything non-Christian) origins make it a ‘huge celebration in the LGBT world.’ The response was unanimous:
Harvey’s rant does contain one small grain of truth in that when it comes to the macabre, kooky, outright demented, or anything that goes bump in the night in the name of fun, the gays and anyone attached to them will be there to join… hell, probably make the party.
We immortalise figures like Morticia Addams and Elvira as icons. We populate about half the character roster of True Blood. The word ‘camp’ has expanded its meaning to include anything too over-the-top to be taken seriously, whether it’s gay or ghoulish. And a good chunk of the horror film clichés we now take for granted can be credited to early gay directors like F W Murnau and James Whale. Shameless gore hound? I have two words for you. Clive Barker.
For me, it’s a bit more personal than that. My emergence as an out and proud horror geek mirrored, in some ways, my emergence as a gay man. Growing up in a pretty sheltered Christian household, horror movies, books or games of any kind were strictly forbidden. To say nothing of my high school, where you could find tracts outlining why having your palm read had the power to summon actual demons (though never with instructions, in the time-honoured fundamentalist tradition of leaving out the really useful stuff!).
So as a first-year film student, fresh out of home, I of course crammed a century of the best genre cinema into eight bloody weeks of teen-slaughtering psychos, possessed children, demon-summoners, axe-wielding writers, revived corpses, zombie-hunters, vampire-lovers, witch-burners, and… whatever the hell Eraserhead is. And it was pure, celluloid bliss! I promise you, there’s a perverse sense of emancipation in watching The Wicker Man after 18 years of relentless bible bashing. I’m just saying.
No prizes for guessing what other aspect of my personality was finding a voice at the time.
“In a horror story, you really can have it all. Big laughs mixed with raw terror.”
While the parallel breaks the door down, in my case, with all the subtlety of an axe-wielding Jack Nicholson, it’s still easy to see why horror has always been close to our gay hearts. It’s the one genre where the misfit is always the star and has a voice. Good or evil, hero or antihero, the freak is king. Or queen. Or god. Or all of the above.
Frankenstein’s monster’s whole journey is about making sense of his freakish nature in a hostile world, trying to create his own version of family as he goes. David Cronenberg’s take on The Fly, reinvented a hokey ‘50s B-movie as a seriously disturbing love story come tale of bodily betrayal in the mid ‘80s, suggesting that just maybe, the victims of a certain new and misunderstood plague deserved compassion and care, rather than judgement. Rosemary’s Baby turned America’s most hallowed institution, the nuclear family, into a cradle for Satan’s child, all while entertaining the hope that our Catholic protagonist is imagining it all. Take the threat of actual Satanic intrusion out of the equation and you’re left with a religious paranoia that feels strangely… familiar. Carrie? ‘It Gets Better’ just got real, bitches! A(nother) remake starring Chloe Grace Moretz of Let Me In fame hits cinemas next year.
Not forgetting the vampires. In an era (ahem) eclipsed by Twilight, don’t forget that most of the great vampire stories out there feature major gay characters, or at least some pretty strong homo-erotic elements. Polidori’s The Vampyre? Dracula? Poppy Z Brite’s Lost Souls? (Hell, Brite owes half of his career to gays in horror) True Blood? Want to start me on Anne Rice? Forbidden love. An intimacy we’ve always been told is dangerous or even lethal. There’s a distinct kinship between alternative sexualities and vampirism, and savvy authors have been feeding on it for years.
One theory claims the reason gays are so attracted to camp – whether it’s horror, opera, musicals or whatever – is because it’s the ultimate emotional catharsis. In a horror story, you really can have it all. Big laughs mixed with raw terror and fountains of blood. Conformity of any kind is scorned and rejected (even if the ‘normals’ are the good guys, nobody’s watching the movie for them). Fantasy, exaggeration and darkness are celebrated rather than shunned. The darkest corners of imagination are given release, and no grown man is too cool to start screaming like a little girl in a darkened movie theatre. Try it! See the latest Paranormal Activity. Dignity be damned, bitch! You’re here for a good time.
Then, there’s the eternal relationship between horror and humour. Re-Animator director Stuart Gordon once said that if something’s too horrible, we react with a laugh to protect ourselves (This is the guy who changed the way we thought about severed heads forever with probably the worst-taste visual gag ever filmed). Again, it’s no surprise that this appeals to gays. Decades of having to find humour amid some pretty grim realities have, I think, kept our subculture one step ahead of the Hollywood mainstream in appreciating gallows humour and irony. Even if you don’t like horror movies, everyone likes to laugh, and it’s this love of schlock that gives the genre its crossover appeal. I love it when somebody who claims to hate horror movies watches a film like Shaun of the Dead, has a great time, then turns around and says ‘yeah, but that’s not really horror, is it?’
Yes it is, Princess. That’s why you had to watch it with the sound off. (Yes, this was an actual conversation.)
So by extension, do the gays love Halloween? Hell, yes. While I’m not going to dignify the (cough) ‘Satanic’ origins idea with a response, maybe, just maybe, it’s an excuse to drop a year round façade of mundane normality and celebrate our inner freak. A side of ourselves too dark and alternative for the celebratory images of Pride or Mardi Gras. As the mainstream puts its masks on for one night, perhaps we’re taking ours off. And what lies beneath is simply beautiful.
Either that… or it’s just an excuse to wear creepy costumes, break out cheesy props and throw fabulous parties. And if that makes us ‘Satanic,’ I’ll raise a cocktail to Elvira and see you at the freak show.
I’ll be the one dressed as Linda Harvey.
Follow me on Twitter: @XtianBaines