10 Horror Films that Unfairly Weaponised the LBGTQ Community
Of the many negative stereotypes that exist for the LBGTQ Community, perhaps none is more damning than the court of public opinion, that stems from years of systematic enforcement through films, that gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender/queer people are dangerous. You don’t need to look to far into cinematic history to see just how badly represented queer culture is, especially within the horror genre. In our list below, we look at 10 films that badly ladled LBGTQ society as being dangerous, violent and weird . Here are 10 Films that Unfairly Weaponised the LBGTQ Community
Cherry Falls (2000)
Cherry Falls was a run-of-the-mill slasher film that never made it’s way to a theatrical release in the states. Despite hitting cinemas in the Europe and the UK, the film was rejected by the MPAA and was instead released as a TV movie which crippled it’s box office takings to a paltry £818,465 on a $14 million budget.
The film starred the late Brittany Murphy as teenager Jody Marken who find herself stuck in the middle of a town panic, as a serial killer begins slaughtering virgins at the “Cherry Falls” High School. With the introduction of our protagonist and killer, the film quickly falls into generic slasher territory.
As any horror fans knows, the killers is the single most important element of this genre. Friday the 13th didn’t really pick up until Jason Vorhees became the villain, the Halloween franchise tried and failed to switch the series away from Michael Myers and Ghost Faces killer is so iconic that it doesn’t matter whose wearing the mask. Cherry Falls killer is one of those that falls firmly into the generic category. The killers motives are vague, their actions predictable and there’s no real Modus Operandi that really holds up to scrutiny. The idea of a killer knowing who is and isn’t virgins is about as a laughable as the killers wig.
Wig you say? Yes WIG. Whilst most slasher films hide the killers face with a creepy mask, Cherry Falls purposely shrouds our killers chops in long flowing black hair. It feels almost too purposeful, like the film is trying to hide something, even after we discover who everyone thinks the killer is. The students identify the knife wielding slasher as ex-student Lora Lee Sherman, a young woman who was brutally raped by boys at the school, twenty seven years ago.
However, not everything is as it first seems. The film tries to cover the killer’s true identity with its awful black wig gag, but fails spectacularly. The actually killer is Leonard Marliston, the illegitimate son of Lora Lee, who’s tragic childhood shaped him into a homicidal killer intent on getting revenge for his mother, by robbing the wealthy parents of their “precious virginal children”. Taking a leaf out of the books of Psycho, Leonard dresses just like his mother when he goes hunting for his victims.
Did the film really need a transvestite killer? Not really, but I understand the misguided principle behind this choice. The film wanted to throw the audience a red-herring, and what better way to do this then by concealing the killers true gender. But, it’s done in such a ham-fisted way, that anyone with half their attention on the film could tell that the antagonist was clearly a man in a dodgy looking wig. Whilst Psycho (and we’ll talk about that later) had a valid reason for dressing up Norman Bates as dear old mom, Cherry Falls fails to justify its use of transvestism as a weapon and all it did was muddy the water even further during the turn of the 21st century. In essence Cherry Falls promotes a transphobic rendering of its main villain.
Silence of the Lambs (1991)
In a lot of ways, Cherry Falls Leonard Marliston was a product of Hollywood. Psycho had already established how effective a villain bait and switch could be, but it was the 1991 psychological horror Silence of the Lambs that was the major influence for other films such as Cherry Falls.
Psychology is only as interesting as it’s patient, and none are more fascinating on a psychological level then Doctor Hannibal Lector. The cannibalistic serial killer is the main focus of the film series based on the novels by Thomas Harris, which mostly uses Lector as a tool for tracking down other killers. In Silence of the Lambs, FBI trainee Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) interviews Lector (Anthony Hopkins) in the hope of tracking down the serial killer dubbed “Buffalo Bill”, another psychologically challenged murderer.
Bill’s MO is that of kidnap, starvation, strangulation and skinning (hence the term Buffalo Bill who always claimed to have scalped a Cheyenne warrior once). He also inserts a death head moth chrysalis into the mouth of his dead victim, with the moth having a symbolic reference to his own twisted psyche.
With the help of Lector, Clarice discovers that the killers true identity is Jame Gumb, a confused and self-hating man who suffers from gender dysphoria. Whilst it’s explicitly mentioned that he is not transsexual, Gump’s action lead to the contrary. The serial killer skins woman in order to fulfil his transformation through the creation of a woman suit. He dresses in his creation, tucks his penis between his legs and even films himself dancing with the suit on, desperate to catch himself in the perfect feminine visage. This is next level psychotic stuff, but a level of madness propped up by the idea that transvestism is only present in a confused and twisted mind.
Look, this is a film that won Academy Awards in all the major five categories: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay, and it’s also one of the only horror films to ever win Best Picture. I’m not saying that it’s a terrible film or that it’s a film that has questionable ethic, what I’m saying is that it’s a shame that Silence of the Lambs had to paint it’s antagonist as a deeply disturbed transvestite, as if only someone of that mindset could be possible of such horrific crimes.
Insidious 1 & 2 (2010- 2013)
Another film that again chooses to paint transvestites in a poor light, is that of James Wans Insidious, that introduces us to a particular ghost that has a predisposition to haunting Patrick Wilson’s Josh Lambert.
The story centers on Josh and Renai Lamberts whose son inexplicably enters a comatose state and becomes a vessel for a variety of malevolent entities. However, theses events kick start another haunting when the spirit of Parker Crane comes looking for Josh.
In insidious Part 2, it is discovered that Crane was actually a serial killer dubbed “The Bride in Black” – who kidnapped and murdered young women, whilst dressed up as woman in a big black brides gown. There’s no real explanation for Crane’s transvestism, beyond the usual allegory of serial killers in films, that being an abusive childhood. This character could have easily just been a crazed bride jilted at the altar, but Wan decide to add the transvestism as a way of alienating Crane from the audience, as if transvestitism is something to be feared.
Psycho is psychological horror thriller film produced and directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Not only is it one of the most important horror films ever made, being the precursor the slasher horror genre, but it’s also widely ranked among the greatest films of all time. The plot centers on an encounter between on-the-run embezzler Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) and shy motel proprietor Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) which results in Crane being murdered in her hotel room shower.
The films conclusion reveals that the murder was a psychotic Norman, who has taken on the personality of his domineering dead mother. Not only does Norman talk and think like his mother, he also dresses up in her clothes. This association with cross-dressing and mental illness is one of the original Hollywood sins against the LBGTQ community, portraying a psychological state that is so extreme that it’s only conclusion could be that of violence and murder.
However, Psycho is a movie that simply begs for scrutiny, even 60 odd years later, and it’s easy to see how the film deals with this tricky subject with poise and grace. There is never a point in the movie where Norman is actually labelled as a transvestite. In fact, the psychiatrist at the end of the film expressly reveals that Noman and his mother are different people, just simply trapped in the same body, hence the films title Psycho, refencing Normans Psychotic break. The fact that Norman dresses as mother is completely inconsequential to the crimes committed. However, this did not stop the film from turning a decidedly transphobic light on in the film industry.
The Hunger (1983)
The 80’s was a huge time for experimentation in Horror. Special effects had come a long way since the 70’s and film makers were just begging to discover how shocking SFX could get. But it was also a time for art-house and drama, and The Hunger is the beautiful blend that results from all of the above.
Starring David Bowie, Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon, The Hunger’s story revolves around ancient vampire Miriam (Deneuve) and her search for everlasting love. Just as her old squeeze John (Bowie ) begins to rapidly age away, a result of his extend vampirism, Miriam quickly turns her attention to sexy genetics scientist Sarah (Sarandon).
Directed by Tony Scott, the lavish art-house styled film is filled with beautiful cinematography, haunting music and three of the most hottest stars of the time. Throw in a generous helping of gore and shocks and you have one of the most thrilling vampire films of it’s time. Whilst many other films were re-imagining the vampire mythos, The Hunger kept is simple and dealt with the real idea of loneliness. Imagine being immortal and having to watch everyone you love, age and die. Miriam’s solution is to jump from one relationship to next, keeping her lovers alive as long as possible.
The film also deals with sexuality of Vampires, a subject heavily explored throughout the 60’s and 70’s. Early vampire films always dealt with vampirism as if it was some sort of sexually gratifying experience. From victims orgasmic like reactions to being bitten, to the overtly sexualised; often big bosomed, vampire woman, sex was a key motivation for early vampire films. As cinema hit the 80’s, a large portion of this lusty horror was thrust aside and replaced with a more mature theme, with lashings of gore. The hunger felt like a place in between, where the mature, elevated, themes were present, but allowing the sexual overtures to spill out.
Despite the film’s success, the film still felt it needed to fall back on the cliché of queer sexuality in order to distance the audience away from the films villain. Miriam bisexual relationship was complete unjustified and only thrown in to shock the audiences of 1983.
Basic Instinct (1992)
Paul Verhoeven made a huge divergence from his usually films, in 1992, to bring us the neo-noir erotic thriller Basic Instinct. When it hit cinemas, the sexy thriller was recognized for its groundbreaking depictions of sexuality in mainstream Hollywood cinema. However, being one of the few films that portrayed bisexuality on screen during the 90’s, Basic Instinct inadvertently exposed audiences to the idea that bisexuality was linked with a flagrant lack of self-control leading to violence. This was a time when films would get nominated for huge amounts of Oscars for portraying gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender characters and straight actors would be praised for being so “brave” to take on those roles. It just didn’t help the conversation around the queer community that horror/crime films were only using these characters in the capacity of the villains and that Basic Instinct’s killer was bisexual femme fatale.
Basic Instinct follows San Francisco police detective Nick Curran (Michael Douglas), who is investigating a brutal murder. His prime suspect is crime author Catherine Tramell (Sharon Stone); nevertheless, the true criminal is found to be Tramell’s ex-lover Beth Garner who grew obsessive and jealous of Tramell. The films basic take-away is that a lesbian love affair resulted in murder. Yep, the 90’s were pushing the LGBTQ conversation completely in the wrong direction.
During the early noughties, horror was having a nuanced revival where modern film making was beginning to merge with the more traditional forms of cinema. Digital film was in, taste was out. If you were to wander around the video stores of 2000, your horror section would have been filled with cheaply made zombie films and supernatural slasher films. Did you ever watch Monster Man? How about Flesh for the Beast or Aquanoids? I can pretty much guarantee that you haven’t, because these were just a selection of many terrible horrors that plagued us in 2003. Luckily for many us, that May hit DVD’s that year, after being a huge bomb at the box office. Like many cult horrors, it found its audience out side of cinemas.
The film follows Young misfit May (Angela Bettis), a young woman with deep-seated awkwardness and lazy-eye that perfectly defines her awkward persona. Working as a vet’s surgical assistant, May starts to obsess slutty lesbian co-worker Polly’s and mechanic Adam, but is crushed when her advances are reject by both. With her heart and mind broken by rejection, May entangles herself into a ploy to create her own friend using the “good” parts of the people that spurned her.
May is fascinatingly weird film which is genuinely fun to watch, especially as May weirdness metamorphose into a terrifying cocky confidences and she becomes a modern day Frankenstein, just without all that the science stuff. The film does suffer from it’s depiction of gay relations as being slutty and bisexuality as being weird. In fact all of May’s character traits are sold to the audience as being peculiar, including her love of both men and woman. That’s a real shame.
Let the Right One In (2008)
Another vampire film that played with sexuality; even if it is in a more twisted manner, is the 2008 Swedish horror Let the Right One In. The film tells the story of a bullied 12-year-old boy who develops a friendship with a strange child in Blackeberg, a suburb of Stockholm, in the early 1980s.
12-year-old Oskar befriends new neighbour Eli, who is actually ancient vampire stuck inside the body of a 12 year old girl. However, the film plays Eli sexual denomination down a lot. In the movie, Eli simply states that she’s not a girl despite living as one, but in the book, it clearly states that Eli was one a boy who had been castrated by a vampire nobleman in a ritual that turned him into a girl.
Let the Right One In basically villainises Eli by placing her outside of heterosexual understanding. Without a sex to speak of, by choice or through the actions of the vampire nobleman, Eli is an unknown quantity to the audiences of 2008, and it’s shame that vampirism alone was not enough to do this.
Seed of Chucky (2004)
The Chucky/Child’s Play series is doing a huge amount right now to celebrate queer culture, and we have to applaud the TV show and film makers for fully understanding modern audiences. However, we also have to address the awful transgender scenario that probably spurned director Don Mancini into fully embracing LBGTQ horror fans.
Seed of Chucky is the fifth instalment of the Child’s Play series, that sees serial killer Charles Lee Ray stuck inside a Good Guy Doll. By the time Seed came around, Chucky (Brad Dourif ) already had a new companion, in the form of lover Tiffany (Jennifer Tilly) and a son called Glen (Billy Boyd). Look, the story is really silly, but it’s enjoyable horror that is charming and gory, and that’s enough. However, the films major down point is the split personality of Glen, that sees the young puppet fighting for control of his body with Glender, a female personality with a taste for blood.
In a scene that could be quite painful for many folks that suffered the same reaction to expressing their sexuality, Chucky and Tiffany bicker about Glen/Glender’s gender right in front of him, rather than asking him/her how they feel. They even pull his trousers down to inspect their genitals. This could really hit home for some Transgender people, where they have encountered cis folks who feel have a right to this information. This de-trousering of Glender is a symbolic nod to peoples attitudes towards the LBGTQ Community, and it quite frankly sucks.
Add to this that Glenda is another psychotic transgender killer , and you have a perfect storm in a tea cup, if that tea cup was filled with piss and blood of film makers that completely misunderstand it’s audience.
Sleepaway Camp (1983)
I wanted to end on the classic 1980’s horror Sleepaway Camp, as it has one of the better known examples of film makers weaponising the transgender community in the worst way possible.
Director Robert Hiltzik thought he’s come up with the perfect recipe to challenge viewers preconceptions of the classic slasher set up. By 1983, we had already seen a number of Halloween rip-offs that desperately clung to the same formula of masked killer, sex driven teens and final girl survivors. His idea was to push the boundaries of audiences expectations by delivering something that they had never seen before, transgender women.
Sleepaway Camp is set at Camp Arawak, where young Angela Baker is sent by her aunt, eight years after a boating accident claimed the lives of her father and brother Peter. Angela is shy and withdrawn and her inability to fit in quickly grows into bullying by the other kids. No sooner does that bullying start, that the bodies also start to pile up at camp, and yes, of course it’s Angela on the other side of the knife.
Where most films would be happy to have a revenge styled killing, brought on by her tragic past, Sleepaway Camp decides to turn Angela from martyr to monster, in it’s revelation that she’s actually a boy. Angela is actually Peter, the only surviving child of the boating accident, who was raised as girl by her sick aunt. This transgender twist is made even worse when you realise that Peter was forced to live as girl, beyond his own choices as living person.
Sleepaway Camp also made the huge mistake of bundling in psychological issues with gender roles, suggestion that the two go hand in hand, and even worse that this mix would ultimately lead to violence. Film critic and transgender woman Willow Maclay said it best, where she criticized the film for its
“equation of mental instability with having grown up in a gender role not concurrent with your identity. Nearly every single transgender person grows up being raised in a gender role that does not fit, and that doesn’t mean that they are mentally ill or seriously violent.”
Sleepaway camp asks the audience to sympathise with a character, only to pull the rug out and demonise that very character, enforcing the wrong type of stereotypes and creating a false narrative that is wrong, sick and quite frankly dangerous.
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“Hello Horror Fans – Part of removing stigma is about choosing the right platform in which do that, painting your only LGBTQ as the villain is probably not the best approach. Most of the films on this list are actually really good cinematic experiences, it’s just that they woefully misguided in their approach to certain characters. I’d love to hear your opinions on this subject, so please do drop a message below, or hit us up on social media.
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