Last week’s Supreme Court decision that legalized gay marriage was something that had been coming for a long time. At the time, 36 states had already legalized it. Public opinion was in favor of it. The question (more than anything) was “Could a state define marriage within its borders?”. The Supreme Court said no.
While the country continues to pat itself on the back for doing what’s right (and Facebook continues to explode into a rainbow orgasm), LGBT themes have dominated horror for many, many years.
As the Renaissance period ended (1700s), there were five categories that men generally fit: the Chivalrous Knight, the Herculean Hero, the Humanist Man or Moderation, the Merchant Prince, and the Saucy Jack. “The line between camaraderie and homoerotic desire was always dangerous territory for a sociable Elizabethan male to negotiate: ‘What a Renaissance man most desires to be is another man’s friend; what he most abhors to be is a sodomite’”(according to THIS). In 1764 (and as the Renaissance wound down), we began seeing the first pieces of Gothic horror (which included novels such as The Picture of Dorian Grey, Dracula, and Frankenstein). It was here that many in-the-closet authors hid their desires and masked them in horrific symbols.
While Dorian Grey shocked its readers with its homosexual undertone, many people saw vampires as overtly homosexual characters. James Jenkins says that “the traditional explanation for the gay/horror connection is that it was impossible for them to write openly about gay themes back then (or even perhaps express them, since words like ‘gay’ and ‘homosexual’ didn’t exist), so they sublimated them and expressed them in more acceptable forms, using the medium of a transgressive genre like horror fiction.” Oscar Wilde (Dorian Grey) was imprisoned later in his life for “gross indecency with other men”. Dracula (which was preceded by the lesbian vampire novel Carmilla) featured a scene where the Count dismisses his female vampires from feeding on their captured male prey because he “needs him”. It can be argued that Frankenstein also depicts a man’s experimentation and inner conflict with homosexuality.
Most publishers refused to publish overtly gay content. But, as printing costs became less and less, this content began spreading throughout the world. When horror made its way to motion pictures, the Motion Picture Production Code forbid LGBT characters and themes throughout its existence (1930-1968). Films (like Dracula’s Daughter) created a code to skirt these rules.
As Hollywood dodged overtly homosexual themes in the past, there are many films that embraced it. Hammer Studios made a film trilogy of Carmilla in the 1970s. The Rocky Horror Picture Show premiered in New York City in 1976. It featured a transexual vampire that was intent on creating himself the perfect male companion. While panned by critics, audiences embraced the film. In 1983, Sleepaway Camp was released and we were all scarred by its shocking ending. It was a direct assault on social norms from its depictions of children being sexually active to its main antagonist being confused about (his/her) identity. That same year, The Hunger featured a lesbian vampire couple. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (series) featured one of the first openly gay couples on television.
But just because homosexuality was allowed to be depicted openly, it didn’t mean that all films chose to do this. One of the most popular examples today is Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge. While the script initially had some LGBT themes, many working on the film claimed they were not aware of how blatant they were. Interview with a Vampire featured a relationship between two men (one embracing, one fighting their primal instincts). The film American Mary was (on its surface) a film about extreme body modification. One of the characters is transformed into a living, breathing doll and her suitor is not happy about her transformation. Let the Right One In explores both homosexuality and pedophilia.
For over 300 years, LGBT themes were hidden in literature and films. It’s only in recent times that the themes have been brought to the forefront. Good or bad, there are some classic stories that have been told and horror may not be where it is today without these themes.
What do you think?