The world of horror and the queer community have always been intrinsically linked. Hell, two of the most successful, modern horror film franchises have openly gay creators (Kevin Williamson’s SCREAM and Don Mancini’s CHILD’S PLAY). Shudder even recently announced they’re producing an exciting documentary exploring queer representation in horror media throughout history. On a personal note, I’ve greatly enjoyed watching the uptick in queer horror-themed blogs and podcasts over the past few years as well. A quick shout-out to some inspirational favorites who directly inspired the creation of this blog: Attack of the Queerwolf, Horror Queers, Gayly Dreadful, FriGay the 13th, ScreamQueenz, Scream 101, and the hysterical Gaylords of Darkness.
In this first installment of a two-part series, I’m shining a spotlight on queer icon characters from modern horror films (1980s-present). These icons are not necessarily characters who identify as queer (though that label can certainly apply to specific, beloved queer characters and performers). Rather, they are characters who have amassed strong cult followings within the LGBTQ+ community. As queer people, we may identify with these characters and/or simply find them incredibly entertaining in a number of ways. That means they can be protagonists, villains, anti-heroes, etc. It doesn’t matter. So, without further ado, here’s the first batch of modern queer icons (with Part II coming soon).
1. Elvira (ELVIRA: MISTRESS OF THE DARK, 1988)
Hello, darling. It’s your hostess with the mostess, the vamp of camp, Elvira. Since the early ’80s, Cassandra Peterson has been seducing audiences around the world with her sexy and hilarious, horror-hostess persona. Elvira’s status as an international queer icon was cemented with the 1988 cult horror-comedy film and camp classic, Elvira: Mistress of the Dark. There, the character embraced her sexuality, uncovered the sordid secrets of her past, battled her evil great-uncle Vincent, wooed a hunky handyman, and even taught the residents of a small Masschusetts town some valuable life lessons. All in 90 minutes, no less! Elvira is the perfect, queer-friendly combination of sexy, campy and scary. At age 67, Cassandra Peterson has shown no sign of retiring, either. In fact, Elvira has recently appeared as a guest judge on shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race and Halloween Wars, and there are even whispers of a new Elvira film being in the works. In the mean time, UN-pleasant dreams…
2. Tiffany Valentine (CHILD’S PLAY franchise, 1998-present)
Tiffany may not have been introduced into the long-running Child’s Play universe until the franchise’s fourth installment, but what a glorious, gory splash the character has made ever since. Created by openly gay writer/director Don Mancini and voiced by femme queen Jennifer Tilly, Tiffany helped reinvigorate Mancini’s murderous doll franchise beginning with the 1998 film Bride of Chucky (that title serving as an obvious nod to queer-filmmaker James Whale’s Bride of Frankenstein). One aspect I adore about the character is that she isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty when needed, and she doesn’t take shit from anyone (Chucky included). A force to be reckoned with on all fronts, Tiffany also enjoys traditionally ‘girly’ things like fashion and Martha Stewart Living. It’s refreshing to see those character traits go hand-in-hand (‘powerful’ shouldn’t automatically be synonymous with ‘butch’). Many queer horror fans can certainly relate. Tiffany is set to return in Mancini’s upcoming Chucky TV series, and I.can’t.wait.
3. The Entire Cast of Fright Night (1985)
Seriously, take your pick. There’s beloved showy queen Roddy McDowall (RIP) as flamboyant horror-host Peter Vincent, future family-film star Stephen Geoffreys as Evil Ed, pioneering lesbian actress Amanda Bearse as Amy Peterson, a young William Ragsdale as sexually confused Charley Brewster (you’re so cool), and Chris Sarandon + Jonathan Stark as thinly-veiled, supernatural queer couple Jerry Dandridge and Billy Cole. For those who aren’t aware, Fright Night is an age-old story of a teenage boy who becomes obsessed with two older male ‘roommates’ that move in next door– so much so that he actively avoids sexual intercourse with his girlfriend in order to spy on them instead. And let’s not forget this infamous, gayer-than-Liberace alley scene between vampire Jerry and Evil Ed (just listen to that seductive synth score). Or this campfest of a dance club scene (even by ’80s standards). Director Tom Holland claims he didn’t know he was crafting a homoerotic, queer cult classic. But come on. The only reason Fright Night isn’t typically considered the gayest mainstream horror film of the 80s is because Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge *somehow* exists.
4. TIE: Sidney Prescott & Gale Weathers (SCREAM franchise, 1996-2010)
With a blog title like ‘Hello, Sidney’, you didn’t think I was going to pass up an opportunity to bring up Scream, right? For nearly 15 years, the Scream film franchise gave us not one but TWO fantastic final girl characters: shy-but-baddass Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) and ‘bitchy’-but-endearing Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox). Notably, both of these complex female characters were created by out-gay writer Kevin Williamson in collaboration with the late master of horror, Wes Craven. Both also defied typical final girl tropes. Sidney was generally thoughtful and benign, yes, but she wasn’t a saint (and let’s face it, her mother was no Sharon Stone). Likewise, Gale was confidant, assertive, and even self-aggrandizing (traits typically reserved for leading male characters in films). Williamson always made sure these two women were front and center throughout the franchise’s history– with male characters like Dewey (David Arquette) and Randy (Jamie Kennedy) serving in more submissive, assist-as-needed roles. The truth is the Scream films were always about kickass women taking charge in bad situations, and as a queer person, I’m here for that. #PrescottWeathers2020
5. Jesse Walsh (A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, 1985)
In recent years, much has been written about the gay ‘subtext’ in Freddy’s Revenge (a documentary on the subject even premieres this year). However, that ‘subtext’ is really just overt text. I could spend an entire post writing about all the homoerotic elements in the film, but conveniently, this post does that for me. So instead, I’ll just take a moment to celebrate one of horror’s first Final BOYS, Jesse Walsh. Jesse’s struggle to embrace his sexuality in Freddy’s Revenge is a common journey for queer individuals– even 35 years later. In the film, our tragic queer hero views his sexuality as a curse and thus fears the potential consequences of embracing it. Notably, in 1985, those consequences were very real in the United States– thanks in large part to Ronald Reagan and his conservative cronies using the devastating AIDs epidemic as justification to shun and persecute queer people across the country. While Jesse’s fate is left somewhat ambiguous at the end of Freddy’s Revenge, today we rightfully salute him AND Mark Patton, the out-gay actor who essentially sacrificed his career in Hollywood to play the character. Now, please enjoy one of the most gloriously gay dance sequences in film history:
Stay tuned for Part II, featuring select characters from the minds of Jordan Peele, Anne Rice, Diablo Cody, and more!