Horror has a very complicated history with queerness. At times it’s been the genre that’s turned queer stereotypes into evil monsters or gratuitous victims of extreme violence (think Sleepaway Camp). In others, it’s the genre that’s created iconic monsters and killers that cast a reflection on society’s fears and those groups that don’t conform to the status quo (Psycho’s Norman Bates, for instance). And yet, their place in the history of queer representation is not static. Some of the most ‘problematic’ queer horror films for instance, have been reclaimed as examples of resistance and confrontation in mass market spaces (a good example of this is A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, which has its own Shudder documentary).
Shudder’s new four-part documentary Queer for Fear: The History of Queer Horror looks to be just what audiences need to untangle this complex story and look at the many shifts and changes queerness has experienced in horror. The streaming service took to San Diego Comic-Con to reveal an extended sneak peek of the docuseries, which is executive produced by Hannibal’s Brian Fuller.
According to Shudder’s description of Queer for Fear, the docuseries will stretch as far back as the 19th century to look at literary origins (including the influences and subtexts present in the works of authors like Bram Stoker, Mary Shelley, and Oscar Wilde), the 1920-30’s ‘pansy craze’ (the rise in popularity of drag performers that had been gathering steam since the New York masquerades balls of the 1890s), all the way to the ‘lavender scare’ of the 1950s, the 1980-90’s AIDS crisis, and the present.
Given how adaptable horror is to the realities of any given context, Queer for Fear is sure to become further confirmation of the genre’s ability hold up a mirror to society in an attempt to scare them into realizing just how terrifying discrimination, Othering, and violence predicated on hate can be.
As is the case with any attempt at capturing the history of something, I’m curious to see what films make it into the story and how much importance is ascribed to them. The extended sneak peek clip Shudder shared seems to present Psycho as a kind of watershed moment in queer horror cinema, for instance. Finding out what other films manage to reach that iconic quality is just one of the reasons viewers will keep coming back for all four episodes.
I for one hope Clive Barker’s work shines through, especially Nightbreed (1990). As a metaphor for the importance of community for ‘outsider’ groups, Nightbreed stands as one of the British author/director’s most impressive and compelling films. Based on Barker’s own novel Cabal, the story follows a man called Aaron Boone as he searches for the mythical underground city of Midian, a place where monsters live without the pressures of being exposed and judged in the outside world. A murderous psychopath learns of Midian and seeks to destroy the monsters’ refuge.
It was a commercial and critical failure for reasons that fit into the common thread of other queer horror films: it was misunderstood and promoted as something that it was not. In Nighbtbreed’’s case, trailers and other promotional material hinted at a slasher movie rather than a dark queer fantasy experience. It should go without saying, Queer for Fear will have a lot of these type of examples to pull from to explain how so many of these horror films fell into cult status and obscurity because of studio interference in the process of building up a film’s identity.
Queer for Fear is set to premiere on September 29th on Shudder and it’s already looking like a crucial piece of horror history that fans and newcomers should definitely take the time to learn about. It follows in the footsteps of Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror (2019), which also premiered on Shudder, in its intention to promote visibility and champion representation. To say it’s one of the year’s most important releases is quite simply an understatement.