The 13th Floor

Teenage Wasteland: Homoeroticism in 1980s Horror Cinema

For Monster Kids, the 1980s was a decade of seminal, genre-defining horror which saw the introduction of a multitude of now-iconic movie maniacs whose homicidal antics are seared into the public psyche. A mix of power ballads, punk, supernatural perversity, Morrissey and otherworldly (or off-world) threats; the slithery/burned/fanged things that go bump-in-the-night invading the minds, lives and bodies of the archetypal boy-next-door.

Films like THE LOST BOYS, NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2 and FRIGHT NIGHT tapped into the horror of social isolation, of being cut loose by family and friends, unable to face societal pressures and forced into a directionless situation, where the only choice might be to succumb to the dark side.

Although the entertainment industry had yet to discard the strait-jacket of heterosexist convention, studio output during this period did in fact follow a teen-centric and monster-dominated narrative trajectory that illustrated a preoccupation with allegorical seduction and monster motifs — motifs that have been historically linked to metaphorical stand-ins for GLBT people in speculative/Gothic horror media.

First let’s look at LGBT-inclusion, the socio-political climate, the subtext levels and LGBTQ queer character-coding.

The 1980s was a time of political flux and civil unrest for the gay community, and it was during The Age of AIDS that politically-ingrained perspectives began to shift and change, thanks to greater visibility and a more militant approach to tackling defamation and intolerance. It was estimated (at the time) that nearly 20% of LGBT people made up the US population, a statistic that didn’t seem to matter all that much when the Reagan administration took an apathetic stance towards the AIDS crisis and how it directly affected gay men, this was further exacerbated by the right-wing tabloid policing of the pandemic and media scapegoating, a consequence of this misguided vigilance was an international witch-hunt and the press dubbing the virus GRID (gay-related-immune-deficiency).

More positive developments were the formation of the media monitoring organisation GLAAD and Larry Kramer’s direct-action group ACT UP, a group that combated legislative and government drug-policy and yielded progressive results.  Filmmakers (predominantly in the horror genre) addressed these cultural fears and attitudes towards aids were contextualized in the AIDS parables and pandemic narratives that started to flood the market throughout the ’80s and early ’90s: THE FLY, LIFEFORCE, STREET TRASH, FROM BEYOND, THE BLOB and ALIEN 3.

In avant-garde cinema, non-default representations could be found in the fringe films of alt-cult horror-sleaze auteur Bruce LaBruce and the Queercore movement, Pat Califa’s erotically-charged literary examinations of queer and gender elasticity raised a few eyebrows and outside of the genre, Armistad Maupin’s TALES OF THE CITY made the bestseller lists and would be later adapted as a hugely popular mini-series. But horror film still had a long way to go before overtly queer depictions of same-sex love appeared on the silver screen; however this didn’t stop filmmakers from coloring within the restrictive lines of teen-monster comedy fusions.

There are a number of reasons why the following films resonate so much with the LGBTQ community: sex was something to be feared again, and these films addressed those themes: there existed a culture of paranoia and fears of disease and sexual corruption were rife in the wake of irresponsible press coverage and the subsequent “Satanic Panic” debacle that had also taken hold. The American Dream was compromised, and people projected their (mostly unfounded) fears onto an outside force infiltrating suburbia and putting the lives of their youth in jeopardy.

The following similarly-themed fright flicks deftly incorporated these elements into their narratives…

Fright_Night

FRIGHT NIGHT (1985)

Genre vet Tom Holland (whose other credits include CHILD’S PLAY) was flexing those self-reflexive meta-muscles and kicking down The Fourth Wall long before “Meta” even entered the cultural lexicon with FRIGHT NIGHT.

The film riffs on the tropes of Hammer Horror and Vincent Price, and is a subtle re-imagining of Stoker’s DRACULA, relocated to a fog-enshrouded American suburb. The story follows obsessive fan-boy Charlie Brewster (William Ragsdale), who discovers it isn’t quite as much fun living the horror, when Chris Sarandon’s seductively dapper “Fruit-Bat” Gerry moves in next door.

After the remains of several prostitutes are discovered in town, Charlie starts (as you do when monstrosity is your only frame-of-reference) to suspect his new neighbor might be involved; of course, the pleas of a horror-loving kid with a morbid disposition will inevitably fall on deaf ears. So Brewster enlists (i.e. bribes) a cut-price Van Helsing-wannabe (Roddy McDowall) to help defeat his vampire neighbor.

So where’s the gay?

The most notably queer part of FRIGHT NIGHT is Evil Ed (Stephen Geoffreys, who went on to 976-EVIL and allegedly gay porn infamy), a wisecracking sidekick spouting murky insinuations which could arguably be indicative of his own latent homosexuality; Gerry’s conversion of Evil Ed and the line of on-the-nose dialogue he directs at a clearly conflicted Ed speaks volumes: “‘I know what’s it’s like to be different.”

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NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2: FREDDY’S REVENGE (1985)

The unabashedly queer-themed and critically maligned second outing for Freddy Krueger centers on Mark Patton’s disco-dancing closeted new-kid-on-the-chopping-block Jessie. In Jack Sholder’s sequel to Wes Craven’s classic (working from a script by David Chaskin), the razor-fingered ghoul literally wants to inhabit the skin of teenager Jessie, whose folks have purchased Nancy Thompson’s old place on Elm Street (the realtor obviously didn’t give them the heads up on the area’s teen mortality rate). It’s part possession yarn, part high-body count follow-up, and a Queer Theorist’s wet dream with considerable copy written about the homoerotic undertones in A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2 over the years.

So where’s the gay?

Apart from being an ultra-violent fetishization of the Top/Bottom binary with a sex-negative attitude towards the BDSM subculture, the film is ultimately about the fallout of suppressed sexuality — that when navigating the terrain of secrecy, sex could possibly equal agonizing death. Again sex is considered a sinister and pervasive influence with the potential to corrupt and destroy American youth. Marshall Bell’s gay coach is depicted as a seedy opportunist who gets his comeuppance in a shower block, and it posits at the film’s conclusion that Jessie might be saved by the love of a good woman. The entire film also works as a metaphor for internal homophobia and confronting your own personal demons.

JESSIE’S LOST JOURNAL by Mark Patton is available here.

Lost_Boys

THE LOST BOYS (1987)

Another 1980s horror film thematically aligned with a rite-of-passage narrative, with the Hot-Button basis of Satanic Panic as a jumping-off point for a tale of homoerotic supernatural seduction with Peter Pan connotations. Creators were dipping their toes into the same monster-infested creative pool, but THE LOST BOYS was a landmark film that transcended the clearly-delineated beats of your run-of-the-mill teen-oriented horror film — and for many, it proved a life-defining introduction to the genre. Joel Schumacher’s dissection of counter-cultural youth sees Jason Patric’s moody man-child undertaking a demonic initiation via indoctrination into a murderous vampire cult, led by an Alpha-Vamp with a punk aesthetic (Kiefer Sutherland).

So where’s the gay?

There is some pretty heavy-handed symbolism in THE LOST BOYS, and the rapport between Patric and Sutherland cheekily steps outside the realms of male-bonding into a (subtext again) “will he/won’t he be seduced by the dark side,” and by extension Sutherland’s alpha-vamp. The tribe of nocturnal bikers are almost all exclusively male, and viewed with suspicion (okay, so rightfully so here) by society, and the Coreys Haim & Feldman make an unapologetically geeky (which in some cases is shorthand for homosexual) duo who are coded as gay.

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