The Unexpected Body Horror of ‘The Killing of a Sacred Deer’

Body horror is usually discussed in tandem with directors like David Cronenberg, Clive Barker, and John Carpenter. Body horror is defined by the Collins Dictionary as “a horror film genre in which the main feature is the graphically depicted destruction or degeneration of a human body or bodies.” John Carpenter’s 1978 The Thing is a prime example, as an alien parasite takes over a group of human bodies. The parasite stretches, rips, and destroys the group one by one, rendering their bodies into something totally unrecognizable. Other examples are The Fly, Videodrome, and Alien.

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But body horror doesn’t always have to be about such intense and graphic depictions of the ruined body. Yorgos Lanthimos depicts a different kind of body horror in his film, The Killing of a Sacred Deer. His body horror is more controlled – instead of bodies falling apart into bloody piles, the bodies of Bob (Sunny Suljic) and Kim (Raffey Cassidy) fall apart in a predicted and methodical way. The horror comes from the inevitably of this decay, the medical solutions used to try to solve the decay, and the brutality of its solution.

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Horror Film’s Terrifyingly Harmful Use of Queer Tropes

Horror is gay. It’s a genre about, among other things, destroying societal conceptions of heteronormativity and domesticity. Gay horror fans like myself see ourselves in these narratives about monstrosity and “otherness” and take hold of them, making them our own. In his book, Queer Horror Film and Television: Sexuality and Masculinity at the Margins, Darren Elliott-Smith says, “…the study of monstrous homosexuality in the horror film has also revealed the celebratory pleasures offered to queer, gay and lesbian viewers’ oppositional identification with the very same monsters that threaten the norm.” Our identities threaten heteronormativity and we cheer on those monsters that do the same. Horror is not only about queerness, but is shaped by queerness, with LGBTQ+ directors, like Clive Barker and Don Manici, creating horror classics such as Hellraiser and Child’s Play, respectively.  

While gay horror directors and fanatics have helped shape horror film, their work is eclipsed by toxic tropes created to “other” LGBTQ+ characters and make them into villains. Horror ultimately reflects societal fears and for much of recent history, society has been afraid of gayness and the threat it poses heteronormative conceptions of family and relationships. While our current cultural context is evolving into a slightly more accepting one, this genre has perpetuated toxic tropes, two of which that I’ll discuss here, that depict LGBTQ+ characters as deviant, horrific monsters.

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