Last year, I was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder, or OCD as many of us know it. While the label was slapped on me at 25, I think I’ve been dealing with it in at least some form for most of my life. Simply put, it is a disorder where people have obsessions and compulsions. It can be quite nebulous in its manifestations, but when it comes to onscreen depictions, OCD is seen as a fear of contamination and a need for cleanliness. Characters such as Tony Sheloub’s Monk from Monk or Jack Nicholson’s Melvin from As Good As It Gets are prime examples of stereotypical representations of OCD; they must wash their hands constantly, they obsessively count, they can’t step on cracks in the sidewalk, they are afraid of everything. These rituals and fears then make them weird and their OCD makes them unrelatable. But that’s not how OCD manifests for everyone; for some people, contamination fears are a large part of their compulsion. That’s not the case for me. If I never have to hear someone say to me, “but you’re messy, you can’t be OCD,” I’d be so elated. My OCD is much more internal, meaning I don’t have many visual compulsions. My mind is constantly flooded with obsessive thoughts about harm coming to myself and others, which means I’m always trying to find ways to avoid that harm. This can manifest through planned walking routes, constantly checking the oven, counting my steps, biting my nails, the list goes on and often changes depending on my stress levels.
A large part of figuring out how to cope with my OCD has involved recognizing the deeper meaning of my personal relationship to the horror genre. Horror has always been a part of my life. I have devoured horror films and books since an inappropriate age, finding a strange solace in the violence. Slumber parties always involved horror movies. I owned almost all of R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike’s books. I watched horror trailers obsessively. I dove into the world of pirated movies so I could watch the latest horror indies. It’s always just been part of who I am, so when I was diagnosed with OCD, I didn’t think at all about how this could link to my love of horror.
Animated horror is often only found in either anime series, such as Parasyte and Death Note, or children’s films, such as Coraline and Monster House. It is shocking that there aren’t more animated horror films, as the medium lends itself so well to horror as strange monsters and creatures can be more easily actualized onto the screen. Animation lends itself even better to body horror, where the human body can be warped and torn apart in even more demented ways. Director Eric Power fully taps into this potential with his animated horror feature, Attack of the Demons.
It is 1994 in Barrington, a small Colorado town known for their Halloween music festival. Hundreds of tourists flood the town, and with those tourists come a few cultists seeking humanity’s destruction. While cultists work to awaken a massive demon, three high school friends are reunited. Kevin, who has stayed in town, sees old classmate Jeff and tries to start a friendship. As they head to dinner together, they also run into another old classmate, Natalie, who’s attending the music festival. As they reconnect and reminisce, the cultist eventually gets access to a microphone and unleashes a chant, which begins the demon’s awakening. The entire town of Barrington, except these three friends, are infected. Kevin, Jeff, and Natalie must band together to fight back against the apocalypse and save the world from an icky demonic death.
We know the typical possession movie song and dance. A priest is going through a crisis of faith. He gets a call from the Catholic Church about a possession. He begrudgingly packs up the holy water and Bible and hops on a plane. After enduring an intense battle with a demon, he realizes his faith in God (unless the demon gets him first, which does happen). It all ends in a nice little package with the Devil defeated and the evil contained. The Exorcist did it first, and best, so how can the subgenre grow? Well, Emilio Portes’ Belzebuth offers a breath of fresh air to the stale possession film, weaving a new, and dark, narrative about the neverending battle between good and evil.
Belzebuth begins in Mexico with the birth of a little boy to police officer Emmanuel (Joaquín Cosio) and his wife, Marina. The two parents gush and coo over their new baby, carefully examining each of his fingers and toes. Emmanuel gets unexpectedly called into work, but promises his wife he’ll be right back. Little does he know that this is the last time he’ll see his son. As his son is laid down in the nursery, a new nurse comes in for shift change. But something doesn’t seem right as her eyes dart around the nursery and she seems extremely on edge. Suddenly, she begins massacring the nursery and kills every baby, including Emmanuel’s. It is an extremely violent way to start off such a film, but it sets Belzebuth’s tone perfectly. This isn’t going to be a cookie-cutter film that hides violence. Rather, it is going to kill as many children as possible to show what true evil can look like.
Horror has a rocky track record with queer representation, particularly in terms of portraying “deviant” identities as monstrous. Films such as Dracula’s Daughter (1936), The Silence of the Lambs (1991), and High Tension (2002) portray gay characters as predatory figures who seek to kidnap and kill; in these films, their sexuality is what drives them to such violence. The horror films of the 1980s and 1990s try to deal with the fear of AIDS with films about the body in pain. And then of course there is the rampant amount of queer subtext that fills the genre, either written in by filmmakers or found with the horror community. Horror films are often seen as a genre for deviants, a place to find comfort and power within monstrous identity. This is a queer genre, through and through.
With all of that in mind, we’ve compiled a list of some of horror’s best LGBTQIA+ films with more explicit, and mostly positive, representation.
In 2011, Lucky McKee made a little film called The Woman about a feral woman captured by a white man. In his attempts to tame her and make her ‘civilized,’ a disturbing and disgusting story unfolds about power. In her directorial debut, Pollyanna McIntosh continues to address issues of power in the sequel to The Woman, Darlin’.
McIntosh previously starred as the titular Woman in McKee’s 2011 film, so needless to say she’s familiar with the story of a feral cannibal living in the woods. While The Woman was about the Woman, Darlin’ is about, you guessed it, Darlin’ (Lauryn Canny). She is a young girl who was raised by the Woman (McIntosh reprises her role as the cannibal), so she is also a feral cannibal. However, she is deposited at a hospital for a soon-to-be-revealed reason (she’s pregnant) so she can get the care she needs to deliver a healthy baby. Despite her lifestyle, the Woman isn’t completely devoid of common sense.
But, the hospital doesn’t discover her pregnancy. They don’t know what to do with a girl with no records, so they ship her off to a Catholic boarding school for orphan girls. Here, the bishop (Bryan Batt) wishes to tame Darlin’ to show the healing power of Jesus Christ so his parish won’t be shut down. Jesus loves profiting off the lives of others. Here, Darlin’ is taught how to read, write, speak, and exist as what society deems as normal. But while Darlin’ is brainwashed by Catholicism, the Woman is searching the countryside for her and her unborn baby. The film switches between these two plot lines until their strange intersection.
The hottest name in horror right now is Ari Aster. He’s got it all: family trauma, gore, cults, piano wire, and, now, flower crowns. When Hereditary hit theatres last summer, Aster was lauded as one of the best up-and-coming horror filmmakers with his story about trauma, grief, and covens. Well he’s back at it again with trauma and grief, but this time he’s tackling those themes within a Swedish pagan commune. His newest film, Midsommar, pulls even more aggressive emotional punches and splatters the screens with shocking moments of gore.
Midsommar addresses similar themes of grief, trauma, isolation, and relationships seen in Hereditary, but this time it is through the lens of young couple Dani (Florence Pugh) and Christian (Jack Reynor). Dani and Christian have been together for four years but those four years haven’t necessarily been happy. Each of their conversations is so full of passive aggressive comments and halfhearted apologies that you’re just ready for someone to snap. But then, Dani suffers a horrific family tragedy. She loses her entire family and, understandably, sinks into a deep depression. Christian feels obligated to stay with Dani, even if he has the emotional intelligence of a potato sack and has no clue how to comfort his grieving girlfriend.
The woods are no place for punks—at least, that seems to be the case in Jenn Wexler’s feature film debut, The Ranger. Despite their studded jackets and tough attitudes, Wexler’s punks are no match for a deranged park ranger who knows these woods like the back of his hand. Set to a screaming soundtrack and chock full of gnarly kills, The Ranger is a creative reimagining of 1980s slasher films that rewrites its more harmful tropes into something perfect for our current cultural moment, a brilliant mashing of nostalgia and progressive filmmaking.
Chelsea (Chloë Levine) is an angsty punk who is haunted by a trauma in her past. She snorts coke, thrashes around at shows, and surrounds herself with insufferable people who help her keep the demons at bay. All that is initially shown about this trauma is a younger version of herself (Jeté Laurence, fresh off a wild performance in Pet Sematary) sitting on a cliff with The Ranger (Jeremy Holm), who tells her she is a wolf. But her coke-fueled haze is interrupted when cops bust into the bar where she’s partying with her boyfriend and friends. As she tries to escape the law, her intolerable boyfriend, Garth (Granit Lahu), stabs a cop to help her get away.