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From campy slashers to vampire erotica, these queer horror films are frighteningly fun

Lesbian vampires, killer unicorns and a gender-bending psychopath — the growing canon of queer horror films has it all.
"Killer Unicorn," "Fear Street," and "Titane."
"Killer Unicorn," "Fear Street," and "Titane."NBC News / Indican Pictures; Netflix; NEON

Horror films haven’t always been kind to gay characters, though LGBTQ viewers maintain a wonderfully unique relationship with the genre. There are a number of competing theories as to what’s behind this spine-tingling love affair — from identifying with the “otherness” of monsters to the laden subtexts of early works — but perhaps it’s just an appreciation for the fine art of camp.

The canon of queer horror titles has been slowly building over the past several decades, aided by a number of recent indie films that twist traditional homophobic horror tropes and a body of classic films that are being re-read through a contemporary queer lens.

While there are many to choose from, here are 19 queer horror films to put toward the top of your watchlist for “Gay Christmas,” otherwise known as Halloween.

'Titane' (2021)

Agathe Rousselle in "Titane."Carole Bethuel / NEON

“You’ll always be my son, whoever you are.”

The lead character in this unabashedly violent film — which won the top prize at this year's Cannes Film Festival — is a gender-bending psychopath with a dangerous attraction to motor vehicles and an apathetic view on human life. The stomach-churning “body horror” film has stunned its way into becoming one of 2021’s most notable titles — and France’s Oscar entry.

'Fear Street' (2021)

A still from "Fear Street." Maya Hawke / Netflix

“Face the evil.”

This three-part Netflix series is based on the young-adult horror books by fiction writer R.L. Stine. The trilogy kicks off in 1994, when a group of high schoolers, led by lesbian teen Deena, encounters the evil spirit that has been plaguing their town for centuries. 

'The Retreat' (2021)

Sarah Allen and Tommie-Amber Pirie in "The Retreat."Quiver Distribution

“The only way out is to fight.”

In this slasher film, lesbian couple Renee and Valerie leave the big city to go to a rural cabin to attend a wedding-planning retreat for their friends, a gay couple. The getaway becomes a literal retreat, as they are hunted, surveilled and tortured by a group of homophobic extremists. 

'Bit' (2019) 

Diana Hopper in "Bit."Nick Cafritz / Provocator

“Let men be the ones who are afraid to jog at night.” 

Trans actor Nicole Maines, best known for her role as superhero Nia Nal in The CW’s “Supergirl,” stars in this queer feminist vampire thriller. Set in Los Angeles, the film follows Maines’ character, Laurel, as she moves from Oregon to the City of Angels and connects with a group of blood-thirsty vampires set on weeding out predatory men. 

'Velvet Buzzsaw' (2019) 

Rene Russo and Jake Gyllenhaal in "Velvet Buzzsaw."Claudette Barius / Netflix

“All art is dangerous.”

Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Toni Collette and John Malkovich are among the star-studded cast of this satirical horror film set in the obnoxious Los Angeles art world. Things start to take a turn for the gruesome when an artist’s posthumous instructions to have his paintings destroyed are ignored. 

'The Perfection' (2018)

Logan Browning and Allison Williams in "The Perfection."Netflix

“It’s time to face the music.”

After putting life on hold to care for a dying mother, cello prodigy Charlotte returns to her former music academy to find an alluring new star pupil, Lizzie. But it isn’t just a return to the limelight or a fling that Charlotte is after: She’s in search of revenge. This is a heavy-handed #MeToo-era slasher with seemingly endless twists and turns.

'Killer Unicorn' (2018)

A still from "Killer Unicorn."Indican Pictures

“Who has a cigarette and a bump?”

A year after gay Brooklyn, New York, party boy Danny is brutally attacked by a stranger, he decides to give his social life another chance. But a killer in a unicorn mask is soon targeting Danny and anyone who helped him that night. 

'Thelma' (2017)

Kaya Wilkins and Eili Harboe in "Thelma."Motlys

“Sometimes the most terrifying discovery is who you really are.”

Raised in an ultra-religious Christian family in Norway, Thelma finally gets a taste of freedom when she defies her parents and attends university in Oslo. What begins as an almost sweet coming-of-age story, punctuated by a sexual awakening, takes a dark turn when the protagonist’s growing feelings for a female classmate trigger dangerous supernatural powers. “Thelma” was submitted for best foreign-language film for the 2018 Academy Awards.

'B&B' (2017)

A still from "B&B."Breaking Glass Pictures

“They made their bed. Now they have to die in it.”

Gay Londoners Marc and Fred went to war when they were refused a double bed at a remote Christian guest house. They won in court, and now they’re back to claim their conjugal rights. What could possibly go wrong?

'Raw' (2016)

Garance Marillier in "Raw."Universal

“What are you hungry for?”

A stringent vegetarian starts to develop a voracious appetite for human flesh after enduring a hazing ritual at her veterinary school. Tackling all manner of topics from peer pressure to female lust and gender roles, “Raw” is not for the faint of heart — so much so that a Los Angeles theatre was handing out barf bags with the tickets after audiences kept getting sick.

'Lyle' (2014)

Gaby Hoffmann, center, in "Lyle."Mary Cybulski / Breaking Glass Pictures

“A mother should protect her child.”

Gaby Hoffmann, of “Transparent” fame, stars as a mother whose grief over the death of her toddler turns into paranoia, thinking her neighbors are part of a satanic cult. Think of it like “Rosemary’s Baby” with a lesbian twist.

'Stranger by the Lake' (2013)

A still from "Stranger by the Lake."Strand Releasing

“Will he kiss me … or kill me?”

At a cruising spot for men, tucked away on the shores of a lake in the picturesque south of France, Franck falls in love with Michel, an attractive, potent and lethally dangerous man. “Stranger by the Lake” is perhaps one of the sexiest, most elegant thrillers ever made.

'Hellbent' (2004)

A still from "Hellbent."Here TV

“When the night belongs to the devil, the party goes to hell.”

“Hellbent” was the first horror film aimed at gay audiences to successfully break out of the film festival circuit. It came complete with openly gay lead characters, drag queens and a scythe-wielding maniac in workout tights and a devil mask. The killer’s outfit alone was enough to make you want to run away screaming — or toward him, depending on what you’re into.

'High Tension' (2003)

Cecile de France in "High Tension."Lionsgate

“Love hurts.”

The French continually bring simultaneously brilliant and visceral narratives to the horror genre, and “High Tension” is no exception. Following a terribly brutal home invasion, a college student is in a race against time to save her best friend who’s been kidnapped by a deranged killer. The third act of this intense thriller will definitely leave you gagging.

'Nightmare on Elm Street 2' (1985)

A still from "A Nightmare on Elm Street 2."Warner Bros.

“The man of your dreams is back!”

“A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge” is one of those films that you sit down to watch with your straight mates and all of a sudden the subtext rapidly becomes text. Not before long, you find yourself looking around the room, wondering whether you’re projecting your gayness into the plot or if this is indeed meant to read as gay. Rest assured that with scenes of leather bars, locker rooms and male scream queens — it is pretty gay.

'The Hunger' (1983)

David Bowie and Catherine Deneuve in "The Hunger."Warner Bros.

“Nothing human loves forever.”

Come for the over-the-top fashions, stay for the iconic Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon sex scene. Sprinkle a little David Bowie on top, and you’ve got a thoroughly enjoyable, albeit light on plot, queer vampire tale.

'Cruising' (1980)

Al Pacino in "Cruising."Warner Bros.

 “Al Pacino is cruising for a killer.”

When a New York serial killer begins targeting men active in the city’s sadomasochism subculture, a rookie police officer goes deep undercover — or, at least, goes out in leather. As he attempts to root out the killer with tight pants and coded handkerchiefs, the officer, played by Al Pacino, begins to lose his sense of self … and straightness.

Despite leaning on the homophobic horror trope of "gay man as killer," the controversial film is worth a watch as a cultural time capsule. Shot in New York’s S&M bars and clubs and featuring the actual clientele as extras, “Cruising” provides an intriguing glimpse into a pre-AIDS world of gay sex and seduction.

'The Vampire Lovers' (1970) 

A still from "Vampire Lovers."Hammer Films

“Even the lifeless can love. Even the dead can desire.”

Lesbian vampires were in vogue in the 1960s and ‘70s, but the romantic aspect of on-screen romances wasn’t always as explicit as in “The Vampire Lovers.” Based on a novella that predates Bram Stoker’s “Dracula,” the movie, made by legendary production company Hammer Films, kicked off a trilogy that was considered daring for its depiction of sapphic seduction. By contemporary standards, “The Vampire Lovers” can feel exploitative, with a fair amount of casual nudity and patriarchal undertones. But it’s hard to resist the otherworldly beauty of the heroine and her love interests, who give new meaning to the term "heavy petting."

'Rope' (1948)

James Stewart in "Rope."Warner Bros.

“The guest who’s dead on time.”

Cinema’s most prolific director of psychological thrillers, Alfred Hitchcock, never shied from employing gay stereotypes — a knife-wielding killer who cross-dresses as his dead mother in “Psycho,” a stylish psychopath who lures in a wide-eyed athlete in “Strangers on a Train.” But never was a Hitchcock film as homoerotic as “Rope.”

It’s about two men, Phillip and Brandon, who attempt to carry out the perfect murder and throw a dinner party to add to the thrill. Tension rises as the pair begins to crack under the pressure of the fatal fête, which is interspersed with laden allusions to the men’s living situation. With dripping sarcasm, Brandon’s onetime beard replies, “How cozy,” to the fact that the telephone is in “the” (one) bedroom. This is Hays Code Hollywood, after all.

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