'Queer for Fear' - new docuseries tells the history of LGBT horror films

  • by David-Elijah Nahmod
  • Tuesday October 25, 2022
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'Teen Wolf,' 'Nosferatu,' 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers' and <br>'The Bride of Frankenstein,' featured in the docuseries 'Queer for Fear'
'Teen Wolf,' 'Nosferatu,' 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers' and
'The Bride of Frankenstein,' featured in the docuseries 'Queer for Fear'

As the new docuseries "Queer for Fear: The History of Queer Horror" begins, lesbian icon Lea Delaria points out that horror exists "outside of society," just as queer people exist outside of society. The four-part series can now be seen on Shudder, a streaming service for the discriminating horror fan.

"Queer for Fear" covers a lot of ground. It begins by harkening back to the early 19th century, when a bisexual polyamorous woman named Mary Shelley wrote "Frankenstein," a novel which is credited for giving birth to both the horror and science fiction genres.

Through a series of interviews with a variety of queer horror creators, historians, and famous fans, the audience learns that Shelley and her husband Percy may have been engaged in a menage a trois with their friend Lord Byron. Byron and Percy might also have been having sex with each other. It was in this environment that Shelley wrote "Frankenstein." There are definite queer elements in the book, such as when the mad doctor chases his male monster around the world.

'Bram Stoker's Dracula,' 'The Picture of Dorian Gray'  

from page to screen
The series also documents the sad story of Oscar Wilde, the great 19th-century writer who served hard time in jail for the "crime" of being gay. Wilde was the author of "The Picture of Dorian Gray," considered one of the great horror novels. In that book, a beautiful young man stays youthful as his portrait ages in his stead. Wilde clearly used Dorian Gray as a metaphor for his own queerness.

There's a lengthy section on Bram Stoker's "Dracula," considered to be the greatest vampire novel ever written. Stoker was known to have had gay proclivities. He was part of Wilde's inner circle and wrote love letters to the gay poet Walt Whitman. But Stoker underwent a complete turnaround after Wilde was imprisoned, becoming an anti-gay activist who called for all gay writers to be imprisoned.

Was the character of Dracula a metaphor for Stoker's queerness? According to "Drag Race" alumnus Alaska Thunderfuck, it was.

"The Dracula costume kit is basically drag," Alaska says. "You have face paint, and then you have blood red lips, and then you slick your hair back. You put on a cape, you put on fancy antique jewels, and then you go live in a castle. And you can turn into a bat. So this, to me, is the experience of being a gay man."

Shudder's horrific history lesson goes far beyond the literary world. Movies are a big part of the discussion. Episode 2 of "Queer for Fear" focuses on the careers of filmmakers James Whale and Alfred Hitchcock.

Whale was a gay man who inserted quite a bit of not-so-subtle gay subtext into his films, like the screaming queen mad scientist Dr. Praetorius (Ernest Thesiger) in the 1935 film "Bride of Frankenstein." It was one of two films that Whale and Thesiger made together. In 1932, Thesiger played the somewhat "Nellie" Horace Femm in Whale's chiller "The Old Dark House," a film that was so glaringly gay it's hard to believe that 1930s audiences didn't notice this.

'I Married a Monster From Outer Space,' 'Psycho,' 'Rebecca'  

In addition to Thesiger's Femm, there was a definite lesbian undertone to sister Rebecca (Eva Moore). Meanwhile, up in the attic lies 102-year-old family patriarch Sir Roderick Femm, played by actress Elspeth Dudgeon in bearded male drag. Whale could always be counted upon to include gay overtones in his films.

Hitchcock, though not gay, had questionable gay characters in several of his films, such as the male couple who strangles a friend to death in the classic 1948 thriller "Rope." And Hitchcock's most famous character, Norman Bates in the 1960 film "Psycho," showed more than a few gay proclivities as a put-upon mama's boy who took to murdering women; not exactly a positive gay role model.

Perkins' real-life son Osgood is interviewed in the film, speaking quite candidly about his father's sexuality and about how his parents tried to hide the truth about how Perkins contracted the AIDS that killed him in 1992.

In 1940 Hitchcock made "Rebecca," which co-stars Judith Anderson as Mrs. Danvers, one of cinema's grand old lesbians. In the film Mrs. Danvers is so clearly in love with her former mistress it's a wonder the film got past the censors, whose approval was needed to get a film released in those days.

The series continues across the decades, discussing many films and delving into why queer people relate to them. The interviews are thoughtful, insightful, sometimes funny, and always entertaining. Interviewees include cabaret star Michael Feinstein, TV producer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, film historians Mark Gatiss and Harry Benshoff, film directors Kimberly Peirce and Karyn Kusama, and San Francisco's own Peaches Christ. Their words are interwoven with a plethora of delightful film clips.

Shudder has done a superb job in putting this series together. It's must-see viewing for LGBT horror fans. www.shudder.com

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