no. 8: Cult Horror and Queer Audiences

in which Sydney lists some of the queer community’s favorite cult horror films and Kati discusses Emily Carroll’s rightful online following.

no. 8: Cult Horror and Queer Audiences

Lately when people ask me my “taste” in film, I tell them anything from hot garbage to the critically acclaimed. I like a specific type of hot garbage, though—cult horror films from the 80s. For some reason the likes of Chopping Mall and The Slumber Party Massacre hit a sweet spot for me. I love digging through the dredges of Shudder and Arrow to find the next campy hidden gem. It’s these films that have been the focal points of conversations and friendships—and that have allowed me connect with my queerness and the queer community in a way that not many other films do.

Queer audiences have a special connection to cult films because they explore queerness in a real, unfiltered way. Sure the queer folks in these films may be portrayed as the villain, but that doesn’t mean they really are (looking at you, Sleepaway Camp). In many ways these cult films celebrate and understand queerness the way that more “mainstream” films may not be able to. Queer folks have oft been on the outskirts of normalcy and so it makes sense that our favorite films are in this realm, too.

In a diversion from the usual Thursday Matinee format, this issue features a list of some of my favorite (queer) cult horror films.

Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

Brad and Janet stand in corsets and garters with makeup in front of an RKO Radio Picture sign
It’s hard to comprehend the cultural impact Rocky Horror has had

This should be obvious. Rocky Horror Picture Show might be the queer cult horror film to end queer cult horror films. It has everything from Tim Curry’s defining performance as the scintillating Dr. Frank-N-Furter (Tim Curry) to a variety of musical numbers hard not to sing along to. I watched this film at a defining moment in my life—around when I began exploring my own queerness as a college freshman. Though I kept this part of myself a secret from everyone I knew, I felt I could connect with the upfront and unapologetic queerness of Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Though the best way to see this is at your local theater’s midnight screening, the second best way is to invite over some friends and enjoy the film’s shenanigans between laughter and singing. I remember sneaking into a classroom building on my college’s campus and watching the film in a lecture hall with some of my closest friends, hoping with each sound of the door it wasn’t someone coming to kick us out of the room.

Sleepaway Camp (1983)

Angela in Sleepaway Camp screaming in the dark while covered in blood from neck down
It’s a perfect summer camp slasher… and queer horror film

This section contains spoilers for Sleepaway Camp (1983).

I didn’t know Sleepaway Camp was a queer film when I first watched it this past summer. I knew it had a cult following among queer folks, especially the transgender community, but I had somehow not been spoiled for the film, despite it’s age and recent resurgence as a cult favorite.

The film has an infamous twist ending—Angela (Felissa Rose), the main character of the film, is not only the murderer, she was also assigned male at birth (AMAB). Transgender characters have a history of being depicted as untrustworthy and deceptive—a harmful stereotype that still lives on. Sleepaway Camp, though, seems to reject this notion; Angela is the victim in this story.

Molly Henery does a way better job at discussing Sleepaway Camp than I ever could—so I suggest reading her article about Sleepaway Camp and Angela’s positioning throughout the film.

Jennifer’s Body (2009)

Close-up on Jennifer and Needy's mouths as they are about to kiss
Horror film or lesbian love story?

It took me years to finally watch Jennifer’s Body. I originally thought it was a male gazey for-the-boys flick, which in part has to do with its abysmal marketing campaign. It’s not for the boys at all, though. Instead the film celebrates female friendship...and women who love women.

In the eleven years since its release, Jennifer’s Body has slowly but surely gained a cult following, especially of queer women. The relationship between Jennifer (Megan Fox) and Needy (Amanda Seyfried) in the film teeters between a tight platonic bond and something romantic. The film folds horror elements into what could be a friends-to-lovers romcom.

In the past few years—maybe even the past few months—Jennifer’s Body has been experiencing a special resurgence, finally getting the recognition it deserves. It’s even streaming on Criterion Channel!

Of course, there are more cult horror films than just these three, but hopefully this short list can get you started. I’m always on the lookout for queer cult films to watch and love recommendations… so let me know what you’ve been watching!

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Screen Break

by Kati Bowden

If we're talking about cult favorites this week, then it seems only right that we talk about online cult followings. Maybe you've stumbled upon a digital creator and found yourself completely enamoured with their work. Something about it makes you a little...obsessed. Congratulations. You're a part of an online cult following.

Web comic creator Emily Carroll has one such following of dedicated fans, and today, we're talking about Carroll's horror graphic comic anthology, Through the Woods. Packed with bite-sized stories best read late at night, this collection is perfect for fans of "The Twilight Zone" or Scary Stories to Read in the Dark.

Perhaps you've already read one of these comics, though: In October of 2010, Carroll's short graphic story "His Face All Red" went viral, which was the beginning of her online popularity. The eerie tone pitched against Carroll's charming art style established her as an artist to watch in the online sphere. "His Face All Red" tells the story of two brothers. The first, a charismatic, beloved man who has a full life and everything to live for. The second, a cowardly man who killed the first brother just before the story started. If this already sounds convoluted, then you're catching onto some of the major themes of Through the Woods, the most important of which is to never trust anything that comes out of the forest.

Other highlights in this collection include "A Lady's Hands Are Cold" and  "The Nesting Place." In the former, a lucky young woman agrees to an arranged marriage, guaranteeing her a life of luxury. Her new home is lavish, a mansion full of every piece of finery she could want. During the day, her life seems perfect; at night, however, a haunting melody drifts down the halls of the palace. In search of answers and rest, the young bride goes all "Yellow Wallpaper" on her husband's house and finds something far worse than she could have expected.

"The Nesting Place" is the perfect finale to this collection, and left me genuinely shocked. I don't want to reveal too much in this blurb, but know that this story features great disability rep, deeply unsettling monsters, and a heart-racing conclusion. It even passes the Bechdel test! This is a story that really elevates the entirety of Through the Woods from simply "creepy" to true horror. If nothing else about this collection has intrigued you so far, then I suggest picking it up for "The Nesting Place" alone.

Charming art, an old-world aesthetic, and terrifying use of color, pacing, and subversion make Emily Carroll's Through the Woods anthology a new staple in modern horror comics.  If you haven't joined her cult of dedicated followers, then consider picking this collection up and seeing what all the fuss is about. Your spine will tingle, your skin will crawl, and you just might look at the woods a little differently once you've finished reading.

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