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LGBT themes in horror fiction

LGBT themes in horror fiction refers to sexuality in horror fiction that can often focus on LGBT characters and themes. It may deal with characters who are coded as or who are openly LGBT, or it may deal with themes or plots that are specific to homosexual people. Depending on when it was made, it may contain open statements of sexuality, same-sex sexual imagery, same-sex love or affection or simply a sensibility that has special meaning to LGBT people.


Illustration by D. H. Friston from the first publication of the lesbian vampire novella Carmilla (1872) by Sheridan Le Fanu.[1][2][3]
The horrific painting at the center of Oscar Wilde's horror classic The Picture of Dorian Gray, painted by Ivan Albright for the 1945 film adaptation.

James Jenkins of Valancourt Books notes that the connection between gay fiction and horror goes back to the Gothic novels of the 1790s and early 1800s.[4] Many Gothic authors, like Matthew Lewis, William Thomas Beckford, and Francis Lathom, were homosexual, and according to Jenkins "the traditional explanation for the gay/horror connection is that it was impossible for them to write openly about gay themes back then (or even perhaps express them, since words like 'gay' and 'homosexual' didn't exist), so they sublimated them and expressed them in more acceptable forms, using the medium of a transgressive genre like horror fiction."[4] Early works with clear gay subtext include Lewis's The Monk (1796) and both Charles Maturin's The Fatal Revenge (1807) and Melmoth the Wanderer (1820).[4] Somewhat later came the first lesbian vampire novella Carmilla (1872) by Sheridan Le Fanu[1][2][3] and The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890) by Oscar Wilde, which shocked readers with its sensuality and overtly homosexual characters.[5] There is even gay subtext in Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897) as the title character warns off the female vampires and claims Jonathan Harker, saying "This man belongs to me!"[4] Richard S. Primuth of The Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide writes that Stoker, a closeted gay man and close friend of Oscar Wilde, began writing Dracula just as Wilde was sentenced to hard labor after his conviction for sodomy.[6] Talia Schaffer writes in ELH that "Dracula explores Stoker's fear and anxiety as a closeted homosexual man during Oscar Wilde's trial ... This peculiar tonality of horror derives from Stoker's emotions at this unique moment in gay history."[6][7] The erotic metaphor of vampirism, inspired by Carmilla, has resulted in numerous vampire films since the 1970s strongly implying or explicitly portraying lesbianism.[8]

James R. Keller writes that in particular,"Gay and lesbian readers have been quick to identify with the representation of the vampire, suggesting its experiences parallel those of the sexual outsider."[9] Richard Dyer discusses the recurring homoerotic motifs of vampire fiction in his article "Children of the Night", primarily "the necessity of secrecy, the persistence of a forbidden passion, and the fear of discovery."[9][10] With the vampire having been a recurring metaphor for same-sex desire from before Stoker's Dracula, Dyer observes that historically earlier representations of vampires tend to evoke horror and later ones turn that horror into celebration.[9][10] The homoerotic overtones of Anne Rice's celebrated The Vampire Chronicles series (1976-2014) are well-documented,[9][11][12][13] and its publication reinforced the "widely recognized parallel between the queer and the vampire."[9]

Historically, the control of the book industry by larger publishers made it difficult to distribute the increasingly overt gay content being produced.[14] Queer horror got a boost with the advent of the pulp novel,[15] a cheap way to manufacture paperback novels that became popularized during World War II.[16] Three on a Broomstick (1967) by Don Holliday is an early example of the gay horror pulp.[15]

Though the Motion Picture Production Code prohibited LGBT characters or themes during its entire existence from 1930 to 1968, certain films like Dracula's Daughter (1936) and The Haunting (1963) pushed the envelope by showing what they could within the guidelines, coding it so that gays and lesbians could see it, but those who chose to ignore it still could.[17]

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, cult film director David DeCoteau began making "horror for women." Films like Voodoo Academy (1999) and The Brotherhood (2001) often featured attractive men in their underwear in homoerotic situations but never fully gay-themed storylines. These films quickly caught on with gay male audiences, to whom they were more often marketed, but with the safety of "Horror for Women" label so as not to out themselves at the local video store.[citation needed] In 2004, production began simultaneously on two films marketed specifically for gay audiences as "Gay Horror." October Moon was directed by Jason Paul Collum and featured a deadly gay love triangle in the vein of Fatal Attraction (1987). Hellbent was directed by Paul Etheredge and styled itself as a modern slasher film with a story of gay men stalked by a masked killer during a Halloween parade in West Hollywood, California. Both films were released theatrically in September 2005.


  • The Queer Horror Awards were created to honor works that involve significant, and generally positive, portrayal of gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender characters, issues or themes within the area of horror.[18]
  • The Lambda Literary Award includes an award for Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror
  • The Gaylactic Spectrum Awards honor works in science fiction, fantasy and horror which include positive explorations of gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender characters, themes, or issues.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Garber, Eric; Lyn Paleo (1983). "Carmilla". Uranian Worlds: A Guide to Alternative Sexuality in Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror. G K Hall. p. 76. ISBN 978-0-8161-1832-8.
  2. ^ a b LeFanu, J[oseph] Sheridan (1872). "Carmilla". In a Glass Darkly. London: R. Bentley & Son.
  3. ^ a b LeFanu, J[oseph] Sheridan (1993). "Carmilla". In Pam Keesey (ed.). Daughters of Darkness: Lesbian Vampire Stories. Pittsburgh, PA: Cleis Press.
  4. ^ a b c d Healey, Trebor (May 28, 2014). "Early Gay Literature Rediscovered". Huffington Post. Retrieved May 31, 2014.
  5. ^ Garber & Paleo (1983). "The Picture of Dorian Gray". Uranian Worlds. p. 148.
  6. ^ a b Primuth, Richard S. (February 11, 2014). "Vampires Are Us". The Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide. Retrieved March 19, 2018.
  7. ^ Schaffer, Talia (Summer 1994). "A Wilde Desire Took Me: The Homoerotic History of Dracula". ELH. 61 (2): 381–425. doi:10.1353/elh.1994.0019.
  8. ^ Hogan, David J. (1997). "Lugosi, Lee, and the Vampires". Dark Romance: Sexuality in the Horror Film. McFarland. pp. 146–163. ISBN 0-7864-0474-4.
  9. ^ a b c d e Keller, James R. (2000). Anne Rice and Sexual Politics: The Early Novels. McFarland. pp. 12–14. ISBN 978-0786408467.
  10. ^ a b Dyer, Richard (1988). "Children of the Night: Vampirism as Homosexuality, Homosexuality as Vampirism". In Susannah Radstone (ed.). Sweet Dreams: Sexuality, Gender, and Popular Fiction. London: Lawrence & Wishart Ltd. p. 64.
  11. ^ "Submit to Anne". September 16, 1996. Retrieved June 25, 2014.
  12. ^ Maslin, Janet (November 11, 1994). "Film Review: Interview with the Vampire; Rapture and Terror, Bound by Blood". Retrieved June 25, 2014.
  13. ^ James, Caryn (November 13, 1994). "In Search of the Man Within the Monster". Retrieved June 25, 2014.
  14. ^ Stryker, Susan (2001). Queer Pulp: Perverted Passions from the Golden Age of the Paperback. San Francisco: Chronicle Books.
  15. ^ a b Doyle, Dave (2009). "Conquering the Demon Within". In Drewey Wayne Gunn (ed.). The Golden Age of Gay Fiction. MLR Press. ISBN 1-60820-048-5.
  16. ^ Michael Bronski, ed. (2003). Pulp Friction: Uncovering the Golden Age of Gay Male Pulps. New York: St. Martin's Griffin.
  17. ^ Russo, Vito (1987). The Celluloid Closet: Homosexuality in the Movies. Harrow & Row.
  18. ^ "The Queer Horror Awards". Retrieved 25 February 2018.

External linksEdit