LGBT Movies: Horror Protagonists

If you read a list of horror films with LGBT characters you’ll find a lot of murder victims, serial killers and vampires. Occasionally a gay side character gets lucky (Cursed (2005), ParaNorman (2012) ) but often they’re first on the chopping block (Warlock (1989), It Chapter Two (2019)). I searched for films where the LGBT character is the protagonist. They carry the narrative, though they may not be safe when the credits roll. I prefer thrillers to horror films but there is often overlap. I chose to fast forward through the violent sections of these stories so I won’t be giving them grades.

This list contains spoilers and triggers.

Homme Fatales
Tom at the Farm

Cautionary tales in which a dangerous stranger lures men with a pretty face. These lean more towards thriller than horror.

The 24th Day (2004, USA). A man (James Marsden) is kidnapped by a past hook-up (Scott Speedman) who suspects the man gave him HIV years ago. They rattle off insults and exposition while they wait for Marsden’s blood test results to come back. The script, adapted from a stage play, leaves the characters feeling more like chess pieces than people. It shows how the conversation on sexual safety and consent has and hasn’t changed over the past 15 years. Triggers: HIV Stigma. Torture. Sex Shaming.
Award: Most Sympathetic Antagonist.

Drown (2015, Australia). Gay lifeguard is stalked by a closeted rival. Turns into an uneasy mix of horror and pornography. Harry Cook does lovely work as the baffled straight friend stuck in between them. A spiritual successor to the director’s grim short film Boys Grammar. Triggers: Bigotry. Bullying. Hate Crimes. Self-Harm. Sexual Assault. Torture.
Award: Most Eye Candy.

Sequin in a Blue Room (2019, Australia). I reviewed this in my article about the Reeling Festival. Newcomer Connor Leach gives a fantastic performance as a promiscuous teen looking for affection on the apps. He goes to a sex party and finds himself the target of a middle-aged stalker. Unusual mix of thriller and coming-of-age that works better than I thought it would.  Triggers: Blood. Sexual Assault. Underage Sex.
Recommended.

Stranger by the Lake (2013, France). Lonely gay man witnesses a murder at a cruising spot. He becomes romantically obsessed with the killer. I found the film’s cynical take on gay relationships off-putting, but critics raved about it. Triggers: Blood. Unsimulated sex.

Tom at the Farm (2013, France). Xavier Dolan co-writes, directs and stars in this adaptation of a grim play. Tom visits his late lover’s family only to become trapped in an abusive relationship with the man’s closeted brother. Neither Tom nor the brother articulate their motives, leaving the audience to fill in the gaps. Has moments of high tension mixed with stretches of tedium. Triggers: Domestic abuse. Familial abuse. Gaslighting. Threats of sexual assault.

Urbania (2000, USA). Gay man stalks a homophobe through an urban city. When the reason is revealed the film becomes unbearably sad. Dan Futterman is scary and heartbreaking in the lead role. A rough sit. Triggers: Bigotry. Blood. Hate Crimes. Sexual Assault.
Award: Most Depressing.

Psychological Horror
Samurai

Some of the most interesting on this list. Unreliable narrators and ambiguous endings are common. Last week’s feature, Turn of the Screw (1985, Spain), fits in this category.

Animals (2012, Spain). A self-destructive gay teen confides in an ambulatory stuffed bear. Whimsy gives way to nightmare as bad things start happening at his high school. The ambiguous script leaves us to fill in the blanks ourselves. Gloomy and surreal with shades of Donnie Darko and Closet Monster. Triggers: Animal abuse. Blood. Domestic abuse. Self-Harm.

Boys in the Trees (2016, Australia). This was advertised as a horror film, though the result was something softer and sadder. A bully (Toby Wallace) connects with an ambiguously gay teen (Gulliver McGrath) on Halloween. They swap ghost stories and longing glances. The dialogue is klunky, the plot is predictable and the gay character is there to serve the straight-ish man’s journey. However, the film contains gorgeous, dream-like imagery and McGrath’s performance absolutely wrecked me. Triggers: Animal abuse. Bigotry. Bullying. Sexual Assault.

Rift (2017, Iceland). Gunnar gets a cryptic call from his ex-boyfriend Einar. He goes to meet him in a remote cabin but something is… off. Both men are acting strange and there are odd noises about. Is Einar stable? Is Einar even there? Is this a metaphor for the residue relationships leave behind, or is there real danger? The film is not interested in answers. At times I found it too clever by half. But if you’re looking for atmosphere there’s plenty here to chew on. Triggers: Blood. Gaslighting. Discussions of self-harm and sexual assault.
Award: Scariest Scene.

The Samurai (2014, Germany). A young cop pursues a stranger through his small town. A figure in a white dress with a samurai sword. Things get weird. There are hints that the stranger is a spirit, a werewolf or a raging Mr. Hyde to the cop’s repressed Dr. Jekyll. The slow burning film’s in no hurry to answer. Just skip the spoiler filled trailer. Triggers: Animal abuse. Bullying. Gore. One critic read the film as transphobic but that was not my take.
Award: Most Interesting Antagonist.
Recommended.

Slashers

The films are built around a killer dispatching the cast in brutal ways. The genre came of age in the 70’s and 80’s. It’s roots can be traced back to the likes of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None and Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Hellbent (2004, USA). Four male friends are stalked by a masked killer at a Halloween Carnival. The small cast gets more character development than most slashers. The men are likeable and it’s sad to watch their fates. The writer chose to tell us nothing about the killer’s identity or motives. There’s no mystery to solve or surprise to reveal. This will either be a failing or a feature, depending on your fondness for the basic slasher formula. Triggers: Gore. Sex-shaming. Torture.

Knife + Heart (2018, France). Gay porn producer investigates a killer who is targeting her performers. The producer is a narcissist and the victims have no agency. It’s deliberately unpleasant, flipping the gender norms of Italian giallo films. Triggers: Body Horror. Domestic abuse. Familial abuse. Gore. Racism. Sexual assault. Torture.

Pitchfork (2016, USA). Gay student throws a party at his family farm. Soon the oversized cast is targeted by a masked man with a pitch fork. This formulaic slasher tips a hat to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The team created some striking images on a budget. The characters aren’t interesting but the leading man’s sexuality gives it a spot on this list. Triggers: Familial abuse. Gore. Misogyny. Torture.

You’re Killing Me (2015, USA). Self-absorbed YouTuber doesn’t realize his boyfriend is a serial killer. A rhythm is quickly established. The boyfriend is insulted by someone, brutally murders them, then tells the lead about it. The lead laughs it off as a joke. Rinse. Repeat. The script wants to mock the narcissistic characters but once the point is made there’s nowhere else to go. The ugly death scenes overwhelm the predictable comedy resulting in a sour experience. Triggers: Animal abuse. Gore.

Supernatural Creatures
In the Flesh

Often a metaphor for social outcasts, the creature can be a figure of fear or sympathy.

Bite Marks (2011, USA). A squabbling gay couple hitches a ride on a truck filled with coffins. When the truck breaks down the cargo wakes up. The idiot protagonists are fond of investigating strange noises. Much of the humor comes from their lack of self-preservation instincts. The film runs out of ideas midway, devolving into poorly staged slapstick fights. Still it’s nice when a script lets a gay man play some action hero beats. Triggers: Blood. Gore. Misogyny. Sexual Assault. Urine. Vomit.

Cthulu (2007, USA). A gay twist on H.P. Lovecraft’s Shadow Over Innsmouth. A gay man visits his creepy hometown for a funeral. He assumes the locals are homophobic. He’s not wrong, but there’s more going on. Still he’ll ignore every red flag the way only a horror protagonist can. The acting is hammy but the premise is smart. Triggers: Bigotry. Blood. Familial abuse. Gaslighting. Self-Harm. Sexual Assault.

In the Flesh (2013 mini-series, UK). When a zombie cure is found the undead are returned to their families. Luke Newberry gives a heartbreaking performance as a shy zombie who just wants to feel normal again. Unfortunately, he’s trapped between traumatized relatives and revenge-hungry townsfolk. I adored Newberry’s character but I grew tired of watching him suffer. The over-the-top villains and a reliance on the “Idiot Ball” were off-putting. Ended on a cliff-hanger when the show got cancelled. Triggers: Bigotry. Body horror. Familial abuse. Gore. Hate Crimes. Threat of sexual assault.
Award: Most Sympathetic Protagonist.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985, USA). Teen boy is possessed by serial killer Freddy Krueger, placing his loved ones in danger. Much has been written of the boy’s coding as a closeted homosexual. While that makes the film important, it’s still not very good. Freddy lacks a personality and the protagonist is a passive victim. Leading man Marc Patton has since discussed the homophobia he endured behind the scenes. Triggers: Body Horror. Gore. Threat of sexual assault.
Award: Most Historical Impact

Socket (2007, USA). Doctor is struck by lightning and develops electricity absorbing powers. Can he learn to control them or will they drive him insane? Part comic book origin story. Part addiction parable. On the plus side an unusual premise and a healthy dose of eye candy. On the minus side amateur film making and a slooow pace. Triggers: Body Horror. Domestic Abuse. Self-Harm. Strobing Lights.

The Wolves of Kromer (1998, UK). Two gentleman werewolves fall in love. But bigoted townsfolk frame them for murder and turn the village against them. Low budget with amateur acting but the injustice still draws tears. Triggers: Bigotry. Hate Crimes.

ZMD: Zombies of Mass Destruction (2009, USA). A gay couple and an Iranian-American woman face a zombie outbreak in this cartoonish horror comedy. They’ll battle racists, religious zealots and the undead as they struggle to escape their conservative town. The political satire provides some laughs but the over top violence requires a strong stomach. Triggers: Bigotry. Body Horror. Conversion Therapy. Familial Abuse. Gore. Torture. Vomit.
Award: Goriest film.

Thrillers

There are enough LGBT thrillers to merit their own article. Thrillers tend to empower their protagonists in a way horror films don’t. These two feature dual protagonists. They don’t quite fit into the earlier categories.

B&B (2017, UK). Gay couple stays at a Bed and Breakfast run by a conservative. The brash one wants to pick fights but the timid one is certain they’re going to be murdered. The plot only gets sillier as the idiot protagonists continue to put themselves in harm’s way. A cringey viewing experience.  Not to be confused with the even cringier The Gay Bed & Breakfast of Terror. Triggers: Bigotry. Familial abuse. Gaslighting. Racism.
Award: Dumbest Protagonists.

The Fruit Machine (1988, UK). Teen friends witness a murder at a gay club. The killer sees them so they go on the run. This buddy comedy/ thriller hybrid gets lost in a maze of dull subplots until the killer returns. The film is neither funny nor scary enough to recommend. Still, it was interesting to see gay teens portrayed positively in 1988. You can read my spoiler filled recap here. Triggers: Bigotry. Blood. Familial abuse. Sexual Assault. Underage Sex.

Short Films
Tonight It's You 2

Hard to discuss without spoiling.

Dating App Dangers
In which gay men ignore red flags on the quest for companionship.

  • Bugcrush (2006, USA). Gay teen falls for a sexy new student who’s always surrounded by insects. Things go well until he agrees to meet him alone. Triggers: Insects. Torture. Sexual Assault.
  • Grind (2014, USA). A rare musical. Anthony Rapp pursues a Grindr date despite recent LGBT violence in his neighborhood. Triggers: Blood. Torture.
  • In the Closet (2019, USA). That awkward moment when you ask your Grindr date for pics and he sends you ones from inside your house.

Revenge Fantasies
In which gay men lash back at their abusers.

  • J is for Jesus (2014, Brazil). Part of an anthology titled ABC’s of Death 2. Religious zealots kill a gay man and torture his lover. The dead man comes back and things get gruesome. Heavy handed. Triggers: Body horror. Conversion Therapy. Gore. Hate Crimes. Torture.
  • Pyotr495 (2016, Canada). Russian hate group lures a gay teen into a trap with a dating app. But the teen is not what they expected. Over the top, with one moment of surprising grace. Triggers: Bigotry. Gore. Hate Crimes. Torture.
  • Nunzio’s Second Cousin (1994, USA). When a gay cop is attacked by a group of homophobes he takes one of them prisoner. The great Eileen Brennan provides comic relief as the cop’s oblivious mother. Triggers: Bigotry. Hate Crimes. Threat of Sexual Assault.
  • Tonight It’s You (2016, USA). Hunk agrees to meet a Grindr date in a conservative, rural area. Things go badly for everyone involved. This film is full of surprises and my favorite on this list. It’s tempting to spoil but I’ll simply say that I highly recommended it. Triggers: Bigotry. Blood. Conversion Therapy. Familial abuse. Vomit.
  • We Are Animals (2013, USA). Dystopian future sees homosexuals rounded up in conversion centers. A “converted” orderly is tasked with watching a militant gay activist. Campy hijinks ensue. Triggers: Bigotry. Blood. Conversion Therapy. Sexual Assault.

Helplessness
Characters here are rendered powerless against their assailants. Hard to watch.

  • Daisy (2017). Lesbian couple run into a vengeful ghost. Gross. Triggers: Body horror. Gore.
  • No Place Like Home (2017, Spain). A gay man visits his mother in a homophobic country. She lured him there to have him thrown in prison. Grim. Triggers: Bigotry. Familial abuse. Implied sexual assault.
  • The Quiet Room (2018, USA). Suicidal man is sent to a psyche ward. The patients warn that a demon is stalking him. Takes time to develop the characters before the trouble begins. Well made. Depressing. Triggers: Blood. Body Horror. Gaslighting. Self-Harm.
  • Schism (2018). Animated film about a man who can’t stop hallucinating eldritch horrors around him, even in the company of his oblivious boyfriend. Triggers: Body horror. Gore.
  • The Last Time I Saw Richard (2014, Australia). Troubled teen is sent to a mental institution. He finds himself falling for his roommate and seeing strange visions. Sad. A prequel to Boys in the Trees. Triggers: Bullying. Self-Harm.

Slashers
Hellbent is considered the first gay slasher. Several other films have followed the formula.

  • Final Girls (2018). Lesbian couple in a slasher movie argue over which one will be the final survivor. Mean-spirited. Triggers: Gore.
  • Last Seen (2019, USA). Man goes on a camping trip with his date. Soon they’re stalked by an unseen social media influencer. Are they both in danger or is his date leading him into a trap for up votes? Unfocused. Triggers: Blood.

On my Radar
Jack and Diane

I haven’t seen these yet but the trailers look interesting.

  • Bit (2019, USA). Trans woman is recruited by a gang of vampires.
  • Cut Snake (2014, Australia). Ex-convict is stalked by his former cell mate.
  • The House of Adam (2006, USA). Gay ghost haunts the religious zealots who murdered him.
  • Jack and Diane (2012, USA). Teen suspects her new girlfriend is a werewolf.
  • Last Ferry (2019, USA). Man witnesses a murder on his first visit to Fire Island. Now he doesn’t know who to trust.
  • Lyle (2014, USA). When their young child passes away a lesbian couple begin to suspect their neighbors were responsible.
  • Make a Wish (2002, USA). Rare lesbian slasher. Group of women go on a camping trip and one-by-one start to disappear. Is there a killer in their midst?
  • The Sacrifice (2005, USA). The acting looks amateurish but the plot sounds fun. A shy teen moves to a small town and falls for a confident classmate. The two boys discover a local cult with murderous intentions. The trailer for the sequel, The Resurrection (2008), spoils the ending of the first.
  • Thelma (2017, Norway). Young lesbian struggles to control dangerous psychic powers in a film that sounds a bit like Stephen King’s Carrie.
  • What Keeps You Alive (2018, Canada). Woman suspects her new wife of murder.

Statistics

By the end of the films in this article

  • 15 protagonists are still in peril
  • 7 escaped safely with their love interests
  • 6 escaped safely but watched their love interest die
  • 4 are dead
  • 4 have turned homicidal themselves
  • 2 are safe, single and traumatized

The antagonist’s motive?

  • 9 are groups of bigots
  • 6 want revenge
  • 4 are lustful
  • 4 are hungry
  • 4 suffer internalized homophobia
  • 3 are religious zealots
  • 1 is a hired assassin
  • And the rest offer no explanation

My top recommendations are: The Samurai, Sequin in a Blue Room and Tonight It’s You. What’s your tolerance for horror? Which subgenres do you prefer? Have you seen any of these films? Read more reviews of LGBT films here.

Up next: Go behind the scenes of a women’s pentathlon in 1982’s Personal Best