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Anthony Perkins as the iconic villain Norman BatesStill from Psycho (1960)

Bruce LaBruce’s favourite gay horror films

The cult horror director is about to have a retrospective at New York’s MoMA. Here, he sifts through the best gay horror films he’s ever seen

Bruce LaBruce is a fan of skin. And it shows in his work. Raw, sweaty sensuality are consistent tropes in films of his: like No Skin Off My Ass (1993) and the recent Gerontophilia (2013). The first of these films brought LaBruce fame as a gay director with nothing to hide: he starred, and had sex in it. The latter is a story about a young man discovering he’s sexually attracted to old men. Despite the cross-generational sex scenes, the film was described by The Independent as a ‘toning down’ of the unsimulated sexual elements in his previous films.

And LaBruce – who has an upcoming retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, NYC – depicts another of the prominent sensations we associate with skin: pain. In two of his other films, Otto (2008) and LA Zombie (2010), he looks at homosexuality at its most horrifyingly erotic, as zombies who wander the earth, eating (and doing) each other.

This fascination lends itself well to the fusion of the orgiastic depiction of homosexuality and horror in films. For more than half a century, filmmakers have been obsessed with both, sometimes even seeing them as natural bedfellows. In LaBruce’s mind, it’s fear of homosexuals that drives them together. “I once made the outrageous claim that all horror movies are based on homosexual panic,” he says, “and although I might have overstated the case a little, it’s certainly true of many of my favourite works of horror.”


“Much has been written about what’s sometimes been called ‘the gayest horror movie ever made’. Jesse Walsh is a high-school student who can’t make it with his girlfriend, so he goes straight to the bedroom of his best buddy instead, telling him, “Something is trying to get inside my body!” It’s Freddy, but it’s also every repressed homosexual desire a teenager ever had. Jesse ends up in a thinly disguised gay leather bar, and later watches his sadistic gym teacher get tied up in the shower and whipped with wet towels. Apparently, the writer intentionally made it queer, but the director didn’t have a clue. Shades of William Wyler’s pretty gay Ben-Hur (1959), which was script-doctored by none other than Gore Vidal!”


“One of my favourite films of the 70s, and arguably one of the best films ever made about masculinity, Deliverance is at its bloody heart a horror movie about male bonding, the return of the id, and the rape of the feminised male. Four middle-class men return to mother nature to rediscover their masculine mojo by rafting down a river in the American south. They run afoul of mountain men and have to fight for their lives. The most infamous sequence, in which Ned Beatty is anally raped, and Jon Voight almost orally raped, by hillbillies, has become a pop-culture standard (the “squeal like a pig” sequence). But what is less frequently analysed is how the two characters most insecure about their masculinity become victims of a raw, uncivilised sexual violence. This literal rape runs parallel to the rape of mother nature, as the river region’s people are about to be displaced and destroyed by the encroachment of modern civilisation.”


“This whacked-out police procedural/horror/sci-fi flick from legendary B-movie director Larry Cohen (It’s Alive, The Private Files of J Edgar Hoover) opens with a sniper perched upon a water tower in midtown Manhattan picking off unsuspecting citizens. Dodging a bullet is Deborah Raffin, who is introduced walking down the street nonchalantly carrying a copy of The Philosophy of Andy Warhol. It only gets stranger from there. As it turns out, the human-alien hybrid played by Richard Lynch is a god who is telling people to kill, and he also happens to be hermaphroditic, sporting a vagina on the side of his torso. (David Cronenberg has often explored similar tropes.) That Tony Lo Bianco and Lynch play members of the same hybrid species, and the evil dual-gendered god invites the cop to mate with him, makes things all the more interesting. (Fun fact: Lynch previously played the prison inmate who rapes Al Pacino in Scarecrow. (1973)) The movie should be seen for its complex and disturbing take on religion and gender.”


“This undeservedly obscure ‘devil doll’ film, set in eastern Canada, freaked me out when I saw it as a teenager on late-night television. Directed by cinematographer William A Fraker, legendary lensman of Rosemary's Baby, and shot by the equally legendary László Kovács (Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces, New York, New York), it’s an eerie, atmospheric psycho-thriller starring Sondra Locke as a tormented girl-child with a sinister masculine alter-ego who may or may not be one of her spooky dolls. When her father, Robert ‘Jaws’ Shaw, with a fiance in tow (Sally ‘Hotlips’ Kellerman), comes back into the picture, incestuous desires and multiple murders ensue. The queer part of the movie is not revealed until the twist ending, so if you don’t like spoilers, stop here. As it turns out, Locke is revealed to be not only her own murderous alter-ego, but also a biological boy, who hasn’t been taking insulin injections all along, but female hormones! The film was notoriously butchered in editing by the studio owing to its contentious subject matter, but this kind of ‘incoherent text’ caused by external interference (see also: Cruising) arguably makes the film even creepier and more disturbing.”


A Reflection of Fear obviously owes a debt to Psycho, the smothering mother of all psycho-killer, split-personality horror movies. Of all the films inspired by notorious serial killer and grave-robber Ed Gein, who also spawned repressed homosexuals Leatherface in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs, Psycho is the most psychologically complex and compelling, delving into the twisted oedipal relationship that causes the monstrous killer to crawl into the skin of his own dead mother. The pathos and the ambivalent identification with the Norman Bates character is perfectly realised by Anthony Perkins, the notoriously closeted gay actor. Perkins plays the role as a Byzantine parable of his own homosexual experience in Hollywood, (which) must have gone over the heads of anyone outside the industry.”


“Another variation on the ‘devil doll’, possessed-by-an-alter-ego genre, this creepy little Canadian horror film is also deeply oedipal, and, like Psycho, creates a disturbingly ambivalent sympathy toward the psychotic central character. I was obsessed with this movie when I first saw it in the 80s, dragging friends multiple times to see it in the theatre, because to me the homosexual subtext was so obvious and heartbreaking. Leon (David Hewlett in a great performance) becomes obsessed with the anatomically correct medical dummy that his doctor father (Terry O’Quinn) keeps in his office to teach children about the facts of life with the help of ventriloquism. (The dummy is called PIN, short for Pinocchio, because he never tells a lie). Unlike his sister, Ursula (Cynthia Preston), who understands her father’s trick, Leon believes PIN is real. When he goes to the office one day to see his father, who happens to be out, he accidentally observes a nurse making love to the adult mannequin, which transforms Leon’s delusion into a sexual nightmare. After his parents die in a car crash (symbolically killed by PIN), and unable to forge normal sexual relations with girls, he develops an uncomfortable incestuous fixation on his sister as he gradually becomes possessed by the homoeroticised PIN, whom he keeps hidden in the attic. It’s remarkable that a film with such a preposterous premise can be so touching and emotionally resonant, especially when you realise at what price PIN has become a real boy at the end.’


“Some would argue that The Boys in the Band is William Friedkin’s true gay horror masterpiece, but Cruising fits more conveniently into the genre. Set in the extreme S&M leather scene of the meatpacking district of 70s New York – Friedkin didn’t have to get the art department to install the meat-hooks, they were already there! Cruising amped up the horror by basing his movie on a real-life gay serial killer. Although the case was never definitively solved, the killer left a trail of body parts of homosexuals, who apparently forgot the safe-word, floating in the East River. The film cleverly keeps the identity of the perpetrator a mystery, even hinting that straight cop Al Pacino, who goes undercover in the gay leather scene to catch him, might be the real killer. The poppers-sniffing, park-cruising Pacino, whose girlfriend (Karen Allen) he hate-fucks while hearing disco music in his head, has several gay-coded alter egos in the film with disembodied voices, just like all the other possession movies I’ve mentioned (Psycho, A Reflection of Fear, PIN). In one astonishing scene, undercover cop Pacino is thrown out of a leather bar with a police/military dress code for not being in uniform! In a word, mind-blowing.”


“As a repressed homosexual teenage virgin, I was obsessed with this film about a school teacher for deaf children by day who becomes a bar-cruising, coke-snorting hedonist by night, also based on a true story. Just as it can be argued that Edward Albee projects his gay experiences onto the heterosexual characters in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Goodbar, in its atmosphere, art direction, and message, seems to project the gay male sexuality of the era on to a ‘straight’ woman. Diane Keaton is extraordinary in her portrayal of the aggressively sexual, fearlessly experimental Theresa Dunn, who joyfully explores drugs, pornography and debauchery with a cool, almost ironic detachment. She even makes her doctor fix it so that she’ll never be able to get pregnant. Her relationship with a coked-out hustler (Richard Gere, prefiguring his American Gigolo role) underlines his repressed homosexuality (“You and my mother: the two biggest cunts in the world,” he says tellingly), and of course it’s fitting that her nemesis and eventual killer (Tom Berenger) is a gay-for-pay hustler who freaks out when she suggests he may be a repressed homosexual. The film qualifies as a horror film of sorts by its dark, gloomy atmosphere (the cinematographer is William A Fraker, director of A Reflection of Fear), and by its horribly brutal, strobe-lit murder finale, which invariably leaves the audience in a state of shock.”


“It’s significant that a decade earlier, director Richard Brooks adapted In Cold Blood, Truman Capote’s ‘non-fiction novel’ based on the true-life slaughter of a Kansas farmer and his family. Much has been made of the homosexual writer Capote allegedly having fallen in love with Perry Smith (played in the movie by Robert Blake) during the writing of the book and subsequent trial leading to his execution, and it’s not difficult to read this as a subtext in the film. Not only did Perry seem to have sexual feelings for his partner-in-murder, Dick Hickock (played by Scott Wilson), but the symbolism of the seemingly unmotivated murder of the all-American nuclear family is inescapable. Like Goodbar, In Cold Blood may not be a horror film per se, but its foreboding atmosphere and grim recreations of the murders and executions certainly make it horrific.”


“Stanley Kubrick’s final masterpiece may not technically be classified as part of the horror genre either (although arguably all Kubrick films are horror films), but it’s clearly, like all the other movies I’ve listed here, a story of homosexual panic, hidden identities, latent misogyny and murder. It’s also a movie about Scientology, which reputedly takes as one of its tenets the repression of homosexuality. In Eyes Wide Shut, Tom Cruise, arguably the world’s most famous Scientologist, plays a rich, handsome professional married to Nicole Kidman (his real-life wife at the time) who gets involved with a mysterious cult with Satanic overtones (the masks, the sex and sacrifice rituals), inadvertently learning its secrets, and blackmailed into keeping silent about it. The film makes two outrageous references to Cruise’s long-rumoured, alleged homosexuality, one in which he is called a faggot by a group of youths on the street, and another in which a fruity hotel desk clerk (played by openly homosexual actor Alan Cumming) orgasmically flirts with him. At the end, Kidman tells Cruise that they have to fuck, whether they like it or not, (and) it’s clear that the outward appearance of heterosexual bliss must be maintained. As in most horror movies worth their salt, homosexual panic, and the repression of homosexual desires, results in a monstrous return of the repressed, most often ending in murder, mayhem and dismemberment.”