Just a few short years ago, the pickings were extremely slim for horror movies with explicitly queer characters and themes—plenty of great movies with subtext (some of which we’ll get to), but very few that made that subtext into text. That, despite horror movies having legions of queer fans (seriously, the biggest horror movie lovers I know are anything but straight, including me). A recent rise in horror films with queer characters isn’t just a matter of diversity; it’s about giving audiences what they want. Some of these movies work distinctly queer coming-of-age stories (or metaphors) into their narratives, while others offer LGBTQ leads without fanfare, NBD. There’s “elevated” horror here, as well as serial killer movies and slashers.
And, hey, since we’re not about being exclusionary, straights are welcome to scream along. No one’s judging your lifestyle with a killer hanging about.
Knife + Heart (2018)
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There are layers upon layers in director Yann Gonzalez’s slick and stylish slasher set in the world of ‘70s gay porn. Anne Parèze (Vanessa Paradis) runs a production company that makes the exploitation movies Knife + Heart centers on, but the series of murders that occurs on set barely draws the attention of the local police, who aren’t terribly torn up about the deaths of gay porn actors. Anne decides that her next film will be about the murders themselves, unfolding a movie-within-a-movie that only draws the attention of the killer (and his spiked dildo). The movie celebrates giallo, with plenty of deep cuts for fans of classic Italian horror, and ‘70s sleaze more generally, but with a look and feel that’s entirely unique.
Where to scream: Shudder, Tubi, Kanopy, Freevee
Knock at the Cabin (2023)
M. Night Shyamalan’s latest sets up an impossible choice for married couple Eric and Andrew (Jonathan Groff and Ben Aldridge): One of them will have to sacrifice the other, or the world might end. What looks like a home invasion lead by Dave Bautista becomes, increasingly convincingly, a warning of the necessity of the sacrifice. The movie’s growing sense of existential dread is heightened by the sense of cozy domesticity of the couple at the movie’s center, who just want to raise their daughter and relax in their cute little cabin.
Where to scream: Prime Video
The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
I’ve seen Rocky Horror at least a dozen times (in various states of undress), and I still couldn’t really tell you what it’s about—something to do with Brad and Janet (Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon) stopping at a creepy old house full of queers (lead by Tim Curry’s Dr. Frank-N-Furter) from outer space. The movie went from being a cult classic to a rite of passage for young queers, full of gleefully over-the-top characters who either start out as sex-and-gender fluid, or who get there by the end. It plays with a ton of old horror movie tropes and, while it might not be the most terrifying movie in queer cinema history, it’s a ton of fun, and a pretty good way to freak out the squares in your life.
Where to scream: Hulu
Nicole Maines (Supergirl) stars here as Laurel, a trans teenage girl moving in with her brother in LA following her transition. A club afterparty leads to lots of making out and then some blood—it’s not long before Laurel is offered the chance to join a group of vampires dedicated to taking care of the many predatory men walking the city’s streets.
Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
The queer coding in the eerie, frequently hilarious Bride of Frankenstein is so over-the-top that you can hardly even call it subtext. There’s too much gay going on here to ignore. The plot revolves around gloriously flamboyant Dr. Septimus Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger), a mentor of Victor Frankenstein’s from his school days who sweeps in on the eve of Victor’s wedding night to drag him away (with only mild convincing required) so that the two can conduct some experiments to determine if they can make life together. With that plot, and the queer rep in front of and behind the camera (including Thesinger and director James Whale) this one’s very much a gay horror fever dream.
Where to scream: Peacock
Stranger by the Lake (2013)
A horror movie with echoes of the sexy thrillers of yore. Here, Pierre Deladonchamps plays Franck, a regular visitor to a nude beach and the surrounding woods, both popular cruising spots. Franck begins a passionate relationship (meaning: lots of fairly explicit sex in the woods) with Michel (Christophe Paou), who Franck later spots drowning someone in the lake. Which: awkward. As the investigation into that event heats up, Franck finds himself struggling to give up a good thing, even in the face of murder. As with the lead in any good erotic thriller, the better the sex, the more Franck will risk.
Where to scream: Kanopy
High Tension (2003)
Arguably the best film of the “New French Extremity” canon, High Tension does the seemingly impossible: It’s a slasher movie that doesn’t feel like a cliche, and is packed with brutal, tense, uncompromising, packed with references to 1970s horror classics—and it’s French, so you can pretend it’s elevated. The movie comes with a mega-twist ending that complicated (to put it mildly) what had seemed like a pretty progressive view of its lesbian main character—but complicated, problematic characters are nothing new for queer horror fans.
Where to scream: Prime Video, Tubi, The Roku Channel, Hoopla, Kanopy, Freevee, Plex, Pluto
Bodies Bodies Bodies (2022)
A lot of queer horror turns on the challenges of being other than straight; but Bodies Bodies Bodies leads with a queer couple, front and center: Sophie (Amandla Stenberg) and Bee (Maria Bakalova) are a pretty normal couple who find themselves in the middle of a pretty fucked-up scenario when Sophia brings her girlfriend home to meet her old friend. A murder-in-the-dark-type game takes a turn when someone actually turns up dead, and it very quickly starts to look like Sophie and Bee are the most well-adjusted people in the entire group.
Where to scream: Paramount+, Fubo, Showtime
The Jessica Cabin (2022)
OK, it’s not terrifying—and it’s not really meant to be—but The Jessica Cabin is a brisk, slight sad, but mostly charming ghost story that’s pretty perfect if you’re looking for something horror-adjacent, but aren’t in a mood for gore. Couple Nicky (Chase Williamson) and Preston (Will Tranfo) arrive at the title Airbnb—which we eventually learn was named for just one of the people who’ve been found dead there—and it’s quickly clear that their relationship is less than ideal. They’re also being observed by best friends Jackson (Daniel Montgomery) and Taylor (Riley Rose Critchlow), two ghosts haunting the cabin, living afterlives of endless boredom and monotony—at least until dead Jackson becomes enamored with living Nicky. It’s all a lovely, low-budget story about love and longing, as most of the best ghost stories are.
Where to scream: Hoopla
Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman stars as Malik, who moves to a new town with his white partner, Aaron, and their teenaged daughter, each of them hoping for a little peace and quiet. Naturally, things get weird—first in recognizable ways (barbed comments, casual greetings not returned), and then in a more alarming fashion. Malik, both more assertively out and also Black, seems to be the only one who really notices the worst of it, and begins to question both his relationships with his family and his sanity.
Where to scream: Shudder
Fussy, fastidious roommates (if you know what I mean) are hosting a dinner party for friends, but there’s a twist: They’ve just strangled an old prep-school pal to death, and plan to serve the food off of the gorgeous antique wooden chest in which they’ve concealed his body. Like the worst upper-class gays you’ve ever met, Brandon and Phillip (John Dall and Farley Granger) are doing this pretty just to prove that their intellectual superiority. Filmed in one take (well, sort of), Hitchcock’s claustrophobic atmosphere and sharp dialogue rachet up the suspense nicely; the thriller was loosely based on a real-life murder committed by lovers Leopold and Loeb in the 1920s.
Where to scream: Digital rental
Taking on the essential role of the pop-culture savvy member of the “core four,” Jasmin Savoy Brown joined the Scream requel as Mindy Meeks-Martin, the one who might not know who the killer is, but who definitely understands the rules they’re playing by. She’s also an out lesbian, adding the first canonically queer character to a series that kicked off with a couple of murderers loosely based on lovers Leopold and Loeb. With a sense of humor and some brutal kills, the fifth Scream movie rebooted the franchise whose queer fans are legion, setting the stage for an even better follow-up.
Where to scream: Paramount+
Jennifer’s Body (2009)
Only the real ones knew what to do with Jennifer’s Body in 2009, and the film took a long time to become the cult classic it was probably always destined to be. Here, popular teenager Jennifer (Megan Fox) is turned into a succubus by abusive men, gleefully killing boys around school to the general horror of her friend, Needy (Amanda Seyfried). The movie’s main characters aren’t explicitly gay, but there’s a gleeful rejection of both toxic masculinity and heteronormativity about it that’s made it particularly beloved among queers. It also uses horror and violence to empower its teenage women characters.
Where to scream: Max
The stop-motion animated ParaNorman was justifiably critically acclaimed (it’s fantastic), but only a modest box office success. The plot revolves around the titular Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee), who can communicate with the dead; nobody believes him, and he’s bullied for his claims about his abilities. Norman’s best friend’s older brother Mitch (Casey Affleck), is a stereotypical dumb jock in many ways, but we discover he’s gay at the same time as Norman’s sister. In contrast to Norman, who struggles with the best way to express his abilities in a hostile world, Mitch is entirely comfortable with who he is. It’s all-ages horror, for sure, but the movie is surprisingly smart and charmingly creepy.
Where to scream: Tubi, Starz, Pluto
The Fear Street Trilogy (2021)
We’re doing three movies at once here, as each film in the trilogy, adapted from the R. L. Stine books, shares a tone, quality, and director (Leigh Janiak, best known for Honeymoon prior to Fear Street). They also share lead characters: Deena and Sam (Kiana Madeira and Olivia Scott Welch), star-crossed girlfriends fighting an ancient curse across time. Fear Street Part One: 1994 kicks off the films by introducing the town of Shadyside, which the local kids call “Shittyside,” and has a dark history of multiple murders, most of them covered up. A group of teens upsets the grave of a witch, kicking off the revival of a murderous cult. The vibe here is a little bit Stranger Things, with some legit gore and scares (it’s YA, but definitely not kids’ stuff) as Janiak pays homage to a wide range of horror movies past. The series continues in Fear Street Part Two: 1978 and concludes with Fear Street Part Three: 1666.
Where to scream: Netflix
Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)
If it seems like a bit of a stretch to consider this movie—based on the Tennessee Williams play—a horror movie, consider that the entire plot turns on revelations of cannibalism and threats of forced lobotomies. It’s a whackadoo Southern Gothic mystery that involves a young man, the son of Katherine Hepburn’s memorably named Violet Venable, who dies under mysterious circumstances on a holiday in Spain. Though Violet had been happy to be his wingwoman in helping him to meet other men for sexual encounters, she’s less keen on the world finding out precisely how he died. She’s also perfectly happy to lobotomize one of her son’s best friends just to make sure she won’t talk; it’s a wild time, right up to the memorably off-the-wall finale.
Where to scream: Digital rental
A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985)
The subtext here comes through so strongly that it can hardly even be considered subtext, but back in 1985, plenty of straight audiences still missed it. There’s a role-reversal in the film’s basic premise, which puts Jesse (Mark Patton) in the position that would be taken up by the “final girl” in most slasher films of the era. Freddy toys with Jesse, at one point caressing his lips with those finger blades; Jesse flees from danger and his girlfriend in equal distress, and nearly always half-clothed. He runs into his gym teacher in a leather bar, and that same jerk later gets bare-ass spanked to death in a locker room. As a metaphor for the torments of being a closeted teen, you could do a lot worse.
Where to scream: Max
The Perfection (2018)
There are shades of Suspiria (and Black Swan) here as Charlotte Willmore (Allison Williams) returns to her prestigious music academy after an absence and finding that another woman (Logan Browning) has taken her place at the head of the class, the two beginning a sexual relationship—if that sounds a little tame, the intentionally disjointed narrative quickly careens into wildly claustrophobic body horror. It might not be the first film to mine dark thrills and gore out of arts education, but it goes as far as any of them, and even beyond.
Where to scream: Netflix
The Latent Image (2022)
Making the most of its budget, The Latent Image is one of those isolated-cabin-in-the-woods slasher movies, but with a few artful and surreal twists. Ben (Joshua Tonks), a novelist in the throes of writer’s block and away from his boyfriend, is visited by a stranger who maybe just needs a place to stay for the night (Jay Clift)? Ben’s active imagination blurs the lines between what’s real and what isn’t, and the maybe sexual/maybe murderous chemistry between the two leads.
Where to scream: Digital rental
Diabolique involves a married woman and her husband’s mistress, who both conspire to murder the man and to conceal his death—the sexual tension, and the sense of a love triangle, is just barely beneath the surface. He’d been headmaster of a gossipy boarding school, and the two are pressed to keep things on the down-low through a deliciously twisty-turny plot. Simone Signoret and Véra Clouzot play one of cinema’s most enduring couples, even if their more explicit relationship in the original novel was stripped out of the film version. Still, the closeness between Nicole and Christina is remarked upon by the students and faculty of the boarding school where the two live. They travel together, sharing rooms and even a bed. A climactic moment is played very much as a breakup scene. The movie’s gritty realism inspired Hitchcock to make Psycho.
Where to scream: Max, The Criterion Channel
It’s a little more tame, perhaps, than its forthright title (pronounced “They Slash Them”) might suggest, but only because of its commitment to treating its queer characters with respect. That doesn’t mean it’s all sunshine and flowers, though, at the conversion camp (lead by Kevin Bacon’s appropriately unpleasant Owen Whistler) where a serial killer is stalking the woods, likely out for a bit of bloody revenge.
Where to scream: Peacock
What Keeps You Alive (2018)
It starts when a young married couple, Jackie (Hannah Emily Anderson) and Jules (Brittany Allen), head off to a remote cabin belonging to Jackie’s family. Everything seems fine until a childhood of hers calls her “Megan.” Jules becomes suspicious, with good reason, and comes to learn, gradually, that her wife might not be who she says she is—and might not have her best interests at heart. That premise is chillingly executed.
Where to scream: Tubi
Listen: gays deserve silly little slashers, too, and this stylish one is a cut (ahem) above. What starts as a coming-of-age story about Hunter returning home to come out to his conservative father gets bloody fairly quickly, as Hunter and his supportive friends are hunted through the woods by the title killer.
Where to scream: Tubi, Vudu