Horror and queerness have paired together since the genre’s earliest days on screen. From narratives about otherness to characters that society can’t easily categorize, horror has always offered stories that appeal to queer audiences.
Find here some of the best examples of those horror stories in film. Whether they have explicitly queer characters or a palpable queer subtext, anyone who wants to queer their season should stream these scary queer movies as soon as possible.
1. Frankenstein (1931)
James Whale’s first Universal monster movie adapts Mary Shelley’s novel of the same name with devastating empathy for its eponymous monster. Whale, a gay man, extends compassion to the monster, and Boris Karloff’s performance imbues the monster with a deep sense of loneliness.
Whale’s Frankenstein places viewers in the point of view of an innocent creature who only seeks compassion from those around him but instead finds horror.
2. Dracula’s Daughter (1936)
While 1931’s Dracula allows queer readings (oh, Renfield), the 1936 sequel Dracula’s Daughter has become iconic among queer horror fans. The film follows Countess Marya Zaleska (Gloria Holden) as she seeks the help of a psychiatrist to rid her of her bloodthirst.
The Countess' bloodthirst draws a not-so-subtle metaphor for same-gender attraction. Marketing materials advertised “Save the women of London from Dracula’s Daughter!” when the movie first hit screens. Today, viewers will have a hard time reading the film as anything other than a story about a lesbian who doesn’t want to feel desire for other women.
While that plot may not scream “liberation,” queer viewers have embraced Dracula’s Daughter’s portrayal of a complicated coded lesbian since its release.
3. Cat People (1942)
While Universal’s monster films offered gothic sets and stunning makeup effects, RKO’s B-level horror films took a smaller, more intimate approach to horror. Under the guidance of producer Val Lewton, RKO’s horror films dove into their characters’ psyches, using deep shadows to build horror about the unseen.
Cat People, the first and most beloved of those films, follows Serbian immigrant Irena (Simone Simon) as she falls in love with an American man. But Irena won’t let him kiss her because she fears she’ll transform into a panther if she gets too physically excited. Despite a high, almost silly, concept, Cat People plays it straight and delivers one of the most psychologically rich horror movies ever made, as well as the first jump scare.
The film’s explicit concerns with female sexuality, repression, and possibly transformative power have made it a favorite among queer audiences who interpret it in various ways. Some read Irena’s fear of her desire as a fear of her genuine same-gender desire. Others see the film as a trans text, focusing on the possible transformation into another being.
4. The Seventh Victim (1943)
A year after Cat People, Lewton produced The Seventh Victim, which goes even further in its explicit depiction of queerness. In The Seventh Victim, young Mary (Kim Hunter) leaves her boarding school to locate her missing sister Jacqueline (Jean Brooks) in New York City. There, she discovers Jacqueline went into hiding after becoming involved with a Satanic cult.
Beyond the rather obvious read of the cult as a found family that exists outside the bounds of straight (in all its meanings) society, the film calls attention to a specific relationship between and her fellow cult member Frances (Isabel Jewell). Other cult members non-judgmentally talk of how Frances and Jacqueline have been “intimate” and even go so far as to say that Frances is in love with Jacqueline. In a pivotal moment, Frances tells Jacqueline, “The only time I ever was happy was with you.”
The Seventh Victim draws viewers in with striking images and thought-provoking conversations about death. It also offers one of the most sympathetic early portrayals of lesbian characters, whether involved in a Satanic cult or not.
5. Diabolique (1955)
Based on the novel She Who Was No More by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, Diabolique centers on the wife and mistress of a man who conspire to kill him. What qualifies as a more explicit rejection of heterosexuality than a woman getting rid of the man so she can freely live with the other woman in his life?
Everything goes according to plan at first, but soon, mysteries arise as the body of their victim disappears. Diabolique then turns from a thriller into a horror film, as visions and stories of the man who may somehow have escaped death torment the women. No one ever said that leaving heterosexuality behind was easy.
6. The Haunting (1963)
The first screen adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House remains the best. The Robert Wise-directed The Haunting offers a dreamy atmosphere that draws the audience into the world of the potentially haunted house and makes that hauntedness almost appealing. The film follows a group of four, two men and two women, who seek to confirm or deny the haunting rumors.
The Haunting immediately marks itself as noteworthy because of Theodora (Claire Bloom), who goes by “Theo.” At one point during a fight, the central character Eleanor (Julie Harris) calls Theo “nature’s mistake.” Throughout, Theo expresses almost romantic affection for Eleanor while rebuffing the interest of one of the men.
But The Haunting moves beyond a film with a queer character into that sometimes nebulous space of a “queer film” because of Eleanor. While she develops feelings for the man who gathered the group at Hill House, her sexuality seems to run the spectrum throughout the film, depending on her surroundings. The Haunting presents a beautiful gothic haunted house story that doubles as a potentially queer coming-of-age film.
7. Multiple Maniacs (1970)
While the definition of “horror” may need to stretch a little to include John Waters’s Multiple Maniacs, there’s almost nothing more queer than a John Waters film. Multiple Maniacs does have a claim to “horror,” though, as it tracks the murderous Lady Divine (Divine) through a series of sexual, violent, and sexually violent encounters.
Like many of Waters’s early films, the director pays little attention to verisimilitude in Multiple Maniacs. Waters isn’t interested in reality. He wants to entertain and provoke and delivers both in spades. From the first scene, Multiple Maniacs revels in the grotesque, highlighting a “puke eater” at Lady Divine’s Cavalcade of Perversion, and only grows more aggressive in forcing the audience to question whether they’re in or out as it goes on.
The film not only portrays homosexuality but rejects taste and the assumed “rules” of filmmaking and storytelling. It’s “queer” in every sense of the word.
8. Dr. Jekyll & Sister Hyde (1971)
The 1970s saw a horror renaissance as exploitation films grew in popularity, and grindhouse theaters welcomed films that broke barriers in both eroticism and violence on screen. Hammer Film Productions took full advantage of the changing tastes and delivered several explicit movies about lesbian vampires (a thriving subgenre throughout the decade). After the success of those films, the studio further pushed boundaries with Dr. Jekyll & Sister Hyde.
Dr. Jekyll & Sister Hyde adds a new twist to the Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson by turning Hyde (and thereby Jekyll) into a woman. Jekyll (Ralph Bates) seeks to extend life by ingesting female hormones, but thereby accidentally force-femmes himself and begins to transform into Hyde (Martine Beswick). Gender panic ensues, but the film also offers an intriguing subplot in which both Jekyll and Hyde strike up romances with the sister and brother, respectively, who live upstairs, adding an element of trans romance to the film.
9. Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972)
Loosely inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s The Black Cat, Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key delivers enough sleaze to make Poe gasp. The film centers on a cruel has-been author, his wife, and the alluring niece who comes to visit at the height of a murder investigation that points toward her uncle as the main suspect.
Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key offers fewer murder scenes than one might expect from a film often labeled a Giallo. But the scheming, shifting alliances, and rotating sexual pairings between the three leads make the film so watchable. Floriana (Edwige Fenech) claims the most “chaotic bisexual” character in 1970s genre films. Fenech’s wily performance makes it impossible to get a read on what she wants, but it's easy to understand why she’s so capable of seduction.
10. The Cannibal Man (1972)
It may disappoint some who see The Cannibal Man to discover that there’s no cannibalism in the film, but it has enough mayhem to make up for that bit of false advertising. The movie follows butcher Marcos (Vincente Parra), who accidentally kills a cab driver and then must continue to kill other people who discover the murder or simply grow suspicious.
As directed by gay filmmaker Eloy de la Iglesia, the movie's queerness becomes evident when Marcos kills his fiancée and begins hiding the bodies of his victims in his literal closet. But The Cannibal Man goes beyond the symbolic and becomes almost an explicitly gay romance between Marcos and his neighbor Néstor (Eusebio Poncela).
For a movie with some gruesome murders, the most memorable scene in The Cannibal Man sees Marcos and Néstor night swimming at a public pool on what feels very much like a cute date.
11. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
The poster child for “cult classic,” The Rocky Horror Picture Show never stopped playing midnight screenings since its release in 1975. Based on the musical of the same name by Richard O’Brien (who co-wrote the film with director Jim Sharman), the film acts as an unabashed love letter to Classical Hollywood’s science-fiction and horror films. The movie follows a straight couple who arrive at a strange house filled with strange people after their car breaks down.
The home houses mad scientist transvestite Dr. Frank-N-Furter (Tim Curry), his aids, and his newest creation, the hunk Rocky all of whom welcome the couple with open arms (and legs). The film doesn’t offer much plot but overflows with joyous musical numbers and hilarious jokes. It’s not scary, but nobody can talk about “queer horror movies” without The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
12. House (1977)
House stands alone in the horror genre and film more broadly. The haunted house movie comes off more zany than scary, and all the better for it. The film follows a group of teenage girls at a house that belongs to one of their aunts. One by one, the girls begin to disappear in more and more elaborate set pieces, one of which sees a piano come to life and devour one of the girls.
House doesn't feature anything explicitly queer or even as subtextually straightforward as a possible romance between characters in the all-girl cast. But that cast and their relationships with one another feel queer. Despite the horrors around them, House feels almost like a portrayal of a manless utopia like Themyscira in Wonder Woman.
Like Multiple Maniacs, House rejects conventional filmmaking rules and tropes. The horror in House plays out in frantic, brightly lit, and colorful sequences rather than the dark and spooky images and tone we might expect from a haunted house film.
13. Fright Night (1985)
Queer-coded villains abound in cinema since its beginning, but few dazzle as much as Fright Night’s vampire Jerry (Chris Sarandon). When Jerry moves in next door to the teenage Charley (William Ragsdale), the high-schooler soon realizes that Jerry dines on human blood and does his best to warn his friends and mother. But Jerry’s charm, good looks, and stylish outfits make it an uphill battle for Charley to convince anyone of danger.
Early in the film, Charley’s single mother says that with her luck, Jerry will someday prefer men. When Charley first attempts to alert the authorities to Jerry’s bloodsucking, Jerry’s “roommate” Billy (Jonathan Stark) greets Charley and the police officer. Billy plays the part of a familiar for Jerry, a subtext-laden relationship that writer/director Tom Holland plays up.
But Jerry alone doesn't make Fright Night a queer classic; Charley also obsesses over his gay next-door neighbor. Charley becomes obsessed because he wants to keep his family, friends, and girlfriend safe from the bloodsucking fiend. But he also neglects his girlfriend because of his all-consuming need to prove Jerry’s vampiric nature.
14. Hellraiser (1987)
Clive Barker, the talented playwright and horror story writer, didn’t take long to leap into directing. Three years after publishing the first of his Books of Blood short story collections, Barker adapted his novella The Hellbound Heart into the much less romantically titled Hellraiser.
The film centers on the illicit relationship between Julia (Clare Higgins) and her husband’s brother, Frank (Sean Chapman). Frank opens a mysterious puzzle box to experience new heights of pleasure. Hellraiser shows the lengths people will go for pleasure and the various, horrifying, things that “pleasure” can mean to different people.
Top it all off with the leather-community-inspired look of the demons released from the puzzle box, and audiences got the makings of not just a horror classic but a queer horror classic.
15. Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989)
Tetsuo: The Iron Man is queer on every level. The centers on the transformations of two men whose bodies begin transforming from flesh into metal, and (spoiler?) climaxes with their merging into a single metallic being.
Tetsuo: The Iron Man remains a major film in body horror, a subgenre ripe for trans readings, and easy to read as a radical queer love story (after merging, the two leads set out to turn the whole world into metal). Tetsuo: The Iron Man won't appeal to everyone, but fans interested in the grimier, more explicit, and unconventional side of horror need to seek it out.
16. Interview with the Vampire (1994)
Based on the novel of the same name by Anne Rice, Interview with the Vampire centers on the relationship between two men, one a vampire at the start, the other turned by him, and their life together. The movie has a subtext impossible not to see, especially when the two men essentially adopt a daughter by turning a dying girl into a vampire.
Interview with the Vampire doesn’t portray a healthy or aspirational gay love story. But it does portray an always compelling, undeniably romantic relationship between two men.
17. Heavenly Creatures (1994)
Between making some of the goriest films of all time and one of the most-lauded high fantasy adaptations of all time, Peter Jackson made Heavenly Creatures. The film tells the true story of two teenage girls who create fantasies together, fall in love, and eventually murder one of their mothers. Heavenly Creatures features less death and dark shadows than most horror films. But Jackson creates an unsettling portrait of two teenagers slowly drifting away from reality.
But the film only succeeds in unsettling its audience because of its great empathy for the girls, played by then-unknowns Melanie Lynskey and Kate Winslet. Heavenly Creatures draws viewers into their fantastical worlds, makes them understand why they escape their reality, and depicts an affecting love story between them before it all crumbles.
18. May (2002)
May defies description, and that’s one of the best things about it. The film centers on the eponymous May (Angela Bettis, who delivers an Oscar-worthy performance), a sweet and shy veterinary assistant who struggles to develop the human connections she needs.
May attempts to build relationships with several people throughout the film, including lesbian colleague Polly (Anna Faris), who tries to draw May out of her shell. May doesn’t reveal its horror premise until more than halfway through the film, so the less said about the plot, the better. Suffice it to say that the movie will challenge viewers, not because of any gore but because of its emotional impact.
19. Hellbent (2004)
Advertised as “The First Gay Slasher Film,” Hellbent plays out more like a hangout movie than a slasher for most of its runtime. But the time it spends as a hangout movie makes it such a good slasher. The film follows a group of young gay men attending the West Hollywood Halloween Carnaval as they dance, flirt, and generally act as one would expect young gay men to act at the West Hollywood Halloween Carnaval. When the killing starts, the characters’ deaths affect the audience because the characters feel so familiar.
While Hellbent features several graphic murders of gay men, the movie does not explain the silent, masked (but shirtless) killer. That inexplicability helps the film avoid invoking real-world violent homophobia and lends the murderer a greater mystique. More than anything, Hellbent plays like an ad for the Carnaval and invites viewers into the festivities, celebrating the beauty of that big gay party.
20. Raw (2016)
Julia Ducournau’s Raw offers a coming-of-age story about a young woman’s first year at veterinary school. But unlike other coming-of-age stories, Raw’s Justine (Garance Marillier) doesn’t just learn about the realities of adulthood and leave behind childhood innocence. She must also come to terms with her almost insatiable hunger for human flesh.
That latent hunger explodes in Justine after a hazing ritual (led in part by her older sister) forces the lifelong vegetarian to eat a rabbit kidney. As she attempts to satisfy her hunger for flesh, she finds her tastes, sexual and dietary, all-encompassing. Justine doesn’t care about the gender of those she gets her teeth, tongue, and entire body around.
Raw could have become an explicit gore fest. Instead, the film plays it straight and sees Justine try to solve her hunger while living in a civilized society.
21. Thelma (2017)
Arriving in theaters just a year after Raw, Thelma tells another story of a young woman leaving home for school and discovering more about herself than she ever expected. The eponymous Thelma isn’t a cannibal, though. She’s a witch, or at least one in a lineage of telekinetic women that history has dubbed “witches.”
Thelma dives headfirst into themes of repressed queer desire and the systems built to repress those desires. Thelma’s strict religious parents have attempted to keep her from knowing the truth about herself. But Thelma also tells a beautiful love story, as Thelma’s abilities first manifest when she meets Anja (Kaya Wilkins) and grow as she begins to let herself fall in love.
22. Knife+Heart (2018)
Knife+Heart takes place in the world of 1970s gay erotica and tracks director Anne (Vanessa Paradis) as she attempts to uncover the person responsible for the deaths of several of her stars. Knife+Heart may put off prudes, but it’s a near-perfect Neo-Giallo just as dedicated to portraying complicated queer characters as lighting up the screen with stunning colors and murder set pieces.
The film celebrates Giallo history and draws not only from those films signifiers (neon lights, black-gloved killer, sexual repression as motivator for murder) but also engages with the long history of queer characters in the subgenre by centering a world populated almost entirely by queer people.
23. We’re All Going to the World’s Fair (2021)
Few films take the queer corners of the movie-loving internet by storm as hard as We’re All Going to the World’s Fair did throughout 2021 and 2022. The film, from non-binary writer/director Jane Schoenbrun, follows teen Casey (a phenomenal Anna Cobb in her first screen role) as she begins the online “World’s Fair Challenge.” Begun by repeating a phrase and smearing blood on a computer camera, the World’s Fair Challenge ostensibly forces participants to transform.
By alternating between online videos created for the challenge and scenes of Casey in her day-to-day life, Schoenbrun blurs the line between reality and fiction in the film. No one can know how much of herself Casey puts into her videos. No one can know how much of the challenge changes reality and how much of it derives from people online playing a strange role-playing game.
The film doesn’t directly address queerness so much as it draws viewers into the feelings of queerness, specifically gender dysphoria. Schoenbrun has spoken about the incredible reaction from trans viewers and that while they didn’t set out to make a film about transness, it’s been wonderful to see We’re All Going to the World’s Fair embraced as a film that reflects so many trans viewers’ experience emotionally.
24. Knock at the Cabin (2023)
Based on the novel The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul G. Tremblay, M. Night Shyamalan’s Knock at the Cabin changes the book significantly to tell an equally brutal and life-affirming story about the possible end of the world. The film centers on a gay couple and their young daughter whose vacation in rural Pennsylvania takes a terrible turn with the arrival of four strangers. The strangers tell the family that one of them must die to prevent the apocalypse.
While purposefully oblique about the veracity of their claim, Knock at the Cabin draws on the all-too-real threats of climate change and pandemics to create a sense of inescapable and existential horror. But the film weaves the horror story with flashbacks about the couple’s past, painting a detailed picture of two people who have struggled to create the idyllic life they now share.
Knock at the Cabin unnerves for myriad reasons, not least of which is the read that queer assimilation will never satisfy a heteronormative society. But beyond its power as a film, a studio release from a significant director centered on a gay couple signals that queer horror has bled into the mainstream.
Film and TV Critic, Pop Culture Writer
- Expertise: Horror, Animation, Queer Film
- Education: Master's Degree in Philosophy from Boston College, Dual Bachelor's Degree in Philosophy and Political Science from Boston College
- Organizer of Queer Film Challenge on Letterboxd
- Over 200 reviews, essays, articles, and lists across various sites
Experience: Kyle Logan has been writing about film since studying film and philosophy as an undergraduate at Boston College. Kyle began writing about film professionally in 2020 and has written for many sites including Screen Anarchy, Film Stories, and Fangoria. Kyle has also organized the Queer Film Challenge on Letterboxd since 2020, highlighting the queer history of film and bringing attention to rising queer filmmakers. Kyle now works full time with Wealth of Geeks, contributing lists, reviews, and podcast appearances on topics as varied as film, travel, and Halloween candy.