Oh The Horror!
Oh, The Horror!
Fear is heavy and rich, and many of us devour it in a conditioned fervor born from centuries of turmoil and bloodshed. Some find comfort in spaces where that fear is controlled, filtered through creative expression and turned into something both horrifying and beautiful. Horror as a genre can be found in a multitude of spheres; in books, movies, art, oral histories; and its evolution relies on societal shifts and the ever-changing understanding of the world through our collective consciousness. It reflects back to us our fascination of, exposure to, and our external and even internal struggles with the real monsters and terrors of the world. But there is a difference between the fears of the oppressors and the fears of the oppressed, and rarely do we ever witness an equitable interaction between our respective spectral worlds. This leaves the audiences of the art world wanting, and mainstream films lacking.
Two groups in particular have distinctive, yet markedly different relationships with horror films as a whole. Indigenous peoples have often been used as props in horror, mystical tokens thrown in as some vague expository origin story for whatever evil forces drive the plot. Usually we tend to think of marginalized groups growing representation in an industry as a subversive and much more honest portrayal of established norms and mores. For Indigenous filmmakers emerging as powerful creators in the horror genre this seems to be the case. However, horror is unique in that at least some groups falling under the “queer” umbrella, are not only an inexorable facet of the genre, but are in fact the founding creative voices behind its inception, or in Anthony Hudson’s words: “horror as a whole is queer to begin with.”
Anthony Hudson’s own Indigenous and queer identities are only a couple of the lenses that are incorporated into his work as a multidisciplinary artist, performer, and filmmaker. He lives in Portland, OR and is perhaps best known as Portland’s premier drag clown Carla Rossi, an immortal trickster whose attempts at realness almost always result in fantastic failure. He is also the creator and organizer of Queer Horror, a bimonthly screening series programmed and hosted by Carla Rossi at the historic Hollywood Theatre in Portland, Oregon since March 2015. I had an opportunity to interview Anthony about Queer Horror and his views on the genre in general in relation to both queerness and Indigeneity. Here’s what he had to say…
Could you give a brief explanation of what Queer Horror is?
It’s a few things — for me immediately, it’s the name of my film series at the historic Hollywood Theatre here in Portland, which is surprisingly the only recurring LGBTQ+horror film screening (and multimedia performance) series in the country. As a genre, it’s most often identified as specifically queer (LGBTQ+) horror and adjacent genre films that feature queerness and/or tackle themes of non-normative sexuality and identities. As my own rule of thumb for programming my film series, any horror film with a queer presence in front of, behind, or around the lens is queer horror.
How do queer horror films differ from mainstream horror movies?
They’re better! Just kidding (but am I?). I think because queers are marginalized, there’s a weird outlook that “queer horror” is a subgenre of horror as a whole; in fact, horror as a whole is queer to begin with. Some of the earliest horror films (Nosferatu, Frankenstein) and their cultural descendants were made by gay filmmakers grappling with otherness. Those films — and the genre itself — were inspired by the work of the gothicists whose text was ripe with queerness. The genre has always been about otherness and monsters outside of or removed from society. Queer horror films as they’re popularly understood today tend to zero in on these themes more explicitly, but even still I’m more of a fan of the ones that say less out loud and rely more on subtext, camp, and the unspoken. They’re coded, and it’s more like cruising or flagging; it feels more queer that way.
Are there are overarching commonalities among queer horror films that go beyond marginalized sexualities?
I think a good amount of horror films are united more so by an aesthetic than by a sexual or cultural identity — a queer aesthetic. This can look like camp, a pronounced concentration on the fantastic, shades of comedy and dark comedy, and a general sense of smirking removal from proper society as a whole. That’s not to say that campy, overtly-gothic or fantastic, and comedy-leaning horror isn’t also horror proper: I’d consider both Eggers’ The Lighthouse and the works of Ari Aster very dark, very human, very visceral horror films, and I think they’re all absolutely hilarious in their own ways. It’s like with the idea of cruising and coding — there’s something about these films that look like they’re winking back at you, the queer viewer, and just you.
Do you have any criticisms of or ideas to improve upon queer horror films?
As it becomes safer to come out and make explicitly queer work, I think some of the horror films tend to become safer. I would love to see filmmakers be less afraid to work with subtlety and subtext rather than telling us through expository dialogue that a character is queer and then not make much use of it. A horror film like Luca Guadagnino and David Kajganich’s Suspiria (2018) might be the queerest bunch of them all and depicts multiple permutations of lesbian relationships all through gestures, glances, and it’s themes, rather than by stating it out loud, and it’s a queer horror masterpiece; lesser films might have a character say she’s a lesbian for visibility’s sake and then throw the character away thinking they’d done all the work to do.
What are the major differences in how a film is created, executed, and received when viewing horror through a queer and/or Indigenous lens?
Not to be insulting, but I just think there’s a little more thought or intention going into it. Not that thought and love doesn’t go into any devoted filmmaker’s film, no matter the end result, but I think some horror films get made because dudes just want to see gore. So there’s good gore in those films, but that’s it. It’s a plain and unfortunate fact, but queers and Indigenous people, really any marginalized people, both have more lived horror to incorporate in their work. Look at the amazing impact and runaway success of Jordan Peele! It’s because it’s real, relatable, funny, smart, scary, and fresh. His work comes from real experience and often utilizes comedy to make the horror more digestible, just like so many Natives and queers do in our daily lives. I think in general there’s also more inventiveness in these films that comes from our filmmakers living a life where we have to make do with what we’ve got: we have to try harder and with less, and so the resulting work is usually much more imaginative, effective, and creative as a whole due to our ability to leap through hoops and make magic out of nothing.
Who are some Indigenous filmmakers that are creating more in the horror genre? Is there much intersection between queer and Indigenous horror that Queer Horror tries to incorporate?
I’m yet to see a lot of overlap between queer horror and Indigenous horror, but Rylan Friday in Canada is already doing that, as is Olivia Norquay — her Dion Night Ride depicts a friend group of femmes hanging out and being cool before slaying a bunch of vampires, and it rules. Both are friends of Queer Horror (the series) and I’m looking forward to working with them in future short film events of ours. But we mostly show features, and there’s not a lot of those. When it comes to Indigenous filmmakers handling Indigenous horror, I’m so excited by the work of Jennifer Varenchik, LaRonn Katchia & Isaac Trimble, Mike J. Marin, Joe Singh, Rod Pocawatchit, some of whom who I just got to know through Nightmare Vision, the first free Native online horror film fest by Vision Maker Media, when I hosted it this October. Jeff Barnaby is also a rising star in Indigenous horror thanks to Blood Quantum — personally I loved the concept and first act, but I didn’t like how the film sidelined women and relied so much on brutality, but I thought Barnaby’s previous film Rhymes for Young Ghouls was an enchanting, sad, mesmerizing cross-genre film that danced alongside some real-life horror.
What do you hope to achieve with Queer Horror?
For my film series, it’s always been about creating a safer space for roughly 400 queers and allies to pack a century-old movie theatre and have a funny, spooky, live communal experience together. The joy crackles in the air at our shows — it’s become a real community of its own, and it’s my favorite thing to do. During this pandemic I miss it more than anything, but I’m looking forward to releasing some online festival versions and beautifully shot and edited documentation of our previous shows for home enjoyment. For the genre itself, I want everyone to know that horror is queer, it always has been, and we’re going to take over the world with it.
For inquiries on how to book Queer Horror - please reach out to Andre Bouchard - email@example.com or call 503-847-1866
For more information on Queer Horror please visit http://www.queer-horror.com/