• 'Good Manners' plays at the Mardi Gras Film Festival. (Good Manners)Source: Good Manners
Queer Screen's Mardi Gras Film Festival includes a number of new queer horror films, building on a rich history of the genre.
Joseph Earp

14 Feb 2019 - 9:49 AM  UPDATED 13 Mar 2019 - 9:16 AM

In 1985, Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge rolled out in American cinemas. Ostensibly the sequel to the blockbusting and terrifying Nightmare On Elm Street, Freddy’s Revenge disregarded most of the rules of Wes Craven’s original. For reasons that were never properly explained, Freddy Krueger, the series’ scarred antagonist, was able to run about in broad daylight, freed from the landscape of nightmares he was banished to in the first film, and rather than being a silent, menacing figure, he had become a demonic jester, spitting one-liners.

Craven was horrified. He believed that the sequel was besmirching the intent of his original and was so incensed that he later demanded greater control over the third film. But, despite Craven’s reservations, time has been very kind to Freddy’s Revenge. Whereas the original film is a disturbing, Freudian look at repressed trauma, Freddy’s Revenge smuggles new themes into the series altogether; it is, quite clearly, a coded movie about the fear of coming out as queer.

In Freddy’s Revenge, the main character Jesse fantasises about tying up his hunky coach with belts. His high school locker room is a steaming haven of naked men and glistening bodies. He seems utterly disinterested in his female co-lead, and utterly fascinated by a ripped bad boy. He fears his conservative, repressed parents, and harnesses the supernatural power of Freddy as a way to escape them. Although the film’s director, Jack Sholder, claims to have been unaware of the homoerotic tension at the time, the writing is right there on the wall.

Not, mind you, that Freddy’s Revenge was the first film to deal with the anxiety of discovering one’s true sexual preference. Far from it. For hundreds of years, horror fiction and cinema have had a distinctly queer bent.

After all, one of the foundational texts of the gothic movement, Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde, explicitly trades on the insinuation that Dr. Jekyll might be gay. The novel is about the anxieties involved with living a private life, with presenting one face to the public and wearing another when you think you are alone – and even the repressed Victorian audience Stevenson was writing for would have understood that.

Indeed, so many of the heroes and villains of the horror canon are characters struggling with their sexuality. Dracula is a coded stand-in for the fear that sexually active Europeans might immigrate to the United Kingdom and steal the wives of the wealthy; Jason from the Friday The 13th series is a classic, repressed mummy’s boy; Norman Bates is the same.

Werewolves, meanwhile, are respectful, functional members of society by day, and slaves to their own desires at night. In The Company Of Wolves, they are stand-ins for puberty; in the underrated Trick ‘r Treat, they are emblematic of queer female freedom, finding solace in each other’s bodies and in the murder of men.

Yet one of the most successful recent forays into the werewolves as queer stand-ins sub-genre is Good Manners, playing as part of the Sydney Mardi Gras Film Festival. The new Brazilian horror-comedy classic begins with a love affair between a distant homeowner and her maid. But before long, the homeowner gives birth to a distinctly inhuman son – a hulking, hairy metaphor for their clandestine relationship – and the put-upon maid finds herself the reluctant carer for a bestial brood.

In this way, Good Manners is a classic queer horror film, in that it uses the metaphor of the monster as a way of exploring real-life social taboos. The young werewolf at the heart of that film is a bloodthirsty animal, but he always has a way of probing and rejecting the conservative bent of Brazil. The film is a neat inversion of the idea that a homosexual union is somehow unnatural, and a smirking satire aimed at the idea that homosexual parents are somehow unfit. The maid and the homeowner might be tested by their young brood, but they are never broken by it, and the film fully endorses their odd, monstrous family.

Similarly controversial is Tonight It’s You, a short film playing at the Mardi Gras Film Festival as part of the Queer Scream sidebar, a whole section of the program dedicated to queer horror. Opening with a Grindr meet-up that quickly begins to sour, Tonight It’s You tackles a whole creaky shedload of contemporary LGBTIQ+ stereotypes. It inverts everything from the cliché of the controlling, homophobic father, to the danger of contemporary queer hook-up culture, to the very notion of gay victimhood. And it does it all in 18 concise minutes.

Both films have a great deal to say. And both films give a taste of the revolution going on in queer filmmaking. As the underground LGBTIQ+ horror movement grows and changes, reaching new heights of creative expression, fresh boundaries are being broken every day. Safe to say, it’s one helluva time to be a queer horror fan.

Joseph Earp is a music and film critic who writes about horror cinema, bad TV, post-punk and The Muppets.  You can follow Joseph on Twitter @TheUnderlook.

You can find out more information on Queer Screen's Mardi Gras Film Festival here.

You can watch the SBS Mardi Gras parade coverage on Sunday March 3rd at 8.30pm.

Watch Queer Screen Presents: Thinking Queer on SBS On Demand

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