Queer For Fear: A Look Back At Horror’s Roots

Photo by: Shudder

Rating: 3.5/5

As Halloween approaches, the figures of monsters and spirits re-emerge into the popular imagination. Shudder’s new documentary miniseries Queer For Fear looks back at some of the most recognizable of these figures and identifies the underlying queer narratives present in their stories.

As of writing, there are three episodes available: the first focusing on Gothic horror authors, the second revolving around early cinema and the third highlighting different horror sub-genres. Each episode features a wide selection of interviewees, the majority of whom are openly queer actors and creators. This includes Mark Gatiss, Bryan Fuller, Briana Venskus and Alaska Thunderfuck.

While the first two episodes are about the earliest horror works, there are also large parts of each episode centred on the sexuality of the creators of these works. Some of this is inferred queerness, such as Bram Stoker and his letter to American poet Walt Whitman. However, they also discuss the history that is often sanitized when discussing these authors, such as Oscar Wilde’s arrest by the British government for “gross indecency” simply because he was gay. 

This miniseries argues that queer people have traditionally been seen as the “other” by society at large, and horror typically relies on the “other” to frighten audiences. Queer for Fear serves to re-examine what made these villains so scary and how they played into ideas and beliefs about sex and gender at the time in an attempt to reclaim and redeem these figures.

The three available episodes have all provided valuable insight into how the horror genre was built off of a reaction to queer culture. One of the highlights was in the third episode, where Osgood Perkins — son of Psycho’s lead actor Anthony Perkins — discussed how his father was cast by Hitchcock explicitly because the director knew Anthony was a closeted homosexual, and how this defining performance nearly ruined the public’s perception of him.

However, there are moments in the show which feel too speculative for the analyses that they are part of. Comments like “Shelley saw Frankenstein as a gruesome story of what it was like to create a version of yourself from nothing” or “Stoker created Dracula to work out his conflicted feelings towards his sexuality” undermine the rest of their analyses, as they are less related to the texts and more how the interviewees think the authors acted.

Despite occasional drifts into speculation, Queer For Fear offers a lot of intriguing media analysis in its first three episodes. If you are a fan of queer, literary and/or entertainment histories, or even if you just like horror, thenthis series is worth a watch.

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