wes-craven-cursed-christina-ricci-jesse-eisenberg-horror

This post is the second and final chapter in Jake Gorman’s two-part essay. Click here for the first part of “Monstrously Queer: Homosexuality and the Teen Horror Film”.

Another film, which appeared a number of years later, takes the representation of a gay character a step further and presents him not only as a teenager struggling with issues of sexuality, but also internalized homophobia created by that struggle. In Cursed, director Wes Craven teams up with veteran genre writer Kevin Williamson. While the film is an unsuccessful attempt to revamp the werewolf film for a teenage audience, it is successful with its portrayal of a teenager and his struggle with his own sexuality. Once again we are presented with homosexuality in a horror film which not only questions the social stigma a homosexual teenager is forced to deal with, but also internalized homophobia which many gay teens are unable to actively come to terms with. Not only is it rare that a film attempts to tackle this issue, but also that within the horror genre, which has the potential to reach its most critical audience.

Bo, played by Milo Ventimiglia, is the stereotypical high school jock tossing out derogatory homosexual slurs at shy geeky Jimmy Myers. At first, the film presents these slurs as purely an attack on Jimmy because of his crush on Bo’s girlfriend Brooke, but, as it is later revealed, the homophobic comments actually stem from Bo’s inability to deal with his own homosexuality. Consider, early on in the film, what Bo says when coming across Jimmy at Brook’s work, “You’re just a geek on your way to fagtown” He then continues on as Jimmy leaves with his dog following, “I think your dog’s gay too” It would seem, considering that a derogatory comment is made by his character no less than 5 times during the thirty-five second scene, that Bo has some sort of preoccupation with homosexuality and projects it onto those around him. This film continues, and in three distinct scenes Bo continues his homophobic tirade against Jimmy. Not because Jimmy is actually gay, but because he represents what Bo is not; straight. The film presents the issue of how a heteronormative social structure forces some teenagers toward a violent deluge of aggression when unable to cope with their own possible sexuality.

The second scene takes place within the high school; Bo spots Jimmy talking to Brooke and starts to harass him:

BO
Geek Juice.
You trying out for the wrestling team Jimmy?

JIMMY
Uh, no, I don’t wrestle

BO
Oh, I’d think all that male-to-male contact
would be right up your alley.

JIMMY
 Is, uh… is that the appeal for you?

(pause)

Haven’t you been team captain for, like, two
years now?

Interestingly Bo is portrayed from an outsider’s perspective. While it is obvious that Bo’s jock friends are with him in his attempts to ostracize further a social outsider, the exchange is seen as pointless as Bo’s final remark “Let’s get out of here before we get homo-stained.” Even Brooke is framed by Craven to be on Jimmy’s side both visually and morally, “Just ignore him, Jimmy.” Both writer and director demonstrate that homosexuality is normal and it is those outside the social sphere, those who attempt to create hostility towards homosexuals, who are abnormal. The last scene before the film’s narrative solidifies that Bo is not what he may appear to be on the outside (a theme mirrored in the film’s Werewolf storyline), is the wrestling tryouts. Jimmy, now experiencing the side effects of becoming a werewolf (overt sexual appeal and super human strength), is confronted by Bo for one last time. Bo remarks that because his girlfriend is talking to Jimmy that she has gone “fruit fly” on him, one of the more comical lines which has obviously been derived from the more unfavorable “fag-hag” titling. To which Jimmy responds, “Come on Bo. You’re really becoming transparent. How about a little identity intervention, Ok? ‘Cause all this internalized homophobia’s giving you away.” The two characters end up wrestling, in which Bo spews more remarks. It would seem, at first that Williamson is bashing the issue over the head, yet he has a reason. Later that night, Bo go to Jimmy’s house to talk to him and ask him “…how you knew?” It seems that Bo has confused his own homosexuality with Jimmy’s “werewolfism:”

BO
I just can’t keep it in anymore. I had
to tell you, you’re the only other gay
guy I know.

JIMMY
Whoa. Ok, stop. I’m not gay. Not that
there is anything wrong with it.

BO
This is hard for me. Don’t be like this.

JIMMY
Trust me, Bo. I’m not gay, I’m cursed.

BO
I know. Sure feels like that doesn’t it? Not
being able to tell anyone; talk to anyone about it.

Williamson has taken a difficult moment in a homosexual’s life and rather than derive the humour from homosexuality itself, he does so by juxtaposing it with the film’s narrative of Jimmy as a werewolf. The audience laughs not because Bo is gay, but because confusing a werewolf with a homosexual is as absurd as the oppression society places on homosexuality.

From this point forward in the film, Bo is presented as Jimmy’s friend; helping him, along with his sister Ellie in their struggle against the two main werewolves. Bo, unlike David in Bride of Chucky, is not killed off and is almost as important as the two lead characters from a narrative perspective. The film goes the last step which Bride was unable (or unwilling) to go, shedding new light on the possibilities of representational dynamics.

hellbent-horror-movie-slasher

Lastly, in order to fully round out and define the multitude of representational perspectives on homosexuality and the teen horror film, we must look at how gays and lesbians have begun to change the face of horror. The film Hellbent (Paul Etheredge-Ouzts 2004) is created entirely by, and for, homosexuals. The plot is borrowed from countless teen horror films before it but transported into an entirely gay world. A group of male friends on Halloween spend the night celebrating in West Hollywood, only to be murdered one by one by a masked killer.

One of the more obvious examples of how the film attempts to differentiate itself from the heterosexually based counterparts, is through the killer’s very pointless choice of murder weapon. Where a heterosexual slasher film usually contains a straight knife, or variation of (chainsaw, sword, drill, hammer, machete, etc.), Hellbent’s unrelenting killer uses the curved (or bent) blade of a sickle in order to enact the chopping off of heads, or the disemboweling of any number of homosexuals. It would seem that the murderer gleefully kills the gays in the film with the same equivalent lack of disregard for human decency that the heterosexuals ones do. The curved blade comes off as nothing special within the film’s narrative; nothing but clumsy and pointless. Creative credit must be giving though, for this is no different than any of the other aforementioned “straight” films similar attempts to set themselves apart from one another. The curved blade in Hellbent at least offers a visual reference point for its inherent attempt to give the film an overall unifying “homosexual” theme.

Another departure is in the decision by the filmmakers to have the killer entirely attractive (apart from the killing and all). Where Clover states the murderer in slasher films are “…usually large, sometimes overweight, and often masked … the may be recognizably human, but only marginally so…” (29) Hellbent goes an entirely different route. But why? Could it be that the homosexual creators of the film are making a point about gay culture in general (at least male gay culture)? It would seem that on a number of levels the film attempts to identify, through both the sexulization of the killer and the narrative positioning the murder scenes, specific cultural signifiers of gay life.

hellbent-horror-movie-devil

Like “hetero-horror” films, Hellbent positions most of the murders within a sexual situation, and two hold a stronger relevance when looked at through this type of cultural skewering. In one murder scene, the “partier” character, after doing far too many drugs on the dance floor, has his torso hacked up by the killer unbeknownst to him (or those around him). Those within the gay dance culture have been privy to any number of drug overdoses at nightclubs, after which the limp body is quickly rushed out and the partiers just keep on dancing. It is true that straight people overdose at night clubs, yet it is easy to see how the film is attempting to bridge the gap between the cultural acceptance of drugs within the gay party culture, and the murderous ignorance of those party goers around the overdosed partier.

The second stab at gay cultural hypocrisy is demonstrated by how the characters at West Hollywood street party ostracize the “drag” character. He dresses up as a drag queen for Halloween and is unfortunately unable to “hook up” with anyone (his main attempt for the evening).  Drunk and unhappy, he comes across the murderer and aroused by his attractive appearance, attempts to lure him back to his place. At first there is no response, but when, as a last ditch effort he removes his wig and heels, the killer stops to look at him. While unfortunately he ends up dead, this exchange does demonstrate the hypocritical nature of the culture. The homosexual world uses the drag artist as a visual signifier, and yet within that world they are often seen as purely humorous and nonsexual. Through the killer’s ignorance, and then attraction, Hellbent is able to demonstrate the socially stigmatized nature of the gender performer.

The most interesting thing about the film is not the story itself, which is a rather boring re-hash of every other slasher film, but the way that it transposes visual tropes of gay culture onto its filmic world. Does this mean that the film is a success? The answer to that depends entirely on perspective, or rather one’s definition of what can be deemed a success and what cannot. While the film succeeds in creating something more overtly homosexual then either Bride of Chucky or Cursed, it does not create a story for anyone outside of the cultural realms of homosexuality. The two other films could be viewed as more of a success than Hellbent. But again, here we are at a “catch-22,” how can we state that films which present homosexuality within an entire heterosexual narrative are more successful? There could be any number of ways to align oneself with these ideological viewpoints. I would rather propose another solution; by killing homosexuals alongside their heterosexual counterpart with equal unrelenting violence, the horror film could very well bridge the representational gap between homosexuality and heterosexual society.

Within the creation of both negative and positive homosexual characters in mainstream American horror films, the issue of representation and the methods imposed are brought to the forefront of critical analysis. By allowing theory to “…do an about face in order to focus instead on what cannot be faced…” (Edelman 73), we are able to active engage with the horror genre. In a way both types of characterizations in the films dissected, allow the viewer to obtain a greater understanding of how society views homosexuality. Haute Tension shows a lesbian who goes on a killing rampage simply because her romantic interest is not gay and both Bride and Cursed create positive characters within an oppressive heterosexual world.

Each of the three films show how opposing forces require certain types of representational dynamics. But how do both Don Mancini (creator of Chucky), and Kevin Williamson fit into this equation if they are known to be openly gay? Does this give us a window onto each film’s ideological framework when compared to Haute Tension (openly heterosexual writer)?

Maybe, but that would be leading film theory down the wrong path. It can only be through an active attempt by a film’s narrative to portray the socially responsible characterizations of both heterosexuals and homosexuals, that a cultural understanding of equality can be met.

Jake Gorman

Work Cited

Benshoff, Harry M. Monsters in the Closet: Homosexuality and the Horror Film.
New York: Manchester University Press, 1997.

Clover, Carol J. Men, Women, and Chain Saws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film.
Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1992.

Dixon, Wheeler W. Straight: Constructions of Heterosexuality in the Cinema.
Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2003.

Dyer, Richard. The Matter of Images: Essays on Representation.
2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 2002.

Edelman, Lee, “The Rear Window’s Glasshole.”
Ellis Hanson, ed. Outakes: Essays one

Queer Theory and Film.
Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1999. 72-96

Kermode, Mark. “The Razor’s Edge.”
Sight & Sound No. 10 (2004): 40-41, 69.

Wlodarz, Joe. “Rape Fantasies: Hollywood and Homophobia.”
Peter Lehman, ed.

Masculinity: Bodies, Movies, Culture.
New York, NY: Routledge, 2001. 67-80.

Films Cited

American Pie. Dir. Paul Weitz. Universal Pictures, 1999.
Another Gay Movie. Dir. Todd Stephens. Luna Pictures, 2006.
Bride of Chucky. Dir. Ronny Yu. Universal Pictures, 1998.
Brokeback Mountain. Dir. Ang Lee. Focus Features, 2005.
Carrie. Dir. Brian De Palma. MGM, 1976.
Cursed. Dir. Wes Craven. Dimension, 2005.
Frankenstein. Dir. James Whale. Universal Pictures, 1931.
Haute Tension. Dir. Alexandre Aja. Alexandre Films, 2003.
Hellbent. Dir. Paul Etheredge-Ouzts. Sneak Preview Entertainment, 2004.
Hills Have Eyes, The. Dir.Wes Craven. Blood Relations Co., 1977.
Last House on the Left. Dir. Wes Craven. Lobster Enterprises, 1972.
Mommie Dearest. Dir. Frank Perry. Paramount Pictures, 1981.
Psycho. Dir. Alfred Hitchcock. Universal Pictures, 1960.
Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The. Dir. Toby Hooper. Vortex, 1974.