We’ve made it to October, and the first hints of sweater weather and pumpkin spice are being sprinkled into our lives even as bad news pours in. We are stocking up on candy and decorating our homes with spooky skeletons so brittle and pale they could be senators. Now that Kavanaugh has been confirmed to the Supreme Court, every day seems like a horror movie.
Nonetheless, we should celebrate celebrate the season. And I think what we all really need right now—in addition to a political revolution—are queer girl horror films. Queers and horror movies have a contentious past. But I’m letting them teach me how to be both the proud, monstrous queer woman and the heroine, who, without hope, will keep screaming into the night and clawing for survival.
Here are seven horror films about queer women that are still fit and fun for this horrifying time.
The Vampire Lovers takes place several decades after a vampire hunter decapitates a woman in a diaphanous gown as punishment for the seduction and death of his sister. When Emma Morton, a general’s daughter, is joined by a new houseguest, Carmilla, she begins to have nightmares about being ravished by a cat. The constant feeling of the cat’s fur rubbing against her face causes her to become bedridden, frail, and devoted to the enticing Carmilla, her one close friend in a manor house otherwise filled with nosey men.
They are supervised, or rather surveilled, by a host of men in starched collars. The generals, doctors, and hunters that surround them begin to sense that Carmilla and Emma’s relationship poses a deadly threat. But there is no death strong enough to still the pulse of these Sapphic vampires.
Francisca, played by Kika Magalhães, was a young girl when her mother, formerly a surgeon in Portugal, was killed in O’Connoresque circumstances by a lone white man who had been watching their farmhouse. As she grows up isolated somewhere in rural America, Francisca has a hard time making healthy connections. The only other people she ever interacted with are her terse farmer father and the gory stranger that lives in the barn. There is brief hope when she meets Japanese student Komiko at a bar and brings her home. The two talk about growing up, about heritage, about the tragedies we inherit from family. It is a moment of sweetness in this grim black and white depiction of gothic America.
The Lure is the Polish Mermaid Horror Musical I didn’t know I needed until I saw it. I have played its soundtrack, by Ballady I Romanse, at every party where I’ve been handed (or stolen) an aux-cord for the last two years. It follows two mermaids, Silver and Golden, as they come ashore, join a family of strip-club musicians, and perform alongside them as backup singers and carnivalesque curiosities. The blonde Silver falls in love with the band’s drummer, Mietek, and must decide whether to eat him or turn into seafoam. Meanwhile, the dark-haired Golden falls in love with Silver, joins a punk rock band, and has a love affair with the detective who is tracking a trail of men’s bodies found devoured on the coast. By the end it becomes a story of species-confirmation surgeries, the glitter of nightlife, and the horror of falling in love with straight women, and it might just be the sensory overload you need, dear reader, to distract you from the world as is.
I started Thelma on Netflix a few months ago because I was at home alone with the cat purring on my lap and, you know, it looked gay. So, why not? But let me tell you, it is super gay and subverts the kill-your-gays mentality that the genre is justifiably well known for and I love it. It follows college freshman Thelma as she moves away from her conservative Christian family and begins to find weird things happening whenever she sees her classmate Anja.
And not weird things in like, palms getting sweaty, nipples suddenly erecting, or confessing to her how one day you made your younger sibling disappear and now your relationship with your dad is kind of weird—you know, the classic gay narrative—but like lights flickering on and off, a swarm of birds colliding into windows, and losing consciousness only to find things mysteriously moved. All that aside, as a religiously raised gay, it’s a very relatable and a very sweet depiction of longing for somebody so much that life without her seems surreal and trying to find a way to stay together despite being taught to be make our attractions vanish.
Les Diaboliques is one of those movies that was shocking at its time for its depiction of lesbian and bisexual women. The movie itself is haunted by all the all the homophobia and biphobia of the time but nevertheless presents another wonderful look at two women, trying to free themselves from the rigid structures of men. It follows two women, Headmistress Christina Delaselle and her favorite teacher on staff, Ms. Horne—yes, really—as they decide to murder Delaselle’s rapist husband and take on the education of the children themselves.
As Ms. Horner leaves school to spend the holidays in her apartment, Headmistress Delaselle comes along. From there she calls her husband, asks for a divorce and, knowing that he would never admit it or tell the staff why he was leaving, decides to drown him in the tub, and then later dump his body in the school swimming pool to stage it as an accident. With her husband gone the two “devils” are haunted by his ghost and the ghost of his oppression. Every innocent sign of masculine presence becomes “diabolique!” Also, Ms. Horner just has some killer looks throughout the movie.
Every time I hear somebody talk about The Hunger it is in the context of David Bowie and, not to be controversial, I just want to say right off the bat that David Bowie is the least exciting thing about this movie. Sure, David Bowie kicks off the plot playing a young vampire who suddenly finds himself rapidly aging and trapped in attic crypt with a bunch of his wife’s other lovers, men and women alike across history, but what’s really exciting—I found this to be true without a doubt after going to college—is what happens when you finally get over David Bowie.
Once he’s out of the way, Miriam Blaylock, played by Catherine Deneuve, is free to pursue the medical researcher of immortality Dr. Sarah Roberts. It’s a troubled relationship from the start, but how could you expect it not to be? Miriam has an attic full of wailing lovers and that is a lot of baggage for anyone to handle. Lord knows we’ve all tried. But that’s probably the pessimistic moral of the story, instead, we should watch it now for lessons in how to actually really work suits with shoulder pads and prevent our mistakes from catching up to us this year.
Superstarlet A.D. is one of those movies whose genre is hard to define; it’s like a burlesque musical, a horror movie, and the action/sexploitation films of the 60s were mashed together in something resembling an intro to feminism class. In the ruined city of Femphis, decades have passed since a catastrophic event caused men “to lose a chromosome” and turn into ravening Neanderthals while women went on to separate themselves into beauty cults based on hair color and begin scavenging the wastelands for the B-movies, the Nudie Cuties, and the Burlesque films of their grandmothers.
For the most part it follows Naomi, from the cult of Superstarlet A.D., “where all hair colors are created equal,” on a quest to find her girlfriend Rachel who has vanished looking for her own lost heritage. And for all its weirdness, or maybe because of all its weirdness, I can’t think of any film more relevant to our time than this one, where “weaponized femininity” is taken literally. And since both bullets and lipstick are in short supply in the post apocalyptic survival tale: each shot and shade is important. But ultimately, it’s a movie about reclaiming the women of our history, about forming a community of women without turning to the same faults as the culture at large, and creating our culture for ourselves, taking control of our own presentation, action, and performance.
I know that things are really hard enough right now and scary enough as it is but what we really need is to decide for ourselves what makes us scary and show everybody what kind of witch, ghost, and goblin, we can be.