Updated: Sep 12, 2020
We watched some great LGBTQ+ Horror at the 2020 Pride edition of the Soho Horror Film Festival.
Can you believe its July already?! Despite Lockdown June was full of all things rainbow as the LGBTQ+ community and allies celebrated #PrideMonth. I had the pleasure of being invited to the virtual SoHo Horror Film Festival which was showcasing some of the best in Queer horror. Hopefully the films mentioned will help you satisfy any thirst for (rainbow) blood long past any Pride celebrations.
Whilst I did not get to see all the shorts shown at the festival, those I did see were brilliant. Michael Varrati‘s Black Comedy Halloween Trick had me empathising a little too much with the sleep-deprived Valerie who tries to reason with her neighbour over his noisy sex life. Varrati was also behind J-horror inspired Unusual Attachment which was filmed entirely during Lockdown. The super slick Thirst Trap by Steve Flavin was an audience favourite, and shows what can be achieved with a single set and a good script. Thirst trap follows a vampire taking advantage of the swipe right culture to find his next meal - until he runs into a lost love. In Teja LoBreglio's Tea Parties are for Babies innocent yet eager for experience Emily bumps her into high school crush, Bunny. The two end up at an adults only tea party where Emily is the guest of honour. Finally the beautiful supernatural horror The Pain Within Us follows a woman struggling with grief following the death of her wife in a car accident.
The Festival's organisers also showcased four stunning shorts; Conversion Therapist, Estigma, Innocent Boy and Labrys. I will definitely watch these as they shine a light on several issues oft not touched including hookup culture, bi-erasure, chem sex trade, lesbian-fetishising misogyny and conversion therapy. Unbelievably, conversion therapy is still legal in the UK. You can do something about that by signing a petition here and writing to your local MP to demand that they take action.
The One with Subtitles
French Thriller Knife + Heart (2018) stars Vanessa Paradis as Anne, a Gay Porn creator. Set in 1979 Paris, Anne's life is falling apart. She has split with long term lover and editor Lois, her films are mediocre and her cast and crew are demanding money she does not have. Desperate to win back Lois (Kate Moran), Anne uses the death of one of the cast as inspiration for ambitious porn film; Homicidal. However, when more of the cast die at the hands of a mysterious masked killer who seems to be followed by a blind bird, Anne follows her intuition to uncover his true identity. I can understand why this film had mixed reviews, as the killers story arc was lazily explained by Anne in the final sequence rather than leaving clues - and therefore providing tension - earlier in the film. That said it is great thriller with squirm inducing deaths - the killer uses a switchblade disguised as a dildo. Paradis portrays a broken Anne beautifully and the film bravely confronts violence within lesbian relationships when Anne sexually assaults Lois on her way home from a club, claiming Lois's body belongs to her. You are taken on a wild ride with each death and genuinely fear for Anne and her cast .
The One with Vampires.
I was keen to see After Dark (2020 - also known as The Vampire Virus) having met prolific filmmaker Charlie Steeds at Starburst Film Festival. After Dark is retro-inspired Vampire film - complete with a Nosferatu-style vampire all the way from Romania. Jennifer (Natalie Martins) is in desperate need of a night out and gets to indulge a long held fantasy when she beds the hypnotically sexual Izabella (Jessica Alonso). Waking up with a thirst for blood and a nasty bite wound on her hips, Jennifer's life and loyalties are thrown into turmoil as a deadly virus rips through the city - and the police are looking for the woman responsible . After Dark's pace and story arc made for compulsive watching. The scenes and chemistry between Martins and Alonso were definitely scintillating. Touching on challenges faced by members of the LGBTQ+ community, there are some truly heart breaking moments - such as Police Officer Freddie (Derek Nelson) not feeling he can talk to his colleagues about his partner, Jack and Jack himself being brutally attacked in an alleyway. Whilst I appreciate that I may be in the minority here - I found the soundtrack an unhelpful distraction - and the fight (and bite) scenes were somewhat stilted at times. Not my favourite of films from Dark Temple Motion Pictures for this reason but an otherwise good romp of a B-movie.
The One I Loved The Most.
It is rare I find a film that I love so much I want a DVD so I can watch again and show all my friends. The Fear Of Looking Up (2019) satisfied both my cravings for a good old' fashioned Se7en style thriller and my love for H.P Lovecraft inspired Cosmic Horror. While chasing a serial killer inspired by the god of sleep, cop, Jamie (Friday Chamberlain) finds her life is overturned by the death of her partner. Internal monsters and the need for revenge cloud the border between Jamie's nightmares and reality. What I loved in particular about this film is the depth of the characters and relationships to those around them. Far from the Lone Wolf against the world narrative, Jamie is surrounded by loving friends, family and colleagues who do their best to help her. It makes for a stark contrast to her internalised demons and makes her slow decline all the more painful to watch. This film demonstrates just how easily you can include LGBTQ+ characters in a story without making a spectacle of their sexuality and made me reflect on how irrelevant the heterosexual narrative is to making a good film. My only bugbear about this film is that I can't find it to buy. Someone please send me a link and put me out of my misery.
On watching LGBTQ+ horror as a Cishet Woman
Given the Horror genre is all about revealing the shadow side of any culture, watching horror led by LGBTQ+ filmmakers was always going to be educational. It was interesting to see the culture of swiping for sex within the gay community challenged. Whilst the Tinder/Grindr generation is open about finding a willing sexual partner online, several of the films featured antagonists who took advantage of Hookup culture. It does not take a leap of the imagination to realise that meeting with strangers can be dangerous.
As a woman, I am acutely aware of the male gaze in film and it was particularly interesting to see how were women portrayed by LGBTQ+ film-makers . A number of films seem to feature women as unhappily dowdy and sexless or else they were sexual predators. Trans, Ace and Gender fluid or queer characters were noticeably absent as were people of colour or mixed race relationships. This would demonstrate that even within the LGBTQ+ community, there is still significant work to be done to ensure that groups are not further marginalised.
That said, the films that showed loving relationships between single sex couples made me acutely aware of how this is missing from both mainstream and independent film. My favourite film of the festival - The Fear of Looking Up - was an LGBTQ+ film without the story being centred around the lead characters sexuality. The characters and relationships within the film had depth and a normality to them.
It made me seriously question why we don't see more LGBTQ+ characters within any film or TV series, as the sexuality of many a character is largely irrelevant. This would go some way to normalise relationships that fall outside the heterosexual narrative which is key to acceptance within society. As a writer and film-maker, I believe that can be achieved in a number of ways. Of course it starts by challenging our own internal dialogue and ensuring we are not perpetuating unhelpful tropes. Such measures could include using gender neutral names and avoiding descriptions of physical attributes - where irrelevant - when writing a script to allow for truly diverse casting.
Many Thanks to the organisers and supporters of Soho Horror Film Festival - in particular Mitch Harrod - for welcoming Horror Girly. Hopefully the November festival will not be affected by Lockdown!