Queer Horror: Vampires, Eternal Life, and Indigo Girls

Portland artist Anthony Hudson presents their lecture “Tales from Queer Horror”

On Thursday, October 28, Portland-based multidisciplinary artist Anthony Hudson presented their lecture “Tales from Queer Horror,” consisting of a brief history of queer horror as well as information about their Hollywood Theatre program of the same name. 

Hudson is a writer and artist working in Portland. They are a Portland-native and a member of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde. Hudson is also known by their alter ego, Carla Rossi, who Hudson calls “Portland’s premiere drag clown,” and Hudson and Carla have been featured at art events all over the world.

Hudson spoke of their lifelong love of horror movies which started with them looking at their brother’s VHS tapes and being mesmerized. The first horror movie they watched was Beetlejuice, an experience they describe as “magic.” This love eventually led Hudson to hosting Queer Horror, a bimonthly event at the historic Hollywood Theatre in Northeast Portland. The event shows films that have “a queer bent either in front of the lens or behind the lens,” which can mean films which feature queer characters and themes or films which had queer people working behind the camera. 

“Usually you can tell,” Hudson said. “Sometimes you’ll watch a movie and you’re like, ‘I feel like this movie is smiling and winking back at me,’ …and then you investigate it and realize, ‘Oh, there was a thousand queer people who worked on this.’” 

Before speaking about Queer Horror as an event, Hudson presented a brief history of queer horror as a concept. Hudson stated that queerness came out of “the idea of confronting and remixing and reshaping… normative concepts of sexuality and gender. Really, queering can apply to any [sort of thinking that says], ‘Let’s take this, put it in a blender, and make it into something new and more equitable.’” 

Hudson noted people often think of queer horror as a subgenre, but Hundson argues that it is not in fact a subgenre but rather an integral part of horror as a whole. They argued that horror’s queer roots can be traced all the way back to gothic stories such as Wuthering Heights and Carmilla, the latter of which is one of the first vampire stories. Gothic stories, Hudson argued, frequently feature “a sexualized other who [the characters] want, but can’t have because society will not allow [them] to because it’s said to be wrong.” 

This type of narrative moved from gothic writers and their works to film. Hudson traces queer horror’s filmic origins to Nosferatu (1922), a German expressionist horror film directed by F.W. Mernau. Hudson noted that Mernau was an out gay filmmaker — with the caveat that the term “gay” is an ahistorical one but works for the purposes of the lecture — and managed to make a story about “what it means to be the monster” through the lens of queerness.

As the horror genre expanded through films like the Universal Studios monster movies (particularly Dracula’s Daughter (1936), which Hudson introduced with a sly nod to the classic lesbian band Indigo Girls), queer horror also expanded. Hudson notes that “[these stories] were all about queerness: they were made by queer people … and they were all building on each other’s shared visual vocabulary and cinematic language that they all developed together.”

Hudson argues that it’s because of these early films that we have a shared language to discuss queerness in horror films. “There’s no such thing as a subgenre called queer horror, because the entire genre is queer as shit,” Hudson concluded. Horror’s queerness can be seen in a litany of films over the last century, including Rope (1948), Psycho (1960), Alien (1979), Hellraiser (1987), Silence of the Lambs (1991), and Interview with the Vampire (1994). 

One of Hudson’s favorite films that they think epitomizes the idea of queerness winking back at the audience is Death Becomes Her (1992), which follows Meryl Streep as an aging Hollywood starlet who seeks eternal life. While the film doesn’t seem to feature particularly queer themes, it was cowritten by David Koepp and Martin Donovan, an out queer screenwriter, in the late 1980s. Hudson argues that this context of a queer writer crafting a narrative about someone seeking eternal life shortly after potentially many people in his life lost their lives to HIV and AIDS very much roots the film in the canon of queer horror. 

Hudson concluded the history portion of the lecture with some examples of international queer horror, which they argue has some of the best specimens of the genre. Their examples included Fatal Frame (2014), The Lure (2015), Thelma (2017), Knife+Heart (2018), and Titane (2021). 

Hudson then moved on to a discussion of their event. Queer Horror is a bimonthly event at the historic Hollywood Theatre in Northeast Portland and is the only regular LGBTQ+ horror screening series in the country. The series began in 2015 when the Hollywood sent out an open call for programming ideas. Hudson was inspired by a painting their partner made and planned a short horror film festival, complete with drag and burlesque performances and an art market. What began as a one-off event was so successful that the Hollywood asked Hudson to run the event regularly. 

Each Queer Horror opens with a preshow, which Hudson describes as akin to “a RuPaul’s Drag Race main stage challenge.” Hudson writes a short play, and Hudson and their collaborators rehearse and perform the play the day of the screening. These plays usually riff on the film being screened that night. The preshow is followed by the feature presentation, which in the past has included films such as Candyman (1992), Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night 2 (1987), Scream (1999), and Fright Night (2011). Hudson highlighted some of their favorite pre-show plays, including the “Night of a Thousand Millas” played in advance of a screening of Resident Evil (2002) in which Hudson’s collaborators dressed up as different characters portrayed by actress Resident Evil’s leading lady, Milla Jovovich. 

After a year-and-a-half long hiatus, Queer Horror will return to the Hollywood Theatre on Dec. 2, with I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997). Hudson teased that the preshow for this screening will feature Carla Rossi receiving a note that warns, “I know what you did last summer,” despite the fact that—like many of us—Carla was stuck inside for all of summer 2020. Tickets are available now on the Hollywood Theatre website!

Find out more about Anthony Hudson at thecarlarossi.com.

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