Sink your teeth into characters who finally get your blood pumping… and the back of your neck tingling.
Sure, we all know queer classics like Carmilla, or transphobic thrillers like Silence of the Lambs. But what about horror that doesn’t doom LGBTQA characters to predator and prey, or relegate them to tokens and subtext?
This Halloween, give yourself thrills and chills with characters who finally get your blood pumping… and the back of your neck tingling.
1. The Books of Blood, Clive Barker
Everybody is a book of blood; wherever we’re opened, we’re red.
Consider this short story collection the birth of modern queer horror. Though not every character is out, and not every story has gay themes, there are more than enough in here to make LGBTQIA characters the norm, not the exception.
From “In the Hills, the Cities,” about two gay men who vacation near the site of a ritual gone horribly wrong, to “Human Remains,” about a man whose doppelganger is becoming more real than he is, to “The Midnight Meat Train” — which sadly isn’t what you think it is — Clive Barker’s stories are always brilliant, often disturbing, and consistently thought-provoking in their blend of horror and fantasy.
2. Affinity, Sarah Waters
”Will you go on being a prisoner, in your own dark cell, forever?”
Sure, Tipping the Velvet may be more sexually explicit, but Waters’ ability to blend the sensual and the gothic is at its peak in this haunting page-turner.
A mix of ghost story and love story, the complexity of this epistemological novel lies in its examination of emotional repression, yearning and the meaning of truth in the words of two women, one a failed suicide, the other a spiritualist imprisoned for assault and fraud. Proving sometimes darkness comes from empathy more than dread, this is psychological thriller at its best.
3. Let the Right One In, John Ajvide Lindquvist
“Which monster do you choose?”
This Swedish novel is one of the many vampire books that address queer themes and deal with coded or explicit queer characters. It may also be the best.
Sub-textual at most in the film adaptations, Lindqvist’s masterwork tackles adolescent sexuality, gender identity and fluidity, pederasty, and the cruelty of hyper-masculine society head-on in this brutally poignant love story between a human boy and vampire. And while the bloodthirsty attacks are graphic, it’s the Lord of the Flies setup of the human world that will keep you up at night.
4. Dust of Wonderland, Lee Thomas
“History is dust, he reminded himself. No matter how thoroughly you wipe it away, it always returns to settle.”
Blending mystery, horror and a coming-of-age story is tricky business, but Lee pulls it off beautifully, adding ghost story, psychological drama and heart-pounding thriller to the mix as well.
And while New Orleans may be overplayed (lookin’ at you, next on our list), the French Quarter and Bourbon Street feel revivified in the Stoker-winner’s hands, as a man searches for his son’s attacker and challenges an old evil responsible for several for several gory deaths at a gay lounge called the Wonderland.
5. Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice
“Consequently, if you believe God made Satan, you must realize that all Satan’s power comes from God and so that Satan is simply God’s child, and that we are God’s children also. There are no children of Satan, really.”
Few can claim Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles is an unproblematic look at non-hetero attraction. Her characters are murderous aesthetes who either revel in their amoral possibilities or emotionally flagellate themselves for succumbing to their sinful desires.
That said, it’s hard not to love Lestat’s unrepentant assholery, revel in Claudia’s defiance, and sympathize with Louis’ moral agonizing in this best of Rice’s purple prose. And as the first vampire same-sex family in print, it’s fair to say that this is queer horror where both queer and horror are here in abundance.
6. Drawing Blood, Poppy Z. Brite
It’s too fast, said a panicky voice in his mind. And too dangerous. He’ll drink your juices, taste your brain, crack your soul open like an egg! “Hell, I think I want him to do all that.”
Trevor McGee is eight when his father kills himself after murdering his family… everyone, that is, except Trevor. Two decades later, he returns to the old abandoned homestead to confront the demons that drove his father to insanity — and meets Zach, a bisexual computer hacker with skeletons of his own, running from the FBI.
An entertaining blend of creepy ghost story and off-beat gay romance, this haunted house novel is as much about the ghosts in our souls as the ones under our beds… but that doesn’t make its twists any less suspenseful.
7. Tokyo Ghoul
“If you were to write a story with me in the lead role, it would certainly be… a tragedy.”
Warning: This manga series, while amazingly written in its examination of morality and love, food and desire, society and identity … is not for the faint of hearted.
Due to a failed monster-attack and a helpful organ transplant, college student Ken Kaneki must deal with life as a half-human, half-ghoul, hiding his secret from humans, navigating his new society’s factions, and dealing with ghouls whose flamboyance is only matched by their desire to lovingly fillet him.
There’s even a scene where Shuu Tsukiyama (“The Gourmet”), who’s become obsessed with Kaneki, goes to school to talk to him and ends up sniffing a handkerchief covered in his blood.
But if you felt the TV show Hannibal didn’t take its danse macabre of gore ballet and sexual tension far enough with Hannibal and Will, this series is for you.
8. The Drowning Girl, Caitlin R. Kiernan
“No one ever said you have to be dead and buried to be a ghost.”
Imp is schizophrenic, struggling with her perceptions of the world as they blend into an inescapable mix of fairy tale and horror story.
With the help of her girlfriend, a trans woman named Abalyn, Imp struggles with her family’s history of mental illness and suicide by trying to pin her hauntings into the form of memoir… especially her interactions with Eva Canning, a siren or a wolf or “something far, far stranger.”
An exercise in metatextual mind-fuckery, Kiernan’s work deals with themes and issues that could be catastrophically mishandled in the hands of a lesser writer. Instead, we get a rumination on what stories are or can be, the creation of ghosts, and an examination of internal haunting that will leave you puzzling over the novel for days.
9. A Density of Souls, Christopher Rice
Stephen now dreamed in music, a clamor of remembered voices, a density of souls in which no individual spoke the truth, but in which the accumulated layers of lies and loss gave way to a truth rare and great and capable of stripping wounds from a part of the world.
Written in a decade of Matthew Shepard’s death and Eric Harris’ rage-fueled Columbine shootout, Anne Rice’s son shelves vampires and witches for a hate group-led terror that hits much closer to home.
Rich in family history and rife with festering wounds, this tale of murder, suicide and madness revolves around the rending of four young friends. Rice evocatively tangles the ways in which unspeakable secrets and casual cruelties can reach a boiling point, and how the self-hatred at the heart of homophobia can birth a rage devastating enough to destroy an entire community.
10. Occultation and Other Stories, Laird Barron
Only fools and the dead never change their mind.
We’re somewhat cheating — what really makes this short story collection stand out as queer horror is the novella tucked within it, a story called “Mysterium Tremendum.”
Barron’s talent as a voice to rival H.P. Lovecraft and Peter Straub is showcased in this tale of overtly threatened macho gay friends takes the creepiness factor to 11, painting a bleak and horrific universe that is nonetheless linguistically mesmerizing.