As is to be expected, San Diego Comic Con is another in a long list of fandom mainstays forced to pivot to a virtual platform due to COVID-19 this year. The good news, however, is that if Shudder’s “Horror is Queer” panel is any indication, we’re still in for some fantastic content.
Horror journalist Jordan Crucchiola moderated the event, which serves as something of a preamble (or an amuse bouche for all of the Fannibals) to Shudder’s upcoming queer horror documentary directed by panelist Sam Wineman. Joining him is Don Mancini, whose Child’s Play franchise has evolved over the past three decades to incorporate themes about sexuality and gender. Also on board is Hannibal showrunner Bryan Fuller, who over the course of three seasons allowed all of the queer subtext between Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham to come flowing to the surface. Lachlan Watson is a genderqueer actor who you probably know as Theodore from The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and, last but not least, Nay Bevers joins the group representing Attack of the Queerwolf, a podcast that takes some deep dives into movies with queer themes in the horror genre.
For those who have listened to Attack of the Queerwolf, you’ll probably notice some familiar themes in this panel as the guests explore queer representation in horror films and television, noting sometimes that representation is deliberate, other times it’s unintentional, and often can be problematic. As Crucciola kicks off with “queer horror origin stories” to allow each panelist a chance to recall their first memories of queer representation in horror, we see they each have unique entry points into that realm. As the youngest panelist, for example, it’s surprising to see Watson’s childhood spent watching truly old-school horror, as they recall the joy of seeing a character like Dracula wearing significant amounts of makeup clashing with the frustration of seeing that representation labeled as monstrous.
But while the panelists’ entry points to horror vary, one of the biggest benefits of the virtual platform is a more intimate setting where you can see the look of recognition on everyone’s faces as these experiences intersect. For instance, Fuller describes horror as a way to navigate an abusive father as a child, an experience Mancini hints at as well when he mentions there was a reason Andy doesn’t have a father in Child’s Play. While that may not have been precisely every other panelist’s experience, there’s a sense that in some shape or fashion, they’d all been there.
This shared experience among the panelists allows them to explore the nuanced and sometimes contradictory nature of queer representation in horror. As Wineman and Bevers reminisce about Sleepaway Camp 2, for example, Wineman revels in the fact that trans killer Angela literally murders every crappy person at that camp. But they both also acknowledge Angela may not land the same way for a trans viewer who only ever sees themselves portrayed as a killer. It can even be true for people to see both empowerment and problematic elements, as these situations aren’t often either/or, but as Bevers points out we should be taking our cues on how to interpret these elements from the communities being portrayed, as they are the ones potentially put at risk by misrepresentation.
Ultimately, I’m hoping “Horror is Queer” serves as a primer not just for Shudder’s upcoming documentary, but for queer representation in horror as a whole. As someone who’s learned a lot from several of the people on this panel, I’d love to see it turn into a queer horror origin story for a new wave of fans who could discover the amazing work done by the folks involved or at least get them to reevaluate films and television with a new lens. Because, as Mancini points out, the queer community represents the outlaws. The queer community is here to stay, confronting all the false narratives we’ve taken for granted simply by existing and I, for one, can’t wait to see what comes next.