At the Centre for Contemporary Arts, our queer ‘Horror Hour’ is hosted by SQIFF, the Scottish Queer International Film Festival, and Final Girls Berlin, a horror film festival that showcases film made by women and non-binary people. Going in, I thought maybe I would be seeing the kind of ‘queer horror’ I’m accustomed to – something like Jennifer’s Body perhaps, or The Perfection, or The Babadook. But I’m surprised by the selection – five short films that were more heartwarming than horrific.
The CCA have also obviously made a real effort to keep their events accessible to all. When the films are being introduced by our host, there is a sign language interpreter and our host describes what they are wearing and look like in detail for those who may be visually impaired. Every film comes with subtitles, and audio description packs are available – as are packs that turn audio into vibrations to help people stay grounded. It’s a level of commitment to accessibility that’s both refreshing and welcome.
As the lights go down, I wonder what to expect – our first film, ‘The Elephant Joke’, is a memorable and clever Korean film, and its standout performance is from a ginger longhaired cat named Churro, whose face is perpetually frozen in the world’s most hilarious expression. He has the audience in a fit of giggles as the two main characters, a couple who are splitting up, bicker over Churro’s future, and discover a locked fridge in the middle of nowhere that hides a horrible surprise. ‘I’m a Lesbian Vampire’ is absolutely hilarious, and the audience is in stitches. The film’s narrator bemoans the difficulties of lesbian dating as a member of the undead community – U-Hauling does mean U-Hauling forever, and you literally know every other lesbian vampire out there. My personal favourite, though, is ‘Lone Wolf’; a young girl (Sam) struggling to fit in at a sleepover worries about being exposed as a werewolf to her crush on the night of the full moon. Her crush, Willow, begs her to open the bathroom door as our protagonist’s face becomes furry, but when Sam opens it, she finds that Willow has also transformed into a werewolf. The two hold hands and run off into the night together, howling at the moon.
Most of the films aren’t really horror at all, at least not how we usually understand it. There are few jump-scares or mounting tension buildups. They deal with a different kind of horror; the kind that lies in the pit of your stomach and keeps you up at night with dread, and one that queer people and their stories are very familiar with. Stories about body dysmorphia, coming out, relationships, breakups, all have a familiar tint of the anxiety that can often come with queer life. But they are also unexpectedly funny and vivid – and not a single one had an unhappy ending. I can appreciate the subversion there – it would have been all too easy to have told darker stories with unhappy endings, with plenty of pain and gore to fulfil the expectations of the genre. It’s true that the films aren’t scary – but they are spooky, clever little things that keep you laughing and uplift rather than chill.
[Ailsa Morgan – she/they – @a.ilsa_m]
[Image credit: Karolina Grabowska]