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Fright Bites Pride Month

We wrap our Pride Month celebration by highlighting six of our favorite queer horror shorts for this month’s short horror film roundup.

Before Pride Month ends, our Editor-in-Chief, Stephanie Malone, and our Short Horror Editor, Berlyn Nikolunauer, combine forces to share six scary, sexy queer horror shorts well worth adding to your watchlist. While we definitely love to celebrate queer horror all year long, it’s always nice to have extra reason to celebrate the LGBTQIA+ contributions to the genre.

BERLYN’S RECOMMENDATIONS

The two short films I picked to share with you both explore relationships that need a little push to get to the next step. Whether that push leads to the couple exploring more of each other or falling apart, the push forward is always necessary. But sometimes the means aren’t ideal.

1. Gorilla (12 minutes)

A couple encounters a stranger while camping and things get strange quickly.
 

Set in the woods on a camping trip, writer/director Tim Marshall immediately creates a secluded and vulnerable atmosphere in Gorilla.

Camping in certain areas means there aren’t any people around, and the loneliness can be haunting. But when people do show up, it can be even more haunting.

Gorilla features a couple, Sean (Gary Abrahams) and Joel (Alex Duncan), who are out having a camping trip to themselves, expecting to just see some stars. They entertain themselves with those deep conversations that you can only have in the middle of nowhere in a tent, and a game where they close their eyes and point to a random word in a book. Joel closes his eyes and immediately picks out the word ‘Gorilla’.

The tension between Joel and Sean goes from a fair amount that could be expected on a quiet camping trip, to blatantly obvious once a woman (Chloé Boreham) shows up and the two feel compelled to keep her company.

The horror in Gorilla lies in the unknown and the odd. This isn’t an outright terrifying film, but there is some intense fear hiding behind the unknown and the ability to become vulnerable in those situations.

When Joel finds a gorilla mask in the woman’s luggage, it’s really hard to tell what the possibilities are. What is this woman planning? Why a gorilla mask? Does it have anything to do with the game from before?

Too many questions create a delightfully uncomfortable state of anticipation and mystery in Gorilla.

2. Itsy Bitsy Spider (x minutes)

A man struggles to maintain his sanity after discovering a menacing spider in his boyfriend’s apartment.
 

If the title doesn’t give it away, Itsy Bitsy Spider features some spooky spider scenes — so, arachnophobes beware!

Moving in with someone is always a big step, but facing a spider and a troubled relationship makes it all that much more intense.

Itsy Bitsy Spider, written and directed by Brodi-Jo Scalise, takes a paranoid journey between reality and the tormented mind.

Chris (Fletcher Donovan) has just moved far from home to live with his boyfriend Jacob (Thomas Nicholson). And after not seeing each other for 6 months, the distance between them is still noticeable.

Jacob abruptly has to go to work, leaving Chris behind to wander the apartment and his new home. Layers upon layers begin to form once Chris finds a spider and lets his fears get the best of him. While trying to hunt down the spider, he discovers clues that make him suspect Jacob has had an affair.

Balancing the spider, often misunderstood as a malicious creature, with the confusion that Chris experiences as he finds more evidence of infidelity, takes on a world of its own. It can be impossible to tell if the spider is really a spider, or if it’s the voice running around Chris’ mind to make sure he feels his paranoia and actions are righteous.

He quickly takes action and it seems the spider is not the victim here.

For those looking for a different and compelling perspective on spiders, as well as queer relationships, check out Itsy Bitsy Spider.

STEPHANIE’S RECOMMENDATIONS

While I tried to pick three very diverse shorts for your viewing pleasure  — ranging from campy slasher to arthouse folk horror to supernatural thrillers — there are so many more incredible shorts I couldn’t include. Thus, if you are looking for more great queer horror, both from LGBTQ+ filmmakers and stories revolving around queer characters, I recommend you visit Alter’s LGBTQ+ Playlist on YouTube.

1. Steam (15 minutes)

A gay couple goes to a bathhouse for a cheat night, unaware that a killer lurks behind the steam.
 

Brazilian director João Dall’Stella is a native of Brazil who relocated to Los Angeles to start a film career, helming a number of shorts that showcased his take on life as a gay Person of Color. He released his latest, Steam, last year for Pride Month as a free watch on YouTube.

Steam is an intentionally campy slasher mystery about a gay couple who agree to visit a bathhouse together, only one of them is really not into it. Thomas is visibly uncomfortable about the entire experience, but he’s trying to be open-minded for the sake of his older, more sexually adventurous boyfriend Juan. When he expresses his discomfort, Juan gets upset and makes him feel guilty for trying to back out of something he agreed to.

The ultimate reveal of the killer is not surprising, and I don’t think it’s supposed to be. Ultimately, this isn’t really a film about the killer and what their motives are. Instead, it’s about Thomas and his feelings about being in the bathhouse, to begin with.

The horror that begins to unfold all around serves as a fitting metaphor for Thomas’ forced vulnerability, loss of control, and feelings of betrayal. Thomas doesn’t understand why he is not enough for Juan and why Juan feels it so necessary to have a “cheat night”. He’s uncomfortable with the objectification he’s subjected to and the idea of non-emotional intimacy.

Dall’Stella says about the film:

“STEAM is a celebration of the LGBTQ+ community that I’m part of and a combination of personal experiences that I have had throughout my life. It’s fun, thrilling, and scary. The horror genre offers a campy quality that fits perfectly with the queer community and that’s why so many of us love horror films.”

He continues:

“An imperative aspect was to have a cast of LGBTQ+ actors in the short film because when you created something within the community, you promote change to the industry. We need to tell our own stories without sacrificing the authenticity to please the general audience’s eyes.”

João Dall’Stella is an important and influential filmmaker in the queer horror community, and Steam is definitely worth a watch for its embrace of wonderfully campy slashers and its commitment to authentic representation. 

2. The Sermon (11 minutes)

A preacher’s daughter has a secret that could destroy them all.
 

This beautiful, technically masterful folk horror short from director Dean Puckett comes to us via Omeleto, the home of the world’s best short films. The platform showcases critically-acclaimed filmmakers from the Oscars, Sundance, Cannes, and more. If you love the art of the short film as much as we do, you’ll definitely want to make sure to subscribe end explore their extraordinary content catalog. 

Pulling inspiration from British horror films of the 60s and 70s, The Sermon is beautifully shot — set against an idyllic countryside backdrop that shelters an isolated community from the outside world. It’s a community that has chosen to separate itself from corrupt, outside influence and the perceived evils that lie just beyond its beautiful borders.

Everything about the community conveys its place in a time long past — outdated in both lifestyle and ideology when viewed from a modern lens — but not everything is as it seems.

Led by a stern preacher, this community is strict and puritanical; abhorrent of anything or anyone that deviates from their understanding of God’s law. While they preach Christian love, they exhibit unfettered hate for those who don’t subscribe to their understanding of right and wrong. There is no room for gray areas, only black and white.

Ella is the preacher’s daughter. Though properly reserved and dutiful, she has a secret that threatens to upend the peace and controlled order of the small, quiet community.

Rich with allegory, The Sermon weaves a captivating tale that takes audiences on a remarkably rewarding journey in just over 11 minutes. Though the dialogue is sparse, the performances are compelling, and Puckett expertly delivers ample mood and dread.

Puckett is said to be developing the film as a feature, and I can’t wait to see this stunning tale of sexual repression explored on a deeper level. 

3. The Quiet Room (27 minutes)

When Michael attempts suicide without leaving a note, he provokes a terrible demon that haunts the hospital he wakes up in.
 

Michael (Jamal Douglas) is a young, gay, black man who ends up in a psych ward following a suicide attempt. A few of the fellow patients warn him that the hospital is haunted by “Hopeless Hattie,” a psych ward demon who lives in the Quiet Room.

Later, Michael’s new roommate reveals more about the legend of Hattie, including how possessive she is and how she is drawn to men who have attempted suicide — but it’s the suicide notes that keep her subdued. Unfortunately, Michael failed to leave a suicide note, and this leaves him vulnerable to Hattie, who soon takes a very obvious and dangerous interest in him.

It isn’t long before Hattie — shown at first in only creepy glimpses, such as black fingers peeking out from behind a door — starts eliminating anyone she thinks stands in the way of her getting the object of her desire.

The Quiet Room features a mostly queer cast, and the performances are superb. Hattie is played by the popular drag queen/performer known as Alaska Thunderfuck (Season 5 runner-up of RuPaul’s Drag Race as well as the All Stars 2 winner). The film also stars Brian Joseph McCook, known by his drag persona Katya, another beloved Drag Race alumnus (though he appears out of drag), as well as genre icon Lisa Wilcox of Elm Street fame.

Written and directed by Sam Wineman, The Quiet Room boasts a really unique and interesting story, strong acting, stellar visuals, and a fun, climactic ending. 

4. Tonight It’s You (17 minutes)

A man ventures out for a late-night hookup, but things take a dark turn and lead him into something much more sinister than he could ever imagine.
 

This gorgeously shot and surprising short film from Dominic Haxton sumptuously combines the sensual and the scary. It’s atmospheric, suspenseful, and expertly subverts expectations to deliver a couple of genuinely satisfying surprises.

Lonely and bored, a handsome man (CJ) receives a message through a dating app suggesting a late-night hookup. The message and photo — highlighting a man’s toned torso — lead CJ to think he’s in for a sexy, adventurous one-night stand. But when he arrives to meet his date, Hunter, the vibe is immediately off. A text message urges CJ to meet Hunter in the shed out back and to please be extremely quiet. Once in the barn, surrounded by offputting religious paraphernalia, Hunter steps out of the shadows to reveal a shy, awkward young man.

Though he’s not at all what CJ was expecting, and despite a rocky introduction, the two men eventually hit it off and share an intimate tryst. But when his disapproving dad comes looking for him, along with two Christian crusaders, things immediately get uncomfortably tense.

It’s a tension that quickly ratchets up to unbearable levels as there seems to be something more sinister at play than simply religiously-fueled homophobia.

What we end up getting is a smart and unexpected spin on a classic trope that’s both creepy and thoughtfully executed. There’s a masterful manipulation of the audience, taking us down one road only to quickly change course into an even more chilling direction.

As Haxton explains:

“I didn’t want to tell the audience it was a horror film right off the bat but rather ease them into the story and then slowly unravel the horror as the situation escalates in each scene.”

It’s a film that plays on very real fears — being hated for one’s homosexuality and judged for who you love by the people you love most — and then raises the stakes by adding in another layer of terror, all while exploiting the vulnerabilities of meeting a stranger you met off the internet for sex.

Tonight It’s You is a smart, sexy, scary short that will thrill you while making you eager to see more of Haxton’s filmmaking prowess.