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The history of horror as a genre is a long one, stretching all the way back to 19th-century authors like Mary Shelley, Oscar Wilde and Bram Stoker. What do these three authors — as well as many other horror authors, filmmakers and works — all have in common? In short, queerness. Queer artists and themes have historically occupied, and dominated, the horror genre ever since its creation. Their contributions to horror in film and literature have played an integral role in shaping the classic stories we are familiar with today. “Queer for Fear: The History of Queer Horror,” the newest addition to AMC Network’s spooky streaming platform Shudder, aims to explore the Queer history of one of the world’s most popular genres, giving those Queer pioneers and artists the spotlight they deserve. 

“Queer for Fear” thoroughly examines the long history of horror through a Queer lens, citing both novels and their on-screen adaptations, as well as the extensive accounts of many Queer authors’ and directors’ personal lives and experiences. The show also calls on other horror enthusiasts, such as film directors, producers, authors and critics, to aid in the analysis of various bodies of work with less-than-subtle subtexts.

The series dissects the clear connection between the period’s perception of Queer people and classic horror tropes — monsters on the outermost edges of society whose lives exist at the very intersection of terror and taboo, disgustingly seductive outcasts that draw innocents into their web of deviance, the worst kinds of creatures partaking in the worst kinds of activities. Through the exploration of these tropes alongside an analysis of each gothic horror fiction’s underlying Queer themes, “Queer for Fear” begins a thrilling and beautiful investigation of the aspects of the history of horror that are frequently cast aside.

The first episode of the four-part anthology introduces the audience to some of the aforementioned founders of horror, starting the series off strong with a deep dive into each novel from these three pop stars of horror. The episode works to decode the intricate themes and underlying meaning in some of the genre’s most famous stories, launching into an in-depth breakdown of the genre’s most famous and iconic works: Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray” and Stoker’s gothic masterpiece “Dracula.” Each author had a unique Queer identity, shown in the episode with various verified historical documents, that hugely impacted each of their bodies of work.

The show’s panel of authors not only explores the identity of the infamous authors but the identity of their monsters as well. In many works of horror, including the three novels examined in this premiere episode, the bigger themes can be most easily identified through an analysis of the story’s principal villain — a monster who may not really be a monster at all. Take “Frankenstein,” a novel in which a young and overambitious student attempts to create his own misguided version of a human being. In his pursuits, he creates a monster who eventually becomes obsessed with his master — and vice versa. Despite Victor Frankenstein’s disdain for his own creation (and yes, Frankenstein is the man, not the monster) what we see as readers is that the monster is really a distorted version of Frankenstein himself — one that Frankenstein desperately wants to ignore and hide away from society. The theme of repressed second selves is a common one in Queer literature, and “Frankenstein” is no exception.

The same can be said for “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” another novel centered around the duality of man, false virtues and repressed identity. In maintaining a false and eternal youth, Dorian Gray dooms himself to being consumed by the true self that he has hidden away. Finally, we have “Dracula,” which is in itself a story of the author’s own repressed identity and representative of his deep fear of his own sexuality. These themes of double-selves and deep repression of monstrous identities as highlighted by the cast of “Queer for Fear” make the Queer subtext of these three novels crystal clear, bringing forth an intriguing narrative that may have otherwise gone unnoticed. 

The excellence of “Queer for Fear” is defined not only by its in-depth analysis of horror literature but by the fact that it’s accessible and entertaining. The show’s style is not simply a dry documentary, but a collaborative effort between eccentric experts and the resulting engaging narration creates an accessible analysis of all works discussed. The passion of the cast for all things Queer, horror and goth sparks enthusiasm in the audience that is integral to provoking discussions of works of fiction that are almost 200 years old. In watching “Queer for Fear: The History of Queer Horror,” you’ll not only find yourself enthralled by the stories and adaptations you might have once found stuffy and boring classics, but you’ll also help to promote the visibility of Queer artists and help to assure their Queerness earns a rightful spot in horror’s history. Either way, you’ll certainly learn a thing or two. 

Daily Arts Writer Annabel Curran can be reached at currana@umich.edu.