by Yuvthi Misser
Disclaimer: if you have not yet read my article on the exploration of sapphism in horror, I recommend you do so for context before reading this article. Queer people and specifically queer women have been treated as invisible for many decades and have never had reliable representation in western media. Thankfully, due to a progressive society, we are seeing more and more sapphic representation in the media and as the saying goes, it can only get better from here. That does not come without its own issues such as misrepresentation and further marginalised sapphics not being represented. Horror is a specific genre that sapphics seem to identify with due to either the queer relationships presented or the queer coding of characters.
Without further ado, here is a list of some sapphic/sapphic-coded horror movies that give me – and possibly give you – a rush of serotonin.
Jennifer’s Body (2009)
1h 47 mins
Jennifer’s Body is perhaps one of the more well-known sapphic horror-comedies, that has a massive cult following on social media and pop culture. It is a good example of a horror movie that aged like fine wine. Upon its initial release, the film was met with much backlash and was treated as a box office failure due to it only meeting around two times its budget of $16 million. Rowan Ellis explains that Megan Fox’s sexist treatment in Hollywood, the film’s failed marketing strategy, and the progressive storyline that was too soon for 2009 all contributed to the film being a failure. However, after more than 10 years since its release, Jennifer’s Body has been welcomed by the sapphic community. Had the gory thriller about a teenage girl being possessed by a demonic succubus come out today it would have fared much better than it did in the late 2000s.
The film is narrated by Anita Lesnicki (Amanda Seyfried) otherwise known as “Needy.” From the halls of a behavioural health hospital, she tells the story of her former best friend, Jennifer Check (Megan Fox). They were an unlikely duo, Jennifer being a shining example of a desirable, teenage girl who is also a cheerleader, whereas Needy is more reserved, and introverted – deeming her as undesirable to most of the boys around her. The two have a plan to see the famous boy band “Low Shoulder,” but that is quickly ruined when the bar they go to catches fire and everyone is forced to evacuate. During the ensuing chaos, Jennifer boards the boy band’s minibus much to Needy’s disapproval. After realising that she could be in potential danger, Jennifer starts to panic.
The boys tie her up in an undisclosed part of the woods and kill her brutally in order to sacrifice her virgin soul to the devil in exchange for fame. After the boys leave her for dead, Jennifer emerges from the woods. The next day Needy asks what happened to Jennifer the night before, to which Jennifer does not pay any mind. Later on, after the school is grief-stricken by the lives lost during the fire, Jennifer seduces and eviscerates the football captain in a fleeting but terrifying shot of Jennifer’s gaping mouth revealing sharp rows of teeth. The film ends in blood and tragedy.
Several things point to Needy and Jennifer both being sapphic, most famously the make-out scene that occurs just before Jennifer tells Needy about her possession. There are other things like Jennifer telling Needy that she “goes both ways,” when referring to how she was going to kill her when they were fighting in the pool. Regardless of the many obvious sapphic undertones, Jennifer’s Body’s main strength is how progressive it was for the time it was made. Yes, it does contain your average poorly aged 2000’s humour but the overall storyline resonates strongly with contemporary culture. You have two empowering women in a sapphic-coded friendship, one of which many women empathise within a post-MeToo world. All in all, Jennifer’s Body has earned a spot on the sapphic horror wall of fame and could even be considered a blueprint for sapphic horrors that came after it.
Fear Street trilogy (2021)
The Fear Street trilogy that was released to Netflix this year in July is a glowing example of the intersection between sapphism and horror. The trilogy is loosely adapted from Goosebumps writer R.L. Stine’s book series of the same name, about a small town called Shadyside and the horrendous events which occur there. The director of the Netflix trilogy, Leigh Janak, sought to keep certain elements from the books while bringing a sense of exhilaration to the movies. Fear Street has already garnered a large fanbase due to the switching time frame, the fantastic casting, and of course, sapphism.
Since the trilogy was only released nearly a month ago, I will refrain from outlining the plot details of all three movies. However, I will issue a spoiler warning here.
Fear Street is a “win for the lesbians” because of their two explicitly lesbian main characters – Deena (Kiana Madeira) and Sam (Olivia Scott Welch) – and their open and honest relationship. In Part Three 1666, it is revealed that Sarah Fier, the witch said to have cursed Shadyside, is a lesbian as well and was ultimately lynched for witchcraft because of this. I have much respect and adoration for the Fear Street trilogy because it appreciates lesbians and women in general. At the onset of the first film, it seems to be just an exciting and fun film about a lesbian teenager and her friends and how they struggle to rid Shadyside of the curse. But as the movies progress it turns into a deeper commentary on the way women are treated and the way hatred and hysteria can ruin lives generations later. At the very end, it is revealed that Sarah Fier did not curse the land of Shadyside but was the only person who knew the truth about the curse, which would lead Deena, the protagonist, to break the curse. Furthermore, in 1666, where Deena experiences Sarah’s life through her own eyes we see all the characters we have come to know from the first two movies play the roles of the people around her, illustrating that everything is connected in this universe whether that be in a literal or figurative sense.
Thoroughbreds might be a lesser-known film among contemporary audiences but is still a hidden gem in the horror/thriller genre. Upon its worldwide release, the film had received many positive reviews, such as “American Psycho meets Heathers.” It is one of my personal favourites because one of my favourite film tropes is when women plot to kill a man who has wronged them or will do anything to get what they want, regardless of the moral implications.
Lily is assigned as a tutor to Amanda, her former best friend, and the two meet at Amanda’s luxurious home. The two have not conversed since Lily’s father had died and since then Lily’s mother has remarried a man named Mark. Lily pretends that Amanda’s mother did not pay her to be friends with Amanda but even when the information is revealed, Amanda doesn’t show any care towards this. It is unclear whether Amanda is a sociopath but it can be inferred from the lack of empathy and emotion as well as her views on people in general.
Due to Amanda’s callous nature, she asks Lily if she thought about killing Mark and Lily does not respond but is clearly distressed. Later on, after a heated argument with Mark, after he places her in an all girls’ boarding school and witnessing him berate her mother, Lily contacts Amanda about reconsidering. Lily suggests that Amanda should kill Mark because Amanda would feel no remorse. However, Amanda’s pending animal cruelty charges would make her the top suspect in the investigation. Eventually, the two devise a plan where they threaten a local drug dealer Tim to commit the murder while the two girls are out of town. The plan goes awry and later Lily waits for Amanda to fall asleep and kills Mark, smearing his blood on Amanda and leaving the knife in her hands. The shot closes with Lily laying down with her head in Amanda’s lap. Amanda writes letters to Lily from the hospital, where she fantasises about a world where humanity has been superseded by thoroughbred horses.
This film is where the issue of queerbaiting comes to mind because it is not explicitly said that Amanda and Lily have a romantic relationship that goes beyond the barrier of their twisted friendship. However, there is a scene where Amanda teaches Lily how to fake cry using a breathing technique that is akin to hyperventilating. The scene is mostly funny to watch but there is a thin layer of homoerotic tension especially considering that Mark walks in on them and eyes them strangely. While Lily and Amanda never express any romantic attraction to each other, it is quite the gesture to be willing to be committed to a psychiatric hospital for the rest of your life just so that you could cover up for your friend. Their friendship is ambiguous, to say the least, and it works for the film because the general tone of the film is odd and dark, with humour dispersed in uncomfortable moments.
Black Swan (2010)
Ending off with one of my favourites, Black Swan is a classic in the horror/thriller genre and most people often overlook the queer aspect to the already important issues being addressed. The film gathered four Academy Award nominations and one award for Natalie Portman for her performance as Nina.
Nina is a 28-year-old who lives with her overbearing mother as she dances in a ballet company in New York. The director, Thomas, is looking for a new ballerina to play both the White Swan and the Black Swan in Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. While Nina, who is as innocent and fragile as the White Swan, dances the White Swan perfectly she cannot do the same for the Black Swan. After trying to persuade Thomas to reconsider her for the role, he kisses her and she retaliates by biting him and flees. Much to her surprise, Nina is cast as the lead for Swan Lake. It is after a rough encounter with former lead Beth (Winona Ryder), that Nina is introduced to a new addition, Lily (Mila Kunis), to the company who embodies the sensuality that Nina cannot master. This is also when Nina starts to hallucinate and find worrying scratch marks on her back. Against her mother’s wishes and as an act of rebellion, Nina goes to a club with Lily who spikes her drink. Under the influence, Nina begins to flirt with various men and then comes home to her worried mother, who she ruthlessly yells at and then locks herself in her room with Lily, whom she ends up having sex with. When she wakes the next morning, Nina is late for her dress rehearsal and when she eventually gets there she sees that Lily has replaced her for the time being. Angry and confused, she confronts Lily about the replacement and the night before. Lily denies sleeping with her and says that she went home after she dropped Nina off. Nina begins to hallucinate even more and questions whether the sexual encounter she had with Lily was even real to begin with, and as a result, starts to unknowingly injure herself. Through a series of confusing events, questioning Nina’s sanity, and finally performing both roles, the tragic truth is revealed. As the theatre erupts in cheers and her fellow performers gather to congratulate her Thomas notices the blood spilling from Nina’s wound - the wound she had thought she inflicted on Lily. When asked why she hurt herself, she responds with the chilling words, “I was perfect.”
Black Swan is a film that will imprint on viewers for the long run, both for its disturbing visuals and hallucinations and its all-too-real commentary on womanhood and perfectionism. However, I will admit, that the queerness in this film can be mistaken to be associated with her psychiatric hallucinations but it is essentially open to interpretation. While the psychiatric elements of Black Swan should not be ignored as a whole, a queer-coded reading is possible. Although Nina did eventually embody the Black Swan, she had to learn how to be a sexual being and this is where the scene of Nina and Lily comes into play. It is only after this scene that she can master the sensuality of the White Swan’s counterpart, which is a part of herself that she is unfamiliar with. In essence, the experience or rather hallucination with Lily becomes Nina’s gay awakening. After dancing the Black Swan she is portrayed in a light where she is considered “free” and “perfect,” even if it is to her detriment. Her situation is similar to a lot of queer experiences, such as an overbearing mother and a feeling of otherness when it comes to experiencing sexuality. However, in terms of “good lesbian representation”, this is walking the fine line between fetishized and being something that does not play one of the bigger issues of the story. While this gay awakening is not the only reason for Nina’s downfall as it is her obsession with being the perfect Black Swan that causes her to spiral out of control.