It Came from the Closet is an insightful collection of 25 critical essays about the relationship between horror films and queer identity and existence. This collection is less about film criticism and more about personal experiences told through the lens of horror cinema, making these essays accessible and appealing to both academic and general audiences. This collection weaves academic theory and personal memoirs together to produce incising, original pieces of film criticism.
In the volume’s introduction, editor Joe Vallese highlights the complex, storied relationship between the horror genre and the queer community. Considering horror has been historically misogynist, homophobic, transphobic, and ableist, he cuts to the heart of the issue: “How can we find such camaraderie in the very thing that so often slights us?”
S. Trimble offers one solution by anchoring her essay, “A Demon Girl’s Guide to Life”, in scholar Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s notion of reparative reading (Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity 2003). This is a framework that allows audiences to interact with flawed media. It’s used primarily by marginalized audiences, who often must reinterpret texts and media to find representation — harmful or otherwise — in plot and characters. “Horror helped me love my terrible truths,” Trimble writes. “The things about me that disquieted others.”
Trimble sees The Exorcist characters Damien Karras, a priest struggling with his faith, and Regan MacNeil, a girl possessed by an ancient demon, as “queer kin”. In Regan, she sees a fellow monstrous girl whose behaviour and appearance starkly contrast with traditional, acceptable girlhood. In Karras, she sees a queer elder whose selfless actions give Regan a second chance at life. Many of the other essays employ a reparative reading framework as well.
Unsurprisingly, there are a good number of essays that touch on the representation of the Other in horror films — the ostracized, the condemned, the villainized, and the judged. As a marginalized group, queer folks often see themselves reflected in horror media, providing unique insights into the genre. “It is our distorted mirror image, our secret self,” Carrow Narby writes. “We are as ambivalent toward the monster as we are toward ourselves.”
In “Sight Unseen”, Spencer Williams finds “begrudging” kinship with the titular witch in The Blair Witch Project. Williams writes about the “obvious parallels” between the Blair Witch, described as a woman covered in hair, and “the obvious parallels to the experience of trans womanhood — the constant plucking and tweezing and fussing for the purposes of achieving that impossibly twisted feminine-coded hairlessness.”
In their essay “Indescribable”, which meditates on the notion of gendered bodies and identities, Narby also finds relatability with the titular creature in The Blob. Society is so taxonomical regarding gender that it renders those without a gender identity indescribable. According to Narby, the blob also “resists legibility” and “dissolves boundaries” similarly.
Other essays project queer context onto films that might not be inherently viewed as such. In their essay about Jaws, Jen Corrigan makes a convincing re-reading of the film through a queer lens. In one of the volume’s more iconic lines, Corrigans asks, “is there really anything gayer than three men on a boat?” Through this lens, interactions between two of the film’s characters, Hooper and Brody, evoke a new sense of intimacy.
Not every essayist in the collection is interested in reparative reading. In “The Girl, the Well, the Ring”, Zefyr Lisowski does not look to redeem or reinterpret horror but instead takes the genre at face value. Lisowski examines two films, The Ring and Pet Sematary, that present disability as something to be feared. “These movies hurt me and I kept watching them,” she writes. “There’s nothing redemptive about that. They were all I had.” Lisowski uses horror to critically examine disability justice, and the medical and healthcare industry, and through it all, sees a path forward for disabled folks.
Other standout essays include “Both Ways” by Carmen Maria Machado and” Loving Annie Hayworth “by Laura Maw. Machado’s essay challenges accusations of queerbaiting in the film Jennifer’s Body and instead views it as an exploration of the “transitory” nature of bisexuality. “There is such little grace given to the perfect messiness of desire,” she writes. In “Loving Annie Hayworth”, Maw examines a complex personal relationship with another woman through the lens of queer subtext in The Birds.
Sumiko Saulson examines the remake of Candyman in an essay that explores the link between queerness, Blackness, and racialized social policy. Sam Autman’s essay, “Black Body Snatchers”, on navigating life as a Black gay man in Utah, discusses how Get Out “captures the perpetual awkwardness of an intersectional life.”
Like any collection, It Came from the Closet is not without its weaker entries — a few of the essays have tenuous connections at best to the horror films described and feel shoehorned into the theme or drift too far into navel-gazing territory — but the majority are well worth the time. Vallese has compiled a diverse collection of insightful essays demonstrating the breadth and depth of queerness as it relates to the horror genre, offering rich, novel insight into the topic.