Halloween Haunts: The Queer Monster Within by Damian Serbu
What if I could become the monster of a horror film?
Perhaps a lot of kids growing up in the 1980s fantasized about the question; many youngsters must have pondered the idea in their make believe realms.
But for me the question contained more potency. More potential. Because I knew such a monster lurked under the surface of my being. Caged. Waiting to erupt. Wanting to scare everyone around me. I knew such a revelation would thrill and empower me.
The notion first hit at a young age, before I recognized the beast within. Something attracted me to the Wicked Witch of the West in the “Wizard of Oz.” Back in the dark ages of the 1970s, before anyone owned a VCR or possessed any means to watch whatever their heart desired whenever they wanted, everyone waited eagerly each year with the hope their favorite movie would appear on television. I came to know that each spring they showed the “Wizard of Oz” on network television, and I adored the movie! But unlike many of my peers, what entranced me more than anything was the Wicked Witch of the West’s power – her ugly defiance of convention, combined with a certitude she was in the right despite everyone condemning her. I remember playing “Flying Monkeys,” wanting to become part of her army. Too young to ponder the meaning of this attraction I enjoyed the pretend atmosphere. The unashamed Wicked Witch employed the fear of her from those around her to become powerful and free. Well, until an unfortunate bucket of water liquidated her.
Then came “Star Wars” and Darth Vader’s malicious intent. Still young, the possibility of a monster developed further for me in one of the most iconic villains of all time. Darth Vader roamed the galaxy as evil personified. Do his bidding or suffer. Uncontrolled power. Belief in his designs no matter the cost. And here perhaps my mind at least identified that, yes, I had a fondness for the monster and could relate to the idea that he exploited fear of him to control others. Darth Vader appeared to fear nothing as he asserted his will. Unabashedly himself.
So when cable television came to our house and first exposed me to horror films, I had already fantasized about becoming the monster, about seizing the fear people had of the demon growing inside of me to unleash my true self. Also by this time in the 1980s I began to mature and puberty set in. Then, instead of a vague idea of difference, instead of an otherness forming in the back of my mind, the monster spoke to me. The thing people feared transformed into a tangible idea, an acknowledged reality inside me. And the monster wanted out. I knew with great certainty that the ogre would frighten people, so much so that they would come after me if they found out. I heard them utter their fears. My ears perked at any mention of someone who shared my monster, and there I learned how much my hidden self scared people.
I hid that particular monster for self-preservation – others’ fear led me to concealment. I clamped down on the sinister being inside me so others would never know. But when alone – oh, I let the monster fantasize about a release. I let the beast explore the emotion and mature into an identifiable sexual longing. My private mind searched for a way to let the evil flow from me, people’s fears be damned.
I moved into my early teens but could not venture to the movie theater to see a horror film until cable television ended the curse of parental approval and adults monitoring your age at the ticket office. On a sleepover, my friends and I could “go to sleep,” allow parents to wander to their bedrooms, then launch out of our sleeping bags in the family room and turn the TV on low volume – BOOM! There before us came the “Halloween” franchise and a dare to see who could watch the whole thing without closing their eyes. “Friday the 13th” jumped at us in the dark and threatened our safety despite being tucked away in a sheltered home.
The horror film thrill of a good scare enticed me, my heart racing as I peered over my shoulder to make sure the monster never entered the room. Funny, because at the moment two entities lurked to threaten me. The real manifestation of the evil monster from TV, of course, prowled around my mind. Too, perhaps even worse, what if a mom or dad meandered out of their room and caught us watching? Double the danger! Double the thrill!
Again by this time the question I had thought about for years became even more real to me, too. What if I became the monster from one of these films? Michael Myers from “Halloween” and Jason from “Friday the 13th” must have started out as children like me. Going through life, growing up, and trying to obey the rules, all while knowing the monster developed secretly within them. Horror movies offered a release for the tension, a way to explore the possibility without anyone coming after me because no one knew the danger I hid away.
I’m sure Kevin Bacon in “Friday the 13th” attracted me as well, but that particular monster within hit too close to home to be identified with certainty. I found Jason a safer outlet. My mind had taken in the attraction blooming within me, the pull toward wanting to kiss another boy, and I heard loud and clear all the messages condemning such behavior. So like Jason, I threatened the world. Like Jason, I knew I could scare the crap out of people without much effort. But I was too young, too afraid, and hardly a serial killer, so instead of unleashing the beast upon them I controlled it by letting my mind relate to the monster. The power of Jason, the enthralling possibility of taking the internal fear of myself and transforming it into confidence and then holding that over the world, held such an allure.
And next the monster within me came out.
On those late night sleepovers with friends, in private conversations away from adults, as young boys crafted their own selfhood and revealed its nature, my friends learned of my affinity for the monsters. In our make believe world of becoming writers and filmmakers, they relied upon me to play the villain. When we were superheroes, I was the ridiculous bad person. When we fantasized about our own perfect horror movie, I was the monster. I could relate this point of view to them when they stalled at trite portrayals of evil with no dimension – I could explain a monster’s motivation and desires.
My friends could shape themselves as the masculine hero, and often in their minds added a damsel in distress to save. I never worried about participating in that uncomfortable element because the monster never had a romantic attachment. I could dream about being saved by one of the boys without exposing the truth because the monster never required an explanation.
And so the way was paved for “A Nightmare on Elm Street” when the monster and the longings became even more definable. My mind more readily understood reality. While at this stage it meant backing farther into the closet, it also meant coming to terms with the excitement of my monster.
My sexuality became tangible at that moment, too, and terrifying. I got that I was attracted to other young men. It was too early to apply the label of “gay” to the feelings. The notion of gay and attraction to men never crossed paths for my fourteen- and fifteen-year-old self, not in the 1980s. But the beast became an identifiable entity instead of a vague threat. Now I knew why I sensed a monster inside me. Something still told me to never reveal the longing. Be the monster in private and protect yourself.
So what made “A Nightmare on Elm Street” so special? I imagine a combination of timing, attraction, and the monster I had embraced collided with the release of the movie in 1984.
Why does this timing matter? I was an early teen. My hormones raged. My mind was understanding who I was, and how much people feared my sexuality. And I contemplated a life of concealing my true nature while still longing for the beast to come out and scare everyone around me. The movie also came out, no pun intended, during the evolution of my attraction toward monsters when I was ready to take another step forward.
The timing element was closely related to the attraction, of course. Most teens figure out their sexual desires in part by what they see on television and in the movies. And for gay men the escapism of Hollywood allows the fantasy to burgeon in your mind without having to admit the feelings to the public. As I either sat with my friends or watched the movie by myself, everyone imagined my friends and I were scaring each other as nothing more than ridiculous teenagers. No one needed to know I watched in part because the producers assembled a gorgeous cast of young men. When my friends commented on the women, I could smile and distract them with my affinity for Freddy without them knowing I had similar thoughts to theirs, except for Glen, aka Johnny Depp.
The monster started to peek out. But it was still my secret.
And while an attraction to Depp seems obvious to a lot of gay men from the era, I never forgot my true affinity for the monster. I never associated myself with Glen or one of the other hotties running around. I pondered the existence of the monster because Freddy remained safe and those beautiful boys felt so out of my league. And oh, what gorgeous power Freddy brought to the screen. To haunt people in their dreams. To slip away before they caught him. To laugh in the face of their fear. To hold true to himself regardless of the consequences.
Inside and outside I became Freddy. Ironically, I could love him openly without scaring people! I could watch the movie over and over, especially once I owned the VHS! No one worried about what titillated me inside because Damian was just doing his thing of being the monster everyone loved to fear.
Horror movies gave voice to monsters, and so I would embrace the monster within me. I would learn to accept being feared by others because with that fear came control over that which threatened them. If my sexuality scared them to death, so be it. I would welcome my true self and allow their fear of me to consume them and not me. Freddy wrote the final chapter. Freddy bridged the gap between my young mind and my burgeoning self. It would still be several years before I came out. But I already had practice at holding my head high and sticking to my true nature while those around me ran in terror.
Monsters empowered me. Monsters helped me to accept myself. And monsters paved the way for me to come out. When I decided to become a writer, years of stories and monsters swirled in my head, demanding I release them to the world. This explains why I rarely write a horror story with an absolute malevolent monster. I can’t fathom writing about one of those pure evil geniuses of my youth because I related too much to them. My monsters are more complicated. And I’m sure Freddy is proud of what he wrought.
TODAY’S GIVEAWAY: Damian Serbu is giving away a copy of The Vampire’s Angel! Comment below or email email@example.com with the subject HH Contest Entry for a chance to win!
Damian Serbu lives in the Chicago area with his husband and two dogs, Akasha and Chewbacca. The dogs control his life, tell him what to write, and threaten to eat him in the middle of the night if he disobeys. He has published The Vampire’s Angel, The Vampire’s Quest, The Bachmann Family Secret, The Vampire’s Witch, and The Vampire’s Protégé, as well as Santa’s Kinky Elf, Simon and Santa Is a Vampire with NineStar Press.