We’re living in an age where the queer community and the horror community have met at an accessible crossroads, and it’s one of a heck of an awesome place to be at. Monthly, I will be meeting you at this crossroads, and sharing queer aspects of films past and present. Some of these aspects will be blatant, and some will be closeted, but in the end, the queer parts of the things that go bump in the night will be explored in Queer Frights.
Fred Dekker’s Night of the Creeps (1986) is a beloved 80s horror that combined the campy alien invasion films of the 50s with t he film’s time of zombie hootenanny shenanigans. The film begins in 1959 when an alien shoots a mysterious canister into space. The canister lands on our planet Earth, and amidst a serial killer’s reign of terror, the contents of the canister become locked in a murder victim. Fast forward to 1986, and this murder victim’s cryogenic body becomes the source of a fraternity prank, releasing the contents of that canister – space slugs that inhabit a person’s mind, turning them into zombie creatures – among a campus of unsuspecting victims.
The main focus of this month’s Queer Frights is main characters, Chris (Jason Lively), and his best friend, J.C. (Steve Marshall). When they’re introduced, they are at a pledge party for a fraternity. The conversation immediately delves into the sexual frustration that the two are experiencing. Within a minute, the object of Chris’ affection is introduced in the form of Cynthia (Jill Whitlow). J.C. makes it his singular goal of that night to introduce Chris and Cynthia, and spark the flame between the two.
“there’s a connection [between Chris and J.C.] that is rarely seen between two male characters in an 80s horror film.”
Within that minute or two of dialogue between the two friends, there’s a connection that is rarely seen between two male characters in an 80s horror film. The closest that I can compare Chris and J.C.’s relationship is the relationship between Jimmy (Crispin Glover) and Ted (Lawrence Monoson) in Friday the 13th IV: The Final Chapter (1984), yet there was still an abundance of testosterone present. Chris and J.C.’s relationship portrays a more emotional connection.
They are open with each other and their physical interactions are organic. They put their arms around each other as comfortably as you would your own family or your love. There’s no testosterone or a “no homo” stance that limits the interactions that they have between each other. This completely negates the majority of male relationships shown in horror films during the 80s and throughout the next 2 decades or so.
If you’re among the viewers who enjoy delving deeper into the relationships shown on screen then you’ll notice there may be something a little more than a friendship between the two. At least as far as one of the characters is concerned.
J.C. is crippled. He doesn’t have full use of his legs so he relies on crutches to carry him around. It’s not just the crutches that he relies on. He relies on Chris. Not that he has to because J.C. comes across as a pretty independent person. It could be because J.C.’s reliance comes from a deeper level than just friendship. J.C. could very well be in love with his best friend.
Being an 80’s film, there’s no outright declaration that J.C. has love for Chris, but there are hints strewn throughout the entire film. It truly begins after they have their first interaction with the body from 1959. After attempting to steal the body for a fraternity prank, the body grabs one of them, and they make a run for it. When they get back to their dorm room, J.C. makes light of the situation, and Chris argues that it’s not a situation to make light. J.C. retorts with a monologue that expresses that he does whatever he can to make Chris happy, and Chris never appreciates it. He also mentions that Chris doesn’t even know why he does what he does for him, and if he takes everything seriously, depression can settle in because that’s when the truth comes out. The hidden truth is that J.C. is in love with Chris, and does what he can to make Chris happy. Since he can’t express his emotion outwardly, the use of humor to cover up his true feelings has to suffice.
“The hidden truth is that J.C. is in love with Chris, and does what he can to make Chris happy.”
There is an instance where J.C.‘s work to bring Chris and Cynthia together is successful, but the disappointment shows on his face. It’s evident when Chris is trying to console Cynthia after she experiences a zombieriffic moment, and puts his arm around her. J.C.’s eyes zone in on Chris’ arm with an expression of jealousy and possible sadness. Moments later, J.C. departs from the budding couple, no longer finding his existence necessary.
The true highlight of J.C.’s feels comes out in the recorded message left for Chris after J.C. has been infected with the alien slugs. There’s an entire monologue given by J.C. on the recorder, but there are three words spoken that is rarely – if ever – heard between two male characters within the horror genre during the 80s: “I love you.” Chris’ response to those words is purely emotional, and in the moment after, he rushes to the location that J.C. said he would be. Sadly, he finds that J.C. didn’t succeed in fighting the slug infestation, and in that moment, Chris becomes hellbent on retribution.
The recording that J.C. leaves Chris represents – possibly unintentionally – a dire moment in not just queer history but general history that was present within 1986; “There’s one inside me. Got in through my mouth. I can feel it. It’s in my brain. I don’t have a pulse or a heartbeat. I think I’m dead.” The AIDS crisis was still present during those times, and it represents how the crisis was viewed during those days. If an individual contracted AIDS, back then, the possibility of death was imminent. If you listen to interviews of queer people who lived through the AIDS crisis of the 80s, you will hear them say that if they never saw or heard from their friend for a while, you just assumed that they were dead. Chris’ attempt to race to J.C.’s side after hearing the news only to find him dead mirrors many people’s stories.
Whether the queer representation within Night of the Creeps be intentional or not, it’s there. The relationship between Chris and J.C. is a wonderful one, even without the romantic connotations that I’ve presented. Relationships between same-sex individuals need not be determined by the social norms that were present within the 80s or that are present now. If there is love then there is love. All love should be expressed whether it be romantic, or purely platonic, and should be representative of care and respect for a person. Whether or not the guys’ relationship is representative of one-sided love, or a friendship between two souls, the respect that is shown through their relationship on the same-sex spectrum is superb.
“Whether the queer representation within Night of the Creeps be intentional or not, it’s there.”
Queer Frights found in Night of the Creeps hit upon some pretty deep topics. If anything can be taken away from the film, it is to love your friends. Don’t let heteronorms inhibit your emotions. Your friend just may be infected with alien slugs, and then there’s no friend to love.