As a gay man and unlicensed cinephile, I am in perpetual search of quality queer cinema. If you too are familiar with queer cinema then you’ll likely know that the term “quality” isn’t something that often pairs with the subgenre...
...One could spend days and weeks wading through the ignoble detritus, the rare “quality” film serving as a dangerously overdue outcropping of rocks on which to escape the tempest-tost seas of poorly executed coming-of-age stories involving twinks with bee-stung lips and their shepherding lovers that border on statutory. In other words, it’s a fucking slog.
Suffice it to say that by the time I’d even broached the concept of subgenres of a subgenre, for our purposes we’ll say queer horror, I was fully jaded. “Queer” became synonymous with sub-par writing and performance, hackneyed tropes and bitter fantasies never realized by the filmmakers, laid out on screen for the gay equivalent of the soccer mom to weep or flush over. Always white, always wealthy, always fit, hairless, and six-packed subjects primed and ready for their clothes to seemingly dissolve to allow for a seamless transition into a sex scene.
Still, every now and then a special one appears, one that breaks the tired antics. But not often. For all of my lamenting I’m still the eternal optimist and I’m always willing to do a little digging, reading, and watching when a piece of queer cinema comes to my attention. Double that if the feature in question involves horror or science-fiction. So when I heard that Hulu’s Into the Dark series was releasing their second New Year’s entry in the form of a gay slasher called Midnight Kiss I was piqued.
Midnight Kiss is directed by Carter Smith, probably best known for the 2008 horror flick The Ruins and written by Child Eater writer/director, Erlingur Thoroddsen. Kiss follows four gay friends, Cameron (Augustus Prew), Joel (Scott Evans), Logan (Lukas Gage), and Zachary (Chester Lockhart) and their designated fruit fly Hannah (Ayden Mayeri) on a New Year’s holiday to, cue eye roll, Palm Springs, where Joel’s wealthy doctor parents have a summer (?) house. Casual banter punctuated by tight-lipped sullenness hints at a long and complicated history between the bunch and details are parsed out via clunky dialogue delivered with punchy gay millennial affectation.
The crux of their traditional holiday outing is a game, designed to offset the crushing disappointment that comes from waiting to be pulled into a kiss at the stroke of midnight. The rules of the Midnight Kiss are simple, go out, pursue a stranger, kiss them at midnight, and they’re yours until sunrise if you choose and they consent. No regrets. No hard feelings. But as the alcohol consumption increases and the party moves from the crib to the club, tensions and libidos increase until the only thing harder than the feelings are the guys themselves.
When a mysterious figure in fetish gear begins to flicker in and out of existence it’s a welcome break from the moody semi-incestuous nest of passive aggression the group has devolved into, save for Hannah. She remains a figure of perpetual sympathy. Enduring what’s sure to be a sexless weekend with a squad of malcontents and nincompoops. Won’t someone think of Hannah? And the fetish gear, if this were to take place in any setting other than a gay nightclub, it might have seemed menacing. I don’t know, maybe it’ll elicit shivers from a straight audience? Oooh, sexual deviance. *shiver* I can almost hear Roger Smith cooing, “It’s spooky ‘cause it’s gay.”
Look, I tried my very best and my very gayest to enjoy this film and find the rainbow lining to this cloud, but I knew the second we opened with a ginger jock in tight pink swimming trunks immediately abandoning them to begin the parade of ass shots that we were in for a basic white fright. It feels like there’s some unspoken rubric with gay films. Some mystical checklist that one must tick off before even one frame is captured. Is everyone white or the lightest possible shade for their race? Check. Is everyone a size 34 or below? Check. Is any person meant to be a sexual object completely or at least mostly devoid of body hair? Check (to be fair, Joel’s a bit fuzzy). Have we oversexualized everything to within an inch of its life? Check. Have we written out all of the “poors”? Check. Is there at least one cringey daddy/son relationship dynamic? Check.
So now you’re probably asking, “Well, if your expectations were so low, why are you disappointed?” Well, Jan, that’s because I care about my community, both the horror and LGBT communities and I want what’s best for them. I care about representation. I care about how I see us show up for others in the world. I care about horror as a vehicle for telling diverse stories and broadening what the word “horror” means. And above all, I care about storytelling. Did I feel something? Did it touch on something that felt true? Was that touch consensual?
It is in that communal spirit that I am going to ask for better. Is Midnight Kiss the worst gay horror film I’ve ever seen? Certainly not. But a little mining will turn up superior gems like Cthulhu (2007), Hellbent (2004), a direct ancestral blueprint for Midnight Kiss, Let the Right One In (2008), hell, even Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge. And these are just a few. I have nothing but appreciation for Blumhouse Television and Hulu for not only creating this series and providing a platform for it, but being wide in its scope of inclusion. Unfortunately this Kiss left me feeling happy to be single.
Into the Dark: Midnight Kiss is now streaming on Hulu.
Sidenote: Do yourself a favor and give “queer horror” a search. You’ll absolutely never regret it and might even find yourself surprised at some of the things you’ll find are familiar to you on the lists and will afford you a whole new lens through which to view them.
By Paul Bauer