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(Nonfiction Review) It Came From the Closet, edited by Joe Vallese

Summary: Through the lens of horror—from Halloween to Hereditary—queer and trans writers consider the films that deepened, amplified, and illuminated their own experiences.

Horror movies hold a complicated space in the hearts of the queer community: historically misogynist, and often homo- and transphobic, the genre has also been inadvertently feminist and open to subversive readings. Common tropes—such as the circumspect and resilient “final girl,” body possession, costumed villains, secret identities, and things that lurk in the closet—spark moments of eerie familiarity and affective connection. Still, viewers often remain tasked with reading themselves into beloved films, seeking out characters and set pieces that speak to, mirror, and parallel the unique ways queerness encounters the world.

It Came from the Closet features twenty-five essays by writers speaking to this relationship, through connections both empowering and oppressive. From Carmen Maria Machado on Jennifer’s Body, Jude Ellison S. Doyle on In My Skin, Addie Tsai on Dead Ringers, and many more, these conversations convey the rich reciprocity between queerness and horror.

Review: Horror nonfiction is consistently underrated among our circles. Quite often, our little fandom produces some of the most fun pieces of critical literature you’ll find. At worst, a publisher and an author will have a book with little production value that nonetheless holds a lot of passion. I’ve yet to find any in this genre that could be considered truly “boring.” 

It Came From The Closet, however, is in a league of its own. This essay collection combines film criticism with queer memoir, creating a truly unique reading experience. 

It definitely could not have come in a greater time for queer horror. While the United States continues to roll back queer and trans rights, horror’s queer fandom is experiencing a renaissance (a coincidence? or related?). 

Shudder has just released its documentary mini-series Queer For Fear. Clive Barker’s Hellraiser (2022) has returned in a reboot more firmly leaning into the story’s queer themes with a gay male couple and a trans woman, Jamie Clayton, taking the role of Pinhead. 

Amongst this renaissance, It Came From the Closet stands out as a bold, ambitious little collection of essays. Each submission follows a similar pattern: a writer chooses one horror film among many and proceeds to break down the film’s queer reading while also relating to several episodes of their life. It sounds simple, almost quaint, the way I put it. 

In practice? The format creates some of the best film and autobiographical writing I’ve ever read. 

To tell the truth, it’s hard to narrow down my favorites. So many of these essays are just perfect. An early standout is “Both Ways” by Carmen Maria Machado. This selection focuses on Jennifer’s Body (2009) and the way the film illuminates the unique bisexual experience. In particular, Machado’s ruminations on the limits of current queerbaiting discourse provide a relatable explanation of what bisexual people (me included) often feel in queer spaces: 

“I am sympathetic to the desire to name and shame queerbaiting – it is, after all, an attempt to protect queerness from dilution, from interlopers, from accusations of unseriousness – but every piece of present-day me bristles against it. Who established these terms? Why is it always bisexuals who seem to fall afoul of these rules? It always struck me as odd to think of public queerness in heterosexual terms, even for ostensibly progressive reasons.” 

Another standout essay is “The Wolf-Man’s Daughter” by Tosha R. Taylor. Unsurprisingly from the title, Taylor chooses to focus on the Universal classic, The Wolf Man (1941). This essay made me especially happy because it explicates something I believed of the werewolf trope for a long time: its inherent queerness. Taylor’s biographical exploration of a closeted queer childhood in Appalachia and her decision to compare it to Larry Talbot’s condition reads as incredibly true to life, including my own. 

“Bad Hombre” by Sarah Fonseca, another wonderful pick, manages to hit an intersection I never thought of before: queerness, an abusive father dynamic, and Cuban identity. Centering on the psychological horror film Eres tu, Papa? (2018), Fonseca plays a difficult game. At turns, it’s a review, an exploration of the complexities of the Cuban diaspora, the complicated relationships between queer daughters and their fathers, and a rumination on the cycle of abuse. Truthfully, it’s quite a difficult piece of art to explain, and I won’t ruin the experience by mangling it up with my own insufficient prose. 

While I’ve only spoken on three of the essays in this book, make no mistake: not a single one disappoints. This is utterly unique in any anthology, even nonfiction ones. It Came From the Closet is a true diamond in a coal mine. If you happen to catch its gorgeous gleam in the darkness, don’t ignore it. Pick this baby up this October, and delve into the complicated legacy horror has left all of us. 

If you would like to support me and my work, I have a Patreon and a Ko-fi!

Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.
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