WHY YES, I DO LIKE TO WATCH.
Of course, Make a Wish isn’t the only horror film that features lesbian and bisexual characters and their on-screen shenanigans. Sure, there’s plenty of exploitative on-screen action available, particularly in this genre (more of that in a bit), but you may be surprised to learn that some of these movies feature well-adjusted women who just happen to be queer.
A surprisingly progressive example of this comes courtesy of one of my favorite films, director Robert Wise’s The Haunting (1963). Based on the novel The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, the film is a masterful exercise in using minimalist techniques to achieve maximum scares — this is definitely a movie to watch while huddled under blankets with a loved one.
The story is simple: Four people stay in a house (a house, they say, that was “born bad”) to document the paranormal goings-on. Theo (Claire Bloom), a lesbian gifted with ESP, quickly takes a shine to fellow investigator Eleanor (Julie Harris). Watch this scene as Theo employs a classic approach (booze her up and make your move!) and implies far more than you’d think possible in a single “No”:
Ah, if only those dang ghosts didn’t have to interrupt! Though Theo’s sexuality in The Haunting is ultimately never more than heavily implied, there’s no doubt that the filmmakers intended that she was, in fact, a lesbian. Apparently there was originally a sequence early in the film depicting Theo fighting with her girlfriend before she heads off to Hill House, going so far as to scrawl “I hate you!” on a mirror with lipstick; unfortunately the scene was excised when filmmakers decided it made things “too obvious.”
Because there’s really only the implication that she’s homosexual, there’s very little negative commentary on Theo’s sexuality, which is rather remarkable given that The Haunting was made in 1963. At one point, however, Eleanor lashes out at Theo, calling her one of “nature’s mistakes.” While you might consider this to be an insult, I myself do not. In my experience, I’ve found nature’s mistakes to be strictly awesome, like that time I was eating Cheese Nips and I pulled three connected crackers out of the box. Boy, what a day that was!
Another film that takes a surprisingly casual (and wonderfully welcome) approach to a character’s lesbianism is the 1978 made-for-TV thriller Someone’s Watching Me!, directed by John Carpenter (and recently made available for the first time on DVD). Lauren Hutton stars as Leigh Michaels, a television executive who starts a new job in a new city only to find herself harassed — and eventually outright threatened — by an aggressive Peeping Tom. When she first meets her new assistant, Sophie (Adrienne Barbeau), there’s the briefest mention of Sophie’s preferences:
… and that’s that. Sophie’s not there for titillation; she’s not there to make a grand social statement; she’s just, well, there. And she’s a lesbian. It’s amazing that such a simple notion can be so revolutionary, isn’t it?