A queer, Liverpool-based horror podcast, you say? Shaun Ponsonby speaks to Jon Larkin and Stephen Moore from Screaming Queenz to discuss queer subtext, horror in the gay community and the metaphors that exist behind the blood and guts.

The cliche about horror is that it enjoys a predominantly heterosexual, male fan base. Think back to the slasher films of the 80s, which undoubtedly prescribed to the male gaze. In most cases, it is a male adversary going up against the innocent female. He terrorises and dominates her, indulging in a masculine fantasy of power.

But, really, that’s just the surface. Horror as a genre has always been used expertly as a satirical metaphor, and reading into these films from other perspectives can bring unexpected results.

This is one of the joys of Screaming Queenz – a Liverpool-based horror podcast, which explores these movies from various viewpoints. Inevitably, with three of the presenters – Jon Larkin, Stephen Moore and Martin Fenerty – being gay men, they often approach the films from a queer perspective, and fourth presenter Jonathan Butler (“the token straight“, as Larkin refers to him) has a love of campy trash that compliments his queer co-stars’ tastes.

What is striking about the podcast is the balance between genuinely fascinating insight and the feeling that this is a group of friends having a laugh about a film they have just watched. Caustic ribbing gives way to thoughtful analysis with such ease and, like all of the best podcasts, makes you want to be a part of the conversation.

In the wake of the release of their live episode, and in celebration of Halloween, we sat down with two of the Screaming Queenz, Jon Larkin and Stephen Moore, to discuss queer subtext, horror in the gay community and the metaphors that exist behind the blood and guts.

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Planet Slop: You’ve just released the live episode – what was the film you were reviewing there?

Jon Larkin: Theatre of Blood from 1973 – I had to remember the roman numerals at the end there. It’s a camp, 70’s British horror movie starring Vincent Price. It ticks all the boxes of the kinds of films we would look at for the podcast, but for whatever reason we haven’t got to it. We’re about 75 episodes in – and it was like “Why haven’t we done this film yet?

PS: How did the live recording come about?

JL: A friend of the podcast, Chris Brown – not that one. He runs Empty Spaces Cinema, and they put films on in unused gallery spaces. We’ve been using the old George Henry Lee’s Building. He brought me in on that, and Showgirls was the first one that I suggested. We were going to do Demons, but then every other bastard decided to show it in Liverpool for Halloween. So he suggested Theatre of Blood, and asked if we would like to do a live podcast. I put the feelers out and it turned out that Stephen was at a Christening…

PS: …and you carried on anyway?!

JL: Oh, we figured nobody would even notice he’s gone, really. [Laughs]

Stephen Moore: I haven’t spoken to you since.

JL: No, this is actually the first time!

SM: It’s tense, really.

JL: But we decided to just go for it. I mean, I was shitting myself.

SM: Well, you’re the main host.

JL: Yeah, it was the first time in three years that I realised how heavy the weight on my shoulders is! [Laughs] No, it was a bit nerve racking but it was fine. We kept it quite quick. It was half an hour, and it was a small audience. We opened it up to the people as well. We said “We’re not just talking at you, if you want to jump in on the podcast at any point, you can”. We did daft things, like a clapometer for what their favourite death was and things like that.

PS: So, where did the original idea for the podcast come? Because three of you are gay, and one of you aren’t…

JL: Our token straight! We thought we’d redress the balance. Usually among straight people there’s a token gay.

SM: And it’s fun to make him uncomfortable.

JL: He’s not a camp person, but his tastes are quite camp and trashy. So he bridges the gap between the straight world and our world.

PS: If you’re the main host, Jon, I’m guessing it was your idea. Where did it come from?

JL: I just started listening to more podcasts a few years ago, a lot of horror ones and they were all the same. It’s funny now because a lot of our listeners are female and they’ll say to us “You are such a refreshing change because all we’re used to is drunk straight men talking about tits”.

PS: And now its drunk gay men…

SM: …talking about tits! [Laughs]

JL: [Laughs] Exactly! There’s not much difference, really! But Martin Fenerty, who only actually came out to me over the last few years about his love of horror – and then I realised that Martin was really into horror films. And I said to him “Well, maybe we should do our own podcast”.

PS: It’s interesting actually, because I’ve always felt like there is such a strong horror following in the gay community, why do you think that this is considered so niche if that’s the case?

SM: The creators still seem to aim things at straight audiences. It’s just a by-product, but gay people naturally cling on to things that have female-centric characters going up against the bad, or the evil. And these are things that a gay audience tends to be drawn towards. So even though horror content is very rarely aimed at us, it resonates with that gay audience.

JL: I should say that other than us, Trilogy of Terror and this cool podcast called Nasty Pasty I’ve been listening to, I really don’t know of that many others and I really don’t know why. Film podcasts in general tend to be dominated by the straight male voice and that’s fine but I reckon if you’re queer, you like horror or films and you also like podcasts then just do what I did and go “I’m gonna have a go at that!” You should also get yourself three other fabulous voices like Martin Fenerty, Stephen Moore and Jonathan Butler, it’s more fun than doing it alone!

PS: And you do veer into queer theory during the discussions.

JL: We also talk about queer representation in horror and thrillers and film in general. We did a great one on William Friedkin’s Cruising, which isn’t horror but shares many elements with giallo films, which are Italian slice and dice thrillers. That film was attacked by the gay community on its release for giving a detrimental view of queer leather fetish culture, but interestingly many of the leather men from that scene defended it. We talk about whether that’s an attack on the film or an attack by buttoned up John Lewis gays on dirty fetish queens who are giving them a bad name. We also get to talk about Al Pacino and cruising down Otterspool woods in the same podcast – who else could do that?!

PS: How long ago was it that you first started, did you say three years?

SM: Three years this Christmas. In fact, Christmas day was our first episode.

PS: And what was the first one?

JL: Well, we put two out didn’t we? We had about a 20 minute intro setting out what we were going to do, and then we did Hammer Horror.

SM: I had no knowledge.

PS: You had no knowledge of Hammer Horror?!

SM: I’m younger!

PS: That’s no excuse!

JL: One of the reasons I thought of Stephen was because we chatted online about horror movies, and he just happens to be in a different…tick box to me. I’m not going to say he’s younger than me! [Laughs] But I thought that was interesting. Then there is Martin, who brings a measured, thoughtful view on films and he’s a big lover of the classics like Baby Jane and King Kong. It’s interesting when we talk about video nasties and that whole moral outrage and Tory control of the time because he was growing up then and has a great insight. He’s also got a wicked sense of humour and loves to be shocked and horrified. And then Jonathan Butler, the token straight, I’ve known him for years. He really knows his shit, and he introduced me to films like…well, he’s a big Showgirls fan and he introduced me to this obscure Linda Blair film from the 80s called Savage Streets, which is one of the films she made post-Exorcist. She went down the route of exploitation and getting her boobs out on screen. And it’s like a big revenge thriller, but mashed with a Pat Benetar video.

PS: That sounds amazing!

JL: Yeah, well, it isn’t horror so we haven’t covered it. Maybe we will one day. But Jonathan brings a quiet reassuring voice but will also be the first to say “No that’s bullshit because…” and often pulls the rug from under us by spotting themes or easter eggs that we hadn’t noticed.

PS: Would you branch out into other genres?

SM: We have branched out a little bit.

JL:  We have, and we plan to do more as well, because we’re planning at Christmas to do Showgirls, because a lot of people will consider that to be horror.

SM: And we’ve done a lot of euro-sleaze.

👉A Boozy Afternoon with Sonic Yootha👈

PS: How do you pick the films? Do you take it turns, or do you decide on a list?

SM: No, we really just see what resonates that week.

JL: We’re not particularly formal about it. At the beginning of the year we sit down and write a long list, and then if we run out of ideas, Jonathan will get out his trusty list and say “Well, we haven’t done this, and we haven’t done that”. We started out by going for the queerest horror we could find, ranging from Bride of Frankenstein to Daughters of Darkness which is a pretty obscure lesbian vampire movie from the 70s. But really we just want to talk horror because we all love it so much – and with three gay men and a straight guy who loves camp trash you’re always going to have the queer voice filtering through so I think we still bring something pretty unique.

PS: What you were saying earlier about the age bracket, what is it that Stephen brings to the table from that perspective?

JL: His love for millennial slashers and musical theatre brings a lot of fun and banter to the table. He’s loved horror since he was a kid like I have so we always connect over that but sometimes we do a lot of the older classics he hasn’t seen so it’s a great buzz to see him enjoying and appreciating that stuff for the first time. We also enjoy the fact that he traumatises his boyfriend by making him sit through cannibal porn, whereas Stephen is really a trash queen at heart and loves every minute.

SM: It’s got nothing to with age really! The way I see it, I always liked horror from when I was a kid, but when I was a kid I was very, very scared. Of like, everything,

PS: Everything on Earth?

SM: Yeah, just everything in general! [Laughs] So, I always liked it, but I couldn’t physically sit down and watch it. And now I’m at the point where I’m just immune to everything, pretty much.

JL: I think age does play in it, though. I think horror is a very personal thing. And we all have the horror that we love and makes a big impact on us as a child. So, invariably, if you’re ten years younger than someone, then the horror that spoke to you then is going to be different than the horror that spoke to me at that age.

SM: Yeah, I grew up on Scream.

JL: Whereas I grew up on Nightmare on Elm Street.

PS: Growing up on Scream, did you get what Scream was doing?

SM: I got the idea of it, but not to the full extent. And even now, we covered Scream not long ago, and even though I knew it inside out, there were still references that I only got this time because we watched those films for the podcast.

PS: Does that happen a lot with films you grew up with? Watching with a critical eye for the podcast is different to watching just for enjoyment.

JL: Its funny looking back on things I watched when I was younger, and realising the sexual connotations, or specifically for our podcast, the homoerotic content. I watched A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2 when I was eight or nine – still too early for a child to watch Nightmare 2 – but I never in a million years would have thought that it was homoerotic. The podcast didn’t make me realise that, but sitting there with a pen and paper and noting down the leather bar, the jock straps…

PS: …the dance sequence!

JL: Yeah, the dance sequence to that song that Cathy Dennis covered! All those things!

SM: There’s going to be a documentary on it and all the subtext, but there is no subtext in Nightmare on Elm Street 2, it’s just full-on text! I don’t care what anyone says, they knew it was just gay, gay, gay! I had a similar experience with Jeepers Creepers 2. And again I watched that repeatedly when I was younger on a pirate copy – just putting it out there, I did not give him money. I just liked the film, and it wasn’t until years later, through Jon, that I realised how gay it was. So I immediately went out and watched it again, and it suddenly clicked into place why I liked it so much!

JL: That’s one of the things we like to do where we’ll take on a film that might have a dark history or mythology surrounding it that then scratches the surface and goes deeper. So with the Jeepers Creepers films we talked more about the director Victor Salva, who is a convicted paedophile. We look at how and why he only gained mainstream success AFTER his conviction and how fucked up that is. Who is funding him? Who is giving him work in an industry full of vulnerable people? So then that spirals off into #MeToo and Rose McGowan and Harvey Weinstein. We did a similar thing with Corey Haim when we talked about The Lost Boys, looking at the dark Hollywood underbelly and all the comes with it. So yeah we’re not only talking film, we’re going deeper – but we still manage to squeeze in as many sick inappropriate jokes as possible! That’s who we are. [Laughs]

PS: The cool thing about horror is how you can use it as a sort of satirical metaphor. Are there any interesting examples of these that you’ve found on your travels?

JL: Horror has been used for that since the beginning. You look back at James Whale’s stuff, like Bride of Frankenstein. That was all about his experiences in the trenches. Horror has always been a metaphor for the outsider. You either identify with the monster, like in Frankenstein where the monster is really just misunderstood and just wanted love, and never got that so he ended up killing himself – gay!

SM: [Laughs] All about the drama!

JL: …or you identify with the victim. We did Hellraiser last year, which I always loved from a young age, but I never realised the fetishistic element to it, and it was written by a gay man as well and it was all about being a sexual outsider, paying the price for it and being consumed by demons. It’s an experience that a lot of gay viewers can identify with. You feel like you’re being torn apart sometimes by owning your sexuality, or being ashamed of it.

SM: I think you have your classic ones – like, you have sex and you die and there’s a lot of morality in there. But then you get something like Neon Demon, which is all about the culture in Hollywood and how that manifests itself in a different form. And then you have things like Rosemary’s Baby, which preyed on expecting parents and the horrors that come with that. What’s going to happen when you actually have this baby? I think there’s a lot of scope from moral, to just general fears that people have in life. So rather than say it in the kind of straight forward way that they do in drama, why not say it in a more inventive way?

JL: Horror has always been good at exploiting the fear and paranoia of its audience. Last year we did Hostel, and the sort of torture porn from the mid noughties. And we were talking about how in the wake of 9/11 and the war on terror, you suddenly got a lot of horrors about Americans going to these strange, distant lands and being brutalised. Sort of like arrogant, American white entitled males stopping into societies that they didn’t understand and exploiting it for sex, and then paying the price for that. A lot of the horror of it all relied on torture, while a lot of that kind of thing was in the news. So, Americans not feeling safe, but also the guilt that America felt because of all this torture stuff that was coming out in the news. It’s always done that. If you think of a lot of the 70s horror, like Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left, or Texas Chainsaw, being in response to Vietnam and the death of the American Dream, the secret underbelly of America.

SM:  And then you have all he Atomic Horror, which created a lot of horror movies at the time.

JL: If you look at the time when a lot of horror movies come out, the metaphors are all rife there. They’re all about what’s going on in the world around them.

SM: Then when you get to Scream, the horror is Dawson’s Creek!

JL: [Laughs] The darkest period in American history!

PS: [Laughs] Actually, you might be right because there was a spate of those kinds of films after Scream

SM: Yeah, they all kinda spun off.

PS: Like I Know What You Did Last Summer. I actually saw that for the first time the other week and I was kinda bored.

SM: Yeah, I watched it the other day and fell asleep.

PS: It’s like the most 90s cast ever as well.

JL: How can you be bored by Ryan Phillippe?

PS: True, but he doesn’t get his bum out, so I’ll stick with Cruel Intentions.

JL: Yeah, that’s true! [Laughs]

PS: What’s the worst film that you’ve covered?

SM: Well, for a film that’s actually bad, I’d say Possession. They all loved it, but it was actually the worst, awful piece of tripe and I never want to see it again.

JL: Well, Martin didn’t like it.

SM: Yeah, it split us down the middle.

JL: It makes for a more interesting podcast!

SM: But for so bad it’s good, I’d say a toss-up between Troll 2, which is a cinematic masterpiece. Or Cursed, which is like the Dawson’s Creek of werewolf films. Probably the only film where you will see a werewolf flip someone off.

PS: [Laughs] Wait! The actual werewolf? In wolf form?

JL: Was there a queer part of Cursed? I can’t remember.

SM: Yeah, there’s a gay character, and then there’s the whole werewolf transformation being a metaphor for coming out of the closet.

JL: We covered the Ryan Reynolds film The Voices which I really didn’t enjoy that much, but then I’m not a massive Ryan Reynolds fan. But I love Malabimba The Malicious Whore – which is like supernatural softcore sexploitation about a girl possessed by a horny demon and shags her way through her family, sucks her dying uncle to death and fists a nun. We literally howled laughing for the hour we recorded the podcast. Also when we do things like Nazisploitation and nunsploitation and cannibal porno movies we get to really watch some high end trash that is such a scream – they’re my favourites because we just laugh the whole time but then we get to delve into why on earth anyone would want to make a sexy movie about the holocaust.

PS: What about the scariest?

JL: Re-watching the original Halloween, no matter how many times I’ve seen it, I think it scared me more when we were watching it for the podcast. Because you’ve got to sort of break down what it is about it that scares you. I thought I’d got everything I’d ever get from it, but it’s that fear of not being safe in your own home. I think that really hit home for me.

SM: Actually, the scariest thing for me is probably when we did the BBC ghost stories. They were like Christmas-based ghost stories, from the 90s was it? The 80s?

JL: No, the 70s. You don’t know the difference between the 90s and the 70s?! [Laughs]

SM: [Laughs] I wasn’t alive!

JL: They put together a series of like Play For Today type stuff that they did every year.

SM: I don’t think there’s anything scarier than a classic horror story around the fireplace type thing. It reminds me of my mum, when the lecky would run out when we had one of those card meter things and dad was out working, to entertain us mum used to tell us horror stories. But she used to use noises in the background. So if there was a hammering from next door she’d be like “And there was hammering in the room”, and it used to terrify me!

JL: They’re some great parenting skills! [Laughs]

 

Listen to the latest episode of Screaming Queenz below, and click here to listen to their past editions.