LGBTQ+ horror is a subgenre that has been around for quite some time; some theorists believe that horror itself is a genre that has always been homoerotic, if not outright queer in nature. In the last decade, dark fiction has pushed itself even further out of the closet, and what better way to show this but with The Other Side of the Closet: A Queer Horror Collection? Author Patrick J. Kane’s slim but spooky compilation offers up eight stories ranging in focus from the grotesque to the cerebral.
The collection opens with a strange tale, one that is part bizarro fiction, part waking nightmare. “Manicure,” on its surface, follows an unnamed narrator as s/he tries to free him/herself from confinement. Metaphorically, the story reads like an allegory of coming out: the fierce desperate will to be oneself battling the pain, self-consciousness, and worry that keeps one hostage. The imagery is powerful here, but there were four other stories that I liked even better.
In “Big Spoon, Little Spoon,” partners Sameera and Lily wake up one morning literally fused together: an unsettling thought for anyone who has passed the honeymoon stage of a relationship, never mind anyone claustrophobic. The real fright occurs when the two women try to dislodge themselves from each other. Delightfully graphic squeamishness ensues. There is a similar level of body horror buried in the middle of “Redux,” but it is just as effective. In this closing story, when he is unable to find a shelter, Raeden stumbles upon a building site under construction. Inside of it lies not just any abandoned structure but a house that is sickeningly familiar. The story is full of Outer Limits-creepiness, but in addition, it presents a heartfelt rendition of the nightmare one encounters when rejected by the people who are supposed to accept and love you the most.
In the ghost story “Local Queen,” it’s soon after Kieran’s first night working at The Rabbit Hole bar that they learn about the fate of Scarlet, a drag queen whose victimization in a homophobia-spurred attack resulted in her ghastly suicide. Unfortunately for Kieran, Scarlet never really left the scene of her demise, and her wronged spirit is hungry for a new muse. My favorite tale in the bunch, hands-down, is “Circuit.” Zahir’s first foray into the circuit party world starts off erotic and exciting, but he soon learns the secret meaning of the event’s title and the word stamped on his hand by the bouncer when he enters. Kane’s dark romp reminded me of one of my favorite opening movie scenes: the rave in 1998’s Blade. I suspected where it might be going, and I loved every step forward.
Kane warns his readers in his forward, “Grab your heels, tighten your strap-on, and reapply your lip gloss, sweetie. This is the moment to embrace your queerest form.” Horror fans will appreciate Kane’s frightful descriptions and unique story arcs, no matter where on gender and sexuality spectrum they might fall.