American Culture Studies Ph.D. Dissertations

A Spectrum of Horror: Queer Images in the Contemporary Horror Genre

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Culture Studies

First Advisor

Cynthia Baron (Committee Chair)

Second Advisor

Lubomir Popov (Other)

Third Advisor

Bill Albertini (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Mark Bernard (Committee Member)


This dissertation utilizes the videographic essay method to visually analyze the queer aesthetic that distinguishes certain American film and television programs in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. The salient features of the queer aesthetic, which includes strategies ranging from lighthearted farcical camp to intense graphic violence, emerged as a critical response to homophobic depictions in mainstream Hollywood horror films of the 1980s and early 1990s and as an aesthetic expression of social protests by queer activists of the time. The empowerment of proudly claiming queer identity led to the development of the independent New Queer Cinema movement. I examine the visual techniques utilized in this politicized film movement to illustrate how queer filmmakers incorporated visual tropes from the horror film genre to convey the terror of the AIDS epidemic as well as ongoing political repression and violent homophobia. To illuminate the notable features of the aesthetic that coalesced in New Queer Cinema films, I analyze the films of gay filmmaker Gregg Araki, who is known for combining stylized camp and violence with tropes of the horror genre. This study shows how queer filmmakers subsequently began to incorporate the queer aesthetic into contemporary horror films and television productions. I closely examine Ryan Murphy’s application of the queer aesthetic in his television series American Horror Story following the queering of the horror tropes in the New Queer Cinema films. Mobilizing moving images and sound in analyses makes it possible to demonstrate aesthetic choices in ways that are not possible in a traditional written dissertation, even one featuring still images. By using videographic essays, the dissertation concretely illustrates the evolution of the queer aesthetic and how it has merged in some instances with horror genre conventions. This dissertation also illuminates the increasingly nuanced depiction of queer identities within selected film and television productions and notes that while queer representation on and off screen is on the rise, there is still a need for more culturally and ethnically diverse queer identities within the narratives and as creatives artists with influence.