My Favorite Gay Films

film reviews | movies | features | BRWC My Favorite Gay Films

I am an odd person… and a gay person. Therefore I naturally have odd tastes in “gay films.”

Most mainstream or well known movies found in the niche of queerity I do not enjoy (Case in point, I immensely dislike Brokeback Mountain. I didn’t hate it mind you, just found it dull, cliched and un-inspired on most levels… it had some nice shots of clouds and fields in it though.) The fact of the matter is, most widely heralded gay films are almost always the exact same thing, a married man coming to terms with his sexuality, a teenage boy or girl coming to terms with their sexuality or some horribly tragic tale about a gay boy, girl, man or woman being savagely chastised, beaten or worse… for coming to terms with their sexuality.

All of these films are usually painfully PC to the point of nausea, full of saccharin preachiness and maudlin sentimentality so thick even Steven Spielberg would say “God damn!”



I’ve known all my life that I was a fag-o-sexual. I’ve also known that I don’t like dull as dishwater, Lifetime-esque, weepy, soap box melodramas. I grew up on James Bond, Star Trek, Star Wars, 80’s Horror Films and Euro Trash. In films I enjoy I like some style, pizzaz, oomph and (as much as us gays love em so much) BALLS! I know for a fact that I am not the only queer to feel this way, but, a lot of people are afraid to say such things for fear of pissing people off.

I am not afraid, and people should learn to be a bit less… pussified. So, without further adieu, my Top Ten favorite “Gay” Films. (I am excluding “drag queen” films from the list as that is just too easy for me.) (Also, I use quotations as SOME if not most of my favorite Gay Films are not necessarily considered gay by the status quo. You’ve been warned.)

 

10. Suddenly Last Summer (1959)
Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Written by Tennessee Williams and Gore Vidal

Elizabeth Taylor plays Catherine Holly, a young woman who, while on vacation with her cousin Sebastian, witnesses something so horrible that she goes completely insane. When her Doctor (played by real life homo Montgomery Clift), presses to find out exactly what happened, Catherine’s Aunt Violet Venable (Katherine Hepburn) demands that she be lobotomized to cover up the truth.

I don’t really want to reveal just what the truth was (because it is TRULY, TRULY one of the great twists in screen history), but lets just say it has something to do with “Cousin Sebastian” being a VERY naughty boy…

When I first saw this movie, many, many years ago my jaw simply dropped when Elizabeth Taylor launches into her powerhouse “revelation monologue” at the end of the film. And I need not tell you that it takes A LOT to floor me. But the fact that the movie was made when it was, stars who it stars and is such a well regarded, if not outright “classic” film, makes what the movie is about all the more potent and applaud worthy in my opinion. Yes, the homosexuality apparent in the film is deplorable, BUT it is a major milestone in gay cinema and one of my all time favorite psychological thriller/melodramas.

 

9. First Blood (1982),
Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985)
and Rambo III (1988)

Yes, the original Rambo Trilogy. Scoff if you will, but I am not the only one who considers the films gay.

I grew up loving action movies, Norris, Schwarzenegger, Eastwood, Bronson and yes, Stallone, to name a few. 80’s action movies in particular were always a pleasure to me as a young boy, not just because they featured lots of explosions, violence and guns, but because they almost always featured womenless, hard-boiled, loner guys who liked to take off their shirts, rub their muscled bodies with vaseline and kill dozens (sometimes hundreds and thousands in the case of Sly and Bronson) of people all for the sake of their lost “partner” or best friend.

True the films were not made purposefully to be gay and none of the characters in the films are expressly queer (in fact they’re just supposed to be hyper masculine figures of right wing fantasy) but, if that scene in Commando where Schwarzenegger’s ex-boss comes looking for him and Arnold sneaks up behind him with a knife and the guy then smiles orgasmically and says “Mmmm, smooth, swift and silent… Just like always” doesn’t strike you as a bit limp wristed… (then perhaps the chain mail wearing, handlebar mustache having, lisping, bitchy, leather daddy bad guy of the same film will.)

Anyways, the Rambo Trilogy… In a nutshell, the films follow the exploits of Ex-Green Beret/Super Human/(Lost Lonely Gay Boy?)/Vietnam Veteran John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) and his Best Friend/Mentor/Father Figure/Love Interest (?) Colonel Sam Trautman (Richard Crenna) as they do stuff that involves maiming (First Blood), killing (Rambo: First Blood Part II) and rescuing (Rambo III) various persons, places and things.

I wont go too deeply into each film, but I’ll list the moments that most confirm my beliefs about it being the ultimate gay fantasy series, ever.

First Blood:
A. Rambo is accosted for being an “outsider” in a small backwoods town and is summarily stripped and sprayed with a giant hose by Brian Dennehy and David Caruso.

B. After fashioning new clothing for himself and diving off a cliff Rambo sews up his own injury like a perfect little seamstress.

C. Rambo enjoys impaling men with large phallic objects.

D. Col. Trautman’s various speeches about being in “a lot of dirty holes” and covering “each other’s asses more than once” about Rambo. Also the line “God didn’t make Rambo, I did” delivered with the cryptic pride of not a father or leader, but someone much much closer.

E. Lastly, and most importantly, the entire ending of the film, where Rambo is brought in and subdued by Trautman, thusly causing Rambo to breakdown and fall into his “mentor’s” arms crying like a young boy who finally feels safe and at peace.

Rambo: First Blood: Part II:
A. The off the shoulder pink sweater/skin tight jean/feathered hair ensemble Rambo wears in the beginning of the film.

B. Throughout 75% of the film’s running time Rambo is shirtless, tan, oiled and flexing as if posing for the cover of Mens Workout or Inches.

C. Five minutes after kissing a girl (the only speaking girl in the entire series mind you), she is brutally murdered. It’s as if the gods themselves are telling Rambo “vagina’s are bad.” Rambo does keep the girl’s lovely jade Buddha necklace as a “good luck charm” though.

D. This go round Rambo enjoys firing lots “exploding arrows” into the backsides of men, while saving his fellow “brothers in arms.”

E. The torture scene, where upon Rambo is chained, shirtless, to an electrified mattress by his domineering, mincing, Russian captor.

Rambo III:
A. The tagline, “The first was for himself. The second was for his country. This time it’s to save his friend.” Not wife, not family member, but his “friend” Col. Trautman.

B. The plot, a beef jerky like, constantly shirtless Rambo kills THOUSANDS of men to save his “best friend.” NO OTHER REASON. ONLY TO SAVE HIS “FRIEND.”

C. Rambo spends most of the film “bonding” with a young boy and a bearded man. This includes lots of slow motion montages, maudlin speeches and giving the boy his necklace from the last film.

D. The line, delivered by Trautman while being strung up and tortured, “God would have mercy… Rambo wont!” Said through gritted, yet orgasmically happy teeth as if he’s said this line many times in the heat of passion.

E. The entire ending of the film, where, after Trautman has been rescued, he and Rambo run along, practically hand in hand, smiling at one another and prattling off sappy one liners to one another as they murder people and blow stuff up.

 

8. Tenebre (1982)
Written and Directed by Dario Argento

Dario Argento is one of my favorite directors, firstly, because in his pre-1987 career he did vividly stylish, fast paced, hyper violent, surrealistic horror/thrillers of various types better than no one else in Italy (including his mentor Mario Bava.) And, secondly, because he is the progenitor of my ultimate favorite type of “gay film.” That being a film in which gay people exist in the world of said film, but the film is not about them being gay.

There are gay characters of both the lesbian and male homo variety in almost all of Dario’s films, Cat O’ Nine Tails (1971), Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971) and Deep Red (1975) spring to mind most immediately, but nearly all of Argento’s output feature characters that are either expressly queer or could easily be considered gay. Sometimes they’re the killer or associated with the killer, sometimes they’re the cop chasing the killer and sometimes they are part of the body count, regardless, they were there in a time when few films would have an abundance of gays.

Now, I’m quite sure the films didn’t feature homo characters because Dario is just a big supporter of gays or anything, most likely they were there to push buttons or just because Europe is a bit more open than the rest of the world, or both. But, the fact is, Dario writes queers into the fabric of his cinematic world, sometimes they’re good, sometimes they’re bad, but most importantly they are there and it ISN’T A BIG DEAL!

This brings me to Tenebre. The film is about an obsessed fan stalking and killing people around and associated to a famous thriller novelist, while he is on a promotional tour for his latest book. The movie is gorgeously shot, well plotted (especially the twist) and violent beyond all belief, in a very stylish sort of way. I suggest you track down a copy right now.

Anyways… the gayety of the film.

There is a lesbian reporter and her bisexual, whore-ish girlfriend. They’re FAIRLY minor characters and essentially just body count fodder. But they’re there in the world of the film, they interact with and aren’t hated by the main cast. They aren’t horrible stereotypes. They exist, they just are and I love that. (Also… the stalker is most likely gay too.)

 

7. Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
Directed by Sidney Lumet
Screenplay by Frank Pierson

To reveal why this classic film is on my list (and yes this is the only mainstream, truly well known film on here) I must reveal the twist of the film, if you can call it that. So if you haven’t seen the movie, and you SHOULD see the movie if you’re a fan of great cinema I suggest you get to it before you continue reading this.

(SPOILERS) In Dog Day Afternoon Al Pacino plays Sonny Wortzik a depressed Vietnam Vet and homosexual, who robs a bank on a hot summer day to get the money to pay for his lover’s (Chris Sarandon) sex change operation. Everything that can go wrong goes wrong and a stand off ensues that may or may not end in violence…

The film is brilliantly acted, paced taught, well shot, realistically scripted and it most certainly deserves every ounce of it’s classic status. There isn’t much else I can say on the subject other than it’s great and everyone should watch it just for those aspects. And, just as an added plus, it is probably the greatest “mainstream” gay oriented film in existence.

 

6. Sleepaway Camp (1983)
Written and Directed by Robert Hiltzik

Once again, another spoiler heavy entry into my list, so if you haven’t seen the film or someone hasn’t already mentioned the twist ending to you OR you haven’t seen that episode of Robot Chicken where they parody said twist, then don’t continue onward with this section of the list.

When this film was released in 1983 it was considered a cheap Friday the 13th knock off. Looking at the poster/box art for the film and even reading a brief more “normal” synopsis (from someone not “IN” on the film) would also suggest this. But Sleepaway Camp is no The Forest (1982), Sweet Sixteen (1983) or even one of it’s own insipid (yet QUITE amusing) sequels. Sleepaway Camp is a much different film, a cheap slasher film yes, but one made with a touch of subtlety, style and intelligence rarely seen in the genre of the time (and certainly not today.)

(SPOILERS) In 1975 while boating on a nice summer day a man and his two children, Angela and Peter, are seemingly killed in a freak accident, while the man’s gay lover looks on in terror. Years later after being raised by her “eccentric” aunt, the surviving child Angela (Felissa Rose), is sent to Camp Arawak for the summer with her feisty cousin Ricky (Jonathan Tierstan.) Once at camp the soft spoken and introverted Angela is tormented relentlessly by her fellow campers, some of the older counselors and nearly raped by the cook. Ricky vows to defend Angela… then the murders begin.

Who is killing the people of Camp Arawak? The foul mouthed, hyper protective Ricky? Angela’s would be boyfriend Paul (Christopher Collet)? Or meek little Angela herself?

(MAJOR SPOILERS) The answer, revealed by the film’s legendary final shot, is Angela. And, Angela isn’t really “Angela,” she is Peter. Peter’s sister Angela was killed in the boating accident and he was taken in by their Aunt. The crazy Aunt then decided to make Peter, Angela, because she already had a boy, Ricky. It’s a fucked up, truly mind blowing twist, especially for a film of this genre (and budget range.) Made even more unbelievable and shocking, since all of the kids in the film are played by KIDS who deliver fine performances, especially the leads Rose, Tierstan and Collet.

Sleepaway Camp is a well shot film (making great use of shadows) chock full of subtext and psychological layers. Sure the movie is hampered by a non-existent budget, a bit of the usual cheesiness associated with the genre and some campy adult performances, but still, it tries it’s damnedest to be more than the sum of it’s parts.

The true strength of the film is that it allows us to really feel for and know all of the younger characters on a primal, relatable level. As, we have all been made fun of in our lives at some point or another, most likely as a child and we all probably wanted to beat the crap out of our tormentors, (not kill them, but certainly give them some come-uppance.) And Sleepaway Camp perfectly captures just how mean other kids (and people and general) can be to other kids, for no real reason other than being “different” from them.

 

5. L.I.E. (2001)
Directed by Michael Cuesta
Written by Stephen M. Ryder, Gerald Cuesta and Michael Cuesta

A 15 year old, gay boy named Howie (Paul Dano) who has just lost his mother, has an inattentive father and is surrounded by less than admirable friends, begins a relationship with a much older man, who just happens to be the neighborhood pedophile.

L.I.E. is a very realistic, honest film. Possibly the most un-bias, un-preachy, just plain real film of this type. As a gay boy who grew up striving to find someone who would accept me and understand the feelings I was having the film is, naturally, strikingly personal. But really, anyone gay or straight can understand “crushing” on an older person and wishing they would help you, as a friend (or perhaps more) figure out all the confusing things that go on in teenage life. Maybe not to the semi-dangerous extent that happens in the film, but it’s still a very relatable and honest concept.

In other hands (say Larry Clark) the film would have ended up exploitative and offensive, but despite the subject matter, L.I.E. never goes that route. Paul Dano as Howie turns in a charming, soulful and utterly believable performance well beyond his years. And, Brian Cox as his “love interest” delivers an equally realistic and witty portrayal of a role that usually would devolve into menace or camp. The film is exceptionally well written and paced. It’s controversial and unexpected in places, but also touching and sweet. It’s a film with balls and that, beyond anything else, is why I enjoy it.

 

4. Cruising (1980)
Written and Directed by William Friedkin

This is another film in the “it’s set in a world with gay characters, but isn’t really about them being gay” subset that I enjoy so much. It is also a film that most gays, critics and…. well… people in general despise. I of course, do not.

Cruising is LOOSELY based on a true story about a detective (Al Pacino) that goes under cover to catch a serial killer who targets gay men with S&M proclivities.

The film overall is totally seedy, stylishly gritty and oft times confusing. But, despite what most people say today, is a realistic representation of a subculture of gay (and straight sex) that WAS and still IS (to a much lesser extent) in existence.

I can understand gays of the time (who were fighting an uphill battle for our rights) hating the film because it showed off to the masses a side of certain types of queers that don’t really show the group as a whole in a “good light.” I can understand gays of today hating the film because they just cant wrap their minds around the sexually open, total freedom of the pre-AIDS era represented in the film. And, I can also understand why critics and people in general hate the film, because it is a movie told in an oddly distant, yet frank way, filled with lots of unlikeable people, gay and straight.

But the reason I love the movie is 1. It was the first film I saw with an A-List actor (Pacino) and an A-List director (Friedkin, still high off the success of The Exorcist and The French Connection) dealing with gayety in an all out, no pussy footing around the subject way. And, 2. Because it is a film that shows “normal,” not so normal and outright deplorable, gays, straights and others interacting with and existing beside one another. But, the film at it’s core isn’t really about the sexuality of the characters, it’s a police procedural about doing anything to find and stop a serial killer.

Simply put I like Cruising because it’s an A-List dramatic thriller, that just shows gays of all types in the same world as straights of all types, good, bad and ugly on both counts. I’m not gonna tell you to run out and grab this one, because chances are you wont like it. But if you’re a fan of Friedkin, Pacino or gritty 70’s-esque cop movies you should check out, just go into it with an open mind.

 

3. A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985)
Directed by Jack Sholder
Written by David Chaskin

Ok, so I said earlier, that I don’t enjoy films about guys coming to painful terms with their sexuality… But, when that coming to terms involves the sexuality becoming the physical manifestation of Fred Krueger and ripping itself from your body to go on a killing spree… I must make exception.

Set several years after the original film, Jesse (played by real life homo Mark Patton), his domineering father (Clu Culager), his quiet mother (Hope Lange) and young sister (Christie Clark) have moved into the infamous house on 1492 Elm Street.

Jesse is soft spoken, somewhat effeminate and enjoys dancing around his room lip syncing to disco music. He has a girlfriend (played by Meryl Streep look alike Kim Myers) but she is really more of a gal-pal than a love interest. As, Jesse more so enjoys spending his time wrestling around, bare assed with his hunky jock best friend (Robert Rusler.)

Aside from being the new-ish kid in town and… “different”… Jesse has another problem… Ever since he and his family moved into their new home he’s been having nightmares… Jesse dreams of a horribly burned man in a red and green sweater that wants to use his body to do “bad things.” This naturally leads to much more confusion for poor Jesse and… violent murders.

The makers of Freddy’s Revenge say they didn’t intentionally set out to make a warped “gay coming of age story” but admit in hindsight that it turned out that way. Granted, there is a sequence in the film where, after one of his nightmares, Jesse sneaks out of the house in his pajamas, only to seek solace in a gay bar. Where upon Jesse runs into his closet case, mean, leather daddy, gym teacher, who then leads him back to the high school for some after hours “working out” and de-masculinization. Yeah, I can see how you wouldn’t mistake that as intentionally gay… Granted though, the gym teacher is, of course, immediately stripped naked, humiliated, tied up and killed by Freddy, from behind, in the showers… Oh wait, still gay.

In any case, Freddy’s Revenge is the only “coming to terms with ones sexuality” movie that I enjoy, for obvious reasons. It’s certainly not the best Elm Street movie or sequel (that’d be Part 3.) It’s made obviously on the cheap side, but has a few touches of style (the wasteland school bus sequence, the “coming out” of Jesse scene and the final showdown are particularly nice.) It’s well acted, particularly by Patton and Myers. And the story is actually somewhat poignant for a quickly made, cash-in sequel.

 

2. The Fruit Machine aka Wonderland (1988)
Directed by Philip Saville
Written by Frank Clarke

This is a pleasantly stylish, sometimes surreal, very obscure little gem I came across many years ago and instantly fell in love with. It combines all my favorite aspects about gay cinema and cinema in general to make a truly enjoyable and engaging film experience.

The Fruit Machine is set in the UK and tells the story of two gay lads; Eddie (Emile Charles) the effeminate, slightly awkward one and Michael (Tony Forsyth) the attractive, out going, “playboy,” who witness a murder in a nightclub then go on the run to avoid being killed themselves. While evading attack from the psychopath (Bruce Payne) hot on their heels Eddie and Michael find a solid, friendly love for one another, while experiencing many good and bad aspects of life.

I don’t want to divulge too much about this film as it’s definitely more of an experience than a 100% cohesive movie. There are lots of surreal and cerebral moments in the film. And, several fantasy sequences, but it is still strangely straight forward as well. It is directed with visual flourish by Philip Saville, employing the use of a rich color schemes and interesting camera work. The movie is well scripted and the dialog and situations, while a bit fanciful at times are believable. And the acting, particularly from the two leads, but all around too, is excellent.

If you like off beat, VERY obscure, well made cinema, gay or straight, this is a film for you.

 

1. North Sea Hijack aka ffolkes (1979)
Directed by Andrew V. McLaglen
Written by Jack Davies

Yes, my number one entry is a film which some may scoff at, yet again as no one in the film is directly referred to as gay. But this time, unlike with the Rambo films, the makers of the film do everything they can BESIDES directly saying “QUEER!” to let you know that our leading man, his team and the villains are friends of Dorothy.

Sir Roger Moore plays Rufus Excaliber ffolkes, the gruff, bearded, man “who knows men’s bodies very well,” woman LOATHING (seriously disgusted by them), cat hoarding leader of an elite commando unit that is usually sent in to do the jobs no one else can get done. ffolkes lives with his men and his many cats, hating women and training together in blissful solitude on his private island.

Anthony Perkins plays Kramer and Michael Parks plays his second in command/probable lover Harold, both are terrorists, bitchy, mincing queens and generally angry people. They hijack two giant oil refineries, named “Ruth” and “Esther” with the intent of blowing them up and destroying England’s economy. Naturally the refineries are held for ransom and the government is given a limited amount of time to pony up the cash before all hell is let loose.

ffolkes devises an ingenious plan to thwart the terrorists, stop the bombing and save the UK, but will he and his men make it before it’s too late?

Even though the plot of the film is very “Bondian,” both Moore and to a lesser extent Perkins did the film to break up a bit of their overwhelming type casting and do something a tad different. To a degree they succeed, but do extremely well in their roles regardless of similarity to past exploits.

And, just on the whole North Sea Hijack is a rollicking, well shot, well acted, well paced, witty, action film, of a classic style. If you like Bond films, adventure stories or just good solid ass kicking the film will be a delightful experience for you.

THAT is the main reason why I love the film, because first and foremost it is a top notch action adventure. However, it is also because the hero AND villains are so obviously homosexual (and it doesn’t matter to the story, they just exist, it doesn’t have to be said or made a big deal of) that it is truly an all time classic for me. Yes, I’m sure there are people who would argue that ffolkes and his men and Kramer and Harold are just “eccentric.” And, I will agree with them, they are eccentric…. and men loving homos featured in the best gay movie ever!

 


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