It Came From The Closet (Joe Vallese) – Book Review

Gays love horror, right? A stereotype perhaps, but one rooted in the genre itself. Ever since the birth of modern horror – whether that’s through the inherently queer authors of classics (e.g. Bram Stoker), through the horror auteur filmmakers who kickstarted the genre (e.g. James Whale), up to the modern creatives behind queer horror cinema (e.g. Clive Barker, Don Mancini). It’s only appropriate then that Saraband Books brings forth the new edition of It Came From the Closet, a collection of essays from trans and queer writers about their experiences within the horror genre.

The collection, edited by Joe Vallese and with artwork from Bishakh Som, manages to strike the balance between in-depth, heartfelt discussions of queer identity and the coming-of-age stories of people across the spectrum (or ‘the alphabet mafia’ to use current nomenclature), with a sense of humour and lightness of touch.

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Stories about healing from the trauma of being queer in a religious household or burying yourself in a sham marriage nestle next to tales about gleefully watching body horror or identifying with Godzilla. The collection is bookended by a pair of reflections on Sleepaway Camp (by Vallese and Viet Dinh respectively), exploring the perils of being identified as an outsider early on, and the potential joy (and fun facts) found within a narrative filled with queer panic.

Some stories use horror as a refractive lens through which to view their own sexuality; others find a path through confusion towards acknowledgement, acceptance, and ultimately joy in their sexuality and gender identity. The essay ‘Three Men on a Boat’ by Jen Corrigan giddily combines both the third act of Jaws and the concept of the vagina dentata as a method of exploring the author’s pansexuality. ‘Bad Hombre’ by Sarah Fonesca uses the Spanish-language horror Is It You, Papa? as a way of navigating her own turbulent relationship with her father and expressing the horrors that can be found rooted in the family dynamic.

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It’s ironically quite hard to summarise an accessible collection such as It Came From the Closet – much like the writers and essays buried within, they are fraught and messy and complicated, filled to the brim and overflowing with trauma and delight, anguish and joy, all through the veins of horror media. Horror is a genre that can cause violent, unbridled reactions within the viewer, forcing them into the place of the villain, the victim, the survivor.

Here, horror is a lifeline, providing space for the nascent outsider, and providing a space for other horror-loving queer people discovering themselves at any stage. This humble reviewer cannot recommend It Came From the Closet enough and hopes it brings the discerning reader the support and perspective they may require in order to endure their very own horror movies and emerge, not unscathed by the world they live in – a world that seems intent on stifling and silencing queer and trans voices – but regardless a survivor in their own right.

It Came From the Closet is out now from Saraband.

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