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'It Came From the Closet' book review

When I first heard about “It Came From the Closet” before its Oct. 4 release, I was excited. As a queer person who loves the horror genre, how could I not be? It seemed like this book was made for me to read this Halloween season.

I was not expecting this exceptional anthology of essays, edited by Joe Vallese, to absolutely blow me away.

None of the 25 essays included in the anthology constitute a weak point in the book. Page after page, queer authors reveal just how the horror movies they grew up watching helped them realize their queerness and how many queer people connect not only to the heroes of the films, but also, perhaps surprisingly, to the villains and monsters that terrify them.

One of the first standouts in “It Came From the Closet” is “Both Ways” by Carmen Maria Machado. In it, Machado rebuffs the numerous criticisms that the film “Jennifer’s Body” suffered, mainly from heterosexual men who couldn’t understand the bisexual themes present, as well as those accusing the film of queerbaiting.

“It’s impossible to miss its queerness, however, for a certain kind of worldview, it’s very easy to dismiss,” Machado writes. “Jennifer and Needy express so many kinds of intimacy, it’s amazing we’ve retconned it into a kiss and a catchphrase.”

Many of the connections made to movies throughout the book would be hard to see unless you were watching the movie specifically with a queer lense, like Laura Maw does in “Loving Annie Hayworth,” which analyzes Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds.” Other connections are more obvious when they’re made.

While reading “It Came From the Closet,” I found that I connected the most to Richard Scott Larson’s “Long Nights in the Dark,” which is about the classic film “Halloween” and hiding behind a mask. Larson begins his essay with the first kill in the horror classic, when Michael Myers kills his older sister and goes outside to greet his parents as they get home.

“The imperative in this scene isn’t immediately to disarm the costumed Michael Myers of a murder weapon; rather it’s to reveal him, to show his face,” Larson writes. “The opening of Halloween is a coming-out story.”

Larson continues to allude to the masks that LGBTQ+ people will often don in order to fit in before they come out. A mask that I too once put on. Masks that those who wear fear ever being taken off, afraid of what that revelation might do. This unmasking is how Laurie Strode finally beat Michael Myers.

The essays in “It Came From the Closet” are not all serious analyses, though. “Notes on Sleepaway Camp” by Viet Dinh discusses the campy 1983 slasher “Sleepaway Camp” to Susan Sontag’s 1964 essay “Notes on Camp.” It is a humorous comparison that somehow fits both materials perfectly.

Dinh expertly uses Sontag to dissect “Sleepaway Camp” in a manner of camp itself. Quoting Sontag’s description of camp as “the spirit of extravagance,” Dinh certainly describes the many extravagant ways that the campers in the film meet their end, often in ways that we today would now find ridiculous.

When you put all of the essays in “It Came From the Closet” together like Vallese does, it becomes a superb read that gives you a new appreciation for horror through a new lens. 

Never again will you watch your favorite horror movies the same way. “It Came From the Closet” is the perfect read for the season, curling up in your dorm, wondering about things that go bump in the night and things that go on in your own mind.