THE BOYS NEXT DOOR: The Homoeroticism of Fright Night and how it saved my life
At fifteen years of age, and after years of trying to pray it away, the dawning horror that my sexual preference was not going anywhere was met with a deep-seated conviction that the life ahead of me was one to be pitied, feared or laughed at. Because that's what popular entertainment had always taught me about the homosexual. Of course, the Catholic Church was also to blame, homosexuals went to hell according to them. But even at a young age I knew not to trust a bunch of old men in capes and so it was television and film, two of my biggest passions, that thought me all about what a homosexual was, and as crazy as it now seems, I would rather have killed myself than allow myself to be defined by what I saw.
At fifteen years of age, Fright Night opened in Dublin. From the moment Charlie Brewster's mom says, "I hear he's got a live-in carpenter, with my luck, he's probably gay” all of that changed. Right off the bat, Judy Brewster’s non-judgmental reference to her possibly gay next-door neighbors had me riveted to my seat. There was nothing about her intonation that suggested mockery, fear or pity.
When we get to meet the new neighbors, Jerry Dandridge and Billy Cole, sure, he’s a vampire and Billy’s his ghoul, but they are also charming, funny and, most importantly, intimate, protective and caring of one another. There is the obvious scene where Billy tends to Jerry’s hand injury (on his knees!) but there are many other glances and gestures that led me to believe I was getting my first honest glimpse at a gay couple in film.
Around this time, I was getting into art history and I happened upon a painting by David Hockney called Domestic Scene, it’s a very simple, almost childlike composition of two naked men, one bathing the other in a shower, there’s nothing erotic in the painting other than the simple truth behind it that seemed so subversive to me at the time- that homosexual couples can care for one another just the same as heterosexual couples. This was a new concept for me and it was a game changer because it meant that I could begin to let go of all of the shame and fear that I was holding onto, and while I don’t think Tom Holland sat down to definitively write a homosexual couple, I do think the ambiguity behind Billy and Jerry’s relationship was absolutely a choice. And that choice became footing for me to believe that I might one day find intimacy and even love.
It is hard to express to heterosexual audiences, or even younger queer audiences, what the lack of positive queer representation in film did to kids starved of hope but I will never forget what a revelation Fright Night was to me, I have no doubt that it gave me the strength I needed to eventually kick down my closet door and live my life to my fullest.