Lil' Bo, Queer Screams Film Festival’s official mascot. Courtesy of JT Seaton

2023 Queer Screams Film Festival

Weekend of LGBTQ+ horror films and performances

The first Queer Screams Film Festival—a three-day, LGBTQ+ horror film event—will occur at the Clinton Street Theater, Aug. 18–20.

The festival combines 31 short and feature films from local, national and international filmmakers. The festival lineup offers a variety of horror genres—including zombies, vampires, demonic possession, cabin-in-the-woods slashers and stories of one-night stands which take terrifying turns. The films span a wide breadth of horror subgenres, but LGBTQ+ themes and representation ultimately link each film together.

Those were the two requirements for entry into the festival. Films needed to be a horror-genre film containing LGBTQ+ representation, whether it be the characters on the screen or the actors and filmmakers behind it.

There will be live performances, special guests and several filmmakers and artists involved in the festival’s film selections.

Lynn Lowry—starring actress of Shivers and The Crazies—will host a Q&A between screenings of these films. A Q&A and live book reading with Sam Irvin—author, teacher and director of the 2001 horror-comedy Elvira’s Haunted Hills—will accompany the charity screening of this film. Proceeds of this screening will benefit a Portland-based LGBTQ+ charity cause.

Additionally, the festival will feature various drag performances, including a live production of Evil Babylon, Body Academics’ kink-positive, comedy-horror rock opera featuring a cast of Portland-based drag performers.

“It’s definitely gonna be a celebration and fun,” said JT Seaton, director of the festival. “The goal of the film festival is to create a community event. That’s why there’s so many live aspects to it.”

Queer Screams intends to be fun, festive and frightening, but it ultimately promotes positive queer representation in cinema—something still relatively new in media history.

“For years, queer representation was minimal—in horror and elsewhere,” Seaton said. “In horror, we were either the comic relief or the villain for many, many years.”

“One of the reasons why queer people and queer audiences gravitate toward horror films is because we identify with the Other,” he said. “We identify with being the outcast of society. We identify with being the final girl in the horror movie, because the final girl is usually the outcast of the group. She’s the shy one. She’s the virgin. She doesn’t fit in with the cool kids.”

“So we identify with that character, and we have to fight,” Seaton said. “We fight more and fight stronger than the other characters that get killed off very quickly. We’re the final girl, because we have to fight for our representation.”

By curating a schedule which elevates queer filmmakers and performers, Queer Screams establishes a space for positive role models and representation for and by the LGBTQ+ community.

“I think by having a festival like this and cluing people into, ‘Yes there is LGBTQ representation in horror films,’” Seaton said. “‘Yes there is a lot of that out there, just look for it—you’ll start to see it more.’ So I think people will start to see it more by coming out of this festival.”

One feature screening at the festival is Andrew Scot Frink’s premier short film, In the Basement. “It’s a romantic drama with horror themes,” Frink said. “It’s this couple who’s just trying to figure out where they stand with each other while also experiencing this horrifying situation.”

Andrew Scot Frink beside the Anomaly for the film In The Basement. Courtesy of Andrew Scot Frink

Frink explained that the film’s inspiration is rooted in an experience of dealing with feelings of helplessness amidst tragedy. Thus, In the Basement follows the story of Ian and Zachary—played by Rolly Stafford and Alexander Nickolas respectively—as they seek shelter from the Anomaly—voiced by Kate Horn—while at the same time being prevented from protecting others.

According to Frink, the queer dynamic between the lead characters actually developed after the romantic duo had been written. Only when it came time to name his characters did the plot realize a gay couple.

“I was getting towards that final act, and I decided, ‘Okay, it’s probably a good idea to name the characters now,’” said Frink. “The only names that came to mind were Zachary and Ian, so I realized, ‘Oh, I guess this is a gay love story,’ and it didn’t really change much about the film itself. I was looking at this from the perspective of people.”

The upcoming showcase will also feature Night Shift, a short film by talented creative Karlee Boon. This retro coming-of-age film follows best friends Cheryl and Darcy who are waitresses at a small-town diner and experience the horrific and unimaginable together.

Originally from Phoenix, Boon moved to Portland after high school and graduated from Portland State in 2021. “Once I got to Portland, I just connected with so many artists,” she said. “I found such an open, welcoming creative community here, so it kind of pushed me over the edge to kind of take the leap and decide that I want to pursue a more creative field.”

The story behind Night Shift grew from Boon’s desire to cultivate a strong female relationship. “It was kind of a healing process for me to remind myself what a really healthy, compatible and supportive female friendship can look like,” she said.

Themes of feminine empowerment, a search for community and freeing oneself from restrictive patriarchal pressures underscore the film’s detailed costume design, nostalgic cinematography work and gruesome effects.

“I really was interested in specifically making horror films that have a purpose and a meaning behind them,” Boon said. “Something that isn’t just bloody and gory and gross for the sake of being bloody and gory and gross.”

Boon explained that the storyline’s LGBTQ+ representation developed organically as well. Cheryl’s character would form an attraction to a punk-rock diner patron due to Boon’s own queer experience, but also thanks to the interpretation of the film’s lead actor.

“That didn’t really transform into what I think it became in the final film until I cast my lead,” Boon said. “The lead actor that I cast—their name is Marlowe Ostara—they’re non-binary, they’re trans and when they read the script they immediately came to me and were like, ‘Yeah, Cheryl’s a lesbian.’”

The cast shot the film during overnight sessions at an actual Oregon diner. “Obviously, there were a lot of challenges to making a low-budget, 28-minute short film,” Boon said. “I would say it was pretty ambitious for the resources that we had, but I really had such an incredible time doing it.”

Even as Boon plans to expand Night Shift into a full feature film, the short has already been granted various recognitions. The 2022 Horror Origins Film Fest chose Night Shift as a selection, and it received the Best Sound Design award at the 2023 Portland Horror Film Festival.

As for Queer Screams, “I thought it would be really cool to be a part of a festival that is specifically uplifting and promoting queer voices in independent film,” Boon said. “I think that’s really important.”

Queer Screams supports established and up-and-coming filmmakers, but is also a source of inspiration for potential creators. “Maybe there are some students—some PSU students and filmmakers in the audience—that go, ‘Wow, I have been wanting to make a movie, been wanting to make a film, and now I’m inspired that I can tell my story,’” Seaton said.

Marlowe Ostara and Chynna Rae Shurts as characters Cheryl and Darcy in Karlee Boon’s Night Shift. Courtesy of Karlee Boon