Here, Queer, Dismembered
Kubla Khan Productions Sets Out To Make Gay Horror More Than the Thought of Deuce Bigelow: Male Gigolo Playing at the Castro Theatre
“The gay and lesbian film-festival circuit is not too keen on horror movies,” says Kalima Y. Young, 30, co-director of the new gay-oriented slasher flick Grace Haven. “You rarely see a spooky movie. It’s all about romance, or AIDS, or cowboys fucking in the woods.”
In preparation for the premiere of the just-finished Haven this week, Young and co-director Aj Hyde, 24, met at a Mount Vernon café one alarmingly windy March afternoon to discuss their new feature and the challenges of gay genre filmmaking. While some doors may have recently opened for mainstream acceptance of gay entertainment, is there a place for a gay Scream in this post-Brokeback world? Or will a story about a serial killer set loose on a house party full of young homosexual men prove too scary for the gay circuit and too gay for the scary circuit?
At first glance, Hyde and Young might seem like strange bedfellows. Young grew up on Baltimore’s west side and is a rollicking ball of energy with a quick tongue and a pleasantly ribald sense of humor. Hyde, who was born in Hawaii and didn’t arrive in the area until he was 14, rocks an introspective, art-school student look, and proves as soft-spoken as Young is boisterous. But before long, a certain synergy establishes itself, and the pair are finishing each other’s sentences like they’re on the Def Jam roster circa 1986.
Together, they are Kubla Khan Productions, a Baltimore-based film production company dedicated to churning out more gay genre entertainment along the lines of Grace Haven. It’s a niche they don’t see many other people lifting a finger to fill.
“I don’t want to sound mean, but I don’t like much of any [films with gay characters] that I see, because the stories and the characters feel really clichéd,” Young says. “If you have a gay woman, she’s [going to be] a really attractive white dyke chick with a wife-beater on. . . . You’re not going to see the big fat black lesbians with the long hair. It always feels like cinema isn’t reflective of the diverse group of gay people that we see around in the world—and that’s even within art-house movies, that’s even within gay and lesbian cinema. So I feel like one of our missions is to really speak to the different kinds of folks that are out there, the diversity that’s within the rainbow.”
“I think we’re both just tired of gay people being the token gay comic relief,” Hyde chimes in with a shy grin. “Gay people can get killed by ax murderers, too.”
Young and Hyde met when Hyde landed one of the principal roles in Theatre Project’s 2003 production of Living Proof, which Young directed. During that run, they discovered they also shared a love of film when each worked on separate entries in a Washington-area 48-hour film festival. The two quickly formed Kubla Khan, a name Young chose in homage to Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane, which she sees as the ultimate proof that DIY filmmaking can succeed on a grand scale.
And when Hyde mentioned early on that he wanted to make a gay horror movie, Young jumped at the idea. Not only is she a lifelong horror aficionado, but the project coincided perfectly with her notions about movies marketed to gay and lesbian audiences. “Gay cinema that comes out right now,” she says, “the movie’s generally about the fact that the people are gay. It’s not about the actual story. And there’s a dearth of straight—that’s a weird way to put it—but straight, regular, mainstream-ish movies that have gay characters where their gayness is taken for granted. That’s just who the characters happen to be—at the same time that they’re being chased by an ax murderer.”
Enter Grace Haven. Shot in Monkton, Havre de Grace, and Baltimore City, Haven was co-written and co-edited by the pair, and Hyde, who has a background in classical violin, was at press time putting the final touches on an original score. Haven begins with a large group of young men preparing for a weekend of partying at a secluded bed and breakfast. Their plans for the weekend don’t run much deeper than drinking beer, snacking on cheese curls, and getting laid—with each other. But two things put these plans on hold. First, Joey Andrews (Michael J. Fulvio) is plagued both by memories of his parents’ violent deaths and vivid, horrific dreams. Second, the bed and breakfast they’re renting was the childhood home of deranged killer Matthias Raynor, who may just be on the loose again. It’s Halloween meets Scream with a gay twist—a comparison that suits Young and Hyde just fine. They’re both big fans of director John Carpenter and screenwriter Kevin Williamson.
And Haven delivers the goods, depending on what you’re looking for. With patches of wooden dialogue and uneven performances throughout (as a lead, Fulvio is often unconvincingly broad, whereas co-stars Hyde and Richard Samuels carry themselves quite well), the movie doesn’t always succeed in transcending its low-budget origins. And while it does produce moments of genuine suspense at times, it looks and feels very much like a first feature, wearing its influences on its sleeve while it occasionally flounders in finding the most effective way to frame a moment of action or comic relief.
Still, as a blueprint for just the kind of movie Hyde and Young want to see, Haven holds considerable promise. It is genuinely refreshing to watch a movie featuring gay characters in which their gayness is presented as natural, rather than a labored curiosity. As promised, this is one gay movie that doesn’t deal with AIDS, coming out, gay-bashing, or, yes, even cowboys fucking in the woods.
So even if Grace Haven isn’t quite a home run, it’s tantalizing enough to make you hope that both it and the next Kubla Khan project in development—The Haunting of Lucas Bevelle, which Hyde describes as about “psychic Ghostbusters . . . who are gay!”—will find audiences. Between the slew of horror festivals and conventions at which Kubla Khan hopes to screen Haven and the increasing number of video labels that emphasize gay and lesbian home entertainment, the odds are good that they can.
But will there ever come a day when you can go out on a Friday night and take in a horror flick, slapstick comedy, or sci-fi saga not only with a budget more at home at Muvico than MicroCineFest, but also in which the characters just happen to be gay? “The mission of Kubla Khan is to get us a little closer to that,” Young says. She pauses, and then warns, with a characteristic cackle, “But most of our stuff’s pretty dark. We haven’t penned a romantic comedy yet—except for one between two brothers.”
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