The 20 Best Trans-Coded Horror Flicks of All Time
Let’s get one thing straight: horror is, and has always been, a deeply trans genre. I mean, think about it: when you’re dealing with nonconsensual bodily transformations, secret identities, double lives, and paranoia, it’s pretty hard to avoid. But some horror films are a sight more trans than others, which is why we’ve compiled this list that literally no one asked for.
Behold, the most trans horror films of all time, for your viewing pleasure.
Seconds (1964), John Frankenheimer
Rock Hudson made a daring move when he took on the role of Arthur Hamilton in John Frankenheimer’s classic tale of identity, Seconds. Known for years as a Hollywood heartthrob, Hudson showed audiences a different side of himself in the deeply unsettling film, which follows unhappy people after they sign up for a procedure that gives them a whole new life…and a whole new (attractive, young) face and body to go with it. But of course, the transformation isn’t what the subjects hoped for. This tale of fulfillment and alienation makes for an extremely natural trans reading, especially after seeing Hudson’s face wrapped in bandages after his reconstructive surgery.
Cat People (1942), Jacques Tourneur
What’s scarier than human sexuality? In 1942, absolutely nothing. This classic wartime flick produced by horror master Val Lewton combines a fear of the “foreigner” (i.e. immigrants fleeing German occupation) with a fear of the female body, specifically female sexuality. When the sultry Irena (Simone Simon) meets a completely boring man at the Central Park Zoo one day, it doesn’t take long for them to tie the knot, because they obviously have nothing better to do. But when it comes time to consummate the marriage, Irena reveals her secret: getting turned on turns her into a man-mauling panther, which is incredibly hot and extremely trans.
Brain Damage (1988), Frank Henenlotter
We’ve written extensively about this film before, specifically its queer and trans elements. Waking up with sticky pants and not remembering a goddamn thing about the night before? Trans. Giving a blow job so spectacular it ends in death? Trans.
The Hidden (1987) Jack Sholder
Not only does this movie absolutely f*cking rule, it’s one of the few films to play to Kyle MacLaughlan’s true strengths, wisely casting him as an alien worm trying his best to pretend to be human. MacLaughlan and his human cop counterpart are on the hunt for an alien slug that keeps taking over bodies and forcing them to commit mass murders. Every time the “host” body dies, the alien has to find another body to vomit itself into. Which…I mean, do I need to point out how trans that is? Come on. Come for the Kyle MacLaughlan of it all, stay for the gay “kiss” at the end…
Homicidal (1961), William Castle
If you’ve never seen a William Castle movie—known for gimmicky twists and extremely 60s effects—start with Homicidal, the director’s finest work. As the B-movie world’s version of Hitchcock, Castle often ended up addressing many of the same themes. In the case of Homicidal, he straight up stole the plot of Psycho and decided to make it (somehow) even more trans. In this film, a young woman forced into pretending to be a different gender for the sake of an inheritance finally breaks bad one day, and it only gets weirder from there.
The Wolf Man (1941) George Waggner
If this film isn’t about transmasculinity, I don’t know what is! After a young man is bitten by a wolf, he starts undergoing an extremely hairy transformation every time the full moon rises. And much like Irena in Cat People, the transformation seems to be uncomfortably linked to sexuality. Being overtaken by fast-growing body hair? Not being able to control your hormones or emotions? Transforming into a howling beast who stalks the woods each night? Literally just describing a Friday night in my gayborhood!
Candyman (2021), Nia DaCosta
There’s a lot to love about both versions of this horror classic. But while the original film is more about an urban legend reawoken by a meddling white academic (lol), Nia DaCosta’s remake focuses more on the process of transformation our hero Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) undergoes after a run-in with the supernatural Cabrini-Green killer. And that transformation, make no mistake, feels trans as fuck. Getting an infection and refusing to see the doctor about it? Also highly trans.
Fresh Kill (1994), Shu Lea Cheang
Lesbian cat culture becomes the site of a grand conspiracy in this hidden 90s gem—and the queerness doesn’t stop there. When two lesbians living near a landfill on Staten Island notice that their cat is glowing green after eating a piece of contaminated fish, they try to uncover what’s behind it and boy oh boy, do they ever find out. When the monster terrorizing everyone is environmental racism, the call is always coming from inside the house, or in this case, inside the landfill. As one astute Letterboxd reviewer perfectly put it: “has anything so uniquely captured the pervasiveness of capitalism with such a delightful execution? will Sarita Choudhury have my hand in marriage?”
Onibaba (1964), Kaneto Shindo
A classic folktale turned into an iconic horror flick, Kaneto Shindo’s tale of famine, jealousy, and desperation in 14th century Japan has a brilliant trans twist at the end. When a lonely mother-in-law doesn’t want her daughter to abandon her for the guy she’s been f*cking, she dons a Hannya mask and pretends to be a demon in order to keep them apart. But the mask seems to have a life of its own, transforming whoever it touches into something other than human…
Get Out (2017), Jordan Peele
Jordan Peele’s Get Out isn’t just the defining horror film of our time—it’s one of the most subversive body swap films ever made. When Chris goes to visit his white girlfriend Rose’s family in upstate New York, he quickly learns that the members of the outwardly-liberal white family and their social group are not what they seem. A story about the cannibalization of Black culture (and Black bodies) by white society, Get Out also doubles as a “trapped in the wrong body” narrative of the most chilling possible variety.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), Philip Kaufman
While we’re on the subject of body swap narratives, holy sh*t is this one a doozy. Most of us are aware of the original 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which took cold war paranoia and turned it into a nearly-flawless narrative about the American fear of homogenization. But in the 1970s, different paranoias were emerging, and the story started to take on even grimmer proportions. In this version, Donald Sutherland is the one human left in a world rapidly being taken over by pod people. He doesn’t know who to trust or how to hold onto his identity—which is often how it feels to be trans in a world that hates you.
The Man Who Laughs (1928), Paul Leni
This creepy-ass movie was adapted from the creepy-ass book by one Victor Hugo, an early body horror champion. In this version, german actor Conrad Veidt had to wear what seems like extremely painful headgear to play the orphaned circus performer Gwynplaine, whose face was set into a permanent grin in childhood by a gang of child-stealing randos. It only gets weirder—and more uncanny—from there. Being trans often means having some pretty severe face dysmorphia, so forgive me for wholeheartedly identifying with Gwynplaine and loving this movie probably far beyond what it actually deserves.
Fear Street Trilogy (2021), Leigh Janiak
Y’all, I tried to keep Netflix off this list, but listen. If you haven’t seen Leigh Janiak’s ultra-gay horror trilogy, it’s the piece of content to make an exception for. In this three-part film series, R.L. Stine’s “Fear Street” books come to life, with a purpose. Not only do these films break all the (racist, homophobic) tropes of horror, it includes canon queer and nonbinary characters in its retelling of the Sarah Fier story. Also, having your girlfriend get possessed by the devil? Very T4T.
Hellraiser (1987), Clive Barker
A trans horror list would clearly not be complete without Clive Barker’s Hellraiser,a franchise so beloved it just got its own literally trans reboot. It’s no surprise that trans folks find quite a lot to love in the tale of Pinhead, the Hell Priest who loves pain so much it becomes indistinguishable from pleasure. The fact that he’s in the “Order of the Gash” makes it even more explicit.
Carnival of Souls (1962), Herk Harvey
If you don’t go around screaming “PROFANE!” at everyone you see on the street since watching this film, what are you doing? But seriously, this low-budget horror film takes what is possibly the most idiotic creative writing assignment known to man and turns it on its head, rendering a truly unsettling dreamscape in the process. Truly, what’s more trans than realizing you’ve been dead all along?
An American Werewolf in London (1981), John Landis
Imagine if you took the original Wolf Man movie and made all the violence and sex explicit? You’d get John Landis’s classic, extremely violent story of queer desire and body horror. This film deals with gay lust, suicidal ideation, fear of sexuality, and the concept of the “sacrificial” monster who has to kill himself to keep the world at large safe.
The Thing (1982), John Carpenter
It’s all right there in the title. When a group of Antarctic researchers happen upon a freaky, shape-shifting, body-swapping organism known only as “The Thing,” it doesn’t take long before trust is a thing of the past. Combining the finest elements of Invasion of the Body Snatchers with the paranoia of a much earlier “men on a mission” classic like The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The Thing continues to stand out as a deeply metaphorical horror tale about the many forms human fear and distrust can take.
High Tension (2003), Alexandre Aja
This one’s a real doozy, as we’ve discussed before. What starts as a classic Final Girl slasher ends up taking the viewer along for a highly violent ride until we get a truly messed up end reveal: the killer we’ve been following all along isn’t who we think he is. I don’t want to spoil this absolute gem for you, so I’ll leave it at that. But suffice it to say that this one is about as explicitly trans as they come.
The Faculty (1998), Robert Rodriguez
This 90s classic hits especially hard in the age of “Don’t Say Gay.” Seriously, what’s a more perfect metaphor for being a queer or trans kid in a conservative state than the brilliant concept of “my teachers are being controlled by aliens?” When the adults around you don’t listen to you or look out for you, it can feel like they’re out to get you. And in the case of trans kids, yeah. Sometimes they definitely are.
Society (1989), Brian Yuzna
Have you ever felt like you’re secretly not actually a part of your family? If you’re trans, there’s a 99.8% chance that the answer is “yes.” This is Billy Warlock’s problem in Brian Yuzna’s brilliant class-conscious body horror flick Society: after missing his sister’s coming out party, Bill Whitney (Warlock) is concerned to hear a tape of his sister talking about all the f*cking and incestual sucking that went on at said party. But he can’t get any answers from his family or his town: all of society is in on this conspiracy, and it’s going to take a lot of amazing Screaming Mad George special effects to get to the bottom of this extremely rubbery mystery.