Hulu’s Into The Dark has been delivering monthly feature-length, seasonal-themed horror films for over a year. For the first time, there is an explicitly queer entry with the Dec 27 installment, titled Midnight Kiss. Written by Erlingur Thoroddsen (Rift) and directed by Carter Smith (The Ruins), the film is about “a group of longtime gay best friends head to a beautiful desert home to celebrate New Year’s Eve. Relationships are put to the test and truths are revealed as the night turns into a fight for survival.”
After screening the film, which Trace Thurman and I discuss on the Horror Queers Patreon here, I messaged Erlingur and Carter with questions. Spoilers follow (so watch the episode before proceeding).
Q. Horror fans have been waiting a long time for each of you to come out with a new film. How did you both become attached to Midnight Kiss?
CARTER : Midnight Kiss came out of nowhere for me, I got the script on a Friday night and four days later I was in LA in full on pre production.It all happened really fast. I needed to just embrace the fact that it was like a speeding train and I needed to just jump aboard.
ERLINGUR: I had always wanted to write a gay slasher film and had toyed with some ideas over the years, so when Blumhouse approached me saying they wanted their New Years Eve episode for Into the Dark to be a slasher film with a gay angle, it was like music to my ears. That said, I ended up not really using any of my old ideas and came up with a new concept. I really wanted to explore a group of gay friends that have maybe outgrown each other, but that would also feel familiar and real to both gay and straight audiences. I didn’t want the queer characters to be on the sidelines, I wanted them front and center and dealing with real issues, as well as running away from a crazy killer. Thankfully both Blumhouse and Hulu were super supportive of that.
Q. This film feels vitally important not just because it’s the first truly explicitly queer entry in the Into The Dark series, but because it is unabashedly queer. There’s nudity, there’s a gay sex scene, there’s a black out room at a nightclub, even the use of glitter at murder scenes. Why was it important to include these elements? Was there any pushback or notes on the queer content?
CARTER: From the beginning Blumhouse / Hulu were clear about what they wanted. (Erlignur can speak to this more) They were careful to make sure that the story was in the “right” hands – meaning that queer creatives were the ones telling the story (including a cast of out gay actors). They were pretty hands off when it came to those “queer” elements. I never got any notes about there being too much nudity or sex. It’s Blumhouse – so we were getting more notes on the suspense and kill sequences.
ERLINGUR: It’s funny because when I was working on the first draft, I tried to tone down some of those elements because I was worried that I’d be asked to cut them. But to my surprise, the executives ended up encouraging me to make it more queer and sexually explicit. And then once Carter was involved, he pushed those elements even further, which I love.
I personally think it is important to include those elements. In addition to the slasher genre, we were also inspired by the erotic thriller, and in both those genres women are usually objectified through a very male gaze. As gay fans of those films, we never really saw the objects of our own desires depicted (unless you count Michael Douglas’ ass, which … okay, fine) and so with Midnight Kiss we had a chance to portray men in a sexy, sensual way. Not just that, but men with other men. You don’t see that often in horror, and definitely not in a program that reaches as large of an audience as Into the Dark does, and I think that is a pretty big deal.
Q. The setting and the characters feel very LA/West Coast. Was there ever a concern that the story was in danger of being too niche? Do you think queer audiences from around the country, who are so starving for representation, will identify with these characters?
CARTER: I think any queer horror fan – and we know there are lots of you – will enjoy the movie. This specific story is about a group of LA friends but I think people will see a lot of themselves in these characters. The way you deal with an annoying ex. How you relate to your best straight girl-friend. Those dynamics are universal – and I think gays from anywhere will relate.
We’ve spent so many years having to wade through subtextual and coded representations in genre films. There’s no shortage of queer subtext – sure – but it never really felt fair to me that I didn’t get to see myself in the movies I loved growing up. Midnight Kiss is a start. Hopefully one day we’ll have horror films with midewestern gays and east coast gays and small town gays and we’ll get the same broad representation that straight characters have enjoyed for so long. Both Erlingur and I spoke at length about this in pre production. Midnight Kiss is the movie that both of us wished we had growing up.
ERLINGUR: I believe the more specific a character (or a group) is, the more interesting it will be for an audience to watch. This particular group of friends is definitely very LA — probably because I had been living in LA for a year when I started writing this story and was still learning the ins-and-outs of the gay scene there — and I am sure that there are some LA-isms and character traits that queer audiences elsewhere won’t identify with.
But that’s what I love about storytelling — you get to peek into someone else’s world for a little while. On the flip side, I think a lot of the character dynamics will feel very familiar to queer and straight audiences everywhere in the world. The resentment and jealousy between two ex lovers, as well as the very tight knit friendship bonds between Augustus’ and Ayden’s characters for example. And of course, fighting for your life … that is a very universal thing.
Q. There are a lot of body and image issues (ageism, body dysmorphia, eating disorders) in the gay community, so I appreciated that the cast is diverse and not exclusively twinks with jacked Marvel bodies. How did you settle on this cross-section of characters and how did it come together in casting?
CARTER: Not EVERY gay spends hours a day at the gym. Sure, we have some hot gym perfected bodies, but FAR more people have come up to me after watching the film to say how sexy they found the “not perfect” bodies. I think it comes back to the power of people seeing themselves on screen – especially when they’re not used to it.
Q. Was there ever a draft where Ryan (Will Westwater) or Zach (Chester Lockhart) lived longer? Obviously there’s a need for a body count and establishing stakes, but they’re both killed off so quickly!
CARTER: Ryan was a character we added in pre-production for the sole purpose of being an early kill (sorry Ryan!) and Zachary always met his end at about the same place in the film. It’s a slasher movie – no one is safe!
ERLINGUR: In Zachary’s case, his death always happened at that point in the script because he is really the only other guy in the group that Cameron feels comfortable with. From a screenwriting point of view, the goal was to remove Cameron’s comfort zones one by one and put him to the test. And I think his death also comes as a bit of a shock because Zachary is such an instantly lovable character — you want him to live, especially with how Chester brought him to life.
I really wanted all the characters to be likeable in their own way, even if they aren’t the best people. Or at least for people to have a sense of where they were coming from and what they wanted. But I think it’s also important in a slasher movie to set the stakes up early and to raise them high, and killing off a character everyone likes does that very effectively.
Q. A few logistics questions about the events of the climax: why did Logan (Lukas Gage) wait seven years to act? Was there ever a discussion about having the finale be a more violent confrontation between Cam (Augustus Prew) and Joel (Scott Evans), or giving them more scenes to address the events surrounding Dante’s death?
ERLINGUR: Like Logan says in the end, he wanted the group to “see him” but they never did. Now he is forcing them to. He’s been trying to get closer to them all these years but never got beyond that first kiss. Eventually he hooks up with Joel and that’s how he manages to infiltrate the group. So I would say it’s less about “waiting” and more that it took seven years for the right opportunity to present itself. (Or, as Joel puts it, it took Logan seven years to become interesting enough for them to notice him!)
We certainly talked a lot about how to end the film and having two killers gave us a chance to do one “action packed” confrontation and one that was not as neat and tidy. Personally, I like those kinds of gray areas and to me, the way in which we leave Cameron and Joel feels like the appropriate end to their messy relationship and also allows the audience to consider what happens next. Is Cameron going to turn Joel in? Is Joel going to run? Is Cameron ever going to speak to Joel again? A lot of possible outcomes. Ultimately, you have to go with what feels true to the characters and that’s how we came up with this ending, which I am a big fan of.
Q. Logan’s motivation for committing murder is rooted in a kind of universal queer experience: the struggle to come out and the disposable nature of casual hook-ups in the gay community. Why opt for this motivation and how does that contrast with Joel’s motivation as a controlling, bitter ex-boyfriend?
CARTER: What I found so interesting was that with two separate killers, we got the chance to explore the very different things that drove each of them to kill. I do think that part of that motivation (for one of them) is rooted in a universal gay experience – which just felt right for this story. Yes, he kills people horribly, but it’s still kind of hard to hate him when things are all said and done. I think a large part of that is a result of Lukas’ incredible performance in those final scenes. It’s heart breaking.
ERLINGUR: Because this was a slasher film with a gay cast of characters, I really wanted the villain’s motive to reflect certain aspects of the culture these characters live and breathe in. One stereotype of gay men, especially in big cities, is that they have a reputation of being promiscuous and non-monogamous, which feeds into what the Midnight Kiss game is all about. But at the same time, there are plenty of gay men that don’t feel comfortable with being a part of gay hook-up culture and are looking for something different. So for Logan, it’s that catch 22 of craving men you only know superficially, maybe getting a taste of something with them, and then being rejected because they are off to their next conquest. He wants something he can’t have and the constant rejection has damaged his self-image to the point where he needs these guys to “see him” and the only way he can think to do that is by force … and murder.
So I would say of the two killers, Logan’s motive is the more satirical one in a way. Because this is an issue that is so prevalent in gay culture, it felt like an appropriate motive in a gay slasher film. Joel’s motive is personal, so it also makes sense that it connects in a more emotional way, rather than an intellectual way.
Q. One of the least expected developments is that Cam and Hannah (Ayden Mayeri)’s relationship winds up being the film’s most vital and enduring relationship. Is this a commentary on the fleeting nature of gay (romantic) relationships, especially in light of the queer-on-queer violence in the film?
CARTER: From the beginning it always felt like the Hannah / Cam relationship was the emotional core of the story. I think it’s a relationship that most gays (as well as anyone who’s been a Hannah) can deeply relate to. And it’s a relationship I feel like we don’t see explored that often – ESPECIALLY in a horror movie.
ERLINGUR: The Hannah character was inspired by my very best friend from Iceland, and if there is anyone that I would want to survive a slasher scenario with, it’s her. From the beginning, Hannah and Cam were always the two final girls, so to speak.
Q. Walk me through the process for shooting the nightclub scene (end of Act 1) and the lengthy cat and mouse back at the house.
CARTER: The nightclub stuff was pretty full on. We had an amazing crowd of people to fill the club but of course when you’re recording dialogue there can’t be music playing. So they’re out there on the dancefloor dancing to — nothing — an imaginary beat. We would play about 45 seconds of music right before we rolled the camera’s to help them get started but once we were IN the scene they were on their own. I think it helped that we had a crowd that was no stranger to being in a gay club. For the dark room scenes – we were just very honest and open about what we needed and only looked at people that were 100% comfortable with that. I was probably more nervous than they were while filming those scenes.
Q. Lightning round! The gay in me has to ask:
> Zach’s champagne bottle death – a homage to the death of Chugs in Sorority Row?
ERLINGUR: I don’t know about Carter, but I hadn’t actually seen the Sorority Row remake until after we shot this. That said, I will give credit where credit is due: the champagne bottle death was actually an idea from Michael Varrati!
(I reached out to Michael and he confirmed that while he’s a fan of Sorority Row, it was not intended as a direct homage: “We were sitting around one night brainstorming and discussing the iconography of New Year’s Eve and the champagne bottle with the mini-explosion that comes from opening the cork and how there’s something symbolic in a horror sense…like the bottle pops its top…and then Zach does. It was just a delicious and ghoulish image that I was really into”)
> How are none of these gays wearing a speedo at the pool?
CARTER: Do any of them REALLY seem like the speedo type? Plus, my good friend George has an amazing line of swimwear called Thorsun (which was VERY on brand for this group of LA guys) and sent me a box of swimsuits!
> We get a Logan/Joel sex scene, but only a tease of a Cam/Dante sex scene? Why are you two so cruel?
CARTER: I feel like the Cam / Dante scene – even if it doesn’t end up with full on sex – is WAY sexier than an actual “sex scene”. All that verbal foreplay back and forth between them is so sweet and intimate and honest.
Midnight Kiss is now streaming on Hulu.