Back in the ’80s, sex was the quickest route to an early death in the cycle of slasher movies that dominated the decade's horror offerings. Just ask Kevin Bacon, who exited the original Friday the 13th under those exact circumstances. "I had premarital sex and smoked a joint," the actor tells Yahoo Entertainment about his early role in the landmark 1980 horror favorite. "Once those two things happen, you're dead!" (Watch our video interview above.)
Flash forward to 2022, and society has collectively gotten more enlightened about the "Sex = death" metaphor that underpins so many vintage slasher pictures. But we're still wrestling with how movies like A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge and Sleepaway Camp represented LGBTQ narratives in ways that have alternately been described as homophobic or secretly progressive. With his new slasher homage, They/Them — which premieres on Peacock on Aug. 5 and cheekily features Bacon in a key role — writer/director John Logan says that he's specifically looking to shatter any such ambiguity.
"We have a long cinematic tradition of celebrating and enjoying every aspect of heterosexual sex," the Oscar-nominated scribe of Gladiator and The Aviator says. "It's still so far out of the mainstream to have queer sex. One of the things that They/Them tries to do is celebrate gay life in all of its exuberant romanticism, eroticism and passion. There's sex everywhere in the ’80s cycle of slasher movies, and to reclaim some of that for the queer audience was definitely on of the motives with this movie."
Logan himself is an out gay man who says he "slowly" revealed his sexuality during his college years in the early ’80s, around the same time that Friday the 13th premiered in theaters. "It was not cool to come out of the closet back then," he remembers. "It was dangerous and scary for me. But after going to college and then into the theater community, I realized, 'Oh my gosh — there are other gay people in the world!' After that, I got more comfortable. But it's still challenging and one of the reasons I wanted to make this movie is so that gay and trans kids today could see it and know there are other people like them."
They/Them certainly breaks new ground in that it's the first Blumhouse-produced slasher film to feature an almost entirely LGBTQ cast, led by its non-binary star, Theo Germaine. The actor plays Jordan, one of several teen campers whose parents have sent them to Whistler Camp — a gay conversion camp overseen by Owen Whistler (Bacon). Naturally, Jordan and their new friends aren't at all compelled to alter their authentic selves, but surviving a week at camp turns out to be harder than expected when a lurking killer starts claiming trophies.
Germaine calls their presence in the film a "huge victory" that they would love to see function as a "gateway" for other non-binary and trans performers. "That's really important to me," they say. "I hope the stories in this film inspire people to write different and better characters who also fall under the trans umbrella."
For his part, Logan says that finding Germaine proved a happy ending to a difficult casting search. "The film begins and ends on Jordan's face, and the minute I found Theo, I knew I'd found the actor for the part. They have such sensitivity, openness, and intelligence, and they remained my human touchstone all the way through filming."
While Whistler Camp may be a fictional destination, there are a number of real gay conversion camps in the American wilderness, and their presence is a harsh reminder of the prejudice and bigotry that still confront the country's LGBTQ population. Logan says that reality of conversion therapy is almost scarier than anything he could invent for the film. "We do an extreme horror version of it, but it's not far beyond the things that I've heard actually happening, which is blood-chilling. But one of the things we do in cinema and particularly in horror movies is that we provoke ideas."
As a father himself, Bacon says that he struggles with the idea of other parents rejecting their children for expressing their sexual identities. (Bacon has two grown children with his wife, Kyra Sedgwick.) "There's a long history of forcing children into boxes, whether it's based on something cultural or religious," he notes. "I think that what you have to hope for is that, as a society, we grow and learn from that. With our kids, we really tried our best to say, 'Okay, you can do your own thing and figure it out.' That's worked out for our kids, but it's tough."
Some of the movie's young cast had firsthand experience with the religious boxes that Bacon describes. Growing up, Austin Crute remembers being subjected to Christian media like Psalty the Singing Song Book and VeggieTales that left "afraid of everything." Compared to those horrific creations, the actor found making They/Them to be an almost PG-rated experience. "When I saw there was LGBTQ representation in a film and in a genre that I'd never seen... I was here for the ride."
They/Them is premiering on Peacock in the wake of the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, which put a renewed spotlight on how the court's conservative majority — as well as the the more extreme wing of the Republican Party — might seek to change hard-won LGBTQ rights, including gay marriage. "I can think of no better moment for this movie to come out, because queer rights are being challenged in ways that were inconceivable to me five years ago," Logan says. "To get to tell a story that's about empowerment and celebration of differences seems a worthwhile endeavor and very timely."
They/Them's young cast similarly views the film as answering the call to confront potential oppression. "Complacency is death, so we have to recognize what's going on," notes Monique Kim. "People are saying, 'Oh, it's never gonna happen,' but look at what just happened with the [Roe v. Wade] ruling. It's a precedent that had been set for decades, and if that can be turned around, what's next? We have to take this very seriously and nip it in the bud while we can."
Asked whether they're worried about the future of LGBTQ rights, Germaine admits that it's a constant concern. "There are a lot of baddies who don't like us and don't want us to have rights," they say. "I have stronger words that I will not say, because it involves language that is foul! But that's also what makes me all the more excited and inspired to work on something like this. It is a project that takes the terror and fear that queer people experience very seriously... and you see that these are real people with real hearts and souls that need to be protected. I hope that someone who doesn't support us will see the film and be like: 'You know what? I need to change my ways.'"
— Video produced by Kat Vasquez and edited by Schuyler Stone
They/Them premieres Aug. 5 on Peacock