by Jason Coffman
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To say that “gay horror” is an underserved genre would be a severe understatement. Despite the legions of independent horror films and independent gay and lesbian films made every year, there’s a surprisingly lack of films that fit both descriptions. Paul Etheredge’s 2004 gay slasher HellBent proved that switching the genders and orientations of the standard slasher-film cast could make even that well-worn subgenre interesting again. Sean Abley’s 2007 horror/sci-fi hybrid Socket put a gay spin on Cronenbergian body horror. I can name maybe three others— Jon Matthews’ Urbania, Bruce LaBruce’s Otto; or, Up With Dead People, and… I’m done.
Perhaps even more rare than the gay horror film is the gay horror film sequel, which may make November Son a first. It’s the sequel to a 2005 film called October Moon written and directed by Jason Paul Collum, which seems to have flown pretty low under the radar even for an independent horror film. Which is pretty amazing since October Moon stars Judith O’Dea (aka Barbara from the original Night of the Living Dead) and Brinke Stevens (star of The Slumber Party Massacre and countless other b-horror films). October Moon apparently did well enough to merit a sequel, though, and now we have November Son.
To call November Son a “horror film” may be a bit of a stretch— in the opening credits, it’s described as a “psychodrama,” which is probably closer to the mark. The opening scenes are a little confusing and overwhelming if you haven’t seen October Moon (which I haven’t), as they both bring us up to speed on the characters from the first film and kick off the storyline of the new film at the same time. And there’s a lot to cover— in October Moon, a young man named Elliot (Jerod Howard) loses everything when he realizes he’s gay. His mother Emily (O’Dea) rejects him, his fiancee Marti (Tina Ona Paukstelis) doesn’t understand and he loses his job. Worse, Elliot finds that the man he fell in love with has an obsessive ex-boyfriend whose actions turn deadly.
As November Son opens, we discover that Emily is now a drunk, Marti is hiding out in a motel somewhere, and Elliot’s roommate and best friend Maggie (Darcey Vanderhoef) has put his old room up for rent. The new tenant is a young man named Eli (Sacha Sacket), a photographer whose life eerily mirrors that of Elliot: not only does he have a similar name and live in the same apartment, but he gets Elliot’s old job working for Emily at a Christian women’s magazine. Will the cycle of violence and obsession continue?
Well, be prepared to wait a while for the answer to that— if there’s one deadly fault with November Son, it’s that the film’s pace is glacial. In addition, the constant flashbacks to events from the first film and the abundance of shots where someone sees Elliot when they’re really looking at Eli are exhausting. Very little happens for most of the film, other than the fact that we spend a lot of time getting to know the characters. In fact, this is something of a fault in itself: for example, we know Nancy (Stevens) well enough to know that tolerance is extremely important to her, so why does she date Eli’s creepy dad George (Lloyd Pedersen) when he vehemently disapproves of homosexuality? There’s nothing wrong with character development, but when the audience starts asking questions like this, it’s time to distract them with some action.
Too bad there’s not much in the way of action in any sense of the word in November Son. There’s very little in the way of violence, there’s almost no sex, and the reliance on cheap jump-scares only serves to irritate rather than entertain. There are a few gruesome moments late in the film, but it seems like they would pay off even better for fans of October Moon than new audiences, who are likely to be confused for a large part of the film and who have no real emotional connection with the characters from that film who don’t carry over into the sequel.
It’s unfortunate that November Son mostly just proves that independent gay horror can be just as meandering and frustrating as any other independent horror film. That’s not to say that there’s nothing to recommend here, though. The performances in general are pretty good, certainly a cut above most low-budget independent horror films, and there are a few genuinely creepy moments throughout the film. Still, it’s hard to recommend the film on its own terms— if you’ve seen October Moon, you’re probably the ideal audience. Anyone else might want to watch that film before giving November Son a look.
Jason Coffman is a film critic living in Chicago.
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