For the second season of its popular horror anthology series “Into the Dark,” the executives at Blumhouse Productions were looking for something extra special: A gay slasher movie. The Hulu Original series premiered last October to positive reviews, with new episodes released monthly and all tied to a certain holiday. The feature-length episodes are essentially films, which allowed Blumhouse to develop relationships with up-and-coming genre writers and directors who may otherwise not have their work seen on such a large platform.
For “Midnight Kiss,” a sexy gay slasher set among a group of LA gay friends on New Year’s Eve, 2019, Blumhouse tapped out gay talent — writer Erlingur Thoroddsen and director Carter Smith. Rather than having to sell skeptical execs on a gay script, Thoroddsen was thrilled to learn Blumhouse was chasing gay content.
“They were very open to kind of different interpretations of what that meant. They kind of let me just do my thing,” Thoroddsen told IndieWire during a recent phone interview. “Once Carter [Smith] was on board, they kind of give us a little bit of free reign to play within those parameters.”
“I think that says a lot right there,” Smith added. “It isn’t something we brought to them and they hem-hawed about, and were like, ‘Oh, I don’t know, blah, blah, blah.’ This is something that they actively wanted, which was kind of exciting.”
“Midnight Kiss” takes its name from a game the friends play every New Year’s — each member of the group has to find a stranger in a club to kiss at midnight. The rules state that it can’t be someone in the group, and it has to be consensual. Thereafter, they can do whatever they want with the person until 6 am, regardless of their relationship status. When they arrive at a gorgeous vacation house outside of Palm Springs, hand-lettered cards await them, announcing the game is afoot. Meanwhile, a killer in a leather dog mask is slowly picking off the friends one by one.
Aside from one straight girl in the group, all of the characters are gay.
“I really wanted the gay characters to be front and center, to be the protagonists and have this as their story,” said Thoroddsen. “So it wasn’t putting one gay friend or some extra characters on the sidelines; it was really focusing on a group of all-gay friends and trying to be very true to how this group of friends would interact.”
Aside from the very first victim, all of the gay characters are played by out gay actors. Surprisingly, that directive came from the top. “Blumhouse and Hulu were very excited by this idea of casting queer actors to play characters,” said Smith, who admitted he was skeptical at first. “My initial reaction was, ‘Wait, if you’re saying a queer actor has to play a queer character, aren’t you also saying a queer actor can’t play a straight character?'”
Eventually, he realized casting out actors was best for the project, and leaned into the idea. He had no such reservations about showing male nudity in the film, of which there is plenty to satisfy horror fans of the gay persuasion. Once again, Blumhouse was totally game.
“When I started writing, I was very self-conscious about, ‘Oh, I can’t have too much, it can’t be too explicit. It can’t be — quote-unquote — too gay, because they’re going to probably ask me to tone it down,” said Thoroddsen. But Blumhouse told him, “No, no, no, you should make it more sexy, make it more gay.”
Even with Blumhouse’s full support, Carter Smith was adamant that they write the nudity clearly in the script.
“I [didn’t] want there to be any surprise or confusion when they see these Go-Go boys in the club. So let’s write in the script, ‘these Go-Go boys are naked.’ Put it all on the page. So it’s all there. And we did a whole second pass just to make sure that it was as clear as it possibly could be,” said Smith.
Having worked in horror for years, Smith noted a deflating experience where he fought “for months back and forth” to get a single shot of a man’s butt in a film. He eventually lost the argument, and it always stuck with him. “It was a one quick shot of a butt, but meanwhile there was a contractual obligation for female nudity within that same scene, so it was definitely a double standard.”
Though plentiful, the nudity in “Midnight Kiss” does not feel gratuitous, at least not any more than in a classic slasher film. “In the genre, you’re used to a certain amount of gratuitous female nudity that is very much kind of put in your face, just constantly,” Smith said. “[We wanted] to flip the script to stay within the parameters of the genre and show what the opposite side of that coin was like.”
“Nudity in the horror genre initially comes from a place of, ‘This is your most vulnerable state.’ If you go back to the shower scene in ‘Psycho,’ you don’t want to be attacked wearing nothing, and in this kind of relaxed state,” Thoroddsen added. “But yeah, we do have a lot of ass, and we do have a lot of sexiness, but it all feels part of a feast.”
“Into the Dark: Midnight Kiss” premieres on Hulu on December 27.