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‘Knife+Heart’ Is A Kinky Queer Slasher Fixated on Male Beauty

Yann Gonzalez’s obsessive homage to the giallo genre is full of cumshots, dream pop and dildo switchblades

With more and more movie streaming services popping up, it can feel impossible to keep track of what’s showing where. So to help, this October I’ll be recommending a different film every day from one such service that embodies the spooky spirit of the season. From classic Halloween movies to indie horror to campy dark comedies, this is 31 Days of a Very Chingy Halloween.

Today I’m looking at Knife+Heart, Yann Gonzalez’s queer kinky porn slasher, currently available to stream on Shudder.

Paris, 1979. Anne Parèze (Vanessa Paradis) is a director and producer of gay porn whose editor and longtime girlfriend Lois dumps her for her volatile behavior. As she’s starting the production of her latest skin flick, one of her actors is brutally murdered in a sexual encounter with a mysterious masked killer. As more of her stars keep dying, the police fail to protect them and on-set tensions start to rise. Soon, smut begins to imitate life, with Anne modeling the plot of her new film after the real-life slayings.

I first encountered Yann Gonzalez’s work when I saw his short Islands (which I also highly recommend) at OutFest in 2018 as part of a queer horror program. It was a monstrously beautiful romance that brought to mind David Cronenberg’s disfiguring body horror and Gregg Araki’s nihilistic queer eroticism. Many of those qualities are present in Knife+Heart, too. There’s a similar focus on fetishistic desires as romance and bodily intimacy as an activity that facilitates an unparalleled level of honesty. 

There are also shades of William Friedkin’s Cruising (a film about a serial killer preying on men in the gay leather scene), but where that film danced around the edges of queer desire, Knife+Heart engages its perversions and fetishes wholeheartedly, with naked male bodies all over each other and more than a few cumshots and footjobs. Anne’s cast and crew are a tight-knit queer family who embrace each other sexually and platonically in a way that feels incredibly refreshing (and speaks to my own experience working on porn sets). It takes flesh slamming and grinding against flesh and turns it into a lush, surreal vision of sexual desire, all amplified by the score by dream pop band M83 (fronted by Gonzalez’s brother Andrew).

With an opening scene where a twink is anally stabbed to death with a switchblade dildo, the film very clearly exists in the realm of giallo, a genre that blends elements of horror, thriller and sexploitation (the podcast Girls, Guts & Giallo is a great source for more on this genre), but oddly enough, its violence doesn’t feel scary. There are no jump scares and not much of a spooky atmosphere. Rather, its over-the-top gore feels as though it’s meant to be just another piece of palpable beauty, designed to captivate and stimulate in equal measure.

Both Knife+Heart’s male characters and its camera leer at male bodies with desire that borders on obsessive. Anne could be read as an outsider in this regard — she’s not a man and has no sexual interest in men — but she appreciates the meeting of their bodies (and the squirting and writhings that result from it) as pure art. But her failed relationship with Lois and her limerent desire for her is meant to form an alternative queer parallel to the killer’s relationship with his prey. Both long to feel beautiful and in trying to contain and control someone else’s beauty, they lash out and harm them in the process. 

In a sense, Knife+Heart’s killings represent a horrifying conclusion to the classic homosexual mindset of being captivated by someone to the point that you question whether you want to fuck them or be them. In this case, it seems, it’s both. 

To see a list of each of the previous entries, check out the A Very Chingy Halloween list on Letterboxd.