Each month in Horror Queers, Joe and Trace tackle a horror film with LGBTQ+ themes, a high camp quotient or both. For lifelong queer horror fans like us, there’s as much value in serious discussions about representation as there is in reading a ridiculously silly/fun horror film with a YAS KWEEN mentality. Just know that at no point will we be getting Babashook.
As two gay men, we have opted to use the moniker “Horror Queers” for this series of articles. It is a word that has a complicated history due to its derogatory use by bullies and hateful people, but has increasingly been adopted as a term of empowerment and a unifying term that recognizes the many complex identities that make up the LGBTIQQ community. Queer has become commonplace in academia, politics and pop culture over the past three decades. We understand and recognize that the term is still very hurtful for some people, but we believe that the more people that proudly reclaim it, the more the wounds and stigma surrounding the term are reduced. Using the word “queer” is intensely personal, but it is a decision that we are committed to. Please don’t be an asshole when using it and we’ll get along fine.
***SPOILERS for Killer Condom to follow.***
Synopsis for Killer Condom: Detective Luigi Mackeroni (Udo Samel) investigates a series of bizarre attacks at the Hotel Quickie in which male guests have their penises bitten off. Enlisting the help of sex worker Billy (Marc Richter) and dodging the advances of former colleague and sexual partner Babette/Bob (Leonard Lansink), Mackeroni must stop the rash of condom attacks, but also face his true feelings towards Billy.
Queer Aspect: The film is unabashedly set in the world of sex work, Mackeroni is an out and proud gay protagonist and the villain is a religious hypocrite on a vendetta against “deviant” queer culture.
Joe, when I saw that you picked yet another Troma film just one month after forcing me to watch Rabid Grannies, I thought you were a sadist. After all, who would submit someone to that garbage yet again after they had already told you that it wasn’t for them?
Imagine my surprise when I found Killer Condom to be….pretty good? I’m just as shocked as I’m sure our readers will be, as I’m fairly certain that none of them have seen this movie. Martin Walz’s noir spoof is filled to the brim with raunchy humor, timely social & political commentary and some not-so-great-but-still-passable-and-somehow-hilarious creature effects. To say it’s a lot better than I expected would be a severe understatement. Now I’m going to have to spend the rest of my life trying to convince others that a 1996 queer Troma film called Killer Condom is worth their time. Thanks, Joe!
Based on Ralf Konig’s comic book Kondom des Grauens (“The Killer Condom”) and its sequel Bis auf die Knochen (“Down to the Bones”), Killer Condom is self-aware without bashing you over the head with its meta-ness. This is a movie that knows exactly what it’s trying to be and, for the most part, it succeeds. From the film’s opening scene, which sees a woman scream so loud that a gust of wind blows in the face of the man standing across from her, to the giant shadow projected on Billy’s face by Mackeroni’s 32cm cock (that’s 12.787402” for those of us who don’t use the metric system), Killer Condom is a laugh riot from beginning to end. It’s astounding that a movie like this was made in 1996, even if it was a Troma film (though to be clear: it isn’t a Troma production, they just distributed it), as it is very, very gay.
First, let’s talk about that condom. The condom itself is a fascinating beast. Designed by H.R. Giger (yes, that H.R. Giger), it is a sentient creature made by combining the DNA of a worm, a jellyfish and a piranha. It has a mind of its own and even makes these adorable little squeaky noises that allow it to emote (“That was the rubber. It hissed at us and ran away,” one character says). Walz even works in an Alien homage with a scene reminiscent of the Facehugger dissection. Oh! And what about CONDOM VISION?! This technical feat is achieved by (I’m assuming) stretching some latex over the camera lens. When the condom isn’t baring its fangs (because of course, it has fangs), it’s actually sort of cute! It has a personality that makes it one of the more memorable movie monsters of the ‘90s, alongside the monster in The Relic and the graboids in Tremors.
There is a surprising amount of insightful social and political commentary in Killer Condom. It somehow manages to simultaneously incorporate the AIDS crisis, the gay rights movement and the #MeToo movement. That’s not something I was expecting from a film called Killer Condom. An entire paper could be written about the ending alone, which reveals that the mastermind behind the killer condom epidemic is a religious doctor (Iris Berben) hellbent on wiping out all of the homosexuals and prostitutes. There’s also the fact that the police don’t ever look into the killer condoms because they’re only attacking “queers and hookers”, which makes it an apt metaphor for the AIDS crisis of the ‘80s. Mackeroni’s pro-love monologue that ends the film is a bit heavy-handed and on-the-nose, but the positive message is there.
The film even works in today’s #MeToo climate, with the police automatically assuming that the women who were with the men whose penises were bitten off are the culprits. If it was just one woman it would make sense, but the NYPD just goes off of the assumption that there is some castration epidemic afflicting all of these women at the Hotel Quickie. Yes, the mere idea of a killer condom is ridiculous, but the movie gets its point across courtesy of a completely inept police force (this could also be a commentary on the 1996-era NYPD). Why are none of these women believed? Phyllis, the girl in the opening scene, is not a hooker, yet the police still don’t believe her. If anything, Killer Condom may be even more relevant today than it was in 1996.
Also fascinating is how the film plays into the male fear of the condom. More and more pornography websites are dabbling in bareback (i.e., condomless) scenes because the mere sight of a condom supposedly pulls viewers out of the scene (for me, the non-porn equivalent is when a phone number in a film starts with 555…it pulls me right out of whatever movie I’m watching, but I digress). While discussing Killer Condom in their 2005 book “Culture and the Condom”, Karen Anijar and Thuy DaoJensen state:
“The fear of castration may just as well apply to condoms that supposedly protect the penis. Some men may find the condom emasculating; they are opposed to using one either because it disrupts the spontaneity of foreplay or it decreases male pleasure. In any of these cases, the sexual acts could be either homosexual or heterosexual, since the threat of castration is tacitly embedded in the social construction of masculinity.”
It does seem that Killer Condom is tackling these stigmas head-on, but I don’t want to get too deep into the themes of the film before you can chime in, Joe. So what did you think of Killer Condom? Did you find as much to admire about it as I did? Why does everyone in the film’s version of New York City speak German? For that matter, why (how?) is there a German news broadcast in New York City? Do you like firm male asses or pissflaps? And finally, what can a man do in New York if he’s lonely and doesn’t have his dick?
Trace, it’s probably important to note that those final two questions are specific dialogue references and not just you getting cheeky with me (though obviously my answers are: firm and go see a Broadway show).
Just to backtrack a little, I want to give credit to Patrick Hamilton and Brennan Klein (of Kill By Kill and Scream 101 podcasts, respectively) for this selection because when I listened to their discussion of this film, I was so gobsmacked by the premise of the film that I immediately knew I wanted us to check it out. Everything about it, from the premise to the “New York in name only” (and German everything else) to the savage political satire mixed with the offensive, outdated gay tropes is so utterly weird and fun. This movie honestly must be seen to be believed!
Like you, I enjoyed Killer Condom far more than I expected to. The humour is surprisingly witty and just on the right side of crude (what can I say, I’m a sucker for a good sight gag; between the penis shadow and the elevator-breaking sexcapades, I was sold). The critique of the police and the politics of prioritizing high profile cases while simultaneously diminishing or disregarding the lives of at-risk peoples (LGBTQ community and sex workers) is, as you pointed out, sadly still very timely.
We should not, however, disregard that the film has its share of problems. The weird “everything in German except the setting” can make for an odd disconnect at times (though it could be read as a comedic takedown of how many films are set in NY and filmed elsewhere). For me, though, the biggest issue in the film is the way that former police colleague Bob Miller, now Babette (Leonard Lansink), is handled.
Early in the film, it comes out that Mackeroni and Babette were an item. The experience instigated a sexual awakening in Bob that prompted him to become Babette (though the film seems uncertain if Babette is a trans woman or a drag queen and never quite figures it out). Killer Condom gets a lot of dramatic mileage out of Mackeroni’s inability to take responsibility for treating Babette like shit, but the screenplay infers that his reluctance to admit that they shared a genuine connection (or that they had a real relationship) is what a) drove Bob to become Babette, b) lead her to get fired or leave the police force (again, unclear) and c) become a sex worker at Hotel Quickie. As we discussed back in our Insidious: Chapter 2 entry, this is not how it works, which makes for some baaaaaad sexual identity politics.
There is a level of empathetic pathos to Babette (most evident in that aforementioned elevator sex scene where she lip syncs in melancholy fashion as Mackeroni gets it on with his new, young stud Billy). She’s also routinely treated as a pathetic, comedic character. And while there’s nothing inherently “wrong” about Mackeroni abandoning an older, less conventionally attractive partner for a dim-witted stallion, it’s hard to swallow the ending of the film – when Mackeroni is cured of his reluctance to fall in love and invites Billy to visit Sicily for a family introduction – as a genuinely celebratory moment. Yes, Mackeroni has been an insensitive prick throughout the film, but it’s clear that this ending is meant to elicit romantic awwws because the “right” couple got together and it just feels a little ageist/conventional.
But even as I write that, I swing back into positive territory because Mackeroni is such a body positive, out and proud gay man who refuses to take shit about his sexuality. Hell, he’s even willing to waste valuable police time and resources at the height of the threat to embarrass his asshole partner by giving him a yellow piss hanky in a kink bar.
I don’t know what to say, Trace. This is that rare gem of a film that’s both a hot mess and an absolute classic, all at once! How did you read the Bob/Babette arc? Do we need to discuss the weirdly xenophobic depiction of the “Asian scientist” (who proves utterly unimportant in the grand scheme) or the woman who gets her nose bit who is coded as “other” because no one understands her foreign language? And is there more to say about Presidential candidate Dick McGouvern (lol)?
Ha, do you mean the Asian scientist at the end who looks like the biggest Asian stereotype you can put on film? Yeah, that was…something. And I didn’t know that the yellow hankie signified water sports! I knew it was something “bad,” but I guess I didn’t put that much thought into it. Whoops.
As for my questions, putting them into context might be a good idea. Whoops again (that is also the first time I’d ever heard a vagina referred to as a “pissflap”)! It’s unlikely that many of our readers have already seen Killer Condom, but it’s available for free on YouTube so they should all go watch it right now! Apologies to anyone reading if you thought I was simply being crude, although it’s not completely out of character for me…
Moving on, I’m surprised that the “everything in German except the setting” aspect of the film bothered you so much. The sheer ridiculousness of it added to my enjoyment of the film!
I’m fully with you on Babette, though. At first glance she appears to be a drag queen but as the film goes on it seems to imply that she is a trans woman. It just never fully commits. Mackeroni’s (and the film’s) treatment of her calls to mind the transphobia (again, this is assuming that Babette is a trans woman) that is inherent within the queer community. We are not exempt from discrimination in the sense that some of us do discriminate or treat other members of the community as “less than” (just look at the “no fems,” “No Asians,” or “No Blacks” descriptors on Grindr). That internalized homophobia, racism and xenophobia is troubling, to say the least.
At the risk of getting attacked in the comments, I frequently see my queer brothers and sisters act high and mighty about political correctness while falling prey to some of the transphobic qualities we see in our straight counterparts. That’s a story for a whole other article, though. With Killer Condom, I cut the film some slack because it’s 1996. I’m not excusing it, but I understand that it’s a product of its time (despite being very progressive in many ways).
When it comes to Republican presidential candidate Dick McGouvern (or Dickless Dick, as the newspapers call him), it all ties back into the AIDS crisis! It wasn’t until the condom bit off his penis that the cops actually started to care and the killer condom epidemic became the city’s problem. It also highlights the hypocrisy of certain members of the right, as McGouvern is seen preaching about religious values despite the fact that he is with his mistress when the condom attacks him in a bathroom scene that, rather hilariously, pays homage to Psycho.
Also of note is the motive behind the evil mastermind’s killer condom plan. I’ll revert back to Anijar and DaoJensen’s text for this:
“The creator of the Killer Condom is a former Soviet scientist kidnapped and held against his will in a scientific laboratory below the church by a female doctor, Dr. Riffleson. Conflating Cold War anxieties, Christian morality, and anti-feminist backlash, Dr. Riffleson is an unmarried woman who purports to be a Christian feminist. She is a caricature of spinster bitterness, intent on performing “God’s work” by castigating and castrating the gay male community for engaging in sexual activity that transgresses the religious principle of procreation. Ironically, gay men remain central to the Killer Condom narrative, as the religious zealots seem uninterested in lesbians and heterosexual women, failing to do “God’s work” by creating a deadly female condom.”
This has to be a commentary on gay women being more socially acceptable than gay men, right? Isn’t the double standard that heterosexual men get turned on by watching two women kiss (among other things) while the mere sight of two men kissing is considered disgusting? I don’t mean to generalize, because this obviously doesn’t apply to all heterosexual men, but it certainly applies to some of them. Is Killer Condom commenting on that double standard? Or is it simply trying to focus on male sexuality? That is up for interpretation, I guess.
Joe, why do you think lesbians were exempt from Dr. Riffleson’s scheme? Why are people so grossed out by sexual things that are unfamiliar to them (this goes both ways, as I’ve never understood it when a gay man is grossed out by a vagina). Will you be trying to convince your friends and family to watch Killer Condom in the future? Finally, when are we getting a Criterion Blu-Ray of the film? It has to happen, right?
I would love a Criterion (or even a Scream Factory!) release, but only if it is chock-full of special features (I want a full commentary that goes in depth on the creative decisions that produced this cinematic oddity).
I’m glad that you raised the lack of lesbians in Dr. Riffleson’s plan (and in the whole film, really). For Killer Condom, it seems so specifically steeped in gay male culture, that I wasn’t surprised that lesbians were omitted until Riffleson’s plan made it explicit. I’m not sure that the film would have benefitted from an arbitrary lesbian character considering how singularly it focuses on deconstructing traditional notions of (police) masculinity, but the lack of women, in general, is noteworthy. The reality is that this movie is truly a sausage-fest.
One thing that has occurred to me as we work our way through these queer horror films is that gay, trans and lesbian characters are frequently kept apart, resulting in texts that are exclusively gay-specific or lesbian-specific (we’re still at a stage where trans characters remains so small that we’ve yet to see a truly trans-specific horror film. And no, Sleepaway Camp doesn’t count).
Perhaps this is too loaded an issue to include in the final section of this discussion, but is Killer Condom and other queer horror texts simply reflecting the lived reality of gay men and lesbian women who stay in their own lane (ie: don’t intermingle). Or is it that queer films don’t have enough of a handle yet to include more than a single “type” of queer character? Readers: help me out in the comments with your thoughts (or if you can think of any films that challenge this idea by including a wide range of queer characters interacting).
You’re absolutely right about the weird double standard in the depiction of gay men compared to lesbians, though. We both know that this extends beyond this film and beyond horror: in media, generally speaking, lesbianism is perceived as “hot”* while most anything to do with a penis is taboo. One need only look at how many films and TV feature full frontal male nudity (few) and what their rating is (hard R, baby!) in comparison to their female counterparts.
*Obviously it’s important to note that “hot” lesbians in popular culture are nearly always femme, so there remains a host of representation issues (and work) to be done in this area.
The disjunction about “acceptable” sexuality (and, by extension, nudity) links back to the male gaze and the bizarre assumption that the viewer is, by default, straight and male. This a) fails to take into account the statistical fact that there are more women in the world and b) more specifically, the number of women who watch horror. Why assume that high number of female horror fans (and us gays) don’t want a bit of dong in our kills? If we’re talking about dick: I recently had the pleasure of interviewing the two hosts of Final Girls podcast for the February issue of Grim Magazine and we made a specific point of talking about how they love to reference “the peen” in their discussion of the horror genre.
Interestingly Killer Condom isn’t the only horror film explicitly interested in dick-related trauma. Obviously there’s no shortage of sex and sexuality-related horror films, especially penectomy blowjobs, but I found at least two other horror films that predominantly feature dick-removal narratives: the 2007 vagina dentata film Teeth and 2008’s low-budget One-Eyed Monster, featuring porn star Ron Jeremy’s dismembered penis stalking and killing the crew of a porn shoot at a remote cabin. The latter is a horror comedy in the same vein as Killer Condom, while the former, a (great) rape/revenge film, plays its dismemberment as straight-up horror.
I was going to try and make a witty observation about how men who lose their penis are funny, but that’s a bit too glib. Instead I’ll just end with the ridiculous fake trailer for Handjob Cabin instead.
Dick horror is real, y’all.