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[Horror Queers] ‘Batman Returns’ and Coming Out for the Holigays

[Horror Queers] 'Batman Returns' and Coming Out for the Holigays

Every month in Horror Queers, Joe and Hint deal with a horror movie with LGBTQ+ themes, a excessive camp quotient or each. For lifelong queer horror followers like us, there’s as a lot worth in critical discussions about illustration as there’s in studying a ridiculously foolish/enjoyable horror movie with a YAS KWEEN mentality. Simply know that at no level will we be getting Babashook.

As two homosexual males, we’ve got opted to make use of the moniker “Horror Queers” for this collection of articles. It’s a phrase that has a sophisticated historical past on account of its derogatory use by bullies and hateful individuals, however has more and more been adopted as a time period of empowerment and a unifying time period that acknowledges the many complicated identities that make up the LGBTIQQ group. Queer has develop into commonplace in academia, politics and popular culture over the previous three many years. We perceive and acknowledge that the time period continues to be very hurtful for some individuals, however we consider that the extra those that proudly reclaim it, the extra the wounds and stigma surrounding the time period are lowered. Utilizing the phrase “queer” is extremely private, however it’s a choice that we’re dedicated to. Please don’t be an asshole when utilizing it and we’ll get alongside superb.

***SPOILERS for Batman Returns to comply with.***

Synopsis for Batman: The monstrous Penguin (Danny DeVito), who lives in the sewers beneath Gotham, joins up with depraved shock-headed businessman Max Shreck (Christopher Walken) to topple the Batman (Michael Keaton) as soon as and for all. However when Shreck’s timid assistant, Selina Kyle (Michelle Pfeiffer), finds out, and Shreck tries to kill her, she is reworked into the attractive Catwoman. She groups up with the Penguin and Shreck to destroy Batman, however sparks fly unexpectedly when she confronts the caped crusader.

Queer Facet: The movie accommodates a mess of superhero “secret identity” tropes that mirror the repression/popping out means of queer people. Oh and Catwoman is a goddamn boss.


Ahhh Hint, I’m so excited that you simply recommended we finish our first yr of Horror Queers with this unorthodox (however utterly applicable) suggestion! Not solely are superhero properties rife for queer examination, Batman Returns is simply such a GREAT, iconic movie. Plus: this rewatch actually did affirm that it’s chock filled with content material for us to debate, which naturally consists of Michelle Pfeiffer’s career-defining position as Selina Kyle/Catwoman (I’m positive we’ll undoubtedly get to the icky real-world parallels between Danny DeVito’s The Penguin’s run for Mayor and a sure political determine in due time, however for now, let’s keep in the consolation of skin-tight BDSM leather-based outfits which have impressed numerous slutty homosexual Halloween costumes, we could?)

I’m unsure about you, however Batman was a seminal determine of my childhood: the 1989 movie is certainly one of the first movies I can keep in mind seeing in theatres with my mother and father and I turned so obsessive about Returns that I made my father drive to each single McDonalds on the town in order that I might gather the commemorative promotional tie-in cups. Naturally, the one I coveted the most was the Selina Kyle/Catwoman cup (surprising, I do know).

Now…I’m going to start out this evaluation with the Debbie Downer bit and then finish on a excessive observe. I’ve rewritten this preliminary part three or 4 occasions, nevertheless it took this rewatch for me understand that Catwoman – as an historic character, however extra particularly as a “villain” on this movie – is problematic.

She embodies the classical Hollywood dichotomy of virgin/whore that feminine characters are typically boxed into: she’s “bad” as a result of she’s a thief, however her narrative has a redemptive arc which confirms that, deep down, she’s a “good” individual. Identical to the feminine protagonists of 50s melodramas or the femme fatales in movie noirs, Catwoman/Selina Kyle is a “bad” lady solely in the sense that she must be “rescued” by Batman/Bruce Wayne and returned to normalcy by the time that the credit roll. Positive, she will get to insurgent, act out, trigger property injury, and pretend swallow a hen, however the actuality is that it’s nothing greater than lip service. Catwoman’s flip at villainy is actually only a delay tactic till the dangerous woman is redeemed by the hero at the finish of the movie.

Screenwriter Daniel Waters needs to fake that Catwoman is a liminal determine who straddles the hero/villain line, however there’s by no means a doubt that Catwoman is totally different from the Penguin and Max Shreck (the movie’s true villain). It’s somewhat irritating – and reductive – that the movie’s most energizing efficiency isn’t allowed to be really villainous or that the lone feminine character of observe can also be required to behave as the love curiosity.

Sure, it’s bred into the character’s historic (comedian) DNA, however wouldn’t it have been good to free Catwoman from the shackles of conference and simply let her be dangerous? Maybe this was too daring an concept and I’m being unreasonable for 1992.*

*However not likely, as a result of the similar destiny principally befalls Uma Thurman’s Poison Ivy in Batman & Robin and arguably there’s no try and even fake that Catwoman is dangerous in Nolan’s The Darkish Knight Returns.

No matter the gender politics of the character, although, there’s one thing indelibly fascinating about Catwoman in Batman Returns, which I credit score 1000% to Pfeiffer. Character criticism apart, I have to take a second to bow right down to Pfeiffer for her efficiency on this movie as a result of it’s really one for the ages! For me, her prance by means of the Shreck division retailer, casually whipping the heads off of mannequins, earlier than backflipping down the road and saying herself to Batman and the Penguin with a sultry “Meow” is sheer perfection.

Credit score Costume Designers Bob Ringwood and Mary E. Vogt, too, for crafting one in every of the most iconic comedian ebook seems to be of all time. Is there an opportunity in hell that that skin-tight lewk was sewn on a house stitching machine? No. Do I care? Under no circumstances.

However Hint, I really feel like I’m hogging the mic. This was your decide and I do know you need to talk about all issues Catwoman, so I’ll concede the flooring to you. Did you choose Batman Returns primarily for her, or did the camp aesthetic play into your choice? Additionally: we’ve obtained to spend time on Walken’s and DeVito’s respective manic performances!


It’s so humorous to me that McDonald’s had promotional tie-ins for Batman Returns. Clearly, the Batman property is all about merch, however Batman Returns is so not a youngsters’s film. That is some darkish shit and I can’t consider Burton acquired away with making it. Batman Returns is a chic piece of Gothic horror that was, sadly, but understandably, condemned for being simply that upon its launch in 1992. It has attracted a large cult following over the final 26(!) years, nevertheless, so we will at the least benefit from that. Additionally, it’s the greatest Christmas film. Gremlins and Die Exhausting be damned.

Tim Burton’s Batman was launched the yr I used to be born, so I used to be just a little too younger to get into the character’s first movie incarnation. I truly assume the first Batman film I ever noticed was Batman Endlessly. My introduction to the character, although, was in the excellent (and additionally considerably too-dark-for-children) Batman: The Animated Collection. My mom had seen Batman Returns upon its preliminary launch and hated it (the solely scene she might keep in mind was the Penguin consuming a fish and then biting somebody’s nostril….I assume that was the line that couldn’t be crossed together with her). Once I was round eight or so, I requested to observe the first Batman. So clouded was my mom’s thoughts by the inappropriateness of Batman Returns that she refused to even let me watch the unique. Although to be truthful: I don’t assume Batman ‘89 is that child-friendly either. Not because it’s too darkish, however quite that it’s far more of a sluggish burn. I discover it troublesome to consider that a baby would discover it notably entertaining (I discovered it to be extraordinarily boring once I lastly received round to seeing it once I was 10, however perhaps that’s simply me).

My mom lastly (lastly) let me watch Batman Returns once I was 13 and I completely liked it. Perhaps it was as a result of I thought-about the movie taboo since I used to be prevented from seeing it for so lengthy. Or perhaps it was as a result of deep down I acknowledged the queer themes and related to a lot of the movie. Or perhaps I simply beloved Pfeiffer’s efficiency. It’s troublesome to say, however I really like the movie a lot that I think about it the better of the Batman movies (sure, even higher than any of Christopher Nolan’s movies). Is it true to the comics? Apparently not (I’ve by no means learn them), however taken as a movie by itself phrases, it’s wonderful.

However sufficient about me, let’s transfer on to Catwoman herself. She has lengthy been certainly one of Batman’s most fascinating villains (I’m a fan of Poison Ivy, however Catwoman is an in depth second). I can’t converse to how she is written in the comics, however I attribute most of the character’s reputation to the actresses which have portrayed her in live-action roles. Julie Newmar, Lee Meriwether and Eartha Kitt all stood out in the 1960s tv collection for their gloriously campy portrayals (Kitt’s greater than anybody else’s, however they’re all nice). Michelle Pfeiffer gave us what might be the most iconic incarnation of the character (which is shocking contemplating she is the least like her comedian e-book counterpart). Halle Berry’s Catwoman is….a factor that exists. And I keep that Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman is the greatest a part of Nolan’s drab The Darkish Knight Rises (significantly, she is the solely individual in that film who appears like she is even reasonably having fun with herself). Pfeiffer reigns supreme, although. She is perfection in Batman Returns and I’ll perpetually be pissed that a solo Catwoman movie together with her by no means materialized, particularly contemplating the cliffhanger at the finish of Returns!

To your level: I most definitely don’t view Catwoman (as portrayed in Batman Returns) as problematic, and how dare you say that she is! I’ll let you’ve gotten the entire “the lone female character of note is also required to act as the love interest” factor, despite the fact that the dichotomy between Batman and Catwoman has lengthy been a defining level of their relationship. Sure, Batman does assist Catwoman alongside her journey, as does Bruce with Selina (who share a few of the greatest scenes in the movie), however it doesn’t take something away from her character. Finally, she has full company over her personal arc and she’s the extra essential character between the two. Hell, I feel she even has extra display time than Batman. He’s a supporting character in his personal film! It must be referred to as Batman Cameos (I can’t take credit score for this joke. I’ve undoubtedly seen it someplace on-line however can’t keep in mind the place, therefore the lack of a correct credit score).

You describe Catwoman as a villain, however the extra applicable phrase to explain her can be antiheroine (at the very least till that last scene). Sure, she steals issues, however she isn’t the similar sort of evil that the Penguin is. I feel you’re complicated what you assume the character *ought to* be with what the character is and all the time has been. To my information, Catwoman has all the time (or a minimum of post-‘80s…which I realize is a big gap since the character made her comics debut in 1940, but whatever) had elements of an antiheroine rather than an outright villain. There has usually been a conflict there. In Batman Returns, Catwoman acts as a direct counterpoint to the Penguin. She represents what happens when a person struggles with their queerness (and/or society’s acceptance of them) and comes out on the aspect of excellent (sort of…her swan music is murdering the fuck out of Max Shreck), whereas the Penguin absolutely embraces his queerness and turns into a pressure of pure evil whereas nonetheless being a considerably sympathetic villain.

Talking of, we haven’t actually gotten into the Penguin. Catwoman is clearly a metaphor for the coming-out course of, however what does the Penguin characterize? Is he, like I recommend above, consultant of the ostracization that queer individuals really feel after they’ve come out? To bounce off of your controversial assertion with a barely much less controversial one: is the Penguin problematic? This can be a decidedly queer character who’s made to be the villain, however his villainy rises out of society’s (and, extra particularly, his mother and father’) refusal to simply accept him. Ought to we be offended that this utterly queer character can also be fucking disgusting? I assume we will take solace in the incontrovertible fact that he clearly doesn’t have any physique picture points, proper? Walken’s position is much less fascinating (to me, a minimum of), however by all means touch upon that for those who’d like.

Oh! On a much less essential word: would the movie work almost as nicely with out Pfeiffer? Think about if Annette Bening hadn’t dropped out of the position as a result of her being pregnant. Or think about if, god forbid, Sean Younger had truly been forged.


Oh wow. I knew that different actresses have been thought-about (there’s all the time a shortlist) however it’s almost inconceivable to think about both of them in the position. I’m positive Bening would have finished one thing fascinating, although I’ve problem seeing her in the similar sensuous means (my solely information of Younger is in Bladerunner and Rachel is decidedly…flat).

Additionally: simply to make sure that everybody appropriately understands my argument, I’m not suggesting that Pfeiffer’s Catwoman (efficiency) is problematic; slightly I want that her whole narrative arc wasn’t all about Max Shreck or Bruce Wayne. Sure, the revenge plotline permits her to take superb company and her tete-a-tete with Bruce (notably on the dance flooring at the ball the place the masks actually come off) is my favorite scene of the whole movie, however dammit I would like extra for her! I simply lament that the Penguin will get to do his personal political narrative just because he needs energy (extra on that in a second). Greater than ever, from this privileged 2018 place, I need a storyline for Catwoman the place she simply will get to be her personal badass self as an alternative of being indentured to males.

Maybe this speaks to my largest criticism of Batman Returns: its overstuffed narrative. Whether or not you see Catwoman as a villain or an antiheroine, there’s a number of shifting elements on this film and typically it looks like nobody will get fairly the consideration that they deserve – definitely not the similar means that Nicholson did as the Joker in the unique. Chalk that as much as previous Jack’s star energy again then (he’s top-billed over Keaton) and the undeniable fact that the Joker is the most vital villain in Batman’s oeuvre, however the sequel overcompensates by including not simply Penguin, not simply Catwoman, but in addition Shreck. It’s lots of carnival juggling, even when the circus is on the town.

So let’s get to the Penguin. Slightly boy that doesn’t end up fairly as his mother and father anticipated, will get tossed apart to save lots of face, then tries to make one thing of himself regardless of all odds. As an alternative, he will get taken benefit of by a conniving imposter father determine who dolls him up and parades him round city as one thing he’s not. Then when the misunderstood man finally figures out who he’s, he tries to burn the fucking institution down (by way of missile-launching birds) and dies. Yup…seems like each 90s homosexual narrative to me!

In all seriousness although, it’s not onerous to see how and why this film resonates so strongly with the weirdos and the outsiders. It’s principally only a parade of freaks – together with Shreck and the carnies – directed by Burton at his most commercially-minded (earlier than he bought out and began making excessive octane, empty calorie blockbusters). In all probability the most conventional character, outdoors of Alfred, is that rattling area cadet Ice Princess and she barely survives a number of scenes earlier than she will get tossed off a constructing. That is actually a film whose narrative repeatedly reiterates that “normal people need not apply.”

In that regard, it’s a bit celebratory. However, yeah, if we think about the Penguin as the embodiment of queer on this movie, there’s a little bit of a “queer villain to be punished” angle to him. However, like your chorus to my Catwoman level (and as you advised), even the Penguin isn’t a real villain: he’s extra of a pathetic, misunderstood determine. As I stated up prime, Shreck is the actual villain, which might be why outdoors of Walken’s ah-mah-zing wig and campy efficiency there’s truly not that a lot of curiosity in him. He’s simply the man behind the curtain: pushing secretaries out home windows, capitalizing on alternatives to run figure-head political campaigns and making certain his talentless Donald Trump Jr-esque son is taken care of.

Sidebar: what’s it with ladies falling off buildings on this film?

Hint, I’ll kick it again to you to complete up (this piece & 2018!): what’s your tackle Penguin? How does Batman Returns match into Burton’s weirdness oeuvre? And don’t you secretly want that we might discover a artistic solution to classify Berry’s Catwoman as a horror movie in order that we will speak about that campy mess?


Oh Joe, you simply launched the phrase “privileged” to our dialog. You understand how a few of our readers really feel about that phrase! #Triggered.

Anyway, I perceive what you’re saying about Catwoman. I’m simply saying you’re incorrect, at the least with regard to her villain arc. Batman doesn’t save her. She chooses villainy over redemption. Positive, her entire character arc includes Batman, Bruce and Max, nevertheless it doesn’t revolve round them, and there’s a distinction. There’s a distinction…There’s a distinction.

Relating to the Penguin: positive, he’s a misunderstood pathetic determine, however he’s a villain. He tries to homicide all of Gotham’s first-born youngsters and when that fails, he then tries to explode Gotham with the aforementioned missile-launching birds (they’re so cute although, aren’t they?)!

There’s plenty of potential blood on Penguin’s palms (and precise blood, since he does kill fairly a number of individuals on prime of biting off a nostril), however Catwoman doesn’t have that “problem.” The one individual she murders is Max. She even exhibits some semblance of remorse when the Ice Princess dies. It’s her choice to homicide Max that cements her destiny as a villain. So actually, Batman Returns may be seen as Catwoman’s transformation right into a full-fledged villain (or, metaphorically, an enormous ol’ lesbian).

The most typical grievance with Batman Returns (apart from its overtly darkish tone) has been its overstuffed narrative, and I can’t actually disagree with that. Each Batman and Batman Returns are 126 minutes lengthy, however whereas Batman juggles two characters’ narratives (I’m leaving out Vicki Vale as a result of she doesn’t have a lot of an arc in that movie), Batman Returns juggles 4.

The Penguin is granted rather more display time than Catwoman, however that’s principally as a result of her wrestle is an inner one. The Penguin’s inner wrestle occurs off display in the years between his abandonment and the begin of the movie. Throughout the movie, his wrestle is totally exterior, materializing in his mayoral marketing campaign and his subsequent try and homicide a bunch of youngsters.

Catwoman’s inner wrestle is just (or somewhat, not-so-simply) a lady making an attempt to determine who she is and the place she matches in the world. Catwoman’s arc performs second fiddle, which is lamentable. Her massive “coming out” scene, through which she tears up her condominium, destroying her childhood belongings (very similar to how popping out successfully ends your childhood innocence) and diving into the world of BDSM is certainly one of the movie’s most potent moments. Mixed with all the things else happening in the movie, it’s a lot.

Talking of the movie being overstuffed, would you consider that Shreck wasn’t in the unique screenplay? His demise was, although! In one among the unique drafts, Catwoman kisses Harvey Dent (performed by Billy Dee Williams in Batman) with a taser at the finish of the movie, thereby turning him into Two-Face. That was scrapped when Williams opted to not return for what was primarily a cameo and the character of Max Shreck, who shouldn’t be in the comics, was created. This will likely have been an enormous mistake for Williams, as he was changed by Tommy Lee Jones in 1995’s Batman Eternally. I exploit the phrase “may have” as a result of that relies upon solely in your appreciation of Batman Ceaselessly. Maybe Dent’s involvement would have made the movie appear much less crowded since Two-Face is much less of a throwaway character than Shreck? Who is aware of?

Fact be advised, the entire mayoral election subplot is my least favourite a part of the movie (although it must be famous that this subplot was taken from two episodes of the 1960s TV collection). I can droop a number of disbelief, however you can’t persuade me that anybody in Gotham Metropolis would vote for this man to be their mayor. I’ll let believability slide because it’s such an over-the-top movie, nevertheless it’s simply not a very fascinating subplot, particularly when the Catwoman materials is sidelined in consequence. The movie picks up steam once more when the Penguin and Catwoman group up (their preliminary assembly is superb and crammed with disturbing sexual rigidity and sounds of leather-based), however that’s extraordinarily short-lived as they “break up” mere scenes later. What I’m making an attempt to say is, the movie wants extra Catwoman, however sufficient of my jizz-fest over the character.

Batman Returns is a bizarre film, however is it Burton’s weirdest movie? My intestine needs to say it’s both Pee-Wee’s Massive Journey and even Beetlejuice, however I select Batman Returns due to what he does (and modifications) with pre-established characters who’ve an extended historical past of very particular traits in comics and a tv collection. How did Burton get away with this? I imply, I understand how. Burton wouldn’t come again until he had complete artistic management and Warner Bros (Stupidly? Correctly? You determine.) gave it to him. Wouldn’t it shock you to know that the screenplay was written by one Daniel Waters, aka the screenwriter of Heathers? That definitely provides one other layer of queerness to the proceedings, doesn’t it?

As for Berry’s Catwoman, would you completely detest me if I stated I didn’t hate it? Don’t get me mistaken. It’s not good, however it’s not the practice wreck I used to be anticipating it to be once I noticed it…in theaters. It’s been a scorching minute although, so maybe I’m due for a rewatch.

Nicely Joe, so ends our dialogue of Batman Returns, in addition to our articles for 2018. It’s been a enjoyable run, and I hope our readers (nevertheless many there are) have loved studying these as a lot as we’ve loved writing them. Right here’s to a incredible 2019!

Subsequent time on Horror Queers: We’re beginning off the new yr with a scream, actually, as we deal with that Wes Carpenter flick, Scream…in a number of codecs. Keep tuned for some massive information in 2019 as we have fun our 1-year anniversary!

Batman Returns is accessible to stream for $three.99 on Amazon Prime. Or simply purchase the Blu-Ray for $11.90 as a result of it’s superior.

And don’t overlook to make amends for our earlier Horror Queers articles right here!

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