I’ve never been one for a horror film. In reviewing Every Gay Movie on Netflix (and now just Every Gay Movie), I’ve tended to avoid anything scary. As a teen, the monsters in Doctor Who gave me nightmares, and I still look away when I sense a jump scare coming. However, it turns out that camp horror is a lot more fun. And if we’re talking about camp horror, then there’s no better place to start than a film titled Poltergay (It’s like poltergeist but gay! Get it?)
Poltergay (2006, Éric Lavaine) is a classic French farce with a deliciously camp twist. In a then-modern day mid 00s metropole, young couple Mark and Emma move into a house that has been uninhabited for thirty years. Unbeknownst to them, the building’s basement used to house a gay disco which burned down in 1979 when a foam machine short-circuited. Gay ghosts continue to haunt the house, but only Mark can see them.
Britney Line Time: “You drive me crazy, I just can’t sleep” (literally)
Eventually, his crazed rants about jumpsuited men and scratched Rasputin records drive Emma away. Will Mark manage to figure out the reason behind his visions and win back his girl? And will the gay disco poltergeists ever find peace? The road to finding these answers is predictably and joyfully chaotic.
Poltergay plays with stereotypes to such a ridiculous extent that it’s almost impossible to get offended. The ghosts, starved of new male company for decades, torment Mark ー finally some fresh meat in the house ー to farcical extremes: they take nude polaroids of him in the shower; they paint penis grafitti on the walls; they watch him having sex and they even offer up their own heavenly bodies, half-sticking their asses through a wall (yes really).
Dirty, flirty and dead for thirty years, the ghosts offer a gleeful response to every gay stereotype under the sun: limp wrists and mincing hips (try saying that with a lisp), check; sparkly outfits and floppy hair, check; being obsessed with the idea of having sex with straight men, check. (That last one ends up as a key plot point, bizarrely, but I won’t tell you how…)
Biggest Gay Mood: Being sexually obsessed with a straight man
The appearance of the ghosts keeps the intrigue and interest high at the start of Poltergay when storylines and characters are being set up. Weird signs burst forth from unexpected places ー including an anal mosaic in Pompeii (which will make sense later!)
The film also plays with the fear of homophobic politicians and tabloids that gays will destroy the sanctity of heterosexuality (“une propagande bourgoise” / “a bourgeois scam”, according to Salopette, one of the ghosts). In causing Mark to think that he’s losing his mind, the ghosts end up destroying his life by breaking down his relationship. Bless. You almost feel sorry for him. This mocking also serves as a commentary on the fragility of straight society: a life built up over several years can all be torn down in a matter of days by the flirtatious meddling of a few camp ghosts.
There is a further play on fragile heterosexuality as Mark’s own story develops. Outraged that he can see gay ghosts when no one else can, he becomes hysterical when a therapist suggests that they might be a manifestation of his own latent homosexuality. When he peeks into his therapist’s notebook, all he’s written is the word “PD” (“fag”) in big letters. In other circumstances this might be highly problematic and potentially traumatising, but turning it over on a fragile straight man makes it pretty funny, (sorry not sorry).
Altogether, the idea of someone questioning their sexuality is not handled sensitively at all, but it does make for some good humour. One scene where Mark attempts to flirt (badly) in a typically dirty neon Parisian gay club ー complete with cigarette smoke to mark the era ー stands out. It’s not a major spoiler to say that Mark turns out to in fact be straight, so I don’t mind laughing at him as he flounders. Besides, it was the mid-00s, so I think we can let a few things slide.
Top Tip: Don’t take it too seriously, and remember that it was the mid 00s
In the end, the ghosts have even more sympathy than I did as a viewer to the situation, and they end up striking up a deal with Mark: they will fix his life if he will help them move on in the spiritual realm. Ultimately, they follow his attitude: he is mean to them at first, and tries to kick them out, not listening to their story; they torment him. Then, when Mark agrees to help them, they set him up: on a date with Emma, the ghosts cook them dinner party food that Nigella and Delia would be proud of, craft stylish clothes for Mark, elevate the interior decor to levels of Bohemian elegance (what were we saying about stereotypes?) and give him advice throughout the evening to win back his girlfriend. Altogether, they become his gay guardian angels.
For another bat-shit crazy film centered around a gay ghost, check out A New York Christmas Wedding.
I won’t give it away, but the film’s conclusion ties it together in a neat thematic bow: it is wildly unexpected, but it also makes perfect sense ー just like the whole film. It shouldn’t make sense, it shouldn’t work, and yet it does. Okay, Poltergay is not a masterpiece of modern European cinema, but it is not trying to be. At the end of the day, I had fun ー isn’t that enough?