The only goth worth taking seriously.

For its 13th year, the Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival is running with a light "homo horror" theme, actualized in the fest's camp-slasher trailer and carried out via screenings of choice queer-friendly horror flicks. These films range from scrappy new works (Jason Davis's Scab, about hot young bloodsuckers) to hall-of-fame hits like 1983's The Hunger (starring Catherine Deneuve, Susan Sarandon, and homoerotic wine spillage) and 1985's A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge (hyped as the most gay-subtext-ridden horror flick in history).

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The fest climaxes with a pair of special events: On Sunday, October 19, at the Central Library, Harry M. Benshoff hosts a (free!) lecture/screening based on his book Monsters in the Closet, exploring the role of the "monster queer" in cinema. And on Sunday, October 26, at the King Cat Theater, the fest wraps up with a closing-night extravaganza devoted to Elvira, Mistress of the Dark—aka the only goth worth taking seriously—created by actress Cassandra Peterson in the early '80s and exhumed by SLGFF to host a 20th-anniversary screening of her 1988 horror parody Elvira, Mistress of the Dark (and subject herself to an onstage interview by fellow psycho-dragster Peaches Christ).

But hidden within the hit-and-miss horror is an impressive collection of gay documentaries, by which I mean documentaries about gay people—musicians, artists, writers, porn stars, drag queens, and activists—which add up to a fascinating minifest of queer life stories you won't see anywhere else.

Actually, you may have already seen Derek, the Tilda Swinton–powered portrait of filmmaker Derek Jarman, at this year's SIFF, where it took the Grand Jury Prize for Documentary. Directed by Isaac Julien and narrated (and produced) by longtime Jarman collaborator Swinton, Derek is a smart, artsy film about a smart, artsy man—a painter who figured out early that his painting was average and turned to cinema, where he excelled on his own terms. Jarman's early films—1976's aggressively homoerotic Sebastiane, 1977's sexually violent punk chronicle Jubilee—established him as a fearless, one-of-a-kind art star, and Jarman soon found himself making films for such kindred British spirits as the Smiths and Pet Shop Boys.

Things took a turn in the late '80s with Jarman's HIV positivity, a diagnosis he bravely acknowledged, only to be accused by British tabloids of "mass murder." Feeling crucified, Jarman filmed his own bloody Passion (1990's The Garden); galvanized by the punk-with-a-purpose gay activism in the face of AIDS, Jarman shot a richly queer spin on Christopher Marlowe's Edward II. In Derek, Jarman's life and work emerge through an inspired weaving of film clips, interviews, home movies, and the intimate words of Swinton, who lays it on a bit thick: Written as a open letter to her departed friend and mentor, Swinton's narration is oddly solipsistic and slightly off-putting, but also provides a vivid description of what makes a Jarman film a Jarman film—"the whiff of the school play" that ran through all his works.

Another one-of-a-kind (yes it's a cliché, but when it's true it's true) gay artist is at the center of Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell, chronicling the fascinating trajectory of the idiosyncratic composer, cellist, and dance-music producer of the late '70s/early '80s. An avant-garde cellist obsessed with pop, Russell dreamed of making music that was both deeply experimental and massively popular—"Buddhist bubblegum," he called it—but the closest he came to success was "Go Bang!," an African-influenced dance track released under the name Dinosaur L that became a disco hit. Sadly, Russell's oddball artistic gifts came with a side order of crazy (what could have been a breakthrough collaboration with Robert "Einstein on the Beach" Wilson was foiled by Russell's erraticness) and his bittersweet life story adds up to a more compelling work of art than any of his individual creations—thanks in great part to director Matt Wolf, who wraps Russell's fractured-oddball story in an intoxicating swirl of words and music and artsy visuals.

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Not so artsy in either subject or execution is Wrangler, a straightforward star bio rescued from E! True Hollywood Story–dom by its fascinatingly odd star: Jack Wrangler, the stage and film professional who made his first and biggest splash as an iconic, Marlboro Man–esque gay porn star in the 1970s. From there, the self-avowed homosexual Wrangler branched out into straight porn (a hole is a hole to a born performer) and eventually straight life, if a gay porn star entering a celibate marriage with a female semicelebrity 20 years his senior (New York songstress Margaret Whiting) can be considered "straight." Throughout the film, Wrangler's oddly—almost compulsively—endearing persona shines through, and the ultimate value of Jeffrey Schwarz's film is its comparative study of image and reality. To his gay fans, Jack Wrangler was a larger-than-life macho persona capable of projecting palpable lust. As Schwartz's film makes clear, this Jack Wrangler was the inspired creation of a sweet and shrimpy nelly guy who talks about fucking an entire pool hall full of guys as if it were picking daisies.

At the fluffier end of the gay-doc spectrum is Eleven Minutes, following Project Runway season-one winner Jay McCarroll as he puts together his first Manhattan fashion show. Unfortunately, the film is a messy drag, offering an unflattering portrait of a reality-show casualty and climaxing with a horrifying sentence no human should ever have to say ("J. C. Chasez will only come if we send a car"). Even worse, the time I devoted to Eleven Minutes is time I could've spent watching other, certainly-less-sucky SLGFF documentaries, including but not limited to The Polymath, or the Life and Opinions of Samuel R. Delany, Gentleman; Pansy Division: Life in a Gay Rock Band; The Kinsey Sicks: Almost Infamous; and the sure-to-be-sobworthy For My Wife..., about the death of Seattle's Kate Fleming, the award-winning audio-book narrator killed by a torrential rainstorm in 2006, and the life of Charlene Strong, Fleming's partner inspired to influential activism by the loss. SLGFF 2008: Come for the Abercrombie vampires, stay for the multifaceted menagerie of complicated gay lives. recommended