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NOW a warning...?

Updated: Mar 22, 2023

Robert Zemeckis’s dark and campy comedy Death Becomes Her celebrates its 30th birthday this year, and like Madeline and Helen, the film seems to have found a fountain of youth among queer fans. Upon its release in 1992, the film met mixed reviews and barely managed to cover its $55 million dollar budget in domestic box office. In the years that followed, however, the film grossed $149 million, and among its biggest fans were those in the GLBT community.

In “The Gloriously Queer Afterlife of Death Becomes Her,” Kristy Puchko tried to account for the cult status of the film in the queer community. Certainly the performers are each at the top of their game. Calling Madeline and Helen “the zombie equivalent of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford,” Puchko notes how gay men are often drawn to powerful femme fatales who refuse to play by the rules. Rupaul's Drag Race executive producer Tom Campbell, who used the film as an inspiration for a deadly runway challenge, finds pleasure in the sympathetic female anti-hero: “We root for the undead divas because they’re trying to win a game that’s rigged against them, and—to borrow an apocryphal quote from Ginger Rogers—they sort of have to do it ‘backwards and in high heels’.”

Drag superstar and “Queen of All Queens” Jinkx Monsoon places Death Becomes Her among her greatest influences. And cult drag performer Peaches Christ sat down with the AV Club recently to discuss its queer cult status. Says Christ, "Death Becomes Her could easily be a story about gay men and their value in the world being attached to their attractiveness, and how connected we are to women in Hollywood in that regard... Death Becomes Her is essentially a mirror for us."

Finally, there is something immensely queer in the film's final scene -- at Ernest's funeral, the priest judging the value of his life by how many children he has sired. And standing at the back of the church are two bitter old queens cackling at this heteronormative spectacle. It is significant that neither Helen nor Madeline have children; and in the end they are each others soul mates, for better or worse, for eternity. Death Becomes Her is about what it means to age queerly, and laugh in the face of "growing old gracefully."

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