Maybe it isn't an accident that Halloween and national U.S.
elections fall in such close proximity. Fear is a powerful driving
force for both. It certainly isn't an accident that politics
tend to leak into horror films, which often mine the political
zeitgeist to learn what kind of scares are selling at any given moment.
In fact, horror films are usually a better gauge of what's making the
country anxious than opinion polls are. As with politicians, there are
horror films for virtually every political stripe, as we explore in
this guide to how to combine two types of fear this Electioneen (or is
that Hallowelection?) season.
Horror Films For Left-Wingers:
The situation: An older married couple hears that their son
has been killed in Vietnam, but when they pray hard for the news to be
false, the boy returns. With a thirst for human blood.
The politics: Rather than being the elephant in the room, the
Vietnam War becomes the rampaging zombie who terrorizes Middle America.
Yes, that's right: In 1974, director Bob Clark made a movie that took
the bold stance of being against the war.
Key moment: Tired of being an inconvenient truth, the undead
soldier digs his own grave and buries himself. Talk about
passive-aggressive! That setup is echoed in…
Masters Of Horror: Homecoming (2005)
The situation: The scores of American soldiers killed in the
current war return from the dead to vote out the liars who put them in
The politics: Since George Romero pioneered the genre, zombie
movies have repeatedly been used for left-wing allegory, but Joe
Dante's political sentiments are so blunt that the film barely counts
as allegory (or horror) at all. The zombies here aren't hungry for
brains, they're conscientious, docile lobbyists for change; if
anything, the shotgun-wielding Ann Coulter-type played by Thea Gill
represents the real threat to humanity.
Key moment: There's no more sobering image than the mounted
coffins of dead soldiers, lined up in neat rows with the American flag
draped over them. Dante recreates this image in an airplane hangar,
only to have the soldiers angrily smash through their coffins, not
quite ready to rest in peace.
Land Of The Dead (2005)
The situation: And speaking of Romero's zombies, in the
dystopian future of his fourth zombie film, the rich get richer while
the poor get poorer. And also attacked by zombies. Evil businessman
Dennis Hopper tries to keep his city's zombie problems at bay by
secluding himself in a high-tech, expensively fortified skyscraper, but
when betrayed working-class mercenary John Leguizamo goes bucking for
revenge, Hopper has to deal with an angry, oppressed underclass and
a rapidly evolving zombie population.
Bush/Cheney stand-in, Land Of The Dead's depiction of a grim
world where the gulf between the super-rich and the super-poor makes
class warfare inevitable would make this one of the most overtly
political horror films of the past decade.
Eyes Without A Face (1960)
The situation: Of course, the gap between rich and poor is
nothing new for horror films. In this French classic, an experimental
plastic surgeon seeks out beautiful women to kill and skin so he can
stitch their faces onto his disfigured daughter. Hey, the rich are
different from you and me.
Key moment: A rich dude gets gobbled up by his own pack of trained dogs. Which raises a question: Do the rich taste different from you and me? If anyone has the answer, it's the protagonist of…
American Psycho (1999)
The situation: In the height of the '80s, an evil
über-yuppie (Christian Bale) amuses himself with hookers, a rigorous
exercise routine, incisive analyses of Huey Lewis and Genesis albums,
and mass murder. But is it all just in his warped mind?
yuppies, and the Reagan right could easily lead to blood-soaked killing
Key moment: Bale experiences a moment of stark professional
and personal panic when he worries that his business card (and sleek
business-card holder) doesn't measure up to those of his peers.
They Live (1988)
The situation: In another film set during the tail-end of
the Reagan era, unemployed tough guy "Rowdy" Roddy Piper acquires a pair of fantastical sunglasses which reveal that the yuppie ruling
class are actually sinister aliens controlling the world through
The politics: John Carpenter's sly horror-thriller takes
welcome shots at yuppies, Reagan-era conformity, and product placement,
subliminal advertising's creepy conjoined twin. Who knew a movie
starring "Rowdy" Roddy Piper could be so deliciously subversive?
Key moment: Piper's class-consciousness gets an instant
upgrade when he puts on the sunglasses and notices that instead of the
usual dead presidents, his money reads "This Is Your God." Subtle!
The People Under The Stairs (1991)
The situation: In a ghoulish former funeral home, a wealthy,
evil, incestuous brother-and-sister landlord team (Twin Peaks'
Everett McGill and Wendy Robie) who bear an unmistakable resemblance to
Nancy and Ronald Reagan keep a freakish gaggle of abused, kidnapped
boys (and one very unlucky girl) hostage while hoarding the money
they've made as slumlords.
Key moment: The first time McGill calls sister/lover Robie
"mommy" (Ronald Reagan's creepy pet name for Nancy), the film's
unsubtle allegorical aspects are made even more overt.
Body Snatchers (1993)The situation: Aliens are rapidly replicating the bodies ofan army base's residents, then killing off the originals, leavinganyone not yet "converted" running scared.
The politics: Abel Ferrara's take on the Invasion Of The
Body Snatchers scenario is in many ways the leanest and meanest
version—it ties the insidious evil of conformity to the concept of
military hierarchy. Because who can really tell the difference between
a pod person and an officer?
Key moment: The new kids in town face down their alien
stepmother Meg Tilly, who tells them that escape is pointless, because
"there's no one like you left." This is more or less how every Democrat
has felt on the last several election days.
Horror Films For Right-Wingers:
Of The Body Snatchers (1978)
The situation: Same story, different decade. And this
time, it's the conservatives feeling the squeeze. Aliens are rapidly
replicating the bodies of San Franciscans, then killing off the
originals, leaving anyone not yet "converted" running scared.
The politics: Don Siegel's 1956 version has been read as both
anti-communist and anti-anti-communist, but Philip Kaufman's 1978 film
has a clearer satirical take, slyly skewering the passivity of West
Coast New-Agers. An I'm Okay, You're Okay culture only allows
the pod people to propagate quicker.
Key moment: Self-help guru—and ruthless alien—Leonard Nimoy
informs wise-to-the-conspiracy Brooke Adams and Donald Sutherland that
they're "trapped by old concepts" and need to wake up to a world where
there's "no need for hate… or love." But there was plenty of love, or
at least scary, dangerous sex, in the decade to come.
The slasher film (1980-present)
The situation: A group of horny teenagers head into the
woods for a weekend of drinking and debauchery, but they're killed off
one at a time by a superhuman psycho-killer, often wearing a mask
and/or a dark trench coat
The politics: Reacting against the progressive sexual
politics of the '60s and '70s, Reagan-era slasher films like Friday
The 13th and their ilk were notable for their puritanical attitudes
about teenage sexuality, and were particularly vicious toward
promiscuous females. The only characters that survive these movies tend
to be the ones who keep their clothes on.
Key moment: A couple goes skinny-dipping or starts in on some
heavy petting, leaving themselves vulnerable to a bloody hacking.
Repeat for 10 years.
The Last House On The Left (1972)
The situation: In a modern-day updating of Ingmar Bergman's The
Virgin Spring, the parents of a murdered girl get the opportunity
to torture members of the cult that raped and killed her.
The politics: The dead girl brought some of anguish on
herself by going into the city to see a demonic rock 'n' roll band,
then trying to score marijuana from a dirty hippie cult. Honey, don't
trust anyone under 30.
Key moment: The parents realize who their houseguests are
when they see their daughter's peace-symbol necklace hanging around the
neck of one of the longhairs. Not groovy.
The Exorcist (1973)
The situation: Other films found the devil within. Preteen
sweetie Linda Blair gets possessed by The Devil—capital "T," capital
"D"—and after mom Ellen Burstyn exhausts the learned opinions of
egghead scientists and touchy-feely psychiatrists, she calls in a
couple of God's Catholic soldiers to clean house.
The politics: In the immortal words of The Louvin Brothers,
"Satan is real," which is good news for Christian fundamentalists eager
to see the clash of good and evil in non-metaphorical terms. And don't
think it's an accident that the movie is about an ineffectual single
mother, or that the story is set in Georgetown, a liberal elitist
enclave in that den of sin, Washington D.C.
Key moment: The priests literally go medieval on Blair's
ass, scarring her skin with splashes of holy water. Their God is an
awesome God. And one not to be doubted, as proved by a later exercise
The Exorcism Of Emily Rose (2005)
The situation: Loosely inspired by the most notorious
demon-possession case on record, the film mixes horror with courtroom
drama as it looks into the case of a priest charged with negligent
homicide for allowing a "possessed" young woman to die under his care.
The politics: At a time when "intelligent design" is making
headway against the teaching of evolution in public schools, Emily
Rose sets up a rigged Scopes Monkey Trial-like scenario in which
science fails to account for what the defendants argue is a religious
phenomenon. Once again, Clarence Darrow takes the loss.
Key moment: Initially skeptical of her client's claims—that
is, until demons start to pay her nightly visits—defense attorney Laura
Linney argues that the facts shouldn't determine the outcome of the
case, because they eliminate other possibilities. The motions of
prosecutor Campbell Scott ("Objection! Silliness!") are overruled.