Horror Movies have always been Political - They are Our Modern Day Fairy Tales
Another horror movie has come out and breaking box office records. Reviews are pretty good and people seem to be enjoying it.
But in my feeds I will see on occasion “It’s too political”. “Why does it have to be so political?” “Horror movies should just be fun and not political”
Hate to break it to you but Horror has ALWAYS been political. They are our modern day fairy tales. And I don’t think anyone would call Grimms Fairy Tales not creepy or political.
The Castle of Otranto by Walpole, pretty much considered the first horror novel, set in times of chivalry, it deals with people in power being punished for either their, or their family’s past deeds. You then go on to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and you get pseudoscience added into the mix to call into question are human beings the real monster because in a privilege state of power we fail to do the right thing and others are victimized for it (honestly, Dr Frankenstein is a dick). Dracula, which is trippy, deals with parasitic nature of aristocratic society, the hubris of modern scientific society blind to its own weaknesses and women having premarital sex, autonomy and not acting like a proper lady.
Pushing forward to movies though there are others that came before, Like the Golem and Le Manoir du Diable, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919) is seen as a the first REAL horror film. A twisted take it is a man trapped in an insane asylum run by a mad man. It was made by Robert Weine and is a beautiful example of German Expressionism. But that’s the thing. It’s an allegory for how Germans were feeling after losing WWI and not being able to escape the economic impact of both the war and the reparations they were forced to pay.
You get into the Legosi and Karloff eras and monster movies were huge. But they were very political, often based on the first horror novels that had come out. The two actors most known for the era played these roles with both menace and pitiable qualities to help both scare and make the audience be able to relate to the monsters, pushing for them to look deeper into the allegories.
Then the 50s show up and you start to get cold war paranoia running through your movies along with fear of the status quo being overturned. The “others”, often aliens, would invade, our women would be easy prey and only the manly popular all American boys could save the day. Pushing an agenda that tries to make a very narrow view of what is the “right way” to look, act, be, which might exclude folks that can never look that way no matter what, as the default and Best is the very definition of political.
The 60s started to really focus on the role of women. Makes sense, you are starting to see divorce, birth control and women going to college in much larger numbers than before. That was very much changing the dynamic. So in comes the Bad Girl. Whether due to her own naivete and unwillingness to grow up (Rosemary’s Baby) or her truly being a Bad Girl (Psycho), these morality tales wrapped in horror wear their origins on their sleeves. BTW, Hitchcock and the Bad Girl/Cool Girl troupe, honestly, no one has done it better.
70s, 80s and 90s - premarital sex in full effect + new-fangled tech + plus drugs = devil children and the start of the slasher. I’m going to stop the timeline here because if you want to have it explained to you as to how these are political, trying to maintain the previous generations perception of what was moral and good in the world, go Watch Scream. Honestly, Wes Craven is way better at this than I ever could be.
Even when you think of the torture porn subgenre of horror (think Hostel, Wolf Creek, Saw) and splatter jump scare sub-genre (think Final Destination), these are incredibly political. Growing to popularity after 9/11 they deal with death being inevitable and you can’t escape it, people are horribly sadistic to each other and that in the case of the Saw franchise, we deserve it because we took for granted the good things we had in life and that if we are willing to sacrifice we can get back what we lost. Incredibly political.
Now if you are only used to Disney fairy tales, then yes, this makes no sense. But Cinderella has her step sisters cut off pieces of their feet to try and fit in the shoe and still don’t win (because they are entitled and not proper polite ladies) and the step mother who married for money, has her eyes pecked out by birds. Little Mermaid, who tried to marry a guy who was not from her world or station ends up constantly in pain because every step is like walking on glass and dies at the end because the prince doesn’t love her. So not exactly happy stories and certainly were there to teach little children to not wander in the woods alone, listen to their parents, and stick to their station in life. But only through being the best of the best in your station could you potentially rise up. For feudalistic times this seems super political messaging for the masses.
So I get it, sometimes it can be heavy handed. I mean have you seen Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2? Dennis Hooper is the walking talking moral of the story brigade in that film. But that doesn’t mean they are not being loyal to the genre. They are.
The difference is the medium is opening up. New voices, experiences and stories are coming out. This is a good thing. We would have never gotten a movie like The Ring in this country, that is very much based on adapted from an Japanese fairy tale and that movie is AMAZINGLY scary. And I like being scared in new ways. Paranormal Activity, which a complete throw back to classic horror of the 30s and 40s exists because the barrier of entry lowered so much.
Just like music, movies are going to split itself out. With sub sub sub genres and niche markets. The tent-poles will still be there (Taylor Swift and Adele post the music split) but people will more easily find things that speak to them in ways that are new and interesting.
So embrace it. Soon you will be able to find new horror movies that feel right to you. They might not be a huge success, but if they are speak to you, that’s really what matters. Art is subjective. And maybe you are just watching the wrong morality tales for your taste, that’s all.