I don’t think many people will dispute the fact that there are films out there which have a social or political subtext (or in some cases, are overtly political or social). Films like “”Erin Brockovich,” “”Born on the Fourth of July” and “”The Truman Show” all have messages. Some of the messages are painfully obvious. Others less so. With that in mind, I don’t understand why people have such a shocked reaction and express downright disbelief when I tell them horror movies also include plenty of political and social commentary.
I firmly believe that almost all films have something to say about political or social issues if only because they aren’t created in a vacuum. Horror films, despite people’s feelings about them, are no different. Some of the messages are liberal in nature (think “”Night of the Living Dead”) and others are more conservative (almost all slasher films). This isn’t some theory I came up with, either. There have been books written about this very subject, not to mention countless articles and film reviews.
Looking at slasher films in general, you can find a social message that serves to promote conservative values and societal mores. Young people who engage in drug use, drinking and (especially) premarital sex are killed. A great example of this, which a lot of people have seen, is the original “”Halloween.” The virginal “”good” character is left alive at the end, while her sexually active friends are wiped out one by one.
A film with a more liberal message would be “”Land of the Dead,” which examines classism and class warfare and is very blunt about it.
Even casual horror film fans (ones who typically only watch the hot horror film of the week and have little understanding of the genre’s history or its subtleties) are hard pressed to admit that many of the films have a message. You may be able to get them to agree that “”The Exorcist” made a point about faith, but they will balk when you talk about the points “”Hostel” made on American mentalities, cultures of excess, capitalistic exploitation, the effects of war on a people and homosexuality. You can even get them to ponder the civil rights message of “”Night of the Living Dead,” but it will be next to impossible to get them to even admit to seeing “”Cannibal Holocaust” let alone talk about its commentary on sensationalism in the media, xenophobia, colonization, and the line between art, entertainment and exploitation.
Maybe the reason people have a hard time handling this idea is because people don’t think of horror fans as being very intelligent. If they aren’t intelligent, then neither are the films they enjoy. The truth of the matter is that most horror fans I’ve met, the ones who understand the genre, are deeply intelligent and can discuss the social and political points directors are either directly or indirectly making. I know most people have a hard time believing “”The Thing” may actually have something to say, but it does. You can choose to ignore the message and still enjoy the film as mindless entertainment, or you can choose to examine what the director and writer ultimately said with the work.
I find that movies are far more enjoyable when you understand or at least acknowledge their messages. I don’t think it’s always obvious at first glance, but when it comes out later it adds depth to what you witnessed. (I had that problem with “”Hostel,” which I did not like at first. It has since earned my respect.)
If you’re one of those people who dismisses horror movies as mindless, gory fun, I’ll ask you to reconsider those feelings. Check out something like “”Day of the Dead” and then tell me there aren’t any messages there (you can start with the examine of the military/industrial complex). Not only may you be surprised, but you may also find yourself understanding these films on a whole new level, which will cause you to enjoy them more and, hopefully, earn your respect.
Posted on January 24, 2007 in Blogs by Excess Hollywood
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