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Body Politic: Horror Films to Watch Before the Election

It’s an election year. You’ve watched the debates. You’ve seen the attack ads. Hell, maybe you’ve even felt a little back-splatter from all the mud-slinging…

Regardless of your own personal political affinities, it is safe to say that the voting public has been caught in some pretty nasty friendly fire this campaign season. For a lot of folks, this election has become The Most Terrifying and Grueling Experience in American History (“To avoid fainting, keep repeating: It’s only an election… only an election… only an election…”). As all the cable news networks broadcast their daily parade of political putrescence upon hapless viewers, where can we voters go to find some solace? Is there any escape from this campaign?

How about horror?

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Horror films have always been political allegories. One need not look any further than THEY LIVE to vibe on John Carpenter’s personal opinions on Ronnie Reagan. What were Tobe Hooper’s thoughts on American values in-and-around the Vietnam war? Pop in TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, and you’ll probably get a good idea. These claustrophobic fables provided enough metaphorical cover for their creators to insert their own patented brand of social commentary while scaring the wits out of their audience. But for the first time in, say, forever, our current election cycle is even more frightening than the fables our filmmakers can wrap around them. Truth will always be stranger than fiction—but this year’s presidential grudge-match has been downright disturbing, and, short of Blumhouse’s very own THE PURGE series, it’s arguable that the horror genre will have a hard time keeping up.

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Politics in of themselves within horror films is a rare bird. And for good reason. Politicians in peril would be the nichiest of niches. Hillary Clinton as the final girl, anyone?

Maybe we don’t need the metaphor anymore. Maybe our modern day politicians are monstrous enough? Horror fares best when its socio-political subtext is subdued, simmering beneath the surface of its story without sacrificing character and narrative. But November 8th is nearly upon us—and if 2016 has taught us anything, it’s this: Sometimes, subtlety just won’t cut it. Sometimes, you need to hit your audience—or voters—over the head. Hard. Bludgeon them.

So here is a choice selection of a few films that did away with metaphorical decorum and went straight for the jugular…

THE DEAD ZONE (David Cronenberg)

Cronenberg sure was onto something back in 1983. In history, hindsight is always going to be 20/20, but… I bet David is tucked safely up in Canada right now, saying to himself: Told you so.

“The missiles are flying. Hallelujah. Hallelujah…” Sound familiar? It was as if a particular pompadoured presidential candidate had slipped in a certain DVD before giving his speech.

 

THE OMEN III: THE FINAL CONFLICT (Graham Baker)

As the nation slogs through another Great Recession, a cunning and diabolical businessman leverages his wealth and corporate acumen to parlay himself a plum position in politics…

Nope, we’re not talking about Trump here. That would be Mr. Damien Thorn of Thorn Industries (though some have drawn comparisons between the two…).

As the trailer foretells, “To the modern world, he brings a purpose. A vision. A destiny. He’s one step away from the most important position on Earth.” Gulp.

 

DESIERTO (Jonas Cuaron)

Before anybody builds a border wall, migrants will have to contend with Jeffrey Dean Morgan…

Pair up Desierto with Christ Peckover’s found footage flick UNDOCUMENTED and you have yourself a double-feature focusing on the fraught relationship between the men and women trying to make their way into our country… and the sadistic individuals trying to keep them out.

 

HOMECOMING (Joe Dante)

This tongue-and-cheek “Masters of Horror” episode puts our politicians in its crosshairs, aiming at how they respect our soldiers returning home from the war in Iraq. Dante himself remarked that his hour-long entry was “a blunt hammer to this current administration.”

Nothing subtle about this one, folks. But boy is it fun. Just remember:

Every vote counts.

But maybe you want your horror wrapped up in a nice, warm, protective blanket of metaphor. The gauzy concept of zombies or aliens permits a safe distance from real-life terrors. The central metaphors of the genre’s most celebrated films are so durable, so elastic, they are actually capable of extending, even evolving, from one current political imbroglio to the next.

The war horses of political horror are, of course, the NIGHT/DAWN/DAY/LAND OF THE LIVING DEAD by George Romero and INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS.

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You can’t keep a good metaphor down, and the entire Romero zombie-oeuvre in of itself displays the plasticity of its undead allegory. Each decade since its inception in the late 60’s has brought viewers a new kind of zombie to contend with—or, more to the point, the monster itself has been malleable enough to evolve with the changing times and adhere itself to the political landscape of that time. NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and the Birmingham riots, DAWN OF THE DEAD and the rise of consumer culture, DAY OF THE DEAD and the Reagan years…

The central metaphor behind all three versions—or four, depending on your feelings about Nicole Kidman’s clunker—of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS proved to be just as elastic. The films confronted the red scare of the 50’s, the “me” decade of the 70’s, and the military’s own code of conformity in the 90’s.

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It leads one to ask… What’s the next INVASION going to be in a post-election year? What will the zombie-as-political-avatar be in the decade to come?

With THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR on its way to DVD this month, it is a surprise there aren’t more films coming out this year that confront our political landscape as it stands today. Depending on your political affiliation, there might not be anything more terrifying than our current contenders vying for the highest seat of office in our country. Regardless of which party you personally side with, you might think there is a monster on its way to the White House as we speak. Then we will have the next four years to inspire a whole new slew of horror films.

Then again, you might not need a horror movie to feel frightened at the moment. Real life might just do the trick. So remember, folks…

            Don’t forget to vote.

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