Hulu has pulled a Netflix with their latest original series THE HANDMAID’S TALE, based on Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel of the same name. In the buzzed-about hit, American women are forced into a hyperbolic form of subjugation after a plague of infertility. All women capable of childbearing are now “handmaids,” the property of wealthy commanders who submit them to all kinds of abuse in the name of providing them children. It’s a stunning dystopian thriller, but it’s also a poignant rumination on the state of women’s reproductive rights that’s even more topical now than in the time it was written.
If you’re enjoying the show and can’t stand the fact that there are only a few episodes left until the end of the first season, here are 9 modern and classic horror titles exploring similar political, allegorical themes that should help tide you over!
THEY LIVE (1988)
John Carpenter’s 1988 sci-fi epic is hardly subtle. A mysterious drifter stumbles across a pair of sunglasses that allows him to see the truth: the world is full of subliminal messages that convince people to “consume” and “obey,” being cogs in the economic machine and never questioning authority. Even worse, the rich upper class that is disseminating these messages is an alien race in disguise, bent on taking over the world! Carpenter’s angry indictment of yuppie culture is both an electric thrill ride and a biting political satire for the ages.
GET OUT (2017)
Jordan Peele’s smash hit directorial debut is far from funny. It’s a terrifying look at a world pulsing beneath the polished surface of American culture, played out in the story of black photographer Chris Washington, whose white girlfriend brings him to her parents’ country estate for the weekend. All the microaggressions and awkwardness that comes from the white upper class’s interactions with African-Americans become a twisted nightmare when Chris digs just a little bit deeper.
From Jonás Cuarón (son of GRAVITY auteur Alfonso Cuarón), DESIERTO is essentially a film-long chase sequence. When Gael García Bernal and a group of Mexican immigrants cross the desert border into America, they incur the wrath of the rifle-toting cowboy Sam, played to a T by THE WALKING DEAD’s Jeffrey Dean Morgan. The allegory is pretty much right across the surface here, with America’s tensions about immigration playing out as a bloody, tense battle across the brutal Texas terrain.
THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS (1991)
THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS is probably Wes Craven’s most underrated gem. Starring TWIN PEAKS’ Wendy Robie and Everett McGill as a pair of bloodthirsty landlords who keep disappointing kidnapped children locked in their basement, it’s equal parts delightfully over-the-top and bone chilling. Wes Craven’s career-long exploration of the dark side of suburbia hits its peak here with a tale of a “perfect” white family revealing themselves as twisted caricatures who oppress the urban citizens around them without a single thought toward their humanity.
ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968)
This classic horror flick actually has a lot in common with THE HANDMAID’S TALE. Like the title character Offred, Rosemary’s womb has been commandeered by a powerful man. Only this time, it’s the Devil himself. This psychological tale draws out two twin horrors: the terrifying prospect of a living creature growing inside you, and the idea of being a woman living in a system more or less designed to write off your very real problems as a simple case of hysteria.
Bernard Rose’s CANDYMAN, based on the Clive Barker short story “The Forbidden,” is riddled with political commentary on top of being a moody urban gothic masterpiece. Set in the notorious failed Chicago housing project Cabrini-Green, this modern urban legend features a villain who is a victim himself, the spirit of a man lynched for loving a white woman. But even worse, it features an academic white woman who thinks she understands the inner-city plight, sticking her nose where it doesn’t belong and accidentally igniting a reign of supernatural terror that causes more harm than ever before. A lot of the films on this list cover racial tensions in America, but no other film has crafted such a beautiful, terrifying, look at the reality of urban decay.
THE STEPFORD WIVES (1975)
Like ROSEMARY’S BABY, THE STEPFORD WIVES was adapted from a novel by Ira Levin, so the themes are much the same. However, instead of focusing the horror on pregnancy, it centers on the entire institution of marriage itself. How can a free-thinking woman love a man who views her as a lesser citizen? The women of Stepford certainly seem to have figured it out, but the new wife in town doesn’t trust their plastic smiles and vows to get to the bottom of what is causing the town’s epidemic of eerily perfect housewives.
INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1978)
The original INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, in which invading aliens replicate the bodies of citizens of a small American town in a sneak attack, was more about 50’s Soviet paranoia, but 1978’s remake of the title covers an entirely different topic: conformity. As the yuppie 80’s loomed, the counterculture youth of the 60’s and 70’s was growing up, taking on more “dignified” careers and fashion statements. Philip Kaufman’s excellent horror film dramatizes the death of that movement in this tale of individuality being stamped out right under the noses of an unsuspecting populace.
GEORGE ROMERO’S “DEAD” SERIES
George Romero first struck gold with 1968’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, in which he made the transgressive (at the time) decision of casting a black man in the lead. He realized that his tales of undead revenants and the humans who tear themselves apart while attempting to fight them were perfect fodder for a variety of political allegories, and he hasn’t stopped since.
In 1978’s DAWN OF THE DEAD, he explored the dark side of consumerism by staging a war between humans and the undead in an abandoned shopping mall, where the desperate survivors are so distracted by acquisition that they don’t notice they’re walking straight into the jaws of death. 1985’s DAY OF THE DEAD turned his incisive gaze against the American military, and although his more recent zombie trilogy was a little more polished, 2005’s LAND OF THE DEAD was a thrilling allegory about the American class system, set in a giant skyscraper full of rich people attempting to relive their pre-apocalypse lives.