Successful horror films tend to tap into the nameless fears of the time they’re created. And what is more existentially terrifying than politics?
For example, there’s a weird pattern of the horror films that come out the US and the political environment that spawns them.
Specifically, when Democrats are in power, there’s a weird explosion of films about vampires, because a left-leaning leader somehow leads to American fears about sexy amoral monsters with sexy and very foreign accents using their sexy sex powers to corrupt the moral and upstanding with sexy sex.
Jimmy Carter’s presidency coincided with late 70s series of Dracula movies, Bill Clinton reigned through the heyday of Anne “Interview With The Vampire” Rice and Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and Obama was the Twilight/True Blood president.
However, when Republicans are in power there are relatively few vampires. Then it’s zombies: a brainless mass of violent inhumans tearing everything to pieces for no reason at all.
Nixon coincided with the first wave, of zombie flicks, starting with Night Of The Living Dead, whose remakes and sequels landed squarely in the Reagan years, and the 28 Days Later franchise began around the Invasion of Iraq under George W Bush.
This pattern has been observed by cultural academics and pop culture nuts alike, and so with Trump in the White House you’d expect that there’d be an explosion of zombie films lately.
And the genre is still alive – The Walking Dead and its spinoffs have thrived, for example – but there’s been a couple of other threads to the horror genre which have some weird correlations with contemporary fears.
For example: we live in an age of anxiety, where the abrupt collapse of political norms has been accompanied by economic unpredictably and the erosion of a century-plus of the left-right divide, all underpinned by the slow but inexorable march of climate change.
So many of our fears in the last few years are free-floating and formless, and what’s come out of that? It Follows. Birdbox. The Babadook.
This background anxiety is cheek-by-jowl with very specific retro fears – particularly of pertaining to the 80s, an era in which the American president was also an entertainer with noticeably declining faculties and little apparent comprehension of the job beyond an aggressively military jingoism which included the willingness to throw around the casual possibility of nuclear war.
And what are we getting with our 80s throwback politics? 80s throwback movies: Pet Semetary. It. Child’s Play.
And what happens when you mix that strange, free floating horror with ’80s nostalgia? Stranger Things, one of the most successful programmes on television.
In short: you want to know what the politics of the west are at any given time, look at what’s scaring the hell out of people and it’ll tell you everything you need to know.
Conversely, if you’ve got a horror script to pitch, check the polling first.