Bleats

How US Politics Determines The Horror Shows You Get To See

Beware: once you see this trend, it can never be unseen.

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.

“Velcome! I want to suck your blood! What do you mean, that’s a metaphor?”

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.

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED

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.

AH! TRUMP!

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.

Eh, should be fine.

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.

The Blair Witch Project Thinks It Can Come Back But Not Before I Kill It With Fire

It's 20 years too late to revive this franchise.

Remember The Blair Witch Project? The largely improvised horror film which taught the world that it was possible to get seasick while watching a movie and wrongly convinced a lot of people that they too could be horror directors? That one.

Well, twenty years after its release,the world is getting an expansion of the Blair Witchoverse which includes a video game, a new Netflix series and a cinematic sequel which ignores the previous sequels, just as all humanity should.

The game trailer was launched at E3 and at first blush it looks awfully like Silent Hill (which coincidentally also came out in 1999) – man in unfamiliar, supernaturally-tinged place where a character waves a torch around a lot while spooky things happen just out of view.

But here’s the thing: B-Witch Proj wasn’t a success because it created a rich and exciting universe which viewers yearned to explore. It was a success because it was an utterly pioneering concept – or, if you want to be dismissive, gimmick.

Still amazing.

It’s impossible to overemphasise how groundbreaking it was at the time. It created the “found footage” trope, it looked like nothing else, and it took horror in a fresh new direction which has been done to death over the last 20 years. Grainy video. Jump scares. Claustrophobic first person perspective. Endings that make you go “what the hell jusOH MY GOD”.

Seeing it for the first time in a cinema was a genuinely terrifying thing because the idea of a horror documentary was brave and new, and also most people hadn’t learned to assume that almost all documentaries were bullshit at that stage.

So to be good the new Blair Witch material is going to have to a) be recognisably Blair Witchy and b) still somehow avoid all the tired old tropes it invented and which everyone has now seen a billion times.

And if this video game trailer is any indication, that ain’t happening. Even Silent Hill realised that it was getting to Silent Hill-y by 2012 and quietly deep sixed itself.

Because by the third game it was already running out of ideas?

The game has some baggage to get over too since the Blairosphere has already been explored in the video game medium, the most recent – 2001’s Blair Witch Volume 3: The Elly Kedward Tale – being praised by PC Gamer as being “amazingly mediocre“. High praise!

And look, there’s a way to take something that defined unsettling and creepy and make it even more unsettling and creepy decades on – hell, David Lynch’s Twin Peaks The Return still haunts my nightmares – but let’s be honest, that’s unlikely to happen here.

Honestly, entertainment industry. It’s OK to go “this franchise isn’t a franchise, let’s develop something new” every so often.

We've Already Changed The Lyrics To Advance Australia Fair And We Can Totally Do It Again

As pointless culture war debates go, this is next level.

Let’s get something out of the way early: even in the fairly unimpressive category of national anthems, ‘Advance Australia Fair’ is a C- at best.

Musically it’s nothing special, lyrically it’s largely about economics and contains the arcane-even-at-the-time-of-writing word “girt” out of nowhere

Peter Dodds McCormick wrote it in 1878 in the hopes that Australia would federate, which only took another 23 years, but now it’s turned into a big stupid Australia Day-style flashpoint.

One one side are folks who think that it’s got white supremacist overtones. And they’re not wrong either – calling the thing “Advance Australia It’s OK To Be White” would have been too much of a giveaway, but describing ourselves “young” neatly eliminates a massive amount of non-European history, a point not remotely lost on First Australians.

And on the other side of the argument are those who think that it’s a founding tune-document of our proud nation and HOW VERY DARE YOU EVEN SUGGEST CHANGING ONE PERFECT WORD?

And we could point out that the national anthem was actually ‘God Save The Queen’ until 1984 (though AA-Fair had been made the “national song” in 1974), so the song’s noble and immutable history as our national anthem is as venerable as Jimmy Barnes’ solo career.

Can’t we make this one word our national anthem?

 

Or we could point something rather more pertinent out, which is that we’ve already changed the lyrics. Like, heaps of times.

First up, we left out all the verses about how awesome Britain is. And we dropped the verse about how we could totally take any country that looks at us funny (and contains the phrase “native strand” which would definitely have drawn attention away from “girt”.

WHO WANTS SOME, REST OF THE WORLD???

But also, the very first line used to be “Australia’s sons, let us rejoice”. And that was changed to “Australians all” in the interests of being inclusive of the nation’s non-sons. And spoiler: society didn’t crumble as a result. Turns out you can alter songs and it’s actually fine.

And sure, all this could be eliminated if we would just do as I have long advocated and officially our true national anthem – John Farnham’s immortal ‘Pressure Down’ – but until that magnificent and inevitable day, there’s nothing wrong with giving the old one a once-over.

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