Dark Musings: Social Commentary in Horror – What’s Missing in 2015

While horror often gets dismissed as a superficial genre, film theorists and fans alike will have a hard time denying that the best offerings not only influence cinema, but also help to define generations. The great horror films of the past hundred years manage to distill the political and social turmoil of their time and bring it to life as a corporeal monster. Through this monster we can begin to understand the pattern of real, human anxieties.

But there’s something missing from today’s horror. I don’t agree with people who say the modern genre is dead, because we have seen some amazing films in the past decade, but they are certainly missing something. We haven’t yet had a great defining horror film.

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Each decade is brimming with examples. The monster films of the 30s – Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Mummy, amongst dozens of others – show a dread of the invading foreigner. The 50s dished out countless monster and alien attack flicks, most of them having to do with radiation and scientific malfunctions that result in apocalypse; and perhaps the best of these, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, also depicts terror in the loss of identity.

Psycho moves away from monsters and shows the horrors hiding in ‘normal’ baby-boomer people of the 60s; and as the Vietnam war wreaked havoc, films like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Halloween revealed the chaos inherent in violence. The 80s reflect the 50s in the terror of the ‘other’ (films like The Thing and The Fly are even remade), adding its own sinners-get-killed slasher films as well. And finally, we reach the 90s and the 2000s, full of mundane evil (Silence of the Lambs) and also the contagion of the masses (28 Days Later and a Dawn of the Dead remake).

slasher

Where do we go from there? The new millennium is full of neuroses and fears. Technology. Stolen identity in social media. Global warming. Apathy. Racism and sexism. Suicide and murder. Tragedy is everywhere, all over our computers.

Yet, I have a hard time finding horror that really comments on any of this in an intelligent, conscious way. Unfriended (or, preferably, Cybernatural) may be the only film that touches on social media at all. While there are some brilliant modern horror movies, their focus seems to be on calling back to distant eras (usually the 80s) or parodying the genre entirely. (This in itself reflects a generation that looks to previous decades to find its identity, rather than focusing on the present; but this is not intentional.)

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It isn’t important to examine the reason behind this absence, because I’m sure everyone can find a different opinion. But it does point fingers at the hole in horror that needs to be filled. Our generation is rife with more dread and anxiety than any before us, perhaps, because we are conscious enough to recognize these fears. So a call to action for filmmakers, myself included: plunder these fears for stories that will resonate. I think we deserve, and possibly need, those films. As the late and great Wes Craven said, seeing our fears on screen helps to exorcize them.

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