The Corner

Are Horror Movies Liberal Or Conservative?

The best movie advice for this or any Halloween is: Don’t watch Friday the 13th on AMC. Friday the 13th may be hallowed by time and a million sequels, but it is a lousy movie and it gave birth to a lousy franchise. The only reason to watch it is to see some very fine special makeup effects work by one-time master of practical effects Tom Savini, including an axe in the face, a through-the-neck impalement, and a beheading. Yet when it airs on AMC, which has no qualms about removing half of Giancarlo Esposito’s head or showing detailed zombie snuff every Sunday, the film’s gore scenes (along with some okay nudity featuring all-natural Carter-era bods) are cut to ribbons, leaving it with no attractions at all.

The Daily Beast’s Asawin Suebsaeng, in his article “Here’s Why Your Favorite Horror Movies Are So Left-Wing,” posits the “boobs-and-blood-filled” slasher film as the only conservative sub-genre of horror movies. “These largely apolitical movies—packed with exploitative carnage and sex—nonetheless have a common theme that Moral Majority types can get behind: If you’re a kid who has premarital sex, does drugs, binge-drinks, and parties like a fool, you will be severely punished,” Suebsaeng writes.

As with most such efforts to justify ones fanboyism by finding political meaning in popular art, Suebsaeng’s argument is a self-contradictory muddle. The standard post-motive slasher film (not including precursors like Psycho and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, neither of which is a fully codified slasher picture) was invented by John Carpenter with 1978’s Halloween. As Suebsaeng (correctly) points out, Carpenter is a nominal liberal whose movies are replete with anti-authoritarian themes. Yet he invented the by-turns leering and puritanical language of the slasher film, including the damnation-causing flashes of sexiness. (You’ll always be Number One in this writer’s world, P. J. Soles.)

The question of whether horror is a conservative or liberal genre is an old one. Stephen King’s non-fiction study Danse Macabre includes a long and fascinating consideration of whether the genre is essentially Dionysian (in the sense that it’s about upsetting the natural order) or Apollonian (in the sense that it posits, and nearly always invites the audience to root for, a normal world that must be preserved against an unnatural threat). The King of Horror himself, of course, is a political lefty who calls Maine governor Paul LePage a “stonebrain,” but his work is shot through with hard-headed pragmatism and traditional morality that, if viewed from a certain angle (i.e., directly), seem clearly conservative. Few horror creators (Clive Barker being an occasional exception) ask us to root for the devil.

Nonetheless, Suebsaeng is to be praised for singling out George A. Romero’s 2005 Land of the Dead as a great movie about class struggle — though here too I think he misses the movie’s real significance: Land of the Dead is the best statement Hollywood has made about the 21st-century real estate bubble, and it came out a year before the correction began. All zombie films are about real estate at some level, but if you see this overlooked gem — which includes some grimly beautiful images that also got overlooked because the movie isn’t one to linger artily — you’ll see that it’s more directly so than most. The conservative film critic Michael Medved declared Land of the Dead “Not just a flesh-eating zombie film but the Citizen Kane of flesh-eating zombie films.” (Speaking of overlooking, why hasn’t our do-nothing Congress declared a national day of respect for Romero? As Jonah Goldberg notes today, American culture in 2014 is zombie everything, and Romero created the genre. But have they ever given him a lifetime achievement Oscar?)