I don’t know if you know tis, but 2016 is an election year. Yup, somehow both parties managed to put forward candidates that would make your racist uncle cringe.
That makes us all want to sink back in a chair, watch one of the following political horror movies, and pray for the end of the world to spare us another campaign cycle like the one we just endured.
The Purge: Election Year
The Idea: The Purge: Election Year is the third (but not final) chapter in the franchise. It follows the campaign of a woman who attempts to end the violence of Purge Night and how the system won’t quite allow it.
The Purge movies are a perfect VENN Diagram between destruction porn like White House Down and your more traditional horror movie. It’s basically The Warriors, if The Warriors was sanctioned by the United States government.
It also feeds into this hyper specific idea of what middle class America thinks should happen to all the poor people living here, getting in the way of the American Dream with their poverty and seeking the shelter of the greatest democracy in the world.
As far as political horror movies go, The Purge franchise as a whole is pretty great, but this third movie really gets at the great divide between what the different factions in this country believe about everyone else in the country.
You might argue that it’s a little too on-the-nose, but I would say it’s not. It started as a simplistic idea with the first movie, but the resulting sequels have fleshed out the world and the narrative of this bonkers version of America. (That, the more I see, doesn’t seem altogether bonkers and outside of actual reality.)
It also defines the corrupt political machine behind everything and the biases of all the parties involved, no pun intended there. You get the sense from watching these movies that everything is rigged, even the supposed rebellions. These are very cynical movies, and yet they strike at the core of what pretty much everybody in the nation is feeling right now.
The Dead Zone
The Idea: Johnny Smith sees dead people. He also sees a charlatan, psychopathic demagogue running for president who will cause World War III and throw the world into chaos. Sound familiar?
I almost put this one further down in the list, because I wanted everyone to realize the weight I think The Dead Zone deserves. This movie, based on the wonderful novel by Stephen King, feels less like a horror movie than a prophecy.
It might seem weirdly braggy, but I called it way back when. In my mind, Donald Trump IS Greg Stillson. They are both driven by a political lie — that they truly understand the plight of blue collar workers and can do anything about it — and exhibit similar narcissistic tendencies. I have no proof that Donald Trump has stomped a dog to death, but I wouldn’t put it past him.
Also, and this is the most important point, I truly believe Donald Trump would use a baby as a human shield if someone were to attempt an assassination.
I might be showing my political cards a little bit, but I honestly always thought The Dead Zone would be a novel that exists only in the plane of political satire…until now. The way that Donald Trump has run his campaign makes me believe that there is no idea mocking the American political system that won’t eventually come true.
It’s what makes both King’s novel from the EARLY 80S and the film of the same name by David Cronenberg so catastrophically prescient today. Of all the political horror movies on the list, I am most convinced that The Dead Zone is not actually a work of fiction. I believe Stephen King traveled into the future, saw what would happen in 2016, and changed the names to protect himself. (That also makes me question the legitimacy of the novel 11/22/63. Is Stephen King a time traveler?)
Woo, boy. Okay, so I could say SO many awesome things about They Live. When I first saw this John Carpenter masterpiece in the 80s, I liked it because of the idea. I WANTED THOSE SUNGLASSES…and that’s pretty much where the movie’s appeal ended. I thought it was cool, and it supported my secret kid idea that there actually were aliens walking around. I just couldn’t prove it.
ANYWAY, They Live skewers just about everything you could imagine being messed up about Reagan’s America. I was but a wee little honkey, but I don’t remember the whole GREED IS GOOD aspect of the 80s the way this movie portrays it. Nevertheless, this movie totally gets it, and even though I don’t think the third act lands the way it should, Carpenter made one of the most iconic movies of the decade. People still talk about chewing gum and kicking as, so Rowdy Roddy Piper wins the 80s.
The errs of consumerism is one of the great themes of political horror movies. It’s kind of like watching FOX after Thanksgiving. You just get a whole lot of wars against X as the sole message.
However, They Live isn’t just a simple screed against spending. It’s a load of buckshot against EVERYTHING 80s, everything right-leaning, and everything stupid and superficial.
A freak storm leaves a white fog lingering over a small town, and a group of people go all Jonestown as they try to read the tea leaves of their unfortunate circumstances.
It’s probably no surprise that we’d place yet another Stephen King property on this list, but here we are. And I get it: The Mist doesn’t seem on its face to be a political movie. You’ve got some crazy yokels hanging out in a grocery store, just waiting to become alien snacks.
However, once the shit hits the cereal aisle, what transpires in the grocery store is pure political gold. The two factions in the store — the religious zealot loonies and the normal people — divide off and become enemies as they decide on what to do about being trapped in the local Piggly Wiggly.
Marcia Gay Harden completely nails her turn as the Manson-Christ figure of her little cult. It’s reminiscent of the fire-and-brimstome healing preachers of the 80s, and since Americans are perpetually endangered by the reckless antics of Bible-thumping charlatans, the story presented in The Mist will forever be prescient in discussions of politics.
I’ll give it to you: The Mist is probably the least political of all the political horror movies on this list, but it is certainly one of the most evocative. I found the tension within the store to be much more severe and malleable than whatever was occurring outside. Mostly, this:
An African-American slasher villain haunts a white woman, and a very white, PC exploration of Chicago’s worst poverty is explored.
Candyman worships at the altar of good intentions. The plot is basically this: a white college woman (Virginia Madsen) decides to investigate a “black” myth and ends up getting her ass completely fucked up.
At the core of what could have been (and was) a very silly myth was a tale of urban horror (I hate the word urban, but it seemed to fit here) more legitimately frightening than almost anything out there.
I watched Candyman a few months ago, and the movie still holds up. (Except for smoking indoors. So weird that something that used to be so commonplace was revolting and shocking to me today.)
The movie tackles race and racism in a very 90s way. We get the sense that Virginia Madsen is the ingenue at the center of Candyman’s cruel intentions (sorry; couldn’t help myself) but it doesn’t go as far as it could have. I wanted to see Madsen’s character really fall under the spell of the movie’s black pro-antagonist.
And yet, the movie still makes one hell of a point about how those living in poverty get completely forgotten and fucked over. It really does make me sick, and I wish more movies explored the dynamic of race in horror with more honesty, rather than simple moralizing. Race in America is a complicated thing; take it from me, the out-of-touch white guy. /s
Oh, well. I guess I’ll go back to my DVD copy of Save the Last Dance as I adjust the band on my #MAGA ballcap.
Dawn of the Dead (or, Basically Any George A. Romero Movie Ever Made)
Zombies go to the mall. It’s perfect.
Dawn of the Dead is not just a perfect movie. It is practically synonymous with political horror movies as an entire idea. Not that George A. Romero’s follow-up to the incendiary Night of the Living Dead created the political horror movie — they go back all the way to the Universal flicks and beyond — but this one was so intentionally made as to point the finger at White America, the media, consumers, the military-industrial complex. Basically, everything. Everything seemed to piss George Romero off. And thank God for that. Because of him, we were able to get this beast of a good film.
You could go down the line of Romero’s movies to get the political silver lining: The Crazies, Martin, Monkey Shines, et cetera , et cetera, et cetera. I could go on and on all night. The truth is, though, that I think ultimately that Dawn of the Dead is the culmination of Romero’s vision, direction, and political commentator..ship? Anyway, the idea that the undead would return to the mall because it’s what they remember is appalling (and probably true), and I think this movie is the face that set a thousand ships. Just about every cut-rate zombie movie attempts to show the ills of being an avid consumer, and it can all be traced back to Dawn of the Dead.
Personally, I’d like to see Romero’s take on the absolute surfeit of consumerism from today. Dude made a lasting impression on me and the rest of the podcast.
Tell us: what are your favorite political horror movies?