Happy Halloween, UChicago! This year, Halloween lands just four days before the election. With many students being politically active and even voting in their first-ever presidential election, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to discuss some of the more political aspects of the horror genre. Since most of us have been weighed down by the onslaught of homework we’ve been given, it’s only fair to put on a few films to celebrate. Whether in the background or as part of a study break, here are five films to get you in the spirit for Halloween and the upcoming election.
1. The Stepford Wives (1975, dir. Bryan Forbes)
If you’re interested in women’s issues, one of the coolest horror films centered around the societal perception of women is The Stepford Wives. Based on the Ira Levin novel of the same name, the film is set in a small community—where women are more than eager to fit the subservient mold their husbands expect of them. But something just doesn’t seem right for our protagonist, Joanna, who gradually learns more about the eerie truth of the new town her family has moved to. This film allows viewers to explore various questions about gender roles (past and present) and produces an incredible thrill.
2. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956, dir. Don Siegel)
If you’re interested in the idea of collectivism and its repercussions, then Invasion of the Body Snatchers is the film for you. While not overtly political, the film is set during a time when McCarthyism was rampant. Some viewers interpret the movie as an indictment of communism, while others interpret it as an indictment of McCarthyism itself. Regardless, fears of the Cold War and communism were at a high, during the production of this film—making it nearly impossible to watch without applying one’s historical understanding of the time period. Based on the Jack Finney novel of the same name, the film is set in a California town struck by aliens, who are taking over and inhabiting the bodies of the town’s citizens. Much like the Stepford Wives, the protagonist, Dr. Miles Bennell, becomes aware that something is “off.” As the townspeople transform into lifeless versions of themselves, the keen doctor and his love interest try to stop the aliens from inhabiting their bodies and those of their neighbors. I love this film because it takes a stance against conformity and monotony. While preserving individualism may not seem like a political stance, it definitely is. And the importance of preserving individualism is an idea heavily explored in this film. If there’s one movie on this list that I recommend watching at all costs, it’s this one!
3. The Purge Franchise
Although I can only attest to the first three films, I believe The Purge is a highly underrated franchise. Many sociopolitical and socioeconomic themes are apparent in this movie. More than that, The Purge is a blueprint for what polarization and radicalization could give rise to in this country. Each franchise installment follows the night of different people experiencing the annual, nationwide Purge—their struggles, anxiety, and various atrocities. And as the series continues, a few things become clear: the violent attacks worsen as the Purge progresses, targeting is based on petty disputes, and people are searching for a sick thrill that they can get away with legally. And this all occurs in the name of “reducing crime” for the rest of the year.
As polarization and radicalization increase in the United States, this franchise is therefore worth revisiting. The series shows how anger manifests itself. And in the process, The Purge draws disturbing similarities to our own reality.
4. Cannibal Holocaust (1980, dir. Ruggero Deodato)
Before getting into this one, I must admit that Cannibal Holocaust is an incredibly hard movie to sit through at times—and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who gets easily bothered. It’s not for everyone, and it can take a toll on viewers. If you think you can handle it, though, then this film has a lot to say about our perception of what “civilization” and “being civilized” looks like. The movie also discusses intrusion into other lands and how individuals can respectfully engage in these new places. Cannibal Holocaust is set in the Amazon rainforest, where an American film crew is trying to capture a documentary about a cannibalistic tribe. However, the crew’s adventure goes awry as cultures clash, and both sides ultimately present themselves as threats.
5. Godzilla (1954, dir. Ishirō Honda)
If you’re interested in the impacts of war (particularly nuclear war), then there is no horror film better than the original Godzilla. There are many films in the Godzilla franchise, but none compare to the original. Set in Japan, the movie depicts communities destroyed by the titular monster, who came out of the ocean after an underwater hydrogen bomb test. Citizens and authorities alike are in a frenzy, as they must figure out how to defeat Godzilla. Like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, this is another film that is nearly impossible to watch without applying historical context. It’s important to understand the anxieties present in post-war Japan that shaped this film, though the anti-war themes of Godzilla nonetheless remain applicable in 2020.
Whatever you choose from this list, all of these films will be a great way to ask yourself questions about the state of current politics. Have fun, and stay safe this Halloween, UChicago!