Reality is sometimes the scariest horror of all, and the movies that deal with topics that could happen to the viewer can provide the longest lasting terror. Some of the movies in this post will be (loosely) based on true stories while others are based in issues that we all face as part of the human condition.
Though there are plenty of movies like Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), based on serial killer Ed Gein, and The Hills Have Eyes (1977), based on the legend of Sawney Beam, that make the killer out to be a crazy lunatic and akin to Jason Vorhees and other unstoppable monsters, there are plenty more that want to scare us by showing that the killers are just like us. Classics like Silence of the Lambs (1991), Psycho (1960), American Psycho (2000) and Se7en (1995) showed us threats from people who, at first glance, appear friendly. This kind of person even appears in the surreal Delicatessen (1991) in which a butcher-slash-apartment-owner provides wonderful, and apparently very fresh, meals to his tenants.
But what about societal horrors? For such a long time, people were afraid of communism, so it’s no surprise that our entertainment would copy that fear in celluloid film. A number of movies looked at how people living among us could actually be our greatest enemy. John Carpenter’s creepy and claustrophobic The Thing (1982), and both The Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956, 1978) are great examples of this paranoia. The Blob (1958, 1988) and the equally good pseudo-spoof The Stuff (1985) can be considered as a cry against Marxism, though The Blob’s (1958 version) producer, Jack Harris, denied this claim. It’s interesting to note that the 80s remakes take a more serious turn than their more B-movie 50s original, and therefore push the paranoia level a bit more (though not necessarily in a more entertaining way).
Then there’s a terror that will actually affect us or someone we know — mental illness. According to recent statistics, about 20% of adults will experience some type of mental illness in their life, with 8% of adults experiencing severe depression at least once. Schizophrenia affects 1% of the population while anxiety disorders affect 5% of the household population. Many movies use mental illness as a joke or cheap excuse for the murders, but some movies can show us the true depths that depression or other mental illnesses can have on people. The Butcher Boy (1997) shows us a troubled young Francie dealing with schizophrenia and severe family depression. Recently, we had The Babadook (2014), which gave us an excruciatingly dark look at a single mother’s severe depression. There are some directors that tend to focus on this type of horror, perhaps all of Lars Von Trier’s films, many of which are actually partly titled off mental illnesses (Antichrist, Melancholia, Nymphomaniac) and Darren Aronofsky’s films (Pi, Black Swan).
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is one type of mental illness that famously affects people after a traumatic situation such as a war, though can also touch anyone after a threat of death, serious injury or sexual violence. Jacob’s Ladder (1990) and the spoofy House (1986) are just two of many examples of horror based on the affects of war. In a sad twist, there are examples of people who find themselves with PTSD after watching horror movies. And no, unlike what we might have thought in the past, people are not weak just because a horror movie or injury brought on PTSD.
Moving on, there are movies that look at other issues in our lives. Racism, as well as poverty and oppression, are the basis of the movie Candyman (1992). There was a lot of controversy over Clive Barker’s Candyman, many of which claimed that the movie itself was thinly veiled racism, though I’m guessing the personal histories and culture of the viewer makes a big impact on how the story is received. Even maturity received a nod in horror films, with the wonderful Ginger Snaps (2000), which compared lycanthropism to menstruation, and imperfect It Follows (2014) that examined a group of kids at the cusp of losing their carefree adolescence (as the adults watch from the edges of the story) or, perhaps more broadly, the inevitability of death itself.
Wow, that’s some heavy stuff I’ve written about above! Hopefully one of these movies, or any of the movies I talked about this October, has scared you a little bit. If not, there are plenty more movies that I would recommend that I just didn’t have time to talk about (or completely forgot about, oops… Like poor C.H.U.D., Demons and 976-EVIL. How could I ever forget those?).