We selected 50 of our favorite horror films—75, actually, before we were forced to scale back for the sake of maintaining digestibility—and plotted them on a Left-Right spectrum, based on our assumption of their implied political leanings. CLICK HERE FOR FOR THE HIGH RESOLUTION VERSION
To keep things manageable, we applied two parameters to our process of selection by considering only English language films produced between 1974 and 2014. (If this seems arbitrary, remember that Stephen King only talked about horror films and literature from between 1950 and 1980 in Danse Macabre—then ask yourself whether you would argue with the patriarch-boogeyman of Bangor. We didn’t think so.)
Horror fans to the core, we had to make some difficult cuts. These largely included films from the 70s and 80s, which are the decades in which most of our favorites were produced. We trimmed our initial pool somewhat significantly to create an even distribution of films produced throughout each decade, and did so by omitting those that had similar or overlapping themes. We were particularly sorry to see so many Cronenberg and Carpenter films get cut. They are two of our favorite directors and we had originally included nearly every one of their respective works.
Films that take no stance, or several conflicting stances at once, are plotted in the moderate center. Hellraiser finds itself in the exact center as Supernatural queer police squad commissioner Pinhead—according to essayist Douglas Sparks—at once represents “Christian theology, deviant sadomasochistic sexuality, mystical asceticism, and entrepreneurial spirit.” Films that fall into a quadrant while making their points in a more round-about fashion than others are found closer to the moderate center than those which appear to make their points explicitly. For example, it is the sum of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre’s parts that imply its Left Authoritarian leaning, whereas Friday the 13th makes its point less elegantly by making targets of transgressive teenagers, landing it more rigidly in the Right Authoritarian camp. Outliers are films that simply could not be classified no matter how hard we tried. For example, taking what is now a commonplace worldview, The Omen was critical of the entire structure of popular politics, writing off political power as as a tool of the Antichrist. Our English-only parameter also saved us from some of the more wonderfully inexplicable horror films of the last forty years, which remain our white whales—we’re looking at you, Hausu.
Of course, determining a film’s political leaning is a wholly subjective exercise, one that is as imperfect as relying on a Left-Right polarity chart. We generally accounted for these by examining the subtexts of the films and—sometimes seriously, sometimes mockingly—reading into their symbolism. Plotting social and identity politics occasionally proved problematic, and our conjectures have been made from an American perspective. We understand that every assessment is up for debate, and look forward to exactly that.
It was interesting to see the progression of themes throughout the decades, starting from the implicit and explicit confrontation with the chaos, crisis, and identity politics laden post-Vietnam era (namely Texas Chain Saw and Last House on the Left), the anti-conformist and socially conscious themes of the 80s and 90s (The Stepfather, People Under the Stairs and Tales from the Hood), and the anxieties about torture and invasion of space particular to the post 9/11 industrialized world (Saw, The Strangers and You’re Next).
Remakes are not found in this collection and—for the most part—sequels are not represented here, largely because tracking the political changes visible in a longstanding franchise would mean following a meandering path to a very different ideology, and a very different America. (Think of Friday the 13th, which begins with a wronged, puritanical mother decimating representatives of a carefree younger generations, and ends—sort of—with Jason Goes to Hell, in which evil itself is a communicable presence, and no one is safe from becoming a victim or a killer.) Exceptions include Dawn of the Dead, which made the cut because omitting the classic series would be treasonous but its predecessor was produced in the late 60s. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare also makes an appearance. While the film is technically part of the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, it is not technically a sequel. Halloween III, also part of a franchise though not technically a sequel, was initially included though removed when we worked to get our initial collection down to 50. If you’re curious, it would have been considered an outlier as, in the words of New York Times critic Vincent Canby, the film “manages the not easy feat of being anti-children, anti-capitalism, anti-television and anti-Irish all at the same time.”
This is a Knack Factory Production conceived and authored by Alex Steed and Sarah Marshall and designed by Sabrina Volante.