There does come the issue of what movie you watch when you decide to go ahead and watch a horror film. Do you watch a movie that is filled with blood and death, or do you watch something that terrifies you because it feels closer to reality? You might not think about it, but there are certain traits that are common in horror that depend heavily on the era the film was made and the ideology of the people behind the film. A lot of this does tie in with conservative and liberal political values, but doesn’t necessarily mean you align with one leaning based on what you watch. It just means that there’s a bit more to look out for when you watch a horror movie.
Now, it might seem odd to assign subtext and political ideology to a horror movie (to that, I say: someone already did), but all film does lend itself to interpretation, and even the dumbest, most low-brow film can have some elements explained through critical theory and carry elements that date back hundreds of years. This also does not mean that every film is meant to carry some ideology and deeper assessment on life and human nature, but generally, there is a reason for why certain elements and tropes appear in a film genre more than others.
Part of the enjoyment of these movies comes from the idea of seeing these types of people killed in brutal ways. Usually, the most carefree, sexually adventurous, and addictive personalities tend to go first. The girl who sleeps with one or several guys. The guy who’s kind of a dick to everyone. The guy who’s comic relief. They all get wiped out, leaving behind the innocent, virgin girl and her love interest to deal with the monster. Most films end with the one good girl character surviving, known as the Final Girl trope, and show that her sense of rationality and ability to think quickly is what would allow her to survive when her peers (who for some reason seem very unlikely to be friends with her) all perish.
This does come from more conservative values in horror films. A lot of times these types of movies are directors wanting to play up things they like, such as nudity and gore, but also tend to have conservative, Christian values come into play. The characters who are most sinful, usually because of lust and gluttony, tend to die, while the ones who don’t engage in this behavior to such an extreme live. In some lights, the serial killer with the chainsaw could be seen as an angel sent to vanquish the filthy sinners and cleanse the Sodom that is Camp Crystal Lake or wherever the movie is set. These kinds of movies give the idea that this sort of sinful behavior will be punished and that only those who stay on the straight path survive.
This even boils down to the kinds of monsters and villains in these stories. Conservative horror tends to have the villains be people or creatures that represent these sins amplified to extreme. The more common villains are serial killers, vampires, and demons. The idea is that these villains are far outside the norm and have little grasp on humanity as a result. Serial killers are demented and twisted figures who can’t blend into society normally and cause upheaval by committing spree killings. Vampires are (usually) exotic creatures that live to feed and consume, and the fear from that comes from the fact that they are often so determined to get what they want that no one is safe. Demons, on the other hand, represent the cosmic fear that comes with Christianity. Demons confirm that Hell is real, and there are evil forces that will corrupt innocent people and destroy lives.
If these kinds of movies aren’t your thing, then you may chose a different kind of horror movie. You may pick something that’s more survivalist, or even taps into more social aspects and terrors. These are the kinds of films that take on a more liberal point of view. In these films, the fear isn’t that there’s one thing trying to destroy you: something massive is trying to destroy you. These are the films where it’s one person (or several) against something really grand and becomes a lot more about how these people try to survive and less seeing them killed.
The films that fall into the liberal side tend to be more often zombie films or films about a group being the main threat. George Romero’s Living Dead series always takes political issues and throws zombies in the mix, discussing 1960’s prejudice (Night of the Living Dead), 1970’s consumerism (Dawn of the Dead), and so on. Zombie films tend to be more about how the entire world has changed, and clear lines of separation are drawn. Now individualism is more important than ever because the majority of people on Earth are trying to wipe out the remaining vestiges of compassion, humanity, and self control.
Liberal horror also includes stories that tend to be about a person being at the mercy of some greater force, while also tying into some larger social issue. Rosemary’s Baby isn’t just about a satanic cult letting a woman become pregnant by the devil. It’s about a 1960’s independent woman losing her autonomy and being controlled by people who want to “help” in a time where her body is no longer in her total control. The Stepford Wives tackles male ideals of femininity and standards for housewives. The horror in this film comes from the idea that men would prefer to strip all character and personality from their spouses and rather have someone who fits an ideal of a perfect housewife for the man to control.
What is important to note about conservative and liberal horror is that not every film perfectly fits into these criteria or is intentionally made to carry one set of values over the other. What is important to note is that horror cinema is largely a byproduct of human fears. The odds of dealing with a zombie or serial killer are slim to none, but we do see people who act like these monsters and get away with it. There are men who prey on women and destroy their identities. There are people who can easily control if someone lives or dies. There are people who are afraid of that which they don’t understand, and dire consequences can arise from failing to learn.
So this Halloween, try to consider what you are asking yourself to be afraid of when you pick a movie to watch. Are you trying to see something that makes you afraid because it conflicts with your personal beliefs? Or are you trying to see something that represents a worry about something greater in your life? These don’t necessarily show what political leaning you follow, but does give an idea on what does make you afraid and what can be a factor when you make a movie selection. After all, who doesn’t want to believe their phobias are justified? That way, you can at least find some reason in what you’re afraid of.