Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Horror movies are “getting deep”. It might as well be the new “Horror is dead” given the number of times I’ve seen that headline or some version of it over the last few days in the wake of the release of Jordan Peele’s directorial debut, Get Out. The mainstream media, including some film sites that I love very deeply, seem convinced that horror is this mindless, bloody form of entertainment and that it took a maven from outside the schlock system to come in and shake things up and give it some meaning, damn it.
Not to take anything away from Get Out, as I fully believe it to be a brilliant horror film packed to the gills with social commentary, but it is simply the latest in a long, long line of storytellers using horror narratives to address the issues that affect us, both social and personal dating back to horror’s roots in Gothic literature. Simply put, I’m going to let you in on a secret: Horror is “getting” deep in the way that politics are “getting” tense. It has always been this way. You just weren’t paying attention.
One could fill a book with the history of horror and Gothic literature addressing social issues, but for our purposes, I’d just like to discuss film and the way that filmmakers both small and large have used their pulpit to discuss and confront their audiences with complex issues through horror narratives. From nearly the beginning of horror films as a medium, the easily digestible and easily marketable horror film has been used to bring issues both simple and profound to the wider viewing public.
Sure, the public perception is that art house filmmakers and serious dramatists have the market cornered on dense and weighty stories, but genre film has never been a slouch on that front. Just as science fiction has always been used to dress social ills in silver space suits in order to communicate the profound without beating the audience over the head with it, horror has been dragging our deep-seated fears into the warm light of a projector from the very beginning.
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