From the Editor: Socially progressive horror movies can keep you scared straight
Columns / October 23, 2018
Some of the most successful horror movies to come out in recent years have been strikingly progressive, with titles like Get Out, It Follows, Hereditary, The Descent, and The VVitch making the rounds among critics and horror buffs alike.
However, having a cast full of women, or people of colour, or members of the LGBTQ+ community isn’t all that makes these movies progressive. What allows horror to be a vehicle for social change is how it’s written and how it manipulates our own internalized fears and hidden biases.
What makes you jumpy? Is it little girls in old-timey dresses (The Shining)? Weapon-yielding madmen (Texas Chainsaw Massacre)? Foreign demons from faraway lands (The Exorcist)? Whatever it is, there has to be a reason why it gets you, and sometimes they’re more complicated and symptomatic of social conditioning than you might suspect.
Take, for example, the trope of the female ghost. She has been a figure in cinema for as long as scary films have been around. Even before that, in historical and religious texts, female demons have appeared regularly, often as vengeful spirits, sometimes wailing, usually in white. This image of the woeful, tainted woman traversing the world as a lost, angry, powerful being is a recurring motif in horror. Here’s a female force you can’t control, escape, seduce, or subdue. She’s not pretty (or if she is, not for long), she’s not sweet, and she’s not serving anything except for her own pure, unadulterated rage. An evil woman is a terrifying thing, especially in a patriarchal society.
If you want to, you can pick this apart for days. Some argue that it’s unnerving because she’s a reversal of what we instinctively crave from our mother figures. It could be the fact that a world where a woman is the exact opposite of nurturing and reasonable is too different from our own to be anything but unsettling. It could be because of history—how humans have treated women who do not fit traditionally feminine expectations, from the witch trials to the lobotomizing of those deemed hysterical.
The list goes on, but the point is this: When you’re putting together your list of must-watches for this Halloween season, choose and watch wisely. I recommend the titles referenced in the introduction to this article, but there are so many more.
The best place to start is thinking about what really freaks you out. Then pick out as many of the most acclaimed, interesting, diverse movies that fit that niche as you can. Sit down, watch the films, and hope you get scared enough to have something to think about for the rest of the night.
Usually, we use horror as a cheap thrill or an easy way to escape. Blockbusters are a quick and dirty way to get your heart pumping, but it’s entirely within your ability to take your Halloween viewing experience to the next level. Maybe you’ll even have some perspective-shifting conversations with your friends. It could change how you watch films, or even how you watch just one in particular.
In any case, happy watching! And let me know if you find any titles that give you the shivers—We at The Runner will be waiting.