5 Horror Films With A Hidden Political Message
Subtext can be easily missed when you’re focusing on serial killers, possessed children, and zombies.
If a quick look at the news makes you think that we might just we living in a horror film and that WW3 might not be that far off, you'll be fascinated to learn which famous horror films have a hidden political message.
Just a warning for anyone who plans to binge-watch these films on Halloween, there are spoilers ahead.
1. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Five teenagers are stranded when their van breaks down in rural Texas, so they seek shelter at a nearby house where they are murdered one at a time by Leatherface (based on real-life serial killer Ed Gein).
Hidden Message: Go Vegetarian
There are numerous unflattering references to the meat industry from the hitchhiker repulsing the gang with tales of killing animals with sledgehammers at the slaughterhouse (which is how the first victim dies), to the second victim being impaled on a meat hook and stuffed into a meat locker, to the third victims being sliced up with a chainsaw in the same manner that they turn a cow into brisket, shank, and tenderloin cuts.
2. The Slumber Party Massacre
Upon first glance this campy horror movie fits rights into the slasher genre (specifically the sub-genre where the main victims are women: Cheerleader Massacre, Girls Nite Out, Sorority House Massacre). Five girls plan a sleepover with copious amounts of nudity before a serial killer spoils the party.
Hidden Message: Misogyny Kills
Written by feminist writer Rita Mae Brown and directed by Amy Holden Jones, this slasher flick actually serves as a critique of sexist attitudes and how sexual violence against women is often ignored.
This killer uses a drill to murder his victims; an unusual choice because they’re impractical (what if the batteries give out) and can only be used up close. However, the drill is a stand-in for the penis. When he kills the teenage girls (and two older women) he is, in effect, raping them.
That’s why he is only stopped when one of the surviving girls severs his “drill bit” with a machete and impales him on a machete.
3. Saw VI
This gory franchise centers around the elaborate traps set by Jigsaw, a man who is dying of cancer, to punish those who he deems to be leading bad lives or taking their lives for granted. In the sixth installment, he focuses his punishments on a health insurance executive who must attempt to save various employees before he escapes himself.
Hidden Message: Health care is a human right
In actual fact, calling this message hidden may be underselling your intelligence. This message is front and centre throughout, criticizing the for-profit healthcare system in the USA.
Not only does the healthcare executive have to choose which employee to save, a commentary on how insurance companies decide who lives and dies based on the treatments they fund, but Jigsaw makes an impassioned speech on health care, which seems especially relevant now.
4. Dawn of the Dead
Four survivors barricade themselves in a mall during a zombie apocalypse, thinking that they will have all the necessary supplies to survive. Indeed, they have everything at their disposal from food to entertainment to weapons.
However, they are far from the only ones to seek out the mall and soon find themselves besieged by zombies who are drawn in (despite the small amount of human flesh available) because it was such an important place for them when they were alive.
Hidden Message: Consumerism will be the death of us
The zombies are a metaphor for the brainwashing effects of consumerism and capitalism. It represents the notion that the pursuit of material goods will destroy your soul. By the end of the film, the humans realize that rather than enjoying themselves, they are trapped in the mall.
5. The Purge Franchise
In a dystopian America, all crime is legal for one night each year in order to decrease overall crime, increase the country’s wealth, and slash the unemployment rate.
In the first film, one family must battle against attempts on their lives by the teenage daughter’s boyfriend (because the dad doesn’t want them to date), a gang of rich teens (who want to kill a homeless black man taking shelter in the house), and a jealous neighborhood, despite their state-of-the-art security system.
The second and third films are told through the eyes of marginalized groups (women, the working poor, POC) who cannot afford the protection afforded to the wealthy white family in the first film and are therefore in even more danger.
Hidden Message: Our justice system favors rich, white men
Whatever the benefits of the Purge cited by the New Founding Fathers, it allows predominately wealthy, white, and male citizens to eliminate those they deem “not worthy”, either because of their race, gender, or class. It shows how our current criminal justice is biased in favor of rich, white men at the expense of everybody else.
What of these hidden political messages were you most surprised by? What horror films have I missed? What films are you looking forward to watching this Halloween? Let me know in the comments below.