The 10 Best Political Cult Horror Films Ever
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In a new book about John Carpenter's Orwellian masterpiece, They Live, author Jonathan Lethem does some well-deserved justice to the film -- if it’s not the best-ever social commentary out there, it’s at least one of the most fun to watch. But They Live is far from the only movie to shed light on society’s woes. Directors have a long tradition of using horror as an allegory for what we most fear. Here are 10 awesome films that analogize, encapsulate -- and, in some instances, predicted -- true-life political nightmares.
1. Night of the Living Dead(1968). A classic among classics, George Romero’s debut feature not only influenced every quality cult/B-movie to come, he developed a template for political commentary in horror films that both he and his disciples follow to this day. Released in 1968, its slow pacing set the tone for the paranoia that gripped the nation the following year and never left, and the utter humanness of the voracious zombies was a reminder of humankind’s capacity for horrific acts. At the time, Romero was praised for casting Duane Jones, an African American actor, as the star and lead, casting the film in the light of the civil rights movement. At the time, it seemed like an allegory for the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., particularly with the pervasive quote, “They’re coming for you.” It’s the film’s most telling and scariest moment, though it’s also got another line that now seems prescient about Vietnam: “We may not enjoy living together, but dying together isn't going to solve anything.”
Romero has explored similar themes throughout his career, taking on the military, the media, American consumerism, local government, and big-money Hollywood, among other ghoulish entities. In an interview earlier this year about the series, he explained, “We were all 1960s guys who were all pissed off that peace and love hadn't quite worked the way we hoped. So it starts there, but...I don't know...I've thought that all six of them were basically social satires.”
Real World Parallel: The Birmingham protests, and the predatory nature of many police in the South during the civil rights movement.
2. The Crazies(1973). A military plane crashes in a small town in Iowa, unleashing its deadly cargo -- a biological weapon that ravages residents with a mind-numbing illness. But as the infection spreads, it takes an even more sinister turn when afflicted citizens zombify and embark on enraged killing sprees. As if the fear of being violently murdered by your neighbor wasn’t enough, the government decides to cover up its blunder, quarantining the town and shooting everyone in sight... including non-zombies. A commentary on both chemical warfare and the government’s responsibility-shirking, it’s certainly along the lines of the great 28 Days Later, Quarantine and others -- but this one comes from the mind of Romero, who wrote the script with his signature incisive political undertones.
Real World Parallel: Monsanto’s toxic dumping and cover-up in Anniston, Alabama, which lead to the deaths of children and wildlife.
3. . They Live(1988). The government is mind-controlling you... and the government is aliens. This campy treat follows wrestler-actor Roddy Piper’s efforts to save humanity after he finds a pair of sunglasses that allow him to see what’s truly going on. And that is: media propaganda meant to anesthetize the masses as the alien government takes over the world. Released shortly after the first George Bush took office, it served as a beautiful allegory for the Republican dominance of the ‘80s and the vast, greedy somnambulism that characterized the yuppie decade. Or, as Jonathan Lethem writes, We’re all fucking ghouls.