For me, Halloween has always been for horror. The scary and the creepy and the bone chilling are exactly what I want to enjoy during this time of year. Of course, we’re living in some particularly scary times, so it may feel a little dull to watch the usual zombie and serial killer fare. Even if you do want to find some good old classic horror, you may also find yourself frightened by some sexism and racism present in older horror flicks (and some newer releases, sadly). So, what to watch? Socially conscious horror, of course, because nothing is scarier than social inequality. Here are some of my picks:
Hopefully you’ve seen comedian Jordan Peele’s amazing directorial debut, but if you haven’t, you really should. Peele skewers white liberals, particularly those in the North, reminding them that just because they may have supported Obama or say they aren’t racist, they still help perpetrate racism and white supremacy in the United States. This form of white liberal racism can be just as insidious as the other.
We all know the classic horror trope. Young person (especially young women) has sex. Young person is punished for having sex. Virgin girl gets to stay alive because she has not had sex. It Follows turns this tropes on its head, using the story of demon passed from person to person as something of a metaphor for our social anxieties about sex, sexuality, and sexually transmitted diseases.
Most horror films are notoriously bad at dealing with rape and sexual assault. Women’s bodies get used and abused to prompt the male hero into action, or worse, for torture porn and titillation. The fallout of sexual assault and the trauma that accompanies it so rarely discussed, not only in horror but in most films. That’s what makes Gerald’s Game, based on the book of the same name by Stephen King, so unique. I don’t want to spoil the film, but it navigates trauma and empowerment with more clarity and realism than I’ve ever seen.
This 1997 Japanese animated movie, based on the novel Perfect Blue: Complete Metamorphosis by Yoshikazu Takeuchi and directed by Satoshi Kon, tells the story of a former J-pop idol named Mima Kirigoe, who is attempting to change her carefully manufactured image while being stalked by a crazed fan. Perfect Blue not only tries to examine the nature of truth and reality, but also carefully critiques the ways in which women are made to be consumed products.
Technically The Handmaiden, directed by Park Chan-wook, is better classified as a thriller as opposed to horror, but it’s such a fantastic movie that I needed to include it in this list. The movie is loosely based on the novel Fingersmith by Sarah Waters, but with the setting changed from Victorian London to Korea under Japanese occupation in the 1930s. The movie explores class, gender politics, and sexuality, and takes the time to tell a tender gay love story between its two female protagonists.