Red in tooth and claw
cruelty – Craven with 1972’s The Last House on the Left, a raperevenge thriller shot with sickening home-movie intimacy, and Hooper with 1974’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which follows members of the younger generation as they’re literally led to the slaughter. The tone of the entire genre had shifted with the times.
Flash-forward to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and another uptick in extreme horror films, led by two franchises, Saw and Hostel, that reflected a darkening mood. In the wake of the 2003 Abu Ghraib scandal, mainstream entertainment passed on dealing with the morals and efficacy of torture, aside from the ticking-time-bomb fantasies of 24.
But the Saw series, beginning in 2004, steered right into the curve. Over seven straight Halloween weekends, young audiences turned up in large numbers to watch likeaged victims wriggle under elaborate torture devices. And as post9/11 goodwill eroded into hostility toward US foreign policy overseas, 2005’s Hostel imagined the grimmest possible fate for American backpackers in Europe.
The undisputed master of political horror, however, is George Romero, who single- handedly turned the zombie subgenre into a vehicle for editorial commentary. Starting with 1968’s Night of the Living Dead, which has been read as a counterculture allegory for the country’s racial and social ills, Romero’s Dead series accommodated a new theme with each entry: mindless consumerism ( 1978’s Dawn of the Dead), the arrogance and folly of the Iraq War (2005’s Land of the Dead), the spinning of media lies ( 2007’s Diary of the Dead). In their soulless, relentless, dead-eyed pursuit of brains, zombies became a catch-all metaphor for conformity.
The new CBS curio BrainDead nods to Romero in depicting Washington political culture as its own kind of zombie wasteland. Although it falls more accurately under the banner of satire than horror, creators Robert and Michelle King’s offbeat follow-up to The Good Wife is premised on an infestation of space bugs that turn politicians from both sides of the aisle into lobotomised tools of some curious alien agenda.
The jokes practically write themselves: Who hasn’t imagined politicians as hollow- sounding boards for party talking points? Or as backroom co-conspirators on some nefarious agenda? At times, the zombie angle hardly even seems necessary. This is the Congress we already know.
BrainDead was a political show from the start, but The Purge series has been slower in opening up to provocative commentary. The last two entries, The Purge: Anarchy and The Purge: Election Year, have dabbled in government conspiracy and all-out class warfare. The highconcept hook of the franchise – that a “cathartic” half-day period of murder and mayhem would drive the crime rate down – is fundamentally ridiculous, but as writer-director James DeMonaco keeps bringing in up-to-the-minute political references to justify it.
The second Purge suggested the annual ritual was a secret capitalist plot to winnow the poorest and most vulnerable members, who can’t afford the expensive security systems that protect the wealthy elite. Election Year goes much further, folding in messages not only about income inequality but also racial injustice. The government is run by a white supremacist cult willing to assassinate a political challenger (Elizabeth Mitchell) in order to keep the presidency.
If she survives the night, she still needs to win Florida’s electoral votes. As the 2000 election demonstrated, that state can be a tricky one. – Washington Post
● Braindead is on M-Net Edge on Wednesdays at 1am. It has been on a production break – episodes resume on Wednesday.
Danny Pino, Johnny Ray Gill, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Nikki M James in
A masked Purger, stalks Frank Grillo and Elizabeth Mitchell in