Red in tooth and claw

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - GOODTELLY -

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.

BrainDead.

Danny Pino, Johnny Ray Gill, Mary El­iz­a­beth Win­stead and Nikki M James in

Purge: Elec­tion Year. The

A masked Purger, stalks Frank Grillo and El­iz­a­beth Mitchell in

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