I have a theory about the taste for horror films in America, specifically.

It's not all-inclusive, there are exceptions all over the place, but I find it interesting and it seems to be more telling every year.

Wanna hear it?

Tough, we're doing this anyway.

Here is my theory.

Our taste for horror, the really successful films, seems to run towards a very specific track that has trended very steadily for almost NINETY YEARS now.

In one direction. Along one prominent factor.

To arrive where we are now.

What is that factor?

Economics. Not of the film-making, but of the actual characters and plots.

Follow with me, and you WILL think of exceptions. But overall picture, I think it's compelling.

Let's start at the beginning. I'm sure we are all aware there were successful horror films before them...but I think we can also agree that the popularization of horror as a mainstream genre took a starting leap with the Universal horror monsters.

Ninety years ago.
Even a cursory examination shows that in those films, the protagonist AND antagonist tended to be drenched in wealth and nobility and title, even if those elements were decaying. They lived in castles, they were high priests and celebrated names.

In these films, the peasantry are often presented as kind individually, but sneaky, lazy, ignorant and violent together.

For trying not to be murdered, for example, they are often cast as the third act villain.

The message being, audiences wanted to see rich monsters.

Okay, the taste for horror waned, budgets shrunk. But following this, even low-budget companies were still sticking to the gothic roots. Roger Corman produces Edgar Allen Poe films, and the TERROR, featuring Jack Nicholson as a noble French Officer. Castles abound.

Here, horror gets relegated to cheap budget drive-in films. But even during this period, we don’t see poverty, it’s middle-class kids, scientists and military men. The military takes a huge prominence in this era, almost uniformly as our hope to survive.

So what we tend to see here is still very much middle class to upper middle class, the protagonists tend to be professionals or come from professional parents.

The antagonists still tend to come from wealth, assuming they are human and not Gila monsters with funny hats.

Now, instead of continuing down the path, we actually experience a new burst of a-list horror films, and they really grab back onto the wealth thing. The focus is on the wealthy and powerful and famous. Right up to about the mid-seventies.

There are still very few films where any main character is impoverished. I would say Texas Chainsaw Massacre would qualify, but it’s a rarity.

Horror wanes a bit, until the mid-to-late 70's, wherein two things change the genre forever.

Can we guess what they are?

These two guys.


The meteoric rise of @StephenKing, whose early novels steadfastly represented poverty and economic struggle, and the mainstreaming of the slasher genre, where the monsters often came from the lowest financial strata yet seen in horror.

And this was the status quo until fairly recently in cinema history.

But have you noticed the recent explosion of films that went several steps beyond?

Looking at Netflix, Shudder, Amazon Prime, there’s just a flood of films where the protagonists have NOTHING.

These protagonists are immigrants, homeless people, they have mental and physical disabilities that are often treated with the gravitas necessary…but above all, they are economically endangered, and oppressed by a system they doesn’t recognize them.

As audiences, we followed this evolution…from horror being quite a lot about wealth and power, to being about being poor and powerless.

While the quality of the films varies, they do ask us to consider the proposition that poor people are still human.

Weird, right?
And it only took almost a century.

Anyway, that’s my premise for the day.

Our tastes are changing.

It’s interesting, isn’t it?

Have a good day and watch some good indie horror. I’ll have some recent suggestions later.




Just for the fun of it, a little more.

There are two highly successful horror film concepts that I think go quite a distance towards proving the point of this thread...

It's these two.
PPS. In the PURGE, we are first meant to lend our sympathies to the rich family, but it gets complicated when we learn that they have the resources to be safe, making the Purge a low-risk event for them (it doesn't go that way, but they think it will)...
PPPS. Later installments tackle this even more specifically, that the Purge is an economic weapon that literally encourages rich people to kill poor people and poor people to kill each other.
PPPPS. And I have maintained that IT FOLLOWS is specifically about terrors that only the poor can experience. A rich man is followed by a monster, he flies to Barbados. A poor teen is followed, she can never stop moving.
What is interesting to me about this is not merely the trend, but what it means. We have corporations funding anti-corporation, anti-elite horror films, which is why the indie horror films about poverty tend to have more bite, npi.
But I do wonder if at some point...we stopped caring if a senator or oil baron gets bitten by a vampire monkey or whatever.

Maybe it's harder for us to imagine them as virtuous?

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