Welcome once again to the monthly installment of HeyNOTLP, wherein we gather up a few willing bloggers and ask them all the same horror-related question. Ask your own with the Twitter hashtag #heyNOTLP, preferably in your most flirtatious social media voice.
And now for July’s question:
Break out the sparklers and bite into a hot dog! It’s Independence Day over in the U.S., leaving us this question to ponder: in your opinion, what film, television show or novel in the horror genre best represents the idea of America?
Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s final episodes. People from all races, nationalities, sexes, abilities and even species coming together for a common good. It is the idea that the United States is a melting pot that always resonates with me. USA! USA!
While I imagine every nation has its own image of the girl next door, I’d like to think Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door is a little less universal. The title itself is clearly designed to summon an all-American image we’re all familiar with, an innocent crush on the perfect neighbor. Both Ketchum’s novel and Gregory Wilson’s film adaptation work hard to first capture the universal (or at least, national) fixtures of a childhood summer. Catching bugs, riding bikes, seeing your street from a different view on the annual carnival’s ferris wheel…all part of any suburban kid’s typical July. Of course, this being Jack Ketchum, that small-town nostalgia is quickly soured by the evils of man (and woman)kind, as that perfect girl next door is brutally tortured and degraded inside an otherwise insignificant home in anytown, USA. From the Charles Manson and Elvis obsessed villain of The Lost to the damaged mind of a Vietnam vet in Cover, Ketchum’s work is always infused by a twisted, fascinating, and unflinching sense of Americana.
Nothing says America quite like Stephen King’s Silver Bullet. For hot dogs’ sake, the main characters are named Jane and Marty Coslaw, and if that doesn’t sound like “coleslaw” (the most American salad), I’ll eat the feather in my cap.
Silver Bullet has it all: decapitated railroad workers, a Christian lady so upset about being pregnant out of wedlock that she’s willing to OD (only to be eaten, ironically by her reverend, instead), a drunken abusive father who loves watching pro-wrestling and drinking domestic beer. Those are just the characters from the first act! The residents of Tarker’s Mills exercise their Second Amendment rights and take to the woods with rifles, pistols and a baseball bat named “The Peacemaker” after Marty’s best friend is torn to pieces while flying his kite at night in the park. Marty and his Uncle Red bet baseball cards in their poker game, a currency that only an American kid really understands the value of. Marty defends himself from a werewolf by using illegal fireworks. Boom. What’s more American than that I ask you? When Uncle Red has to make an excuse to the gunsmith as to why he’s melting down Jane’s silver crucifix to craft a silver bullet, he tells him that Marty just “discovered the Lone Ranger.” This film bleeds red, white and blue. When the kids and Red need to get the parents out of the house so that they can set their trap for Reverend Werewolf, they send them to New York. The ruse is that it’s a vacation that Red won from Publisher’s Clearinghouse. All this proves that it would be impossible to retell this story in Russian. Finally, an 11 year old boy defends his home from an intruder by shooting said intruder with his uncle’s .44 magnum revolver. ‘merica. Yep.
For me, it’s a toss-up between Night of the Living Dead and its first sequel, Dawn of the Dead. In the first, you have racial tension destroying the fabric of seven strangers who are trying to wage a war against the undead. And in the latter, consumerism and overpowering desire to acquire “stuff” can’t be stopped by death.
For me, Tobe Hooper’s original, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a horror film that oozes America. First of all, a state of the Union is mentioned in the title, so, there’s that. I could go into the well-worn ideas about allegories to Vietnam and Watergate but that’s all boring. It’s the girls in halters and short-shorts. It’s the redneck, roadside bbq joint. It’s the dusty Southwestern landscape. The idea of teenagers off on an adventure through the backwoods. Those kids were basically the Scooby gang (van and all) and there’s even a man in a mask at the end (anybody ever mention the Scooby-Doo allegory? I’m on to something.) The opening scene with the crowd at the cemetery somehow reminds me of excited picnic goers. It could almost be the 4th of July on the Bicentennial. Also, its (as we all know) very loosely based on Ed Gein, an American psycho, so. . .America!
There are numerous horror films that capture America in one way or another, but the one that immediately comes to mind for me is Don Coscarelli’s Phantasm.
With its quaint ambiance and wide open roads, Phantasm’s small Western town setting evokes a deep sense of Americana. The safe and inviting setting perfectly captures America during a very different time. It’s a snapshot of an era where every home had a fireplace with a rifle above it and a freshly cooked apple pie cooling off on a windowsill, just waiting to be devoured by a couple of young boys after a day spent earning youthful battle wounds and grass stains while out playing with their friends.
What’s interesting about the America that is represented in Phantasm is that it’s very much an honest (albeit fantastical) one in that there is a hidden darkness that simmers just below the surface. The Norman Rockwell image of a perfect America really only exists in the skewed memories of nostalgic adults who, as children, grew up unaware of (or repressed) the varying levels of darkness that surrounded so many seemingly perfect families in small towns across the country. It’s a fantasy; an America that exists because it’s an America that many people want to exist. But unfortunately, however, there is evil lurking just below the surface, and the evil in Phantasm is represented by vicious dwarves, flying spheres and a supernatural undertaker known only as The Tall Man.
Skipp & Spector’s novel The Bridge isn’t their greatest book, but it represents my view of where America is at currently. There are 3 storylines – The first is about a prominent local businessman dumping toxic waste. The second is about a renegade reporter trying to uncover the truth. The final is about a Hazmat captain and his girlfriend. We’re piling up toxic goop everywhere. There’s no heroes to speak of and most everybody gets fouled by nastiness before it’s over. Sentient toxic sludge FTW! ‘Murrica, Fuck Yeah!
Sad to see no love for Uncle Sam? Think we missed your favorite slasher? Tell us your picks in the comments section, and don’t forget to ask us your questions for a future column with the Twitter hashtag #heyNOTLP.