Donald Trump was elected in 2016. His presidency has been met with controversy, from his offensive rhetoric to his racially charged immigration and economic policies that have negatively affected underprivileged communities. A slew of critically acclaimed horror films have been released in the years since, such as “Get Out” (20177), “Hereditary” (2018), “Mandy” (2018),
Cinema reflects the time period in which it is created, both intentionally and by accident. Horror films literalize society's greatest fears by using supernatural creatures or events often symbolizing realistic themes such as addiction and heartbreak. The erotic thriller, one of the most popular horror genres of the 1980s, is a prime example. During a time when feminism experienced social backlash, erotic thrillers depicted liberated women as unhinged murderers.
Trump-era horror films continue this trend with race, income inequality, feminism and rape/sexual assault being the highest on the list of topics tackled. Trump has come under fire for all of these topics. While the #metoo and #timesup movements resulted in the indictments and firings of many sexual assault perpetrators in Hollywood, Trump has been largely unaffected. Trump has been accused of sexual harassment and assault by multiple women. His language has been openly sexist, from a comment that Megyn Kelly’s tough interview questions were caused by her period to his infamous “grab them by the pussy.” This type of behavior, or even less, would have resulted in an immediate firing in Hollywood. Trump appears untouchable.
Today’s horror auteurs strike back. Jordan Peele is on a roll with his brilliant social commentary-laced horror, with themes of police brutality and race in “Get Out” to income inequality in “Us.” “Mandy,” “Split” (2016) and “Climax” all address male privilege and consent. Fresh off the success of “Hereditary,” Director Ari Aster is coming out with a new horror flick this summer, “Midsommar” (2019).
In such a chaotic political landscape, many viewers need an escape from reality. Producer Jason Blum weighs in, telling the New York Times that “I think when people are scared, they like to see movies where the scares are not real … The current administration’s been terrific for the scary-movie business.”
Blumhouse Productions (“Get Out”) has had a terrific few years.Blumhouse produced this year’s “Halloween,” which dominated the box office and became “the second-best October opening ever.” Blumhouse also produced “Happy Death Day” (2017), which made it to No. 1 at the box office and returned with a sequel “Happy Death Day 2U” (2019). Director of “Happy Death Day,” Christopher Landon, noted the same sentiments as Blum, saying that President Trump “has stirred up all these dark places and dark corners and old shadows of our culture, and horror is so well suited to address these things.”
All of the previously mentioned films were directed by men. Blumhouse Productions has never produced a female-directed feature, with Blum putting his foot in his mouth with the offhand comment “there are not a lot of female directors period, and even less who are inclined to do horror.” In 2017, independent female filmmakers Jovanka Vuckovic, Annie Clark, Roxanne Benjamin and Karyn Kusama created the horror anthology “XX,” consisting of four short films. Two of the most highly regarded modern horror classics, “American Psycho” (2000) and “Jennifer’s Body” (2009) were both written and directed by women, Mary Harron and Karyn Kusama, respectively.
While today’s horror films have been successful in content and aesthetic aspects, representation and opportunity continues to be an issue. The same could be said for President Trump’s treatment of marginalized groups.