The brilliant sketch comedian, Jordan Peele (MAD TV, KEY & PEELE, KEANU), has made his directorial debut with the critically acclaimed horror film, GET OUT. It tells the story of a young, interracial couple: Chris (a black man) and Rose (a white woman). One weekend, Rose brings Chris home to meet her parents, who live in a predominately white neighborhood in upstate New York.  Chris soon discovers that this seemingly quaint community has a disturbing history. Over the years, several African American residents have vanished without a trace, and to make matters worse, it appears as though Rose’s parents are responsible for the disappearances.

Daniel Kaluuya and Allison Williams in GET OUT

GET OUT is a surprising change up from the zany humor that Peele’s fans have grown accustomed to, but much like his comedic work, this film is filled to the brim with biting social commentary. With KEY & PEELE, the comedian had proven himself to be a talented satirist, frequently lampooning American culture, politics and racial dynamics in ways that were both entertaining and insightful. Peele takes this skill and puts it to good use in his latest project.

GET OUT is a smart, scary, and incredibly effective horror film that subverts many of the genre’s tropes. Our protagonist isn’t some group of promiscuous teenagers pursued by a blood-thirsty serial killer. It’s a black man surrounded by cultured, affluent people who wish him harm simply because of the color of his skin. The antagonist isn’t some monster lurking in the shadows or a knife-wielding psycho hiding behind the shower curtain. The villain of the film is racism in all its forms.

READ: Interested in social-political subtext? Check out this article about the upcoming Netflix series, DEAR WHITE PEOPLE

GET OUT offers a fresh take on the genre and it perfectly reflects present-day America, in a time when racial tensions are high, and young, unarmed, black men are shot and killed all too frequently .Of course, This isn’t the first horror film to provide commentary on the negative aspects of our society. Filmmakers have often used this genre to create horrifying allegories for social and political issues. So, to celebrate the release of this terrifying new film, let’s take a look at some of the best examples of social commentary in the Horror genre.

INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS

There are two fantastic versions of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS: the 1956 original and its 1978 remake. Released in the midst of the red scare, Don Siegel’s original film stars Kevin McCarthy as Miles Bennell, a small town doctor who uncovers an alien plot involving the replacement of human beings with emotionless clones.

If only you could run away from all your problems.

This brilliant portrayal of Cold War paranoia still sparks debate among film critics.  Some argue that it is meant to be an allegory for communism stripping individuals of their autonomy. Others attest that the film is criticizing Americans for turning a blind-eye towards the communist witch-hunt led by Senator Joseph McCarthy. It is a fascinating debate with strong evidence on both sides. Watch the film and decide for yourself!

“Screeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeech!”

Then there’s Philip Kaufman’s remake, which is still considered to be one of the greatest remakes of all time. This updated version takes the original concept and applies it to a new generation of Americans. Kaufman moves the story from suburbia to San Francisco, which, from the late 60s to the early 70s, had served as a focal point for the counterculture/free-love movement.

READ: Learn about other great (and not so great) horror film remakes!

By 1978, San Francisco had been urbanized, the free-love movement had ended and the country was growing more conservative. The film explores this massive shift in American culture, but it also manages to explore some universal themes. Kaufman’s INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS questions society and the notion of individuality, with a bleak conclusion which forces the audience to ponder its haunting implications.

THE LIVING DEAD TRILOGY

George A. Romero is almost entirely responsible for the modern zombie sub-genre. His films are packed with gut-churning gore, nightmare-inducing imagery, and a healthy dose of social criticism. While Romero’s later projects (LAND OF THE DEAD, DIARY OF THE DEAD, SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD) are plagued by rehashed ideas and heavy-handed satire, the director’s early films were a perfect blend of genuine terror and clever social commentary.

A zombie film that doesn’t lack brains.

Romero’s first three zombie films differ in terms of style, tone and message, but they all share one key element: they use the living dead to critique different aspects of western society. These movies were more than just a source of bloody, gruesome gore. They explored heavy themes and controversial topics.

READ: Love zombies? Check out this article about THE WALKING DEAD!

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968) addresses the racial tensions in America during the 1960s. DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978) follows a group of survivors fending off waves of zombies inside a shopping mall, effectively satirizing American consumerism. The final film, DAY OF THE DEAD (1985), doesn’t even paint zombies as outright villains but instead casts a group of crazed soldiers as the film’s primary antagonists. In this way, the film criticizes the military, fascism, and the dark side of human nature.

THEY LIVE

Yet another alien invasion flick graces this list. However, unlike the invaders from BODY SNATCHERS, the extraterrestrials in John Carpenter’s 1988 film THEY LIVE have already succeeded in taking over our world.  You may be wondering: “How did they achieve this? Was it superior weaponry? Chemical warfare? An army of robotic warriors?” Nope. The aliens conquered our civilization with capitalism.

“You look like your head fell in the cheese dip back in 1957!”

In this strong indictment of the Reagan era, aliens have used capitalism to keep human beings complacent. They keep us distracted with monetary concerns. They brainwashed us with subliminal messages hidden in billboards and commercials. The worst part is that they’ve done it all without us even noticing. These aliens walk among us, but we are completely blind to their existence. That is until a homeless drifter – played by the late, great “Rowdy” Roddy Piper – finds a pair of sunglasses, which allow him to see through their ruse. It’s also worth noting that THEY LIVE is responsible for giving us one of the greatest one-liners of all time.

READ: Learn about how Horror Video Games should be!

VIDEODROME

Sex, violence, and television: These are the topics of David Cronenberg’s surreal, body-horror film, VIDEODROME. Our protagonist is Max Renn, the president of a television station that broadcasts smutty programs filled with violence and sex. One day, his station’s satellite intercepts a bizarre signal, receiving fuzzy images from a mysterious show called VIDEODROME, which depicts actual torture and murder.

Just one more episode…

Max becomes obsessed with the show and sets out on a quest to find the source of the signal. What follows is an onslaught of disturbing imagery, brain-tangling plot twists, and unforgiving criticism of popular media. It’s the kind of trippy experience that only Cronenberg can deliver.

Conclusion

Satire and terror have always gone hand-in-hand. Throughout the history of American Cinema, filmmakers have used horror to explore the disturbing aspects of important social issues. Now more than ever, it is important that these kinds of stories are told. These days, our country is heavily divided and our current system is in desperate need of reform. We need films like INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and GET OUT. We need films that explore serious issues in our society, allow us to see these problems in a different light, and, hopefully, inspire real change.

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