Last night, as the hour of the first debate drew nigh, I found myself torn. As someone raised in a family with very strong political opinions, it’s always in my best interest to stay informed. As someone raised by a mother for whom horror movies were required viewing, I like being scared. In this, the first of three debates before Election Day, I had the opportunity to be informed AND scared. But I wasn’t sure if I could deal with this particular kind of scare. Was it willfully ignorant to sit it out and watch “Re-Animator” instead?
Ultimately, I went for the relative comfort of gore over the risk of elevating my blood pressure by watching the debate. The personal is political and all that. I did wind up watching the last 20 minutes or so, and that was enough to give me nightmares. I’m serious. I should have stuck with the horror movies.
I honestly don’t think there’s been an election season as frightening as this one. I don’t know if I was even a fraction as horrified by McCain/Palin as I am right now. You think there can’t possibly be as stupefyingly preposterous a ticket as the last one, only to be proven horribly wrong.
Anyone who knows me knows who I’m absolutely NOT voting for. I debated whether or not to even bring it up in this piece. But I’ll say it, because I may as well: Trump is terrifying. Trump is like Leatherface, Jason Vorhees, and Chucky all at once, with a dash of Tall Man from “Phantasm” for bad measure. I won’t even compare him to Pinhead. That’s an insult to Pinhead.
I’m not the kind of horror fan who spends a great deal of time thinking about the psychology of the canon’s chief monsters. Certainly monsters can represent the things we loathe and fear within ourselves. And there’s no doubt that isolation, in most cases, creates the monster (see: Grendel, or Frankenstein’s monster). Sometimes I certainly do find myself rooting for the monster, especially when its “victims” are deliberately unsympathetic (and they’re always the first to go). I can, and will, wax academic about my preferred genre, but this is when I feel compelled to defend myself and my creepy ways. Mostly I’m in it for the screams, really.
But I can’t help but think that this election season is a monster of our own making, fueled by isolation, AND fear, AND loathing. Unlike Grendel, or Frankenstein’s monster, this isn’t something that is trying to communicate or connect before the fury fueled by constant misunderstanding wipes away all hope of redemption. This is something that rages, flails, and smirks with a Mephistophelean leer that says: “You’re fucked.”
The scares we want onscreen tend to dovetail with the fears we have as a society. A couple of months ago, I had a nice chat with Judith O’Dea (from the original “Night Of The Living Dead”) about how the surge in zombie narratives tends to coincide with periods of political unrest. What does a zombie represent more than the fear of lack of control? You can’t even be dead without something forcing you to continue to lurch in a mindless herd.
I deeply enjoy cringing and not quite being able to look away from something that’s pulsating, glistening with viscous matter, dragging its entrails, or any combination thereof. There’s a kind of low comedy to hyper-splatter that keeps one at a reasonable adrenaline level. Horror allows for the thrill of a “fight or flight” response without having to, you know, actually outrun a guy in a flesh mask wielding a chainsaw. It’s better than therapy, sometimes. A vacation into the implausible (although right now it’s also a vacation FROM the implausible).
And so it stands to reason that this is, for me, an escape from the boundless fuckery that is currently, unsuccessfully, masquerading as the 2016 presidential campaign. I would sooner sit through all four of the “Subspecies” movies again than navigate social media right now. And Radu has better hair than Trump.