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Why American society breeds so many mutants, psychos and zombies. BY OWEN EGERTON EXAS HAS MUCH TO BE PROUD OF: THE Alamo, NASA, Rick Perry’s hair. It is also home to the most famous film massacre of all time: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Made on a shoestring budget outside of Austin in the early ’70s, the film captured the macabre and pessimistic fears of a Watergate-sick nation. Leatherface and his family’s tendency toward torture and cannibalism offered a bizarre reflection of corrupt American politicians and greed-driven industrialists feasting on their own country. Plus, the movie was freaky scary, maybe the scariest thing to happen in Texas until George W. Bush hired Karl Rove. Horror movies are often a sloppy celebration of schlock gore, hampered by wooden performances and worn-out plots, but they can teach us so much. Whatever the decade, the horror movie is a warped mirror of the cultural and political trends of its time. Like any good nightmare, a horror movie reveals our fears, often subconscious, and occasionally warns us of the true dangers before us. Forget The New York Times or political magazines \(current company America, check out the slashers, the screamers, the tell-all monster flicks. In the early decades of the last century, America, along with the rest of the world, was dizzy with advances in technology: airplanes, automobiles, instant coffee. It seemed we could create anything whether we should or not. Our fears found their way to the screen in the horror classic Frankenstein entific mindsyou can tell from all the sparky things and spinning whatnoodles in his lab. He ignores medieval villagers in mid-riot yelling, “Slow down! Don’t mess with that secrets-of-life-and-death shit until you know what you’re doing!” Dr. Frankenstein can create life and, by God, he will. But he has no idea how to care for the life he creates. His neglected, mistreated experiment becomes a murdering monster. Appropriately, the era of such classic horror movies ended when America dropped atomic bombs on two Japanese cities. The world had a new monster. We should have listened to the peasants. The films following World War II filtered some of this real-life horror into thrillers like Them! and The Giant Claw energy doesn’t destroy thousands in a blink. But it does make things grow really big: ants, rats, attractive women. The screaming masses responded just as we responded to the actual spread of atomic technology across the globe. We called upon the ever-resourceful American military. The philosophy that fueled the arms race is right there in the movies: The best way to prevent atomic horrors was to produce more bombs. Build a monster to fight the monster you just built. The scariest thing about the ’50s was Communist infiltration. Half the world was filled with sly pinkos devising some fiendish plan to rob us of freedom, rock ‘n’ roll and hamburgers. Alien invaders in movies like Invasion of the Body Snatchers The Terror from Beyond Space Earth vs. the Flying Saucers Martians, mole-men, robotsdoesn’t matter, they’re all basically commies. They might look like us, move like us, but peek into their cold eyes, and you’ll see the emotionless, soulless monster who believes in equal health care for all citizens and perhaps better funding for libraries. Don’t fret. These films show how spunky, freedom-loving Americans, with the help of the military, shoo the aliens back to whatever Eastern European planet they came from. In the late ’70s, a new breed of monster-men made the scene. John Carpenter gave us Halloween and the modern slasher genre was born. We all knoweven those of us who, unlike myself, dated in high schoolthat these films all have the same basic plot. Teenagers have sex. Walking evil kills them, often with creative flair. Virgin somehow survives. Sequel. Sometimes several. These deceptively simple plots told us something about America as we galloped into the ’80s. The most frightening thing about Halloween is its setting: not a gothic castle or an abandoned backwoods cabin, it’s Haddonfield, small-town suburbia. It looks safe. The houses are big. The lawns are well-groomed. But the feeling of security is an illusion. In one scene, Jamie Lee Curtis is running from Michael Myers through the quiet suburban streets. She bangs on a neighbor’s door, screaming for help. A porch light comes on. Help is here! Someone peeks through the curtains. Then the eyes disappear, the porch light is switched off, and Jamie Lee has to fend for herself. The safety of the American suburbs is a lie. Your neighbor is OCTOBER 29, 2010 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 21