For tonight’s matinee, we showcase three films exploiting what might be called Architectural Horror, which is a term I just made up right now and immediately decided to copyright so please don’t use it or I will have to talk to the lawyers.
Night of the Living Dead
If memory serves, I was about 6 or 7 when I first saw George Romero’s The Night of the Living Dead. It’s one of those film-viewing experiences that left an indelible imprint: I distinctly remember that feeling of sympathetic helplessness, the emerging sense that this was not going to end well, along with the viscera and brutality, the total bleakness of the film’s climax.
The zombie occupies a unique position in the cultural imagination. Neither living nor dead, neither human nor animal, it is a boundary-blurring figure.
It can be, and usually is, frightening in its monstrosity and lack of category cohesion, but it can be tragic, too: most zombie stories involve the shock and sadness of seeing loved ones become … not quite themselves.
Many horror and sci-fi films play with themes drawn from our treatment of nonhuman animals and the natural world. From the Night of the Living Dead to the Texas Chainsaw Massacre movies, and on through pure exploitation and extreme cinema, the subtexts are often hard to miss — a focus on vulnerability, powerlessness, instrumental use.
A recent episode of the excellent We Love To Watch podcast focused on Motel Hell, a quite poor film with fascinating subtexts. It got me thinking about the prevalence of animal rights themes in film, and in horror specifically. Horror’s fixation on the notion of the human and the nonhuman provides a kind of secret key to understanding an unease at the root of modern existence.
Reflecting, in 1967, on the experience of seeing old movies on TV, notorious curmudgeon/amazing writer Pauline Kael wrote, “Horror and fantasy films … are surprisingly effective, perhaps because they are so primitive in their appeal that the qualities of the imagery matter less than the basic suggestions.