Edited by Harry Russell
The Reel Talk team is back for round 2 to discuss vampires, zombies, and the scariest monster of all: the mind.
Issy Smith on Vampires
Vampires are fundamental to horror cinema. From horrifying early iterations of Dracula, to the tragic Byronic vampires of Anne Rice adaptations, to the clueless domestic vampires of What We Do in The Shadows (2014), the subgenre of vampire fiction has had more interpretations and reimaginings than perhaps any other horror trope. The concept of a beautiful murderous figure is one people will always be drawn to. While the common stereotype of the vampire cannot be removed from notions of race and class, the quantity of vampire stories in film has allowed for a reimagining of the creature as a vehicle for political and social commentary.
The queer implications and representations of works like Interview with the Vampire (1994) and The Hunger (1983) imply analogy: the vampires are desired, sexual beings but, much like how queerness has been rendered a dangerous, ungodly force especially in the wake of the AIDS crisis these films were following, the vampires’ eroticism is always linked to death, violence and excess. Similarly, The Lost Boys (1987) imagines the vampire as an invasive force, mirroring gang and drug culture, infecting young people in urban American settings of the 1980s and causing a breakdown of the family unit.
Other recent vampire films act less allegorically but rather position themselves as subversions of the vampire mythos. Let the Right One In (2008) reimagines the vampire and familiar as a child and a parental figure, placing them in a block of flats, surrounded by inferences and imagery of poverty and working-class struggle, thereby flipping the power imbalance of the Dracula archetype. Meanwhile, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014) subverts power dynamics of the vampire genre by reclaiming the autonomy of the female victim of violence, indulging notions of isolation, disempowerment and terror while presenting the figure of the vampiric stalker as a vengeful reimagining borrowing from the female revenge thriller.
This is all to say that the vampire subgenre has incredible potential as a tool for socio-political commentary. With such a rich history across mediums, there is an almost endless supply of texts to be considered, even crossing boundaries into romance (e.g. Twilight (2008)), coming-of-age (e.g. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003)), comedy (e.g. Freaks of Nature (2015)) and animation (e.g. Scooby-Doo! Music of the Vampire (2011)). Vampires have the capacity to speak to an incredibly wide audience about topics that could otherwise be dismissed and cross boundaries that other horror icons haven’t been able to, both regarding genre and form. So maybe try a new vampire movie this Halloween; you may be surprised what you find there.
Cameron Smith on Zombies
The Zombie is more than it lets onto be: behind the pale complexion, blank expression and the appetite for human flesh… is us. George A. Romero first utilised the concept of life after death in 1968, and is now considered the father of the zombie in modern cinema – Night of the Living Dead (1968) is a nightmare that weaves subtext of the Civil Rights movement in America with a sustained, tense atmosphere.
Dawn of the Dead (1978) followed ten years later, which comments on mindless consumerism through the setting of a shopping mall. Romero’s allegories represented in horror narratives demonstrate the potential and flexibility of the zombie subgenre.
Horror’s antithesis is comedy, yet parodies such as Shaun of the Dead (2004) and Braindead (1992) remain delightful concoctions of the two opposite genres. Zombies are frightening on every budget; Paco Plaza’s spine-chilling REC (2007) uses found footage to craft a simplistic, ambiguous scare-fest whilst Will Smith fights off hordes of meticulously designed CGI creatures in I Am Legend (2007).
They are often used to critique the human experience due to their likeness to those upon which they prey. Zombies symbolise the worst of humanity too, the tediousness and futility of a human’s everyday routine. So, if you are dressing up as a zombie this year for Halloween, just ask yourself… is it really a costume?
Tijen Mustafa on Psychological Horror
Nothing terrifies us more than the feeling that we cannot escape: that we cannot escape emotional trauma; that we cannot escape paranoia; that we cannot escape insanity. Sure, blood, guts and gore can be a shock to the system but what really keeps us up at night?
It’s the image of someone’s face trapped in horror, unable to let out a scream or to do anything except sit there and let dread wash over them. Hereditary (2018), Get Out (2017) and The Shining (1980) all share this face in common, they demand us to be as silent and as terrified. Our muscles tightened, our breath held, we obey.
Psych-horrors want to get under your skin, infiltrate your mind and play on the most disturbing and torturous ideas you tried to push aside. The best of these movies will cloud you with confusion, eeriness, and chaos. Gaspar Noé’s Climax (2018), for example, ticks all the boxes with his extreme long-take approach, disallowing the audience to take a break from the ever-building intensity, just like our characters.
Sometimes the key to this subgenre is trapping us in a location, whether that be a Swedish midsummer festival in Midsommar (2019) or our own home with two strange men in Funny Games (1997 or 2007). All we want to do is leave, but it’s impossible.
It’s not just about physical pain – it’s about mental torture. It’s not just about death – it’s about the most disturbing way to go. It’s not just about being scared, it’s about that sound or that frame that you can’t get out of your head days after you’ve seen the film, maybe even weeks. Safe to say, psychological horrors are not for the faint-hearted. Be warned.