Hillbilly Horror: Hitting Too Close to Home?

There are all sorts of divisions within the horror community. Well, not divisions so much as sub-sects within the same basic genre. There’s the supernatural movies which consist of the haunted house genre or there’s the slasher with all of its sexual mores. Still, there are some genres that deserve credit for being more topical and influential than most casual movie viewers give them credit.

One of the clearest examples is the nuclear mutation sub-genre. This type of movie has certainly died out over the years as we make way for the virus mutation genre, playing off American fears of bio-chemical warfare, of course. Still, the nuclear genre gave birth to all sorts of creature features in the 50s and 60s. Stories about giant man-eating mutating ants like Them! terrified audiences because for all their education on the subject, especially compared to what is known now, it was a surprisingly realistic fear.

But the nuclear genre soon tired of oversized animals attacking small-town citizens, which gave birth to Attack of the 50 Foot Woman and other movies like this. Sure, Attack of the 50 Foot Woman is a poorly disguised attack on feminism, but it also perpetuated the fear of nuclear politics. Eventually movies like that led to more graphic portrayals of violence and terror on the homefront, such as Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes. As movies got increasingly violent and aggressive, the rules started to change with the times. We were no longer afraid of what nuclear power could do, we became afraid of our own potential for destruction and mayhem.

Thus, what is frequently called hillbilly horror was born. Now this genre itself was loaded with subtle attacks on Americana. As always, the goal of the horror movie continued to be to address the topical fears of everyday Americans. One of the earliest examples of these movies, The Last House on the Left which is, inherently a class struggle in horror form, was largely based on the terror of the Vietnam War. Everyday Americans were going out and committing acts of savagery that would later show up on TVs in living rooms across the nation. It was horrifying to think what everyday Americans were capable of doing in the face of wartime, specifically in a war that many felt we had no business fighting.

However, the attack against Republicans and the involvement in the Vietnam War was only the beginning of hillbilly horror. It continued to involve over the years, with different causes for the deformations and acts of cruelty. Unlike real life, the disfiguration of the characters, which allowed the audience to identify him/her as evil, do not occur in real life. One such explanation was inbreeding. This was a more metaphorical approach to American values that seemed to insist upon themselves. Of course, more American values beget more American values in the same way that inbreeding simply causes further destruction to one’s self. More than anything else, it’s an attack on party politics which was long overdue by this time.

Hillbilly horror movies still exist today, although with little purpose. The cutting edge of the hidden meaning has dulled over time as America has become increasingly disenchanted with its own way of life. Furthermore, there are few American horror filmmakers that are courageous enough to tackle these issues or even new material at all, leaving hillbilly horror to be immortalized as one of the last great political stances within the horror genre.


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