As you know I was recently on a binge of horror movies during some time off work. When you spend an extended time with any genre you notice recurring issues and themes.
You may recall an earlier article where I was saying that hillbillies and the south in general are often very negatively portrayed in horror films with considerable regularity.
And they aren’t the only ones.
Eastern Europe gets a tough time for being depicted as backwards, violent, corrupt- Hostel, Severance, that’s just the two I watched most recently. Usually what happens is some wealthy westerners who show up, enjoy all the booze and sex, then get murdered. Or eaten. Or sacrificed.
I’m not from the United States, and my knowledge of it is quite limited but I am from Europe and find the emergence of this trend an interesting one. How is it that two areas can be characterised by their neighbours in such negative terms?
I have a few ideas.
- A tumultuous history
Both the Southern States and Eastern Europe have had quite a tumultuous history. Eastern Europe was crushed under the foot of the Soviet Union and had to suffer through a string of tin pot dictators. As if that wasn’t bad enough, it exploded into a string of brutal civil wars, ethnic cleansing. Horror gravitates to places like this, where there has been suffering and pain, the stories come naturally in these sort of settings.
Likewise, the Southern States have been through a lot. The American civil war most prominently, the reconstruction after which was plagued with violence, the civil rights movement and the raw emotions involved there, terrorism like the Oklahoma City bombing as well as the presence of various militia groups.
Again, my understanding of this is very broad strokes but I do think the reasons are for picking Eastern Europe or the Southern States are similar here- conflict ridden histories that are easily recalled by a casual viewer.
- Strong criminal element
We can take it for granted in Western Europe our low crime rates compared to other nations and regions.
When the assorted dictatorships collapsed in Eastern Europe and the various civil wars ended, it left a large group of armed, violent people without anything to fight for. Men and women who had killed people, tortured for them governments, massacred whole towns suddenly had to face the idea of a poorly paid 9-5 job while hoping the war crimes tribunals wouldn’t find them. It was only natural they would move into crime and they did so successfully. Europol (the European Interpol type organisation) has been doing a lot to help crack down on it, as is UK legislation like the modern slavery act 2015 which aims at people smuggling coming in from Eastern Europe.
The Southern States have seen cartel violence occasionally spill over the border, the rise of various gangs (both homegrown and foreign), clashes with religious groups like in the Waco siege, some of the most infamous school shootings seem to be associated with the south (Virginia tech, University of Texas shooting). Again, I know shootings have happened in other places but as someone who doesn’t live in the US, I tend to think of the South when I think of these issues.
Crime and horror go hand in hand, which is why so many stories can sit comfortably between the two. Where there is crime, there will be horror. No surprise then that horror stories can be set in the South or the East.
- Cultural disconnect
Being from Scotland, which has a pretty distinct culture, I can go to England, Wales, Ireland, France, Germany, Canada, America and still generally get the culture and click with it. It is different- but familiar generally. The East though is a very different place. It feels very odd and far removed- nothing wrong with that but I have to be honest, it feels so different.
Likewise, the Northern States have a very unique culture, their own distinct character which is different from their neighbours. As such although the South is near, I’m sure it can feel a very different place.
This difference in culture can put us off balance and raises our guard- ideal if it is a horror story you are going for. More people live outside the South than live in it, that is why it is used. Ditto for Eastern Europe.
- Nearby but quite mysterious
Eastern Europe is close enough to be vaguely familiar but also shrouded in mystery. Part of that is because it is only recently we have established proper ties with them, before that relations where a bit frosty. We heard about Eastern Europe on the news. Bosnia, Slobodan Milosevic, some outbreak of violence or another. Now we are establishing worthwhile connections which will hopefully continue.
It is becoming increasingly familiar but still retains that air of mystique.
I am sure for many Americans, the South will be the same. A place they hear about but don’t really see too much of or have much interactions with. This makes it ideal fodder for horror. A setting that will be familiar but also strange.
Eastern Europe and the Southern States will no doubt continue to be the setting for some great horror films, novels and games.