An article published yesterday on Cracked attempted to make a forced correlation between American electoral politics and horror genre monsters. The article first presented a chart that purported to correlate zombie movies with Republican administrations and vampires with Democratic administrations, suggesting that filmmakers use those monsters to comment on each administration’s priorities. In my Knowing Fear (2008), I presented an appendix with the following chart showing how major movies in the zombie and vampire genres had no correlation whatsoever to the current occupant of the Oval Office:
To be fair, the chart used by Cracked uses the gross number of films in each genre (as a percentage of all films released that year), but this is a bit silly. The year after a big hit, a flood of imitators arrive, so some years are artificially inflated irrespective of the office-holder. Worse, the “percentage of all films” criterion means that the chart is entirely dependent on the number of releases in other categories. The well-documented decline in non-genre films in the 1990s and 2000s artificially skews the ratios by giving greater weight to horror movies.
Additionally, as I pointed out in my appendix, movies typically are put into production years before they are finally released, so deciding whether to attribute a film to a “Democratic” or “Republican” mindset is a nearly futile task, compounded by the fact that many films are international co-productions or produced outside the U.S. by people who have no inherent interest in commenting on internal American domestic policies.
There are a few other points worth mentioning. First, vampires have no inherent correlation with Republicans. Contrary to Cracked writer S. Peter Davis’s assertions, Bram Stoker did not turn Count Dracula into an irresistible sexual object; he was, in fact described as repulsive. However, his predecessor, John Polidori’s Lord Ruthven from “The Vampyre” (1819) was sexually irresistible. But he did not represent Republicans. The early literary vampires—Dracula, Varney the Vampire, Carmilla, and Lord Ruthven—were all titled nobility (well, Varney was a mere knight, but still…) and represented the decadent aristocracy preying upon the rising Victorian middle class. Even today’s Twilight vampires retain the noblesse oblige, refined manners, and high culture heritage of the pre-World War I European aristocracy. While Davis is right that vampires have a relationship to sex, it is that of the decadent aristocracy, not the hedonistic amorality of the (perceived) impoverished Democratic base.
Second, zombies are recent inventions and have no rich tradition to draw from. The modern zombie emerged from 1968’s Night of the Living Dead when director George A. Romero tried to adapt a version of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, a vampire novel, essentially without having to pay for the rights. Matheson’s novel demythologized vampires by turning vampirism into a virus, and Romero more or less switched out “vampires” for “walking corpses,” turning their sustenance from blood to any generalized human tissue. It was from vampires, then, that zombies inherited their key traits—their un-death and their desire for human flesh—and from Matheson in particular that they inherited their geometric reproduction rates and tendency to crowd.
None of this speaks to zombies as an intentional attempt to caricature Republican voters. Romero, who invented the zombies, in fact intentionally used them to symbolize American consumerism and racial and class issues—not, originally, political parties. Additionally, the stereotype of lockstep, mindless Republican voters did not emerge until the hyper-partisanship of the late 20th century, especially with Rush Limbaugh’s “dittoheads” and Rep. Tom Delay’s control over his GOP Congressional majority. The GOP therefore can’t be inherent in the zombie’s makeup—heck, on an episode Showtime’s Masters of Horror in 2005, the zombies were all but explicitly Democrats.
The point is that the monsters of horror do not originate in contemporary American political arguments. Although they certainly can be employed in service of one ideology or another, these monsters are not inherently wed to them, nor are they always (or even usually) representing them.
Interestingly, the zombie and the vampire both emerge from the same folkloric creature—the revenant, the corpse that rises from its grave to torment the living. The vampire evolved into a sexualized, intelligent revenant while the zombie degenerated into little more than base desire without mind. But the two modern creatures’ close relationship and shared ancestry should give us pause about any attempt to use these monsters to emphasize contemporary divisions.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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