Screams, slashers and Thatcher: why horror films are going back to the 80s

etflix did not quite invent nostalgia, but you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise. The streamer certainly went to town on it with Stranger Things, which wore the 1980s like a badge of honour: the BMXs, the Dungeons & Dragons, the walkie-talkies. In its wake, a slew of scary tributes to the era appeared, ever-evolving variants seeping through a time-travel portal.

The closest cousin was Andy Muschietti’s 2017 adaptation of Stephen King’s It, which also mixed up Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante and John Carpenter to great effect and, in Finn Wolfhard, shared a lead (Stranger Things has the book flowing through its veins too). Then there was 2018’s Summer of 84, by Canadian directing trio RKSS, about four Oregon teens convinced their neighbour is a serial killer; and Cody Calahan’s 2020 film Vicious Fun, a 1983-set, neon-drenched comical horror about a young film critic who stumbles upon a therapy group for serial killers.

Now Netflix is jumping on its own bandwagon with Fear Street, a trilogy of films set in different eras, directed by Leigh Janiak and based on RL Stine’s books. The first instalment, an entertaining, surprisingly gory, story about the teenage inhabitants of suburban town Shadyside mysteriously killing each other, is set in 1994, inspired by the decade’s slasher films such as I Know What You Did Last Summer and Scream.

All of these come courtesy of film-makers with misty eyes behind rose-tinted glasses, yet in each lurks darkness: the rot beneath the idyllic suburban facades, itself a callback to the paranoid titles of the period. “Horror has always been socially aware and engaged,” explains the horror historian Dr Johnny Walker, a senior lecturer in media at Northumbria University, and author of the upcoming Rewind, Replay: Britain and the Video Boom, 1978-91.

“As a genre, it hinges on shock and, well, horror. Because of that, and because it’s so inherently visceral, it’s fertile ground for exploring confrontational, divisive issues.”

But why the 80s and 90s, and why now? For a while that period was deemed best left forgotten, 그러나, says Walker: “The tastemakers who decided that the 80s wasn’t cool are dinosaurs now. It’s the kids of the 80s who are now calling the shots.” And there’s something more interesting at play, 너무, he says: “Today has largely been an era of populist rightwing governments, globally. And that chimes with earlier iterations of conservatism, certainly with Thatcher and Reagan.”

A case in point: Censor, an upcoming horror by the Welsh director Prano Bailey-Bond about a traumatised film censor. It is set in 1985 영국, at the height of the hysteria around video nasties, many of which were banned. Mid-80s Britain under Thatcher, says Walker, was horrendous for many people, and while the moral panic was awful for the horror industry, it created a thriving community of genre fans. “Censor plays with that dichotomy, with what was grim about the 80s but also the excitement that surrounded the video-nasties panic for the adolescents sharing pirate videos in the schoolyard.”

이, he says, speaks to why horror is so effective at investigating history, whether it is Censor or Stranger Things making a meal of conspiracies and cover-ups. “The foundations of the genre, the tropes, are able to be repurposed,”그는 말한다, “because inevitably in different epochs, there will be governments doing shady things. And with that, dynamic horror is able to flourish because it’s got something to sink its teeth into.”

A US poster for Censor plays on its video-nasty roots: a gruesome pair of hands grasp a glitchy TV screen. In that respect it is being marketed with some nostalgia, says Walker, and Censor is certainly indebted to the films Bailey-Bond grew up watching. But it is furious with the climate around them. “Thatcher was really lucky that the video-nasty panic happened,” says Walker. “When you put video nasties on the front of a newspaper. it is a distraction tactic. Telling people not to be scared of imminent unemployment but of video cassettes. The 80s are so often dismissed as consumerism, but Censor takes that superficial veneer and digs deeper, scraping back the MTV-generation gloss.”

The same could be said for what the US was experiencing in the 1990s. Director Kevin Phillips’s 2017 film Super Dark Times is set in upstate New York, 1996. It concerns a group of teenagers on bikes, but it is a bleak, unsettling piece about a kid who accidentally kills his friend with a samurai sword, and the ensuing fallout. Set four years before Columbine, it explores a generational malaise, the rise of a more troubled teen psyche.

The 80s and 90s are perfect fodder for contemporary horror, providing nostalgia as well as a context that speaks perhaps to where we have ended up today. These are passionate tributes to their directors’ childhoods but dealing in fractured dreams. Good horror always finds the truth.

Fear Street is on Netflix 2 칠월; Censor is in cinemas from 20 팔월

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