The Fall of The World Trade Center on September 11th, 2001 was a profound tragedy that scarred the beautiful nation I call home. Its aftershock is still felt on both the national and international circuits to this day.
It’s impossible for a national trauma to not bleed into the public conscious and reemerge within every aspect of our culture, especially the arts.
Long have horror movies reflected the fears of their time. The years after 9/11 were no different.
Haunted By The Past
Sensing an air of fear and uncertainty in the nation, Hollywood got to work.
They began by pulling long sedentary horror franchises from their shelves, brushing off the layers of dust and detritus, and slapping a “new” coat of paint on them. The early 2000’s thrust us into the era of the horror remake.
Dawn of the Dead, The Hills Have Eyes, The Fog, The Omen, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and a slew of other franchises were resurrected in the hopes of drawing their built-in fan bases and a horror-starved public to the theatre. The fears of the previous generations were being recast on their sons and daughters in more ways than one.
Violence Is The Answer
These remakes also had to be more graphic, more extreme with their violence in order to compete with the real-life horror’s we were witnessing on the nightly news. Major studios became less restrained in what they were willing to show audiences and took the same angle with their new properties as well.
Franchises like Hostel and Saw were born from this movement. Viewed as too extreme by some, they were in turn dubbed “torture porn” for their seemingly gratuitous violence. However, despite being negatively labeled by media, the Saw franchise would go on to be one the most successful horror franchises in cinema history.
Bleed Red, White, And Blue
After 9/11, there was a sense of unity and a rise in gaudy patriotism from a proud nation wounded and in mourning. At the best of times, it was a testament to the strength and resiliency of the human spirit, but it did not go on unspoiled. A warped and bastardized sense of nationalism led to an increase in race-related crime. A certain level of xenophobia gained acceptance and a movie like Hostel only serves to highlight this.
In Hostel, two American college students go on a backpacking holiday through Europe only to find themselves abducted and subjected to torture by wealthy elitist. Outside the safety of their home country, everyone is out to get them.
No Place Is Safe
While the Final Destination franchise began a year before the September 11th attacks, I believe the success of the subsequent films has to do with 9/11. In Final Destination, a premonition leads a group of people off of a plane that explodes in a deadly accident that would have otherwise claimed their lives. Having cheated death out of its souls, the group becomes victims of bizarre and deadly circumstance as the grim reaper comes for them one by one.
There would be four more sequels to this premise. Being out in public no longer meant you were safe. In fact, people started to suspect it meant the opposite. The victims of that day were all just regular people going about their lives and crazy circumstances claimed their lives and changed the rest of ours.
In interviews, George A. Romero admitted to having been in the process of shopping a script around Hollywood for a movie a week prior to the attack on the World Trade Center.
In the aftermath, Romero revised his script into what would later become The Land of the Dead.
In Land of the Dead, wealthy leaders impose class restrictions upon their community and take advantage of their populace’s fears to remain in power, even as they are being besieged by a zombie epidemic. Angered by what he saw happening in America, Romero channeled his frustrations into his art and love of the silver screen.
In hindsight, the original Cloverfield movie is the most obvious cinematic allegory for 9/11. In Cloverfield, we follow a group of Manhattanites as they try to escape the wrath of a giant monster tearing through the streets of New York. A terrible calamity is visited upon the city of New York, swift and without warning. Panic grips the Manhattanites as they dart to any available shelter. The destruction coats the air with heavy ash clouds and when the dust settles, once familiar avenues are littered with debris and fire.
Perhaps even more dramatic than the movie is its theatre poster. The Statue of Liberty, the ultimate symbol of American values, desecrated while pillars of smoke rise from the Manhattan skyline behind it.