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All The President’s Horror

From ‘It’ To ‘The Exorcist’

It comes out today, the Stephen King screen rehash that really does look better than the two-part Emmy-winning mini-series made in 1990. The 90s adaptation cost $12 million to make, which would be about $22.5 million today. The budget for It (2017) was $35 million, so it better look better.

Director Andres Muschietti’s career was sparked by Guillermo Del Toro, the producer of Muschietti’s first studio film, Mama. Mama grossed $146 globally on a budget of $15 million. If It does a similar ratio (10x) it will gross somewhere around $350 million, placing it among the top-5 highest global grossing horror films of all-time. It did just break the pre-sales record for horror films on Fandango, so there’s a chance.

If It does this well, Muschietti is as hot as a hire gets in Hollywood. So why did he choose this film? Why does America want to see It so bad?

Scary clowns resonate.

Is it a coincidence that clowns are the focal point of American Horror Story this season? I’m gonna say no.

What are the popular horror themes of each Presidency? Is there a relationship between horror films and the real fears of a country?

Here are the films that have scared America and their domestic grosses in millions, from Trump and It to Nixon and The Exorcist:

(* = horror-comedy)

Trump Horrors (2017- )

It, Get Out ($175), Annabelle 2 ($90), The Mummy ($80), Alien: Covenant ($74), The Dark Tower ($45), 47 Meters Down ($43)

We’ll wait until his term is over before we assess. Get Out is the big metaphor for Trump-era horror so far, but I think the scary clown’s time has begun. Franchises continue, including that of the impressively durable Stephen King.

Obama Horrors (2009–2017)

Zombieland* ($75), Insidious ($54), Insidious 2 ($83), Insidious 3 ($52), The Cabin In The Woods ($42), The Conjuring ($137), The Conjuring 2 ($102), World War Z ($202), The Babadook, What We Do In The Shadows*, 10 Cloverfield Lane ($71), Split ($148), The Purge ($64), The Purge 2: Anarchy ($71), The Purge 3: Election Year ($79), Paranormal Activity 2 ($84), Paranormal Activity 3 ($104), Paranormal Activity 4 ($53), Annabelle ($84), Shutter Island ($128), Don’t Breathe ($89), Mama ($71), The Final Destination ($66), Final Destination 5 ($42), Friday The 13th ($65), A Nightmare On Elm Street ($63), Resident Evil 4 ($60), Resident Evil 5 ($42), Dracula Untold ($55), Evil Dead ($54), The Possession ($49), Sinister ($48), Poltergeist ($47), Saw 7 ($45), Krampus ($42), Drag Me To Hell ($42), Dark Shadows* ($80), Lights Out ($67), Warm Bodies* ($66), The Visit ($65), Underworld Awakening ($64), The Wolfman ($61), The Woman In Black ($54), The Devil Inside ($53), My Bloody Valentine ($51), Ouija ($50), The Unborn ($42), Orphan ($41), The Last Exorcism ($40), Boo! A Madea Halloween* ($73)

Domestic Gross:

  1. World War Z ($202)
  2. Split ($148)
  3. The Conjuring ($137)
  4. Shutter Island ($128)
  5. Paranormal Activity 3 ($104)
  6. The Conjuring 2 ($102)
  7. Don’t Breathe ($89)
  8. Annabelle ($84)
  9. Paranormal Activity 2 ($84)
  10. Insidious 2 ($83)

There are zombies (including comedies Zombieland and Warm Bodies, plus the massive TV series The Walking Dead) and ghosts (always popular), but mental health is a unique theme at the top of the list, which could be a reflection of Obamacare. The Purge movies resonate with some (the Tea Party?), showing off fears of anarchy.

W. Bush Horrors (2001–2009)

28 Days Later ($45), Hannibal ($165), The Others ($96), The Ring ($128), The Ring 2 ($75), Signs ($227), Dawn Of The Dead ($58), Hellboy ($59), Hellboy 2 ($75), Saw ($55), Saw 2 ($87), Saw 3 ($80), Saw 4 ($63), Saw 5 ($56), The Hills Have Eyes ($41), The Mist, Shaun Of The Dead*, Grindhouse, I Am Legend ($256), Sweeney Todd ($52), Cloverfield ($80), Alien vs. Predator ($80), Alien vs. Predator 2 ($41), The Grudge ($110), The Village ($114), Van Helsing ($120), Scary Movie 3* ($110), Scary Movie 4* ($90), The Mummy 3 ($102), Freddy vs. Jason ($82), Blade 2 ($81), Blade 3 ($52), Texas Chainsaw Massacre ($80), Constantine ($75), The Exorcism Of Emily Rose ($75), The Forgotten ($66), The Amityville Horror ($64), Halloween ($58), White Noise ($55), The Omen ($54), Final Destination 2 ($46), Final Destination 3, Resident Evil 2 ($50), Resident Evil 3 ($50), When A Stranger Calls ($47), Hostel ($47), Silent Hill ($46), Paranormal Activity ($107), Haunted Mansion* ($75), 1408 ($71), Gothika ($59), The Strangers ($52), Hide And Seek ($51), The Skeleton Key ($47), Boogeyman ($46), Prom Night ($43), Thir13en Ghosts ($41), Exorcist: The Beginning ($41), The Mummy 2 ($202)

Domestic Gross:

  1. I Am Legend ($256)
  2. Signs ($227)
  3. The Mummy 2 ($202)
  4. Hannibal ($165)
  5. The Ring ($128)
  6. Van Helsing ($120)
  7. The Village ($114)
  8. The Grudge ($110)
  9. Scary Movie 3* ($110)
  10. Paranormal Activity ($107)

Horror in general was popular under George W. The big ghost stories were The Ring, The Grudge, and Paranormal Activity. There’s an apocalypse, an alien intrusion, a serial killer and a mummy sequel, a parody, and a film about an old society walled off from an unknown modern world. Saw took over, perhaps in response to the torture of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. I Am Legend, Signs, and The Village are all world-in-crisis films.

Clinton Horrors (1993–2001)

American Psycho, Final Destination ($53), Interview With The Vampire ($105), From Dusk Til Dawn, Scream ($103), Scream 2 ($101), Scream 3 ($89), Event Horizon, Blade ($70), The Blair Witch Project ($140), The Sixth Sense ($293), Sleepy Hollow ($101), Stir Of Echoes, The Haunting ($91), What Lies Beneath ($155), Se7en ($100), Hollow Man ($73), I Know What You Did Last Summer ($72), End Of Days ($66), Anaconda ($65), Wolf ($65), The Cell ($61), Species ($60), Halloween H20 ($55), Stigmata ($50), Alien 4 ($47), The Good Son ($44), House On Haunted Hill ($40), Spawn ($54), The Mummy ($155)

Domestic Gross:

  1. The Sixth Sense ($293)
  2. What Lies Beneath ($155)
  3. The Mummy ($155)
  4. The Blair Witch Project ($140)
  5. Interview With The Vampire ($105)
  6. Scream ($103)
  7. Scream 2 ($101)
  8. Sleepy Hollow ($101)
  9. Se7en ($100)
  10. The Haunting ($91)

Ghost stories are at the top (including Blair Witch), plus the classic Mummy, Vampire, and Headless Horseman characters. We have a high-minded biblical serial killer in Se7en, a sophomoric high school serial killer in Scream, and a Manhattan douchebag serial killer in American Psycho. It’s all ghosts and serial killers for Bill Clinton. Unfortunately this became a real accusation when his wife ran for President.

H.W. Bush Horrors (1989–1993)

Jacob’s Ladder, Misery ($61), Night Of The Living Dead, Tremors, The Silence Of The Lambs ($130), Candy Man, Bram Stoker’s Dracula ($82), Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, Pet Sematary ($57), Flatliners ($61), Alien 3 ($55), Arachnophobia ($53), Gremlins 2 ($41)

Domestic Gross:

  1. The Silence Of The Lambs ($130)
  2. Dracula ($82)
  3. Flatliners ($61)
  4. Misery ($61)
  5. Pet Sematary ($57)

These are all high-quality, literary films (the only time a horror film won Best Picture). It appears that the H.W. fears were high-minded (unlike those inspired by his son). He was a CIA/Skull & Bones/Deep State kinda guy, so this makes sense.

Reagan Horrors (1981–1989)

An American Werewolf In London, The Evil Dead, Halloween 2, Poltergeist ($76), Poltergeist 2 ($41), The Thing, Cujo, Gremlins ($148), Day Of The Dead, Fright Night, Re-animator, The Return Of The Living Dead, Aliens ($85), The Fly ($40), Little Shop Of Horrors* ($38), Manhunter, Angel Heart, Hellraiser, Predator ($59), The Blob, Child’s Play ($33), A Nightmare On Elm Street, Nightmare On Elm Street 3 ($44), Nightmare On Elm Street 4 ($49), Jaws 3-D ($42)

Domestic Gross:

  1. Gremlins ($148)
  2. Aliens ($85)
  3. Poltergeist ($76)
  4. Predator ($59)
  5. Nightmare On Elm Street 4 ($49)

Poltergeist is an extension of The Exorcist and The Omen; all are intrusive, malevolent spirits. We have different types of alien enemies in Aliens, Predator (future collab!), and the cutest of the bunch, the Gremlins. Freddy was an alien too: an outcast from a different place on a murderous rampage where no children were safe (thanks, Wes). With Predator there’s a racist formula of a dark, dangerous, dreadlocked non-human in the jungle. These threatening aliens in foreign places may reflect Cold War fears, or fears of 1980s New York borroughs. The scary-alien-landscape was a relatable theme under Reagan.

That, and kids not being safe in their sleep.

Carter Horrors (1977–1981)

Jaws 2 ($102), The Shining ($44), The Fog, Friday The 13th ($39), Eraserhead, The Hills Have Eyes, Dawn Of The Dead, Halloween ($47), Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, Piranha, Alien ($78), The Amityville Horror ($86), Nosferatu The Vampyre

Domestic Gross:

  1. Jaws 2 ($102)
  2. The Amityville Horror ($86)
  3. Alien ($78)
  4. Halloween ($47)
  5. The Shining ($44)
  6. Friday The 13th ($39)

There are two haunted house stories in the top-5, plus the origin of alien horror in space (the spaceship itself a mobile haunted house). People were scared of a deadly force invading their homes (Friday can be grouped in to this). Under Carter there seems to be a sense of insecurity at home, where even the patriarch can turn into the invader.

Alien and Jaws 2 bring non-human enemies in foreign environments that we encroach on. These non-humans want to kill us, and are in some ways more powerful than we are. Along with insecurities at home, there was a fear of being the invaders ourselves, fighting a strong non-human enemy on their territory. Carter famously avoided war, but America didn’t stop worrying about it.

Ford Horrors (1974–1977)

Frankenstein And The Monster From Hell, It’s Alive, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre ($30), Jaws ($260), The Stepford Wives, Carrie ($33), The Omen ($60), The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue, The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane, The Sentinel

Domestic Gross:

  1. Jaws ($260)
  2. The Omen ($60)
  3. Carrie ($33)
  4. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre ($30)

The Omen rides the success of The Exorcist (like The Grudge totally does to The Ring in four Presidents), but Jaws, Carrie, Texas Chainsaw Massacre: Blood is the star of these films. America had started to contextualize Vietnam, and blood was perhaps the most prominent image in the collective PTSD.

End of Nixon Horror (1973)

The Exorcist made $204 million domestically in 1973. That equates to $1.12 billion today. The domestic gross of Jaws works out to $1.18 billion, qualifying the two as the biggest horror films in American history. They basically bookend the Nixon/Watergate era. Both tap into the fear of a non-human other, whether at home or a foreign place, but that’s true for most American horror stories…

…and Presidents.

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