"Mothra didn't scare me. Godzilla didn't scare me. It's people im afraid of."-
In the documentary film The American Nightmare(2003, Adam Simon), a celebration and analysis of seventies horror films, the most interesting and disturbing interview comes from Tom Savini, a veteran make-up artist for films such as George Romero's Dead... trilogy (1968, 1979, 1985), who talks about the real life horrors he saw as an army photographer in Vietnam. Commenting on how he drew on these experiences for his film work, Savini discusses the numbness he developed to photographing corpses and body parts, just before we are shown one of the photos Savini had taken; that of a Vietnamese man, partially blown away by a grenade or bomb. "To me, through the camera," Savini comments, "it was a special effect."2
This is a telling observation of on-screen violence and our reactions to it. the horrors in Vietnam, being brought home through television like no other war before, changed America inextricably.
American cinema in the 70s reflected this, capturing the utter sense of disillusionment many people felt. However, whilst the more obvious conspiracy thrillers like All The Presidents Men and The Conversation were literal comments on the Watergate crisis and the paranoia of surveillance, and the late seventies saw Vietnam under the microscope in The Deer Hunter, there was one genre, through some seven or eight key films, that perfectly embodied and commented on the problems within American politics and society. It was the horror film.
In this essay I intend to study in depth, two films from the horror genre made in the seventies, placing them within their cultural and political context, in an attempt to demonstrate that this genre, in its golden age before the advent of the eighties "video nasty", spoke volumes about American attitudes...