Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Elements of Horror: Hillbillies

A major revelation came to me while I was living in Boston, once upon a time. Having been in the south my whole life, I was very familiar with the idea of hillbillies. They are, of course, wild and untamed mountain folk who don't abide no city slickers. I thought the phenomenon was purely southern, or southeastern. A radio comedy program I would listen to on an overnight shift as a security guard taught me that New Englanders have their own hillbillies, people from Maine. Just like we color people from Alabama or the mountains of Kentucky in a negative light, every region has another region they see as under-developed and just a step above the Wild West.

If being replaced by our children or robots or atomic mutants weren't enough to worry about, hillbilly horror shows us the disaster of going too far backwards. The threat isn't from the future, it arises from the stunted growth of our inbred past. As scary as scientific advancement can be, at least we aren't living out pure Darwinian struggles every day.

This leads me to an interesting point about horror, it almost never comes after you. Sure, giant monsters may smash your city but you never get into intimate danger until you step outside the cozy safety of normal society. Whether it is the vacationers of Deliverance or The Hills Have Eyes, the day trippers of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or just the poor dopes in 2,000 Maniacs, all victims of hillbillies or inbred mountain people trespass where they don't belong. There is an imaginary line around our civilization where laws don't apply anymore and the police fear to go.

The other horrific element to this is that there is no safety valve of make believe. Everyone knows they can drive about an hour in any direction and end up in dangerous territory. These people live among us (or at least near us) and could dispose of our bodies with ease. As more people opt out of society with home schooling or doomsday prepping, we are left staring at that one house on the block with the overgrown yard and wondering "What are they doing in there?"

In the worst case scenario, they are having sex with each other and producing mutant babies. They may also be stockpiling guns, developing extremist religious views or just beating on each other. Or maybe they are just down on their luck. We would rather assign sinister attributes to poor white trash because we are one missed payment away from being those people ourselves. This is a rare horror case of creating an Other out of a Same.

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