Tag Archive for horror film


Latest update: May 1, 2023

Here is a list of scripts I currently have in circulation. Don’t let the date at the top of this post fool you–I’m updating it regularly. I’m including the scripts’ loglines (one or two sentences that push the characters and conflict) and what, if any, honors they’ve garnered so far. If you are a producer, manager, or other industry professional interested in materials related to any of these scripts, please contact me at landrew42@gmail.com.


  • Agave Agape (horror, sci-fi)
    • When a young gay man rents an apartment in a house where an eccentric scientist lives with her daughter, who has an odd relationship with the poison plants in their garden, he must resist taking part in their murderous designs or lose control of his life completely.
    • A loose adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic 1844 short story “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” now set in contemporary Los Angeles
    • Quarter-finalist, TSL Free Screenplay Contest, 2022; quarter-finalist, Filmmatic Horror Screenplay Awards, 2022; quarter-finalist, ScreenCraft Horror Screenplay Competition, 2022; semi-finalist, Other Worlds FF / Under Worlds FF, 2021
  • Birthday Beta (sci-fi, drama)
    • On the night before a cyborg’s birthday, when he expects to become the first “human” artificial lifeform, different members of his family return from the future with tales of disasters that follow from both accepting and not accepting the upgrade, throwing his choice—and the idea of choice—into doubt.
    • With a single location, a limited cast, and relatively few FX, this script is designed to accommodate a low- or ultra-low-budget production.
    • Selection, Miami International Science Fiction FF, 2022; selection, Bloodstained Indie FF, 2021
  • Boy in the Lake (teen horror)
    • An imaginative black teenage girl encounters a beautiful, supernatural, white young man who lives in a lake, but as she pursues him, she unwinds a history of occult activity tied to the lake and to the multiplying copies of the young man wreaking havoc all around her.
    • Semi-finalist, Hollywood Dreams IFF, 2021; quarter-finalist, Page Turner Screenplay Competition, 2021
  • Calling Cards (drama, thriller)
    • A lonely ex-professor receives a visit from a charming former student who performs a magic card trick that shows different ways, delightful and disastrous, that the evening could reshape their lives.
    • Finalist, The Great American Script Contest, 2021; selection, SoCal Film Awards, 2021; Best Feature, Psychological Thriller, Silver State FF, 2020; quarter-finalist, Screenwriters’ Network Screenplay Competition, 2020
  • Come Alive (comedy, adventure, sci-fi, LGBTQ)
    • A middle-aged gay couple’s attempt to rekindle their relationship turns into an absurd, hormone-fueled quest to defeat alien invaders and save a new LGBTQ society.
    • Hear professional actors read the first act or check out an interview with me that has some background about Come Alive, both thanks to the LGBT Toronto Film Festival!
    • Finalist, South Carolina Underground Film Festival; semi-finalist, RAINBOW Cinema Awards, 2020; selection, AOF Megafest, 2020; winner, live reading, FEEDBACK LGBT Toronto FF, 2020
  • Crash Café (thriller)
    • When a deranged but calculating man takes the customers in a café hostage by poisoning them and withholding the antidote, a strong-willed woman must lead the other hostages through a series of mind games so they can make it out alive.
    • With only one location–a single-room café–this script offers all the tension of a more demanding production without the demanding budget.
    • 2nd Place, Fade In Awards Thriller Competition, 2020; selection, Hollywood Dreams IFF, 2020
  • Crazy Time (horror, dark urban fantasy)
    • A traumatized woman’s belief that she suffers from a Biblical curse launches a quest in which she follows psychics, Satanists, preachers, and corporate executives toward an apocalyptic showdown with God.
    • Finalist, FilmQuest, 2020; selection, Shockfest FF, 2020; semi-finalist, Zed Fest FF & Screenplay Competition
  • The Dark Tetrad (horror, psychological thriller)
    • A gay man whose life is already in shambles attracts the interest of a young female serial killer who murders people around him, focusing suspicion on him while forcing a reckoning with his dark impulses.
    • Best Thriller/Horror Script, Hollywood Dreams IFF, 2021; finalist, Boston Screenplay Awards, 2021; quarter-finalist, Miami Screenplay Awards, 2021; selection, Marina del Rey FF, 2021
  • End of the Book (teen horror)
    • After unleashing monsters from cursed books, six teenagers must fight to survive a night locked in the shifting aisles of a labyrinthine haunted library.
    • Best YA Horror Feature Screenplay, Golden State FF, 2021; finalist, Best Feature Screenplay, The Thing in the Basement Horror Fest, 2020; semi-finalist, Los Angeles Crime and Horror FF, 2020
  • Familiar (horror)
    • When a black woman’s nephew is murdered by police, she uses an enchanted necklace that links her to a monstrous “familiar” who grants her wish for vengeance but creates an escalating cycle of violence.
    • Selection, LA International Horror FF, 2021; semi-finalist, Los Angeles Crime and Horror FF, 2021; quarter-finalist, Chicago Screenplay Awards, 2021
  • From the Walls (horror)
    • When a new arrival at a mental institution joins other patients in tracking down what they believe is a conspiracy involving the hospital staff, a mysterious basement, and shared hallucinations, she becomes part of mind-shattering and deadly events that could consume her.
    • Selection, Moody Crab FF, 2022; selection, Lit Scares International Horror Festival, 2021; selection, Shockfest FF, 2021
  • Grandma Sipinnit’s Wonderful Wine (comedy, family)
    • When the suburban Mallard family stops for directions at the isolated country estate of the Sipinnit family, they join a celebration of the estate’s “peculiarities,” which include a talking cow and dancing corn, and risk becoming trapped as a permanent part of the estate’s population.
    • Selection, Boston Independent Film Awards, 2022; finalist, Austin Comedy FF, 2023
  • Idolatry (horror)
    • When a naïve college student becomes fixated on the leader of a notorious literary magazine, he risks getting lost in a world of decadent brutality and stylized murder.
    • Best Horror Feature Screenplay, Austin After Dark FF, Spring 2021; semi-finalist, Hollywood Dreams IFF, 2021; selection, LA International Horror FF, 2021; Honorable Mention, WriteMovies Fall 2020 Screenwriting Contest
  • Interview with an Alien (sci-fi, dramedy)
    • A woman who shares her body with a collective of microscopic aliens tells a life story intricately woven into sixty years of history, explaining why she will or won’t turn her back on Earth.
    • Runner-Up, Best Sci-Fi/Fantasy Script, Action on Film Megafest, 2021; Best Alien-Encounter Feature Screenplay, Miami International Science Fiction FF, 2021
  • Leanne’s Man (comedy)
    • As two nervous gay dads see their bright daughter through a series of dates from high school to college and beyond, they must balance their absurd overprotectiveness with recognition of her growing independence.
    • Semi-finalist, Filmmatic Comedy Screenplay Awards, 2021; quarter-finalist, ScreenCraft Comedy Competition, 2021; semi-finalist, 25th Annual Fade In Awards Comedy Competition, 2021; Gold Award, LGBTQ Unbordered IFF, 2021; selection, Action on Film Megafest, 2021.
  • The Masses (horror)
    • As the people of a small town succumb to infectious tumors that change their behavior, a strong-minded woman tries to save her children from the fascist nightmare that her husband and other townsfolk are creating.
    • Selection, Underground Indie FF, 2021; selection, Shockfest Horror Library, 2020; Honorable Mention, Hollywood Horrorfest, 2020; selection, Austin After Dark FF, 2020; Honorable Mention, The International Horror Hotel, 2020; selection, Shockfest FF, 2020
  • Miasma (horror)
    • As foul fumes fill their house, a couple in a strained marriage must fight through sickness, hallucinations, and violent impulses to save their children and escape.
    • Set in one location, a house, with only five characters, this script offers low-budget horror with high-octane thrills.
    • Finalist, Best Horror Feature Screenplay, Austin After Dark FF, spring 2021; semi-finalist, Filmmatic Horror Screenplay Awards, 2021; nominee, Best Feature Script, Independent Horror Movie Awards, 2020; selection, AOF Megafest, 2020
  • The Middle Reaches (horror/dark fantasy)
    • When five friends reunite to seek the truth about the otherworldly place where their high school friend disappeared more than a decade earlier, they journey into a dark realm of sex, violence, and creatures hungry to keep them forever.
    • Best Horror Script, Hollywood Horrorfest, 2021; semi-finalist, Stage 32 5th Annual Sci-Fi/Fantasy Screenwriting Contest, 2021; Honorable Mention, The Santa Barbara International Screenplay Awards, 2021; Best Feature Script, Bloodstained Indie FF, 2021
  • The Neighbors (thriller/horror)
    • When an insurrection led by white nationalists affects the entire United States, an interracial couple in the suburbs must fight off deadly attacks from their neighbors.
    • Selection, Shockfest Film Festival, 2021; selection, New York City International Screenplay Awards, 2021; nominee, Best Thriller/Horror Script, Action on Film Megafest, 2021; selection, Hollywood Horrorfest, 2021
  • The Phantom Cuckoo (drama)
    • Diverse members of an extended family attempt to adjust to changes in where and how they live while personal and political differences threaten to tear them apart.
    • Set in one location with an ensemble cast, this script does away with other budgetary concerns to focus on performances.
    • Selection, Filmmatic Drama Screenplay Awards, 2020
  • Planet Bliss (sci-fi, drama)
    • After they discover the ancient ruins of an alien colony near the human settlement on Planet Bliss, three environmental engineers follow a signal only they can see to an encounter that alters their perceptions and reshapes humanity’s future.
  • Sam the Rhino (mystery, thriller, noir, LGBTQ)
    • A trans private eye’s search for his missing mother leads him into a web of intrigue with a wealthy family who may kill each other—and him—before they can help him find his mom.
    • Best Overall Screenplay and 1st Place, Suspense-Thriller, Indie Gathering International Film Festival, 2020/2021; Silver Award Winner, LGBTQ Unbordered International FF; Gold Award Winner, L.A. Neo-Noir Novel, Film, and Script Festival, 2020; semi-finalist, RAINBOW Cinema Awards, 2020; semi-finalist, Action-Adventure, Creative World Awards, 2020; semi-finalist, New York City International Screenplay Awards, 2020; quarter-finalist, Los Angeles International Screenplay Awards Diversity Initiative, 2022
  • The Teenage Tasting Collective (drama)
    • When the soul of their group disappears, five teenage friends embark on a “summer of dissipation,” trying to stay together while grief is tearing them apart.
    • Semi-finalist, Stage 32 Feature Drama Screenwriting Contest, 2022; quarter-finalist, Creative Screenwriting Unique Voices Screenplay Competition, 2022; quarter-finalist, SF Indie Fest Screenplay Competition, 2022; selection, London Film Awards, 2022; selection, International Diversity FF, 2022; quarter-finalist, The Great American Script Contest, 2021; selection, The Thinking Hat Fiction Challenge, 2021
  • Their Father’s World (horror)
    • After they naively try to resurrect their father by opening a door between worlds, three long-sequestered sisters face supernatural and psychological attacks based on their family history while trying to escape their haunted house.
    • Visit this script’s custom website, which links to where you can buy the script on Amazon or view the script’s nifty trailer, also on YouTube.
    • Finalist, Best Horror Feature Screenplay, Oregon Scream Week Horror FF, 2021; selection, Screamwriting Festival, 2021; Finalist, 13Horror.com Film & Screenplay Contest, 2020; semi-finalist, Stage 32 7th Annual Search for New Blood Screenwriting Contest; semi-finalist, Lit Scares International Horror Festival 2020
  • Trouble at Home (drama)
    • When troubled siblings return to their childhood home to visit their mother, they confront her about a lifetime of abuse, but when she becomes violent, they tie her to the bed, pushing acrimony to life-threatening extremes.
    • Best Screenplay, Conquering Disabilities with Film IFF, 2021; semi-finalist, New York International Screenplay Awards, 2021; quarter-finalist, Filmmatic Drama Screenplay Awards, 2021

  • Undying (horror)
    • A white supremacist terrorizes a neighborhood. No matter how hard a diverse group of would-be vigilantes tries to stop him, the murderous bigot refuses to die.
    • Selection, Hollywood Dreams IFF, 2020; finalist, WriteMovies Horror Award 2019; finalist, 13HORROR.COM Film & Screenplay Contest, 2019; finalist, Big Apple FF, 2019
  • Unreal Anthony (drama)
    • A young man with a mental illness follows advice about trying to connect with new people, but his mind puts up barriers, ranging from the comic to the disastrous, that keep pushing connections out of reach.
    • Selection, AOF Megafest, 2018; 2nd Place, Drama, Indie Gathering International Film Festival, 2018
  • Why She Did It (psychological horror/thriller)
    • After their daughter’s apparent suicide, a divorced couple searches her apartment for hints about her motives, only to find clues that implicate one another as well as more sinister forces that might be closing in on them.
    • With few characters, locations, and VFX, this script is designed for an ultra-low budget.
    • Best Horror Feature Screenplay, Silver State FF, 2022; Best Unproduced Script, Miami Indie Film Awards, 2022; finalist, Best Screenplay, Oregon Screams Horror FF, 2022; selection, Shockfest FF, 2022.
  • Wonder Drugs (drama, contemporary fantasy)
    • A woman with a mental illness tries new drug therapies and goes on a hallucinatory journey—through a giant garden, a mall in the clouds, a live volcano, and more—in search of a whole, stable sense of self.
    • Best Feature (Written Word) and Overcomer Award, Conquering Disabilities with Film IFF, 2020; selection, Hollywood Screenings FF, 2020; semi-finalist, Los Angeles CineFest, 2020; selection, Marina Del Rey FF, 2019; selection, Chicago Screenplay Awards, 2019
    • For a three-minute reading of a scene, compliments of the AOF Megafest, click here.
  • Wound Watchers (horror, psychological)
    • A young woman with PTSD joins an experimental group led by a doctor with a technique that allows him to enter patients’ traumatic memories. When a dark presence follows the doctor into the group’s minds, she and the others must fight to survive their own magnified traumas as well as the invader’s appetites.
    • Semi-finalist, Filmmatic Horror Screenplay Awards, 2023, 3rd Place, Suspense-Thriller Feature, International Horror Hotel, 2023.

Some of my short scripts have also gotten some love on the festival/competition circuit, so I’ll mention them:


  • Charlie’s Mother (extreme horror)
    • A sadistic kidnapper teaches a self-involved young man a grotesque lesson in family values.
    • 3rd Place, Outré, Hollywood Horrorfest, 2019; selection, Shockfest FF, 2020
    • Based on a story from my collection Leaping at Thorns
  • Complicity (supernatural / surreal horror)
    • When a man starts accepting mysterious payments through the mail, he also starts sleepwalking–and people in his neighborhood start losing their eyes, ears, and tongues.
    • Semi-finalist, ScreenCraft Shorts Competition, 2019
    • Based on a story from my collection Leaping at Thorns
  • Hidden Subjects (thriller)
    • When a middle-class couple has dinner with a colleague fired for sexual harassment, double entendres thinly veil a darker secret.
    • Semi-finalist, Filmmatic Short Screenplay Awards, 2020
  • Selfie Stick (psychological horror)
    • A disillusioned millennial records and uploads intimate videos of himself, charting a decline into madness and murder.
    • Finalist, 13HORROR.COM Film & Screenplay Contest, 2019
  • Silence (supernatural / surreal horror)
    • After an insecure woman visits an unusual house, the people in her life gradually disappear.
    • Finalist/Nominee, Best Writing, Close Up: San Francisco Short Film Festival 2021; Semi-finalist, Your Script Produced! Studios: Season 2, 2021; 2nd Place, Supernatural Short Script, Hollywood Horrorfest, 2020; finalist, Hollywood Just4Shorts Film and Screenplay Competition, 2019
    • Based on a story from my collection Leaping at Thorns
  • Tapestry (supernatural / surreal horror)
    • Knowing her turn will come soon, an ambitious young woman watches her co-workers succumb one at a time to a malady she suspects is connected to the tapestry in her boss’s office.
    • Finalist, Hollywood Just4Shorts Film and Screenplay Competition, 2019
    • Based on a story from my collection Leaping at Thorns

Funny Purge: The Stranger Invasion

Dramatic sieges against the home, mounted by villains of various stripes, have been cinematic mainstays at least since hunters have had nights and fears have had capes. In fact, horror/thriller sieges waged by monsters and killers are echoes of the sieges waged by dastardly Injuns and others who would thwart the white man’s destiny. Therefore, giving in to the temptation to start this blog by mentioning the “recent” turn toward home invasion in mainstream horror films seems to have way too high a cost in credibility.

In Birth of a Nation (1915), evil blacks (or whites in evil blackface) breach the cabin, almost close enough, at last, to breach the white women. Did George A. Romero see this scene before making a certain 1968 zombie film...?

In Birth of a Nation (1915), evil blacks (or whites in evil blackface) breach the cabin, almost close enough to breach the white women. Did George A. Romero see this scene before making a certain 1968 zombie film…?

So the home invasion thing isn’t recent, but we have had a recent hybridization of classic home invasion with torture porn, a kind of pseudopod of horror’s post-millennial flirtation with decadent extremism.   Consider it a logical mutation: instead of you going to a trap (Saw 2004, Hostel 2005), the trap comes to you. The Collector (2009) is the best connector film here for both on- and off-screen reasons, but somehow the most iconic popular home invasion film is The Strangers (2008), which is arguably indebted to and certainly similar to the French film Them (2004). On the side of the universe more acceptable to the art circuit are Michael Haneke’s two versions of Funny Games (1997, 2007). These films (among others) deal with people coming to the protagonists’ home and wreaking outrageously violent havoc.

Polite young men who don't look at all out of place in the wealthy vacation neighborhood are the invaders. For Haneke, in a Haneke film, violence is not accurately measured in blood and gore.

Polite young men who don’t look at all out of place in the wealthy vacation neighborhood are the invaders. In a Haneke film, violence is not accurately measured in blood and gore.

On June 7, the film The Purge (2012) entered this filmic pseudopod with a well-advertised twist: instead of being randomly kidnapped (Saw and Hostel) or randomly invaded at home (Strangers and Funny Games), these people must deliberately, preparedly defend themselves because it’s the one special night of the year when murder and every other crime are legal. So the haves better have some bulwarks against the have nots.

Movie poster as fictional public service announcement: the premise normalizes the threat, making its very normality a source and subject for the horror.

Movie poster as fictional public service announcement: the premise normalizes the threat, making its very normality a source and subject for the horror.

The Purge‘s focus on the reason, the causal context (“The Purge” is the event, the night, when law is suspended and the narrative conditions are possible) is what makes the movie stand among the best of this pod. Nevermind Ethan Hawke’s good performance–after this one and Sinister (2012), I’m hoping the Genre Has Him–the writing, production values, and cinematography are all interesting enough to rate words like “skilled” and “above average.” Costume design and make-up get serious thumbs up, too.

But the film’s slick goodness alone wouldn’t earn it many bytes in the brain if that slickness didn’t deliver, loud and clear, a message that the other films have been mumbling all along. In Funny Games, people hunt people because excess of privilege devalues life… if we read the ambiguous bad guys in a certain way. In The Strangers, the anonymity of wealthy ranches spaced out along large plots of land makes people isolated and interchangeable (in the near future, you will all be reading brilliant things by Katherine A. Wagner on this topic)… but the film gives no frame of reference for protagonists, antagonists, or locations, so pinning it to particular politics is challenging. With The Purge, no more ifs, and no more hunting for frames of reference [INDIRECT SPOILER ALERT]: it’s about inter- and intra-class warfare projected forward from variables with which we are very familiar. It very carefully lays out issues of race, gender, economics, generational value shifts, freedom vs. security, and so on, and diegetically, it lets people fight them out for a little while.

Ultimately, I think I prefer the crazy ambiguities of Funny Games (not to mention other unmentionables), but that film… those films… also trade a lot on style, whereas The Purge trades on fusing levels of emotional and political catharsis and is, on the whole, very successful. It also uses fairly painless references to its podmates–masks that evoke The Strangers and a lead bad guy who could be one of the young gents from Funny Games–to tell viewers paying attention that it is continuing a conversation about violence, a violence arguably reducible to the fundamental structure of society, begun in the earlier films. And The Purge is not afraid to be un-subtle about structure-of-society stuff while still thrilling us with a delightful violence of its own. That earns my respect.

Public Reading, No Audience: Ballsy, Crazy, Stupid?

Turns out that actor Bill Moseley is intelligent and, at least after talking to him a bit, a heckuva a nice guy. But he freaked me right out when he interrupted the reading I was doing this morning at the Full Moon Horror Festival in Nashville, TN to tell me I was being unfair to atheists. To have someone I didn’t immediately recognize march up on stage and interrupt a public reading that already had me nervous as hell was bad enough, but then to realize that the dude is, in horror circles, pretty much a superstar (Devil’s Rejects, 2005, and many more) felt like my career had just dived into the hungry mouth of an active volcano.


Mr. Moseley can be quite scary but quite nice, too.


Let me back up a bit. To support that novel I keep writing about, Burning the Middle Ground (read it yet? why not? you’re really missing out!), fabulous BlackWyrm Publishing sent me and my partner James to the aforementioned horror festival. Since I was the only author in the BlackWyrm booth, I decided to keep it interesting by doing readings from my work.


The 10′ x 10′ booth that I tried to make interesting by doing creative readings.


If you’ve ever been to one of these festivals, you might be able to imagine the scene around this booth: loud music, people walking by in bizarre (but fascinating and often impressively artistic) costumes, chatting, drinking, and doing anything but paying attention to whatever is being shouted by the vendors lining every aisle and vying for attention. So I was doing the nerd convention equivalent of standing on a street corner in midtown Manhattan reading from an obscure (allegedly holy) text and expecting to convert passersby on their ways to things they actually think are important. But hey–it was either that or do nothing, right? Between crazy street preacher and nothing, I’ll take crazy. Faulkner said that.

Sadly, this morning, I was on the edge of losing my voice from shouting passages from my novel, and my whole plan had been to read the big Easter passages from my novel on Easter morning, so I had to do something. So I got special permission to use the mic on the temporarily unoccupied stage. Eureka! I read a scene in which my good preacher Jeanne Harper preaches the gospel while besieged by demonic ghosts. Before I got to the part where bad preacher Michael Cox starts burning people alive, Bill Moseley concluded that I was actually delivering an Easter sermon.

I almost lost my nerve, but, well, on the edge of total humiliation, I have a tendency to jump right over instead of running and hiding. Mr. Moseley left the stage, and I not only finished my reading, but I marched right over to his booth, broke into his autograph line, and asked him how exactly a story about a preacher who burns people alive is unfair to atheists. A really smart conversation ensued–Moseley needed about two minutes of discussion of what my novel is really about to realize that it’s a quasi-Marxist critique of religion and that my work and his really have quite a lot in common. I gave him a signed copy as a gift, and we parted on good terms. My stomach was in knots, but I think it all turned out for the best. He even said he’d read the book… if the book is ever optioned, I’m imagining how he might perform in the role of my evil preacher Michael Cox… very intriguing….

Not a lot of sales at this convention, but some potentially good exposure, and maybe even a couple of other good stories I could tell. I felt crazy and stupid doing my readings without a (visible) audience, and after I did the reading with the mic, a couple of strangers (who I didn’t even know were listening) told me it was really ballsy. I can’t believe tomorrow is Monday–I totally need a weekend to recover from my weekend, as my nerves are completely fried–but until I really do go crazy or lose my nerve, I’ll keep acting stupid in public in order to share my fiction with fellow aficionados of scary stories that touch every part of the nervous system, brain included.

Angry Birds versus White People

Since Stoker, about which I am appropriately stoked, has not yet come to Louisville, the horror movie this weekend was The Last Exorcism II.


Ashley Bell struggles with monstrous talents in The Last Exorcism II.

It’s a pretty by-the-numbers white-girl-under-demonic-threat sort of thing, but delightfully cheesy developments toward the end, especially with awkward use of digitally-generated fires, yield a distinct type of pleasure. The film’s greatest pleasure, however, is the masterful performance by Ashley Bell. While I’m pleased when real acting talent gets involved in my genre, horror’s tendency to reduce the living to the soon-dead does not usually allow an actor to develop reasonable emotional depth. The depth of most horror is in the body, not the soul, and we gain access to that depth through cutting implements, not talented expression. The Last Exorcism II doesn’t really need good acting talent, but it has it in Bell; I hope the film will do well enough to get Bell gigs in situations where her gifts will be more fully realized.

dark-skies-new-posterWhite house, white family–singled out by the terrifying bird threat from non-white skies.

Last Exorcism II connects in surprising ways to the horror film of last weekend, Dark Skies. In each film, persecuted protagonists are inside either a church (Exorcism) or a suburban family home (Dark Skieswhen some birds, either through brain damage or insidious supernatural control, kamikaze the building. In each film, it is the first, clearest sign: we are fucked, ladies and gentlemen.


Hitchcock’s birds get in line to terrorize privileged white people.

 No image of birds gone amok can evade evocations of Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963). But while Hitchcock’s haunting imagery–one of the best apocalypses in the history of film–shows the birds turning on humanity tout court, the angry birds in these films target only certain embodiments of cultural privilege and assumption, namely, white suburban families.

This targeting is clearer in Dark Skies: it’s fundamentally about upper-middle-class people threatened by an inexplicable Other that wants to knock them out of their proper place in the natural order.The film takes a quite boring turn when it resorts to aliens a-la Whitley Streiber’s Communion,but it is nevertheless relentless in its political representation of normative bourgeois family life. A successful architect father-of-two feels the pain of the crashed economy and has to look for a job, which he finds with relative ease–at least it’s an acknowledgment of joblessness, but architect-level privilege hardly represents the struggles of most people in the post-2008 financial miasma. This well-to-do family still thinks it is downtrodden, though; they feel victimized by cultural circumstances, and they are more victimized as their son shows too much interest in video games and pornography and not enough interest in the values of developing the family unit. Without giving too much away, I’ll say that the son’s deviant (heterosexual) interests become, somewhat inexplicably, a central feature of the film’s climax. Within this depiction of an alien threat coming from dark, godless skies, a larger threat associated with challenges to family values beams through clearly. Narrative logic flies out the window, but a right-wing logic that uses, for political purposes, images of the white heterosexual nuclear family under threat… that logic is remarkably coherent. Dark Skies is a nightmare about the normative white, heterosexual family unit being destroyed by outside forces that are just too different to fight or even understand. It is the same nightmare that repeatedly turns right-leaning straight white Americans against Muslims, gays, African Americans, and other minority groups who might look funny in the cul-de-sac.

Readings of Last Exorcism II in relation to similar white bourgeois values and prejudices are necessarily weaker because Ashley Bell’s character, Nell, comes from poor country folk, and the halfway house she ends up joining in New Orleans, shown still resenting FEMA’s (or perhaps Katrina’s) destructive visit, is hardly a site of privilege. Yet Bell plays her character as reserved and demure, a stark contrast to her fellow lower-class orphans–she’s a good little virgin, ready for the proper marriage market. Her white female body is, in a quite standard way, the site on which social contests, here figured as demon versus man, play out and lead to social elevation. And again I don’t want to spoil too much, but it’s worth pointing out that while Dark Skies focuses on the nightmare of suburban white folks losing their claim to power, The Last Exorcism II focuses on the nightmare of the contested figure, the white girl blooming into a sexuality exceeding social norms, crossing over into non-normative ranks. Both films, then, center their horrors on the loss of white privilege and white control of the suburbs, the churches, and bourgeois white folks’ ability to reproduce their own social standing. White flight into the suburbs hasn’t worked. White gentrification of poor urban areas hasn’t worked. The demons of otherness follow our white heroes everywhere, and horror of horrors, the white have to keep moving to maintain the illusion of supremacy.

So, then, what of the birds? Why do the imperiled whities in both films have to confront a bunch of birds dive-bombing places that should be their refuges? As with Hitchcock’s birds, these birds can be manifestations of psychosexual repression, the revenge of nature on the unnatural ways of humanity, eruptions of the unconscious that assert the primacy of irrationality and thereby destroy all assumptions of the Age of Reason. All these things, yes, but more–angry birds, so popular in our techno-culture right now, are Others, figures of the threat now faced by traditionally hegemonic functions of whiteness and heteronormativity, but they’re Others not as obviously equatable to a specific demographic group. In that sense, angry birds are politically correct bad-guy stand-ins for the scary things nice white people don’t talk about anymore.


Birds are angry. And they’re coming for us.

Black people are not the problem here. Gay people are not the problem. The usual scapegoats, if they appear, appear to do more good than harm. Instead, we have nature itself, birdiness, attacking our white supremes. Nature itself rejects white power and heteronormativity. I’m not saying that in these films the rejection of the oppressors appears to be a good thing. On the contrary, the oppressors’ rejection seems quite scary. These films are the nightmares of what’s happening now, of an economy that dares to touch even our highly talented upper middle-class architects, of growing racial and ethnic populations that turn city after city into pluralities gradually learning to challenge white majority rule with darker-skinned horizons. The birds are politically correct in being no particular Other, but they become all otherness. Privileged white people recognize that the humans who oppose them might have good reason to contest the country’s unfair distribution of resources. They don’t want to do anything about it, of course, so they just have nightmares of the masses–of birds threatening their homes and churches. No one in particular is after them. White people face a generalized badness, Angry Birds, as they face their hegemony’s decline. And these by-the-numbers horror films allow us to see just how horrific social progress can be to those who have the most to lose.