Scary Suburbanism: Why Horror is at Home in the Suburbs

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I glimpsed this, half asleep, half watching an old X Files. It’s from a 1993 episode called “The Post-Modern Prometheus”. IMDB precis the plot:

“A letter to Mulder from a woman who has become twice pregnant through strange circumstances, brings the agents to her small town. There, Mulder and Scully discover a mad scientist who has been doing experiments with humans and animals. Among these experiments they discover a modern-day Frankenstein’s monster, who may possess the answers to their current investigation”

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The Circus style tent is tailored to slip over an American Gothic suburban villa. Within the plot, this covering serves to seal the house while a powerful horse tranquiliser is heated on a frying pan. The interior of the house fills with sedative-laced smoke, then a Cher song starts playing. The smoke is part stage-show dry ice and part graveyard gothic horror.

Here, as we so often seem to fantasise through stories, the suburban house is reworked with mystery. The mundane becomes extraordinary. The suburbs provide fertile ground for this kind of imagination. In part this must be because of the narrative possibilities presented by juxtaposition of ‘normal’ life with the strange, the spooky, and the unsettling (see the opening shots of Blue Velvet for the quintessential ‘strange undercurrent beneath a normal outward appearance’ suburbia).

I’d also say that it is the fact that suburbia is already a fiction that allows the story to be retold with different endings. Suburbia’s fictions invented a new kind of place. A place that set nature and amenity in new relationship, where nostalgic forms are enabled by technology and so on.

Is it coincidence that the suburbs development was contemporary with the birth and rise of cinema? Is there a point where suburban planning segways into Hollywood storytelling?

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