By Michael Dodd
“The diabolic, situationist genius of the kamikaze attacks was that they were themselves a kind of counter-cinema, a spectacle very possibly inspired by the art-form, but rendering obsolete any comparable fictions it had to offer. The 9/11 attacks smashed Hollywood’s monopoly on myth-making and image production, and inspiring as they did only horror and revenge, aimed a devastating blow at imagination, and maybe for a while enfeebled the reputation of cinema and all the arts.” – Peter Bradshaw, Film Critic
In the aftermath of America’s darkest day the cinema of the United States suffered. The attackers had erased the World Trade Centre from New York’s skyline, and with film studios scrambling to remove shots of the iconic buildings from their movies and trailers, like the famous Spiderman teaser featuring a giant web strung between the Twin Towers, the terrorists had sickeningly achieved a secondary victory. While the decision to remove the World Trade Centre from cinema was made out of sensitivity, it meant that the attackers had been able to erase the buildings from both reality and fiction.
As shown in the second part of this article, the American horror genre also suffered. The incisive, reflective nature of horror films in the United States was compromised by the sheer cinematic trauma of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and as a consequence the market saw a surge in remakes which allowed the genre to function more as a medium for giving the movie-going public a safe scare.
Just as with the nation itself though, the trauma which affected American cinema was not absolute. With time recovery began to take hold, and horror movies were no exception. 9/11 may have caused a remake trend within the genre, but some horror films continued to explore the national mood just as they had throughout the twentieth century. How they did this, and with what degree of success, can be determined by examining trends which occurred parallel to the remake phenomenon.
The very ethos of the modern zombie movie is well suited to the post-9/11 psyche, for it involves the end of the world we once knew followed by the rise of a new way of life characterised by fear, mistrust and conflict. The zombie apocalypse narrative which has enjoyed a plethora of releases during the twenty-first century was not a trend caused by the 9/11 attacks, but stark examples of horror cinema finding its penetrative, even satirical, feet again can be found within the genre. By sheer coincidence of timing the British horror 28 Days Later became infused with 9/11 symbolism when audiences saw the iconic moments in which Cillian Murphy wandered the desolate, empty streets of London, thus providing a kind of cinematic mirror to the eerily post-apocalyptic images of New York after the towers fell. This international spin on the zombie archetype served to kick start the genre’s recent prolific surge, and in the United States the zombie film became a platform for some of the most blatant post-9/11 cinematic commentary.
With rising discontent over the way the Bush administration was handling America’s role in the War on Terror, 2005 saw genre master George A. Romero construct a totalitarian society divided by class in Land of the Dead. But the most exceptional post-9/11 zombie film was not released in cinemas but instead aired on television as part of the anthology series Masters of Horror. Joe Dante’s Homecoming features the remarkable visual of American soldiers returning from the dead to rise up against the politicians who sent them off to war. This breathtaking piece of social commentary directly tapped into the post-9/11 American psyche and presented a nation haunted by the servicemen it had sent to fight in what many United States citizens deemed an unjust war in Iraq. As part of the modern golden age of cinematic television in America it stands out, but to find instances of this kind of bluntly in-your-face commentary on the big screen we need to turn to other sides of the horror genre.