Day of the Dead, 1985, George A. Romero

Collection on Screen:

Capitalism Sucks. The Horror of Capital(ism)

September 3 to October 16, 2023

The horror genre and film have always gone hand in hand because horror combines two fundamental opposites: on the one hand, it generates fear and, on the other, a sense of security through distance. The result is a well-tempered condition of controllable fear without the presence of real danger. Often, however, films do play with symbols of real danger: reality and fiction weave together into a new material that does not only subversively plumb existing taboos, but makes hidden – that is, repressed – taboos visible.
At the same time, the effects of capitalist ideology have always been a mainstay of horror films, be it as conscious critique or as unconscious leitmotif. Capital becomes a spook: A spectral event occurring between the images/lines. Consequently, it has indirect effects on people and monsters in films, even blurring the line between the two groups. The horror of capital exceeds morally reprehensible qualities such as greed and envy, which are determined by the actions of individuals: It is an ideology that has subjected people in the past and actively continues to subject them.
The ghosts of the bourgeoisie in L'année dernière à Marienbad (1961) are therefore forever damned to repeat their final days in a health resort without an exit: trapped in an unchanging system. The Wolf Man (1941), written by Curt Siodmak, is far more than a bogeyman and legendary figure. For the Jewish author and filmmaker who fled the Nazis, he represented the true potential of the beast in humans: Humans can be (were)wolves to other humans. The story and tragedy in The Mummy (1932), set in British-occupied, early 20th century Egypt, would be unthinkable without colonialist exploitation scenarios of a capitalist nature.
Film historian Robin Wood identifies cannibalism as the ultimate form of occupation in capitalism, which is reflected above all in zombie films. Directors like George A. Romero have not only negotiated social power relations in shopping malls. The climax of this symbolism is the ouroboros, a circular snake that bites its own tail: It also represents a monstrously aggravated self-cannibalism without beginning or end, since nothing can result from this kind of consumption. Capitalism Sucks, the title of this module of Collection on Screen is not only an ambiguous play on vampirism, but is also meant to describe the cycle of engulfing and devouring in the capitalist production system. (Christopher Gajsek / Translation: Ted Fendt)
Related materials