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Your Friends and Neighbors

Banes at 12:00AM, Nov. 2, 2023


Well, we're past October once again, and past the spooky season. But I had another thought about
scary stuff - and stories filled with tension and fear is always in season!

One area that is always fun to explore is the paranoia about our the friends, neighbors, and strangers around us.

These are stories where the people around us are not what they seem.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a story that's been made multiple times, in which aliens duplicate people, and we are left not knowing who, or how many people we thought we knew might secretly be a mortal danger to us. The iconic horror movie “The Thing” (John Carpenter version) uses this setup too.

The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street was a classic episode of The Twilight Zone. Strange lights and sights have made the residents of Maple Street realize there are alien invaders among them. Suspicions arise among these people when it appears that one household are secretly aliens themselves. But which
person or family is the secret monster? The population of this ordinary suburban street descends into madness and the neighbors turn on each other in fear and hysteria. The dark comedy “The Burbs” has a touch of this, too.

The allegory here is obvious - the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers was an allegory for the paranoia around Communists/Communist sympathizers decades ago (or at least, it was interpreted that way by many - not sure if that was stated by the author). There are countless things we can mistrust each other for - the hysteria and paranoia about those around us is the point.

I wonder if a new version of this story could be told now - there's more than enough mistrust and hostility between people these days - maybe an impactful new thriller, if it's done right, could help us release a little tension…

See you next time!


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Banes at 9:32PM, Nov. 2, 2023

You guys have given much more depth and context to this topic. You're amazing, dudes, thanks!

Ironscarf at 9:30AM, Nov. 2, 2023

Yes, I think we can at least class everything betwen Halloween and New Year as peak spooky season. What's Christmas without a good ghost story after all? Quatermass II was an example of the whole village is against you scenario if I remember rightly. A lot of folk horror draws you in with the seemingly friendly villagers who will soon burn you alive in a giant wicker man or freshly gutted bearskin. Rosemary's Baby has a nice apartment block take on the theme of creepy neighbours.

bravo1102 at 5:50AM, Nov. 2, 2023

You are right that it is very deep seated because of so many documented cases of life long neighbors suddenly turning on each other. The old adage "familiarity breeds contempt" can be very true. It's accepted humans are social animals probably existing first in family groups but still often mating outside the groups to maintain genetic diversity. So it may be born as a balance between those behaviors and goes back.

bravo1102 at 5:43AM, Nov. 2, 2023

One that I particularly liked was The Advocate about a what was basically a medieval defense attorney based on actual trial records. There's one case of a pig on trial for witchcraft. It is set just before the Black Death. There's a few others about a the village that escaped the plagues and what terrible secret allowed them to do so...

PaulEberhardt at 5:42AM, Nov. 2, 2023

Still, old instincts don't come out of nowhere. There is this old saying that you can meet someone a thousand times and still don't know them, and it's sometimes true - although in 99 out of 100 cases (or so) it's just that normal paranoia that, according to Douglas Adams, everyone in the universe has got. When I read this article, I remembered an old favourite film of mine : Killers by Mike Mendez. I have fond memories of it as a guilty pleasure, as my friends and I were around 18 or so and had managed to get a copy of the uncut version that was forbidden in our country. It's best enjoyed after an unhealthy amount of beer, the way it doesn't quite know if it wants to be horror or comedy or both or something else altogether - it may with some justification be described as one of the many go-getting directors of that time trying to imitate Tarantino but never quite getting there - but I still totally recommend watching it to add another angle of approach to this topic.

bravo1102 at 5:37AM, Nov. 2, 2023

There was some extensive study on this based on records from witch and heresy trials in the Middle Ages and early modern period. The records of witch trials are a gold mine for the whole "us-not us" monster among us mentality. See Arthur Miller's great play about the Salem Witch trials. Also some very thoughtful movies based on trial records that really parallel Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Thing.

PaulEberhardt at 5:18AM, Nov. 2, 2023

@marcorossi: Seconded. There definitely is some ancient instinct at work. It's probably the same one that used to make witch hunts so popular and enabled dictatorships having their own people spy on each other to root out the political opposition. I mean, like probably all primal instincts it can become creepy on its own, if unchecked. Remote villages are popular settings for that.

marcorossi at 4:19AM, Nov. 2, 2023

IMHO, this kind of "enemy among us" fear is a very archetypical one, and as many of these archetypical things there are many real life examples that are quite dark, for example antisemitism and anti-gipsy racism (with the idea that gipsyes kidnap kids). Also the idea of the "changeling" is probably linked to this, and strongly similar to some antisemitic/antigipsy ideas. When this kind of ideas are so common and so emotively strong IMHO they are archetype in the strict sense: they come from the ancestra, biological fear of having a predator in the middle of the pack (or perhaps as agressive males at times in baboon groups try to kill young baboons, a fear of this aggressive behaviour).

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