Family: Holidays. Vacations. The trials and tribulations of daily life with relatives. Family is the cornerstone on which many in this world build their lives. Horror, of course, has a slightly different relationship with Family. In horror, families that splatter together, matter together. Whether the family in question is being torn apart by some form of evil or is the embodiment of that evil themselves, if you see a family packing up a car for a long trip or gathering for a nice holiday meal, you can bet it is not going to end well.
Family based horror has been around since the earliest stories. Medea, the original Mommy Dearest, uses her own children in her quest for revenge. In fact much of Greek tragedy stems around the family unit. Murderous, inter-family revenge runs its way through the House of Atreus. And who can forget Oedipus, the original mother- SHUT YOUR MOUTH! I’m just talking about the Oedipus Complex, baby… Two thousand years later and we find Shakespeare ringing the same bell as he quite literally rips families apart in his goriest play, Titus Andronicus.
Today’s horror films carry many of the same traits as these early tragedies. We have families plagued by secrets, families tormented by outside forces, and, of course, families who have their own taste for blood and mayhem. So what is it about families that makes for such great story fodder in tragedy and horror?
When seen as a metaphor, “family” takes on multiple meanings. First, it represents unity. It can function as a microcosm of society, and so the dissolution of family can echo fractures within the larger social structure. Families also reflect values like trust. When secrets from the past re-emerge or we see betrayal within the family unit, it resonates with us as an audience because, like Cain and Abel, it is the most primal and most vile of betrayals. Family also represents togetherness and when family night includes murder and torture, as it does with the Sawyer/Hewitt Family or the Firefly Clan, it has a kind of sweetening effect on the audience and turns these vicious killers into an oddly sympathetic band of anti-heroes.
So, welcome to “Gore in the Family,” the topic that proves that families that slay together, stay together.