10 Horror Movies Where The American Dream Becomes A Nightmare

Life, liberty, and pursuit by monsters.

Beneath Us
Vital Pictures

Throughout the history of film, no genre has been better at subtle (or not so subtle) social commentary than horror. While on the surface our favourite scary movies are about giant monsters smashing places up or hordes of monsters dead set on eating us, clever writers and directors can invite discussion in audiences who wouldn’t normally be interested in such chatter.

In the USA, a common theme for horror movies is the dissection of the American dream. This ephemeral concept is essentially a promise - that in the land of the free and the home of the brave, each citizen has the right to strive for more, to be treated as an equal, to social mobility.

It’s a fine idea, but one that doesn’t always play out in real life - or in fiction. Over the years, many smart horrors have lifted the curtain on the American dream. Whether oblique or explicit, these horrors make their insidious mark by puncturing our hope that things can get better, that any one of us can build ourselves up.

Creators have taken those comfortable ideals and concepts that feel baked into American life and exposed the rot at their core.

10. They Live

Beneath Us
Universal Pictures

A director whose best films feel both remarkably timely and ageless, John Carpenter was at his wry, socially motivated best with 1988’s They Live. Coming out at the tail end of the Reagan-led Me decade, it’s a brash and brilliant sci-fi horror based on a concept that’s simultaneously out there and scarily believable.

The late “Rowdy” Roddy Piper plays Nada, an aptly named drifter who comes to peak-consumerist Los Angeles in search of work. He finds a job in construction, but more importantly than that, he discovers a pair of sunglasses that show the world in its true form. Donning the spooky shades, the subliminal messages of modern society are made explicit, with billboards and signs demanding that we spend, reproduce, conform.

It’s a brilliantly brash film, with the march of consumerism and empty spending depicted, probably accurately, as a primal force that can’t be messed with. There’s a grand alien conspiracy forcing each of us to think only of material matters - and the humans who know about it are pretty much fine with that.


Yorkshire-based writer of screenplays, essays, and fiction. Big fan of having a laugh. Read more of my stuff @ www.twotownsover.com (if you want!)