John Carpenter's 1989 film 'They Live' is a message about unrestrained capitalism | Photo courtesy Alive Films

Black Lives Matter as part of the new Halloween series? Jamie Lee Curtis, the archetype of the heroic final girl from the original Halloween, said in a 2020 interview that the themes of the Black Lives Matter movement will appear in Halloween Kills and Halloween Ends, the final installments in the resurrected franchise. The films will explore, she said, “What happens when trauma infects an entire community.”

Poole | Jonathan Boneck file photo

You can almost feel the wrath of culture watchdogs ready to take to YouTube or Fox News to complain about woke-itude.

Since Jordan Peele’s 2015 Get Out, a subset of not-very-serious horror fans have whined about “woke” horror. Rather than enjoying the very real renaissance of horror over the last decade, these fans have managed to whipsaw themselves into tiny tangles of rage and grievance.

Some of the rants came from entirely predictable sources. Alt-right outlet Breitbart has made yelping about “woke horror” one of its many side-hustles. It’s an attitude that frequently appears on Twitter — ranging in quality from clever to the digital equivalent of bathroom scribblings.

Halloween director John Carpenter has been making films for half a century. The 73-year-old isn’t directly involved with the latest flick, but if it’s attuned to the times, Curtis’ comments suggest his ghostly fingerprints are all over it.

Carpenter has been trying to shake us awake since the 1970s, when counterculture indies fought studio juggernauts like Jaws, Star Wars, Superman and Rocky.

Over the next decades, Carpenter crashed the guardrails of genre, producing a body of work likely to irritate the querulous alt-right aunties who seem to spend their days worried that Americans might not sleepwalk through history. 

Carpenter’s 1982 The Thing remade a Cold War classic — 1951’s Thing from Another World — into a parable about Reagan-era cultural paranoia. His adaptation of Stephen King’s Christine took aim at the poisons of American nostalgia — the ’50s high school romance celebrated in American Graffiti and Happy Days — and dragged it into nightmare country.

But when it comes to political horror liable to wake the sleeper, look no farther than 1989’s They Live, where homeless construction worker John Nada, played by Rowdy Roddy Piper (!!), learns aliens have taken over. Acquiring lenses that allow him to see the truth behind the lies, he discovers a world where magazine covers featuring boats and beautiful homes really say “OBEY” and “CONSUME.” A billboard of a beautiful woman actually says, “MARRY AND REPRODUCE.”

Long before Doa Beezy and Donald Glover, Carpenter warned us to stay woke.

In fact, Carpenter had a wonderful “I’m-too-old-for-this” moment in 2017,  after learning some in the alt-right saw They Live as a film secretly about a Jewish conspiracy.

Nope. Nope. Nope. He wasn’t having it.

They Live is about yuppies and unrestrained capitalism,” he angrily wrote on Twitter. “It has nothing to do with Jewish control of the world, which is a slander and a lie.”

It may well be that, as Marxist philosopher Slavoj Zizek has said, They Live is “a classic of the Hollywood left.” But we can see Carpenter’s concerns if we go back to that primal slasher film that brought him fame.

Carpenter once told an interviewer there are two kinds of horror stories.

The most popular presents a wise person speaking about hidden dangers — things with teeth lurking “out there.”

The second kind, Carpenter said, might be less popular even if it’s more frightening: the monster sitting among us. 

Halloween captures this idea perfectly. It may seem to bring us the monster out of the darkness in the form of Michael Myers, better known to fans by his script designation as The Shape. But it’s the night he came home, those quiet suburban streets of Haddonfield not nearly as safe as ’70s white flight had claimed they would be. He was a loyal son of his little hometown, the product of a thousand poisons that fester in the those nasty open wounds that are America’s sad dream of small towns and innocence lost.  

Afraid of woke horror? Hide under the covers, snowflake. Carpenter is coming for you. To paraphrase Roddy Piper’s infamous ad lib in They Live, he’s here to kick ass and chew bubblegum. But he’s all out of bubblegum.