Just in time for Halloween, we’re here to pitch five of our favorite horror movies about money. We just noticed it’s been far too long since we wrote something unabashedly silly. Forgive us!
You may not know this about us, but we Bitches are high-key obsessed with scary movies. If we’re hanging out together, odds are high we’ll throw on something with ghosts, ghouls, werewolves, or axe-wielding serial killers. There are three main reasons this genre appeals to us:
- Horror movies are creative. They often have tiny budgets, which forces filmmakers to work with what they have and hone in on what matters. Many household names got their start in the proving grounds of horror. It’s a chance to see fascinating examples of undiscovered genius.
- Horror movies expose uncomfortable truths about life and society. All great spooky films are about something real. The surface-level scares of a zombie horde are symbolically linked to our deepest anxieties about other people. The vampire is the unknown outsider; the werewolf the uncontrollable id. The horror genre boldly leaps into subjects where comedies and dramas fear to tread.
- Adrenaline is a helluva drug. We’re too old to know where to get good drugs. We have to make them the old fashioned way: by abusing our endocrine systems. With art!
And really, isn’t that what’s interesting about money, too? Our ~*whole deal*~ is trying to make the best, most values-aligned decisions we can with limited funds. This article is extremely on-brand and aligned with our core mission. DO NOT try to tell us otherwise!
Today, we’re plugging a few of our favorite horror movies with a financial twist. The terrifying root of each one is something related to money and the power it brings.
Gentrification is the real evil in Bernard Rose’s gritty urban gothic Candyman. (There is a 2021 remake under the same name, but I think it’s best to start with the original.)
The main character of Candyman isn’t a person, but a place. Cabrini-Green is a real public housing project in Chicago with a deeply troubled past. Emblematic of longstanding hostile indifference to poor people, immigrants, and people of color, Cabrini-Green is an island of desolation floating ghostlike in the middle of Chicago’s more affluent neighborhoods. Its inhabitants have adapted to the systemic neglect by becoming haunted figures themselves. They dart through the darkness under broken street lights, past the burnt-out and boarded-up neighboring apartments, knowing they are completely alone in a daily struggle against an unspeakable evil.
That evil is the titular Candyman (Tony Todd), a sinister supernatural presence that feeds off the fear of the oppressed residents. Sensationally, he’s also a hook-handed serial killer with uhhhhh bee-themed attacks? Only in horror movies, folks!
When white folklorist Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen) attempts to study him as a mere urban legend, he takes umbrage. Many gruesomely dreamlike sequences follow, culminating in a solid horror classic that feels far more meaningful than any old Nightmare on Elm Street.
Phew! Managed to get through this segment only mentioning his name four times. That’s why I’m a survivor, baby!
The Exorcist (1973)
Directed by William Friedkin, The Exorcist is widely acclaimed as one of the greatest horror movies ever made. And the only thing scarier than Pazuzu is our nation’s broken healthcare system.
Ellen Burstyn plays single working mother Chris MacNeil. When her 12-year-old daughter Regan begins behaving strangely, she turns to the medical establishment for help. They give her dismissive non-answers and pills to “calm her nerves.” It, uh, doesn’t go well.
When initial interventions fail, doctors resort to increasingly painful and barbaric tests to try to explain the inexplicable. According to Friedkin, the (borderline unwatchable) angiography scene horrified test audiences more than all the head-spinning and spider-walking put together. In parallel, our deuteragonist Father Karras feels haunted by the death of his mother. A cerebral edema left her confused and panicked in her final days, shaking the priest’s faith that the world is governed by a just and loving god.
There are so many ways to “read” The Exorcist. My most recent rewatch was highly influenced by my own experiences caring for a loved one through a period of disability. When you fight to get insurance to approve a visit with a specialist you had to wait months to see, and within the first few minutes he’s brushing your concerns off and telling you to try obvious baby stuff you’ve already tried… it’s hell. Watching someone you love go through it, and being powerless to advocate for them? It’s The Exorcist.
It’s a potent horror film for a nation where medical bills are the leading cause of personal bankruptcy.
One of the scariest aspects of The Exorcist is: why Regan? Why this family? There is no true answer to this question, which makes it all the more terrifying. Good health isn’t doled out to the deserving. We all live one illness away from destitution.
“Not a psychiatrist! She needs a priest! She’s already seen every fucking psychiatrist in the world, and they sent me to you. Now you’re gonna send me back to them? Jesus Christ, won’t somebody help her? Will you help her? Just help her!”– The Exorcist
Although the original 1977 version has its own merits, this time I must recommend the modern remake. Trust me. What it lacks in color, it makes up for in acting. And plot. And interpretive dance!
Fundamentally, Susperia is a movie about becoming trapped at a toxic workplace. Now, there are many horror films in which our plucky protagonist realizes too late that they’re employed by an evil entity. I could’ve talked about Alien, or The Thing, or even Cabin in the Woods. But I’m throwing out Susperia instead, because its horrific workplace mirrors that of artists and nonprofit workers.
Dakota Johnson stars as Susie, a gifted dancer accepted to an ancient and prestigious dance school. (The dance school definitely isn’t an evil coven! Why would you even ask that?) For the students, there is no space between their mission and their lives. They eat, sleep, practice, perform, live, and socialize in the same building, with the same people, every day. And no one wants to escape this insular world—they want to go deeper within it.
Abuse of power is a major theme in Susperia. Alien’s Ripley knows that Weyland-Yutani is a vicious capitalist machine, and she accordingly keeps them at a skeptical distance; but in Susperia, the dancers are utterly dedicated to the very entity that abuses them. Their employers and mentors position themselves as compassionate mother figures. They look these girls in the eye and establish personal bonds before betraying them for their own advancement. If that isn’t a potent horror metaphor for mission-driven workers, I don’t know what is.
… Plus, they’ve got a whole sapphic/witchy/bad mommy thing going on. Your honor, I’m a sucker for it.
The Amityville Horror (1979, 2005)
Whether you’re reading the (terrible) book, watching the 1979 classic, or puzzling your way through the 2005 remake featuring [checks notes] Ryan fucking Reynolds, the real horror of The Amityville Horror is ill-advised real estate investing. “Don’t buy more house than you can afford,” never seemed like such a dire warning!
The Ur American haunted house story, The Amityville Horror begins with the Lutz family spending way too much money on a giant, rambling house on Long Island. The house proves its haunted bona fides by first tormenting a priest on the premises, then escalates with weird noises, bumps in the night, slime, an Indian burial ground, animals acting weird, the ghosts of a murdered family, and a creepifying little girl. 28 days after moving in, the Lutz family fled the home, never to return.
Yet throughout the haunting, what’s really disturbing is the behavior of the family patriarch, George Lutz (again: Ryan Reynolds???). Soon after making his massive home purchase, things got rocky at Lutz’s job. He obsessed over the house, entering a moody, depressive state. With his expenses mounting and his cashflow dwindling, Lutz projected his financial anxiety onto his wife and stepkids. He flew into rages, yelling and belittling them. Depending on which version of the story you look at, George Lutz’s violence even turned physical. It’s clear to Lutz that he entered into a bad real estate deal, and he’s almost immediately underwater on the mortgage.
Could the haunting of The Amityville Horror just be an elaborate scam for an abusive man to get out of his overwhelming mortgage? Yes, that’s almost certainly the truth. But hey—hauntings are fun!
Dawn of the Dead (1978, 2004)
No Bitch-curated list of horror movies would be complete without a zombie film. And within the George Romero filmography, there’s no shortage of societal metaphors! But let’s talk about Dawn of the Dead as an obvious allegory for the horrors of mindless consumption within our capitalist system.
Whether we’re discussing the 1978 original or Zack Snyder’s 2004 remake, Dawn of the Dead is a zombie apocalypse film that takes place in a literal shopping mall. Just as the zombies ferociously and mindlessly pursue the consumption of human flesh, so shoppers are encourage to unceasingly consume products to fuel the wheels of capitalism.
Nothing is more emblematic of that mindless consumption than the mall—a temple to getting everything you want, all under one roof. The temptations of the mall are strong; it’s easy to stroll along, inspired to buy just one more thing at just one more store without ever stepping foot outside.
In Dawn of the Dead, the characters seek refuge from the flesh-eating zombies in the mall. But is it a sanctuary… or a sepulcher? (I deserve all the points for that alliteration.) In the end they become trapped inside this monument to mindless consumption and must survive by fighting their way out. To strip the metaphor away: we are all trapped within a cycle of mindless consumerism, and seeking financial independence means escaping the cycle.
What are your favorite horror movies about money?
So there you go! Five movies to get you started. Or nine, counting all those originals and remakes! Aren’t we generous?!
As connoisseurs of the genre, it pains us to leave so many fantastic, lesser-known films off this list. We could go on and on. Please understand that we will iterate upon it in the comments, at the slightest provocation.
Do any of your favorite spoooooooky movies have an element of financial anxiety? Debt, bills, high-stress jobs, home ownership, living with roommates, providing for your family… So many fraught and frightening topics to choose from! If you’re shocked and appalled to see something left off this (very short and incomplete) list of great horror movies about money, please sound off in the comments below!