Americana is an idea that encompasses many things. America is a vast place, which is why Americana can’t be pinned down to any one thing. At its core, it comprises all of American culture, focusing on different time periods and places, and can be as varied as the people living within the borders. For some, it represents the idyllic past. Times when apple pie cooled in windowsills as the crack of kids playing baseball danced in the breeze on a lazy Sunday afternoon. For others, it’s the folklore, legends, history, and myths that make up America.
In general, Americana embodies the “good old days”—as defined by whoever is invoking the imagery. But we know that what is good for some is terrible for others, and that makes the genre ripe for horror. We drove through the backroads of film and found 16 horror movies that explore the various iterations of Americana lore.
Baseball may be the all-American sport, but it doesn’t prepare anyone for a zombie apocalypse. When two former baseball players make their way through the back roads of Connecticut trying to survive, they have to become self-reliant after they’re rejected and betrayed by the only survivors they encounter. The film was made in 15 days on a $6,000 budget without a script, which somehow feels as American as apple pie.
Children of the Corn
If there’s one symbol that captures the American Midwest, it’s miles of swaying corn fields. But they’re also the perfect hiding place for just about anything. When an evil entity tucks away in the corn fields of Gatlin, Nebraska, he convinces the children that the only way to ensure a successful harvest is by killing all of the adults.
In rural Texas, a group of actors rent a guest house from an elderly couple to make an adult film. But not all Southern grandmothers bake cookies and knit booties. As these racy actors' unconventional American Dream falls apart, a night of violence erupts, and soon the group finds themselves at the mercy of two cunning seniors with violent proclivities.
After Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) meets his white girlfriend’s family, he discovers that they’ve been keeping a dark secret lurking for generations. Highlighting the horror and enduring ramifications of historical laws enacted to oppress African Americans, Get Out explores how systemic racism continues to pervade white middle-class America.
Related: 13 Essential Black Horror Movies
Beverly Sutphin (Kathleen Turner) is the perfect stay-at-home mom. She has dinner ready every night at five, volunteers for the PTA, and supports her family unconditionally. She’s also a serial killer. This dark comedy questions the safety of the suburbs while mocking America’s obsession with true crime.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Set in rural Texas, a group of friends stumble into a homestead of cannibal killers. American’s love their farms and power tools, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre has both in creative abundance. It’s one of the most iconic horror films and was inspired by an actual serial killer.
The Reflecting Skin
When it comes to idyllic America, the 1950s probably embodies that image more than any other time. Most of this film was shot outdoors, highlighting the rustic beauty of shimmering wheat fields surrounded by dilapidated farms in rural Idaho. The effect is an intimate exploration of the horror woven into religious fundamentalism and how those beliefs can wrongly shape an impressionable eight-year-old boy.
When Brian Kessler (David Duchovny) gets the opportunity to write a book about serial killers, he takes his girlfriend (Michelle Forbes) on a cross-country road trip for research. Along the way they meet hitchhikers Early Grace (Brad Pitt) and Adele Corners (Juliette Lewis). Set along the lost highways and small towns of America, the movie explores the chasm between social and class disparity through the two couples.
When visual artist Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) learns about the urban legend Candyman, he becomes obsessed with the idea and begins painting violent, brutal pieces that cement his future with the bloody past. Exploring the historical implications of ghosts and legends, Candyman weaves in modern day commentary on corruption, racism, and police brutality.
One of the more modern phenomena to sweep across America throughout the 1980’s and early 1990’s was the satanic panic. Set in 1990, when fear over satanic cults was at its height, the movie follows Detective Bruce Kenner (Ethan Hawke) as he investigates a young woman’s accusation that she was abused by a satanic cult.
The Devil All the Time
A stunning story spanning two decades, the movie follows a cast of characters through the backroads of rural Ohio and Appalachia. We see how the poisonous rhetoric of extreme religious doctrine affects each character, whether in how they succumb to it or fight against it. The interweaving storylines link through Arvin Russell (Tom Holland), who has to confront the violence of his past in order to overcome an oppressive future.
A group of documentary filmmakers set out to capture the journey illegal Mexican immigrants are forced to endure. However, when the truck is seized by a radical patriot group masquerading as Border Patrol, they learn just how deadly crossing the border can be. A horrifying story steeped in modern conflict, Undocumented explores the violent reality many face today.
17-year-old Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) and her family don’t have a lot. She looks after her mother and teaches her younger brothers how to survive on their land. But when their father goes missing and the land is threatened, Ree has to find him. A heartbreaking glimpse into poverty set in the backdrop of the rural Missouri Ozarks.
Setting out and exploring the frontier is an idea steeped in Americana lore, and the difficulty of surviving this immense terrain is woven throughout these ideas. One of the historical events that embodies this struggle is the Donner Party. Ravenous takes this horrific tragedy and combines it with the real-life “Colorado Cannibal” to explore the 19th century Manifest destiny beliefs through the lens of cannibalism.
House of 1000 Corpses
Traveling across the country to visit roadside attractions is one of the most Americana things you can do. Road trips are rites of passage for many young adults all across the country. But when four friends set out to write a book on interesting road stops, they stumble across a dangerous family after exploring The Museum of Monsters & Madmen.
The Hills Have Eyes (1977)
After a family becomes stranded in the Nevada desert, they’re attacked by a family of cannibals. The dusty cowboy laden Wild West is one of the time periods visually tied to Americana lore, but while there’s a sense that modern civilization has tamed these areas, there are still pockets that feel as wild as they did 100 years ago. The movie explores the clash that happens when modernity is thrown into remote landscapes and the savagery that is unleashed as a result.