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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

October is scary movie month. In theaters, you can find vampires...

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Zombies...

MONTAGNE: ...haunted swamps...

INSKEEP: ...serial killers.

MONTAGNE: Commentator Mia Mask says what scares us on screen has a lot to do with what scares us in real life.

MIA MASK: Horror movies are collective nightmares. They represent the social anxieties of a given moment.

In the 1930s, "Frankenstein" was an allegory for the greed of robber barons.

(Soundbite of movie, "Frankenstein")

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man #1: (As character) So that's how it began.

MASK: By the 1950s, giant pods from outer space symbolized our fears of the Red Menace and our anxieties about nuclear weapons.

(Soundbite of movie, "Invasion of the Body Snatchers")

Mr. LARRY GATES (Actor): (As Dr. Dan Kauffman) Suddenly while you are asleep they'll absorb your minds, your memories and you're reborn into an untroubled world.

MASK: During the Vietnam War, communism was still considered an infectious ideology that could spread like a disease.

(Soundbite of movie)

Unidentified Woman #1: (As character) No.

MASK: Monsters in "Night of the Living Dead" and "Rosemarys Baby" were inside our hometowns, our minds, even our wombs.

(Soundbite of movie, "Rosemary's Baby")

Mr. SIDNEY BLACKMER (Actor): (As Roman Castevet) He has his father's eyes.

Ms. MIA FARROW (Actress): (As Rosemary Woodhouse) What have you done to him, you maniac?

Mr. BLACKMER: (As Roman Castevet) Satan is his father, not Guy.

MASK: What do todays scary movies reveal about American fears? Well, theyre a lot like the Vietnam era. There were vampires and zombies then. There are vampires and zombies now.

Monsters are malleable metaphors. They can symbolize anxieties over wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, environmental holocaust, and technological disaster.

In theaters now, "Let Me In" is a vampire film about the horror or adolescence.

(Soundbite of movie, "Let Me In")

Ms. CHLOE MORETZ (Actress): (As Abby): I need blood to live.

Mr. KODI SMIT-MCPHEE (Actor): (As Owen) How old are you, really?

Ms. MORETZ: (As Abby) Twelve. But I've been 12 for a very long time.

MASK: The deadly games and adolescent bullying depicted here make human beings seem like monsters. They also reflect Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay.

Zombies are often used to critique capitalism. The mindless and insatiable, undead represent our rampant consumerism.

The "Resident Evil"�franchise blames the zombie plague on a biological weapons company.

(Soundbite of movie, "Resident Evil Afterlife")

Unidentified Man #2: (As character) He's going to land. Get all the stuff out of the way. Quick. Go.

Unidentified Man #3: (As character) Land?

Unidentified Man #4: (As character) Yeah, land.

MASK: And, this generation has a new subgenre: Reality horror, which uses documentary techniques to make movies look like real events recorded by ordinary people. Years ago, horror films relied on elaborate monsters, exotic locations. Reality horror suggests terror lurks in the everyday.

This seasons reality offerings include "Paranormal Activity 2" and "The Last Exorcism." These are scary movies for the I-product generation - teens whove owned cameras since grade school.

(Soundbite of movie, "Paranormal Activity 2")

Unidentified Man #5: (As character) The prints stop over here.

Unidentified Woman #2: (As character) He's definitely shot. Please let's go.

MASK: For a generation that can record even the most mundane activities, it makes sense that their frightful days and nights look as much like YouTube videos as "Frankenstein," "Dracula," and "Rosemarys Baby."

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: Mia Mask is the author of "Divas Onscreen: Black Women in American Film." She teaches at Vassar College.

(Soundbite of music)

This is NPR News.

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