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The White House Runs Red: 10 Presidential Appearances in Horror Cinema

The great thing about the horror genre is that there’s pretty much a movie for every single holiday. Whether we’re dealing with killer bunnies, pumpkins, turkeys or Santa Claus himself, there’s always at least a little something to help inject ample amounts of blood and guts into any given holiday. And the smaller ones, like Presidents’ Day, are no exception.

Though there’s only been one horror movie that actually takes place on P-Day (more on that in just a minute), there have been a surprising number over the years that have combined iconic American presidents with the red stuff. So since today is Presidents’ Day and all, we thought it fitting to take a journey through that world of presidential horrors.

Any of these would make for fine viewing on a night like tonight, so listen up!

Horror House on Highway 5

1 – I’m willing to bet that most people reading this have never seen, or even heard of, the 1985 slasher flick Horror House On Highway 5. Nevertheless, it is (as far as I’m aware) the very first film to mash together the vastly different worlds of presidents and horror. In the film, a group of college students are stalked by a mad father and his two whacky sons – one infested with brain parasites, the other a necrophiliac – and the father rocks a Richard Nixon mask, which he jacks from one of his victims. In the credits, the father is listed as ‘Richard Nixon’, and the role humorously credited to ‘Ronald Reagan.’

Blood Diner

2 – Two years later came Blood Diner, a totally oddball horror flick about two brothers who are instructed by their deceased serial killer uncle to slaughter young girls and steal their body parts, in an attempt to bring back an ancient goddess. How does this madness relate to presidents? Well, in one scene early in the film, the brothers don Ronald Reagan masks and slaughter a room full of topless cheerleaders. I’m thinking someone rolled over in their grave, on the day this one was released.

Ronald Reagan mask

3- In 1990, the horror-themed workout tape Linnea Quigley’s Horror Workout was released onto VHS, which was hosted by the iconic scream queen and included several humorous skits. In one, a group of young girls are stalked and bumped off one-by-one by a dude rocking shoulder pads and, like the killers in Blood Diner, a Ronald Reagan mask. Actually, it’s not really a dude. The killer turns out to be… SPOILER ALERT… Quigley herself!

Bubba Ho-Tep JFK

4 – 2002’s brilliant horror-comedy Bubba Ho-Tep took the idea of infusing a president into a horror film to a far whackier level than ever before. In fact, it’s the first to actually depict an American president in it, rather than a killer merely wearing a mask of a president. Well… maybe…

Set in an old folks home, the film is about two senior citizens tasked with fending off an asshole-sucking mummy, hellbent on consuming the souls of everyone in the place. One claims to be Elvis, and looks the part, while the other claims to be John F. Kennedy, and doesn’t quite look the part. His explanation? He survived the assassination attempt and had his skin dyed black by Lyndon B. Johnson, so that everyone would think he was dead, and LBJ could become president. Now there’s a conspiracy theory for ya.

Whether or not these two old folks are just senile and out of their minds, or one or both of them is actually the dead American icon they claim to be, is entirely up to the viewer. Personally, I like to believe that it truly was Elvis Presley and John F. Kennedy who saved the Shady Rest Nursing Home from the ass-sucking Egyptian cowboy. It’s just more fun that way.

The Tripper

5 – David Arquette stepped into the director’s chair in 2006 for the throwback slasher film The Tripper, about a killer in a Ronald Reagan mask who slashes up hippies in the woods. The title was derived from Reagan’s nickname, ‘The Gipper’, and the concept inspired by Reagan’s outspoken stance against the hippie movement. Certainly one of the more clever concepts for a slasher film in recent years, even if Linnea Quigley beat Arquette to the punch on the whole slasher villain wearing a Reagan mask thing, nearly two decades prior.

The Washingtonians

6 – Peter Medak’s season two Masters of Horror episode took the twisted liberty of depicting our first president as a cannibal. Titled ‘The Washingtonians,’ the 2007 episode begins with a man finding a letter behind a portrait of Washington, which is signed ‘G.W’ and talks of eating children and turning their bones into tools. The discovery sets forth a series of horrific events, as the man and his family are stalked by a group calling themselves The Washingtonians – cannibals who are dressed in George Washington wigs and Revolutionary War attire. They eventually reveal that Washington himself was a cannibal, and that he planned on converting the whole country to flesh-eaters.

Speaking of taking serious liberties with American history…

Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter

7 – The most well known presidential horror film is of course 2012’s big budget adaptation of the book Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, a Tim Burton-produced tale of Abraham Lincoln’s top-secret second life as a vampire slayer. Story goes that Lincoln’s mom was killed by a vamp, and so he sets out on a lifelong pursuit to bring an end to all bloodsuckers. In the meantime, he becomes president, hopeful that he can wield his political power, rather than an axe, to abolish slavery and defeat the Confederates and their vampire allies.

If history were taught this way back in high school, I probably would’ve paid more attention!

Abraham Lincoln zombies

8 – As they often do with big Hollywood movies, production company The Asylum released the ‘mockbuster’ Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies in 2012, one month prior to the theatrical release of Vampire Hunter. In their low-budget version, it is of course zombies that Honest Abe does battle with – zombies, you see, killed his mother when he was a child. The film goes through pretty much the same motions as the Hollywood film it rips off, though of course, in a far less entertaining fashion. In the end, Abe becomes a zombie, and is shortly thereafter assassinated.

FDR: American Badass

9 – With Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter beginning the trend of presidents moonlighting as monster hunters, it was only natural that other presidents would soon follow suit. And it didn’t take long. At the tail end of 2012, Screen Media Films released FDR: American Badass, which pit Franklin Delano Roosevelt against werewolves – Nazi werewolves, to be exact.

Playing our 32nd president in this over the top romp is Barry Bostwick, and the plot sees FDR contracting polio from a werewolf bite, which confines him to a wheelchair. From there, he goes to war with the werewolves, outfitting his trusty wheelchair with heavy artillery and joining up with other historical figures along the way.

President's Day slasher

10 – Presidents’ Day was finally given its very own horror movie back in 2013, courtesy of filmmaker Chris LaMartina. The low-budget film, which shares a name with today’s holiday, is set at the fictional school Lincoln High, during class president election season. The campaigns turn into a body count when a killer dressed like Abe Lincoln starts carving his way through the teenage politicians. A throwback slasher flick, President’s Day is the holiday horror film we never got in the 80s.

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If you don't get enough of me here on Halloween Love, you can also find me on Dread Central, iHorror and Shock Till You Drop. Contact me via john@halloweenlove.com.