Humanity’s love/hate relationship with the subterranean world has existed since the dawn of time. The caves that ancient man hid in to escape his predators were the same foreboding places that remained in darkness, even during daytime. The fertile soil that grew crops to feed them eventually became their resting place in death. It seems appropriate that we would still find ourselves looking over our shoulder in fear as we head underground for the convenience of mass transit.
Some of our fear comes from the mundane, everyday instances of crime and violence that humanity visits upon itself. In films like Luc Besson’s “Subway”, the Paris underground Metro system is a haven for eccentric weirdos and petty criminals like Christopher Lambert’s safecracker. In a more sinister vein, the hellish underworld of Nimrod Antal’s “Kontroll” shows the tedium of a job working as Kontroller, at constant peril from a serial killer operating in their midst. In the dark below the streets, the monsters feel more at ease to come out and make themselves at home.
But our greater fears often come from the forgotten places underground, the caverns we created and abandoned in our effort to continue our progress technologically. In these old, unused tunnels that crawl underneath metropolises like New York City and London, any number of civilizations, creatures, or secrets could be waiting for the unassuming commuter to make that single wrong turn. Guillermo Del Toro’s “Mimic” used the forgotten subways of old New York as the setting for a battle against a quickly mutating strain of insect that has grown in size and has found new prey: humans.
There is a deep biological warning signal in the human animal that pleads to us not to venture into the dark, into the cave, into the underground. That fear we have decided in our enlightened age is an irrational and unnecessary one. We have used our technology and ingenuity to carve order into the chaos of the rock and dirt beneath us, and we like to think that there is nothing down there to surprise us.
The genre has been revisited many times in many iterations across the globe and over various mediums, from the Australian found footage thriller “The Tunnel” to the brilliant season eight “The X-Files” episode “Medusa”. Here are four recommendations for further exploration into the subway horror sub-genre.
Chris Vander Kaay and Kathleen Fernandez-Vander Kaay are screenwriters and authors through ADA Management Group and Aponte Literary Agency