It’s Election Year and political horror writer James DeMonaco is at it again, conjuring up a series of mask-clad villains who are guaranteed to stalk theatre screens and reemerge as nightmares post viewing. If you’re not familiar with his notorious movie franchise The Purge, here’s what you need to know. The basic premise of the movie is centered on a night of lawlessness wherein all crime including murder is made legal. As you might have guessed, the series contains some rather gruesome content accompanied by startling imagery. If you are familiar with the franchise then beware—you might not know it as well as you think you do.
From its shocking origins to its impact on society at large, The Purge series leads us down a dark and twisted alleyway of thoughts, to a place where the lines between fact and fiction sometimes blur. It’s given way to some rather out of the box questions and it’s even sparked its share of violence along the way. With many an internet Meme showing up begging the question, “Would you Purge?” and multiple subliminal hints at things that are actually taking place in today’s political realm (such as the obvious Trump inspired campaign slogan) it would appear that the film is transporting us to a desolate dystopian future. What if I told you it wasn’t though? What if I told you it’s actually repeating a genuine story about our not so distant past? What if, because it happened once, it could actually happen again? Here are the 15 facts you need to know.
15. It Was Real
Various forum conversations begin with questions like, “What if The Purge was real?” The topic then spirals into drawn out hypothetical reasoning where people raise all sorts of different points and often ponder the after effects that could occur as a result of a “real life Purge”. It’s possible they’ve never heard of Saturnalia, the Pagan celebration that was clearly the inspiration for this series of thought provoking movies. In short, Saturnalia was a festival of lawlessness that made all criminal acts including murder legal for exactly one week. Much like in the film, citizens prepared for the festival all year long and it was promoted as a positive celebration that came about in order to instill a deeper respect for authority; meaning police, government and other individuals in positions of power. The idea was simple. People will respect the law more once they see what happens when the laws are not enforced.
14. It Was Christmas
“Happy Pagan Sex Day or whatever Christmas used to be,” declares a popular December Meme. Well, here’s what we know for certain. First, the early Christians didn’t celebrate birthdays. They were, in fact, considered Pagan holidays. Second, historians appear to be in agreement on the fact that Jesus Christ couldn’t have been born in December due to environmental factors. However, Saturnalia was a December event and when the Christians and the Pagans intertwined, these Pagan rituals were Christianized in a “well instead of partaking in mass sacrifices how bout we all bake cookies?” kind of way.
So to be clear, Saturnalia in its purest form was a week of lawlessness that took place between December 17th and the 25th, not a Pagan sex holiday. It did consist of caroling however, which was described as the act of singing naked on the doorsteps of strangers. That part didn’t make it into the film but feel free to comment on how it may or may not have enhanced the motion picture. In the meantime, all you need to know is that The Purge is based on an event that already happened, not one that might happen.
13. It Was Made Famous By ’90s Star Ethan Hawke
Original Purge actor, Ethan Hawke is sort of the Norman Reedus of the nineties generation in that he sporadically pops up in Hollywood to make brilliant but rather random contributions. The Purge is one example of his random brilliance. It was a box office smash that wasn’t projected to garner any commercial success whatsoever. Another unique example of random brilliance is Ethan’s role in the critically acclaimed 1994 Lisa Loeb music video “Stay (I Missed You)”. Rumor has it that Mr. Hawke filmed the entire thing in just one take with no green screen or special effects whatsoever: “You say I only Purge when I want to.”
12. It Featured A Celebrity
Much like the movie, the blood and guts festival that The Purge is based in part on was a hodgepodge of random acts of violence. There was, however, always at least one star of the show. Often appointed by his own community, a mock king would be placed into a very short lived position of power and forced to represent the epitome of lawlessness. Varying accounts of the mock king have been transcribed. In some instances he gave out ridiculous orders. In others, he overindulged in heinously lewd acts such as eating or drinking until passing out. Regardless to how the King of Lawlessness was treated during the time of festivity; the end result was always the same once the festival came to a close.
11. People Worshipped Their Appointed Celebrity
Much like the celebrities of today, the mock leaders of the Saturnalia festival were worshipped and simultaneously loathed. They were often coerced into overindulgence and then made to regret their actions. Modern day fame exhibits many of the same traits with our celebrities often being convinced to don the cloak of overindulgence only to later be ridiculed for their actions. Think about the things today’s celebrities must do in order to maintain their pedestals. Thousands of plastic surgeries, multimillion dollar homes, mind altering substances and excess to the utmost extent. Then when their reign is over, all that overindulging finally catches up to them, leading to a grotesque, inevitable demise. Which brings us to number ten…
10. The Star Of The Production Is Killed
Spoiler alert for those of you who haven’t seen the first one but the movie ends exactly the way the ancient pagan rituals did. The star of the production is murdered. Of course there are all sorts of hard to watch events leading up to the death scene but the ironic message behind the king’s death is the idea that it was all done for the sake of bettering the community. The idea that the only way to clean up society is to wash it in the blood of its own people is deeply rooted in Pagan origins and the movie does a good job of following that up.
9. It Was A Multimillion Dollar “Low Budget” Film
You’re not alone if you feel like the phrase “low budget” doesn’t belong in this sentence. When an Average Joe considers the idea of a low budget film, the vision is usually something like three guys, $800 and a video camera they rented for the month. Hollywood’s idea of low budget is a whole different concept. Something in the $3 million range definitely qualifies and that’s really on the low spectrum of a low budget. That significant chunk of change has paid off big-time. Since its debut, The Purge series wreaked havoc on the box office, raking in a whopping $190 million and counting, proving that anybody with a cool $3 million can make an awesome movie.
8. It Inspired A Quirky Seinfeld Play
Have you ever wondered how George Costanza would react to the Purge? Well if you check out the play called Seinfeld: The Purge at the Upright Citizens Brigade you just might find out. This tongue-in-cheek parody was scripted to read just like a traditional Seinfeld episode but the twist is that the premise is a long, hilarious night of lawlessness featuring murder plots, breakups, illegal soda machines and lots of laughs. A Seinfeld character actor opens up the play by performing a Purge related standup routine and the hilarity ensues from there.
7. It Inspired Ginger Bread Cookies
That’s right, gingerbread cookies were somehow wrapped up in the mix of murder and mayhem brought forth during the Pagan week of lawlessness. Many documents proclaim that the cookies were symbolic of each village’s mock king, who was eaten after being baked, which adds a troubling cannibalistic undertone to the ritual that was not explored in the film. Again, feel free to comment if you think it should have been. While the mock king symbol is the overall majority interpretation of the origin of gingerbread cookies, some historians claim the cookies were actually intended to symbolize one or more of the Pagan Gods. Theophagy, or the practice of eating one’s own God, was typical at the time of Pagan rule.
6. It Sparked A Killing Spree
While the ritual was rather bent on supporting homicidal violence and other types of chaos, the message behind the movie series seems to do the opposite. A not so subtle “The Purge is bad” theme is all but spelled out for the vast majority of movie goers. Nevertheless there’s always one twisted individual who misinterprets the message and goes haywire. Such was the case in the incident of 19-year old Jonathan Cruz, an accused killer who cites the movie as his inspiration. Cruz is currently facing life imprisonment in relation to the deaths of three seemingly random Indianapolis victims who were murdered in cold blood and for no apparent reason.
5. It Featured The First California Law Compliant Gun
The TEC-DC9 pistol made a brief appearance in the hands of an assailant in The Purge sequel entitled Anarchy. This particular weapon was the first assault pistol that was specifically designed to comply with the strict post 1990 California gun legislature. This exact model and make was also seen in: NCIS, Bad Boys, Hannibal, No Country For Old Men, W.A.T.
While, under the name TEC-DC9, the gun might not ring a bell, its notorious predecessor was none other than the Tec-9, a popular weapon of choice for many a super-villain and gangster both present and past.
4. It Brought Up Some Tough Class and Racial Issues
The Purge’s third edition, which just recently hit theatres, does bring up some questions regarding race and class as they pertain to the fictional situation. While the film itself does an excellent job of broaching the subject, Mike Epps and George Lopez follow suit with their own notable comedic interpretation “Meet the Blacks,” a film that delves deep into the subject of how the Purge would affect an African- American family living in a predominantly Caucasian suburb . The movie features a star studded cast including Mike Tyson and Charlie Murphy.
Equally interesting, the Pagan week of lawlessness also contained its share of discriminatory practices. One of those practices was known as role reversal wherein during that week, children would take on the roles of their parents, servants would take on the role of their masters and so forth but this reversing of the roles was only in jest. When the festival came to a close, children would revert back to being children and many of the servants would be ceremonially slaughtered as gifts for the Pagan’s deities.
3. It Was The Biggest Human Sacrifice In History
At this point you’re probably wondering about all of the other human sacrifice celebrations throughout history and if you’re not, you should be. They were plentiful and many of them were popular in their own right but none could hold a candle to the ritual The Purge was based on. It was known far and wide and given many names— The Winter Solstice, the Equinox, the Week of Lawlessness- renowned Roman poet Horace dubbed it “December Liberty” and it was cherished. The Pagans were a divided group containing many different sects but this was the one holiday that all of them celebrated. Bits and pieces of the festival are present and practiced across the globe even today although most of the celebration is symbolic and/or subjective.
2. It Happened At The Onset Of The Spring Equinox
See how the lines between fact and fiction are so easily smudged? As if paying homage to ancient Rome all the way across the board, The Purge in its cinematic form is scheduled to take place at the onset of a different Pagan holiday— The Spring Equinox. The Spring Equinox, which was also wrought with murder, was known as a time to cleanse- hence the Purge is marketed as a cleansing of the community. The end result is said to be less crime although the opposite is always true. As Election Year rolls into theatres in July, it will not be without irony, symbolism, Christmas lights and monster masks.
1. The First Purge Happens In 2017
While the first Purge movie is set in 2023, the back story told in the first installment of the series explained that the ritual was brought about in 2017 when the 28th amendment was ratified in order to “cleanse” the community. When you consider the facts listed above, particularly the one about how beloved the original ritual was, it’s possible to draw the conclusion that the Purge could happen again, maybe even sooner than we’d care to admit. But here’s a fun thought to add to this conclusion— Our past has been riddled with mass genocide, horror, torture and more. Even our not so distant past has seen its share of mayhem. The Holocaust was less than 100 years ago. There are people still alive to tell the story. So while this final fact is related to the theatrical production, don’t rest assured that history won’t repeat itself.