LOS ANGELES/NEW YORK — A squawking crow. A single shoe turned on its side. Dark skies. A slow-spinning carousel on an empty playground. All the ingredients of a horror movie come together in a Rick Santorum presidential campaign video that depicts a terrifying "Obamaville".
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The video has grabbed attention for its use of scary themes and images in the world of political ads. It was released at a time when Santorum lags Mitt Romney in the Republican race to find a challenger to President Barack Obama in the November 6 election.
Complete with eerie music, the video is a teaser for an eight-part series and looks like an "Amityville Horror," "Twilight Zone" and Alfred Hitchcock mash-up. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tDGORiD82rQ)
Using the time-tested tools of horror masters, it paints a picture of a frightening future if Obama wins re-election.
In some shots, the camera's movement slows and zooms in, a favorite filmmaker technique to make viewers feel uneasy.
"Those kind of shots are common to post-apocalyptic zombie movies. You kind of half expect a zombie to shamble around the corner," said Spencer Parsons, who teaches film production at Northwestern University and is finishing work on his own horror film.
The setting is a run-down town called "Obamaville." The year is 2014, after the Democratic president's re-election.
A dozen iconic horror movie images fill the minute-long video: barren trees, empty streets, a clock with fast-spinning hands, a candle that flames out, a baby.
"Small businesses are struggling and families are worried about their jobs and their future," the deep-voiced narrator says in ominous tones. "The wait to see a doctor is ever increasing. Gas prices through the roof, and their freedom of religion under attack."
The bleak scenes are tinted green, a common hue horror directors turn to. "It's a sallow color that makes people look pasty and drawn," Parsons said.
At the end, a typeface reminiscent of 1960s horror movies screams "welcome to Obamaville" on screen.
"Classic, campy horror films" like "Night of the Living Dead" come to mind, said Greg Smith, chief creative officer of advertising firm The VIA Agency. "Particularly with the use of the font. That is so derivative of that '60s style of trailer."
Crows overhead recall Hitchcock's famous thriller "The Birds." A man holds a gas nozzle to his head like a gun. Flickering TV images show Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and the narrator warns a "sworn American enemy has become a nuclear threat."
An Obama campaign staff member in Chicago said Santorum was trying to scare Americans into voting for him. Other Obama backers complained the video likened the president to Ahmadinejad by quickly flashing alternating images of the two.
The Democratic National Committee, on its website, calls the video a "new low" and asks for donations to "fight back."
"I don't know what goes too far about it," said John Brabender, Santorum's longtime media strategist and ad maker. He said the campaign was warning there will be a nuclear-armed Iran and higher gas prices if Obama were elected. Santorum, on the other hand, would get tough with Tehran, he said.
While horror themes are rare in political ads, they are not completely new. A famous ad for Democrat Lyndon Johnson's campaign in 1964 showed a girl picking a daisy, then zoomed in on her eye and flashed a nuclear explosion, driving home a message against his Republican rival Barry Goldwater.
There are more chills from "Obamaville" to come. The video is a teaser for an eight-part miniseries that will run on Ricksantorum.com, Brabender said.
The first will appear in about two weeks, followed by one every two weeks after that. The series will conclude before the Republican nominating convention in August. "Almost all of them have Iran in them in some capacity," Brabender said.
The teaser cost a few thousand dollars and each episode will cost $4,000 to $5,000 each, he said. The videos will drive people to Santorum's website, where the candidate collects donations, Brabender said.
"They'll pay for themselves in no time," he said.
Copyright 2012 Thomson Reuters. Click for restrictions.