The internet on horror: A media renaissance


A digital drawing emphasizing today’s horror elements (created by Jules VanRy)

Jules VanRy, iNews Class Reporter

Imagine, if you will: You’ve just left a movie theater after seeing a trending horror film. Except, there’s one problem: you didn’t find it particularly scary. Sure, it made you jump in your seat whenever a jumpscare happened, but despite that, there wasn’t really a whole lot there. 

So what sets it apart from what has actually scared you? Like that bizarre episode of “Courage the Cowardly Dog,” or that internet scare prank that gave a younger you nightmares for weeks? How do you get that feeling again?

It’s possible that you’re simply looking in the wrong places.

This generation has become attached to broader horizons of horror based upon those revolutionized principles of effects, tropes, storytelling, and general ambiance. There are also some examples of this advancement in this new horror renaissance, showing off some of the brand new creations in the genre developing today.

“I think the internet has made horror more realistic in a way,” says Marcus Velazquez, a junior at the NYCiSchool. “In older movies, it was more of a fantasy, with monsters chasing helpless teenage girls, and now, it’s way more grounded.” It’s true; back then, audiences were satisfied with stereotypes chasing stereotypes. But within this period of time, things are different now.

Anything that’s past us simply becomes what feels like a fairytale. Sure, it’s a story, but it doesn’t exactly resonate with what we experience now.

And yet at the same time, they made the most of the tools they had available to them, using practical makeup and effects to generate horror. These days, however, such luxuries are seen as expensive in comparison to what CGI and other digital tools can be used for. However, there’s an issue.

Marcus continues to mention that “Sometimes with overdone effects, it isn’t scary, compared to today’s standards.” What are today’s standards? Well, if you’ve taken note, a lot more people seem to like a select group of older, classic horror movies for realistic horror.

“The good thing about horror movies is that if they’re realistic and grounded, that’s when you get scared more often because you can relate and be more in tune with what’s going on. If you lose that connection with overdone VFX, you’re just confused,” Marcus explains. Several movies have been lost in translation to this problem. However, there are plenty of examples that have carefully utilized this advancement in technology to their advantage.

Ms. Colón, guidance counselor at the iSchool, is a horror fanatic, and she has a similar inclination regarding horror movies now: “I’m blown away by all the technology of today, how they can transport you to another world… but if it’s a crappy story, it’s a crappy story. It doesn’t need to be redone if it just adds crazy special effects.”

Practicality can make digital effects all the more advantageous, and therefore boost engagement and interest. But what does that mean?

Judging from an online poll, iSchool students shared what they liked about horror in general. This ranged from anything like monsters to sound design. Based on 7 responses, the most appreciated elements (according to the poll) are psychological elements, mystery, suspense, and visual effects. Interestingly enough, more people had a dislike for jumpscares and comprehendible antagonists – meaning everything from Jason Vorhees to the Xenomorphs.

Based on this evidence, it seems as though most teens today look for more psychological thrillers that involve being in the dark on parts of the context, while further enticing the viewer with visuals that put them on the edge of their seats, scaring them more with the ambiance and suspense rather than jumpscares. 

Now the questions remain: where did this appeal come from? And what pieces of media use these elements most effectively?

In terms of “today’s standards,” a lot of this might stem from what sort of experiences teens go through. This is hastened especially by things like the internet, which has opened up new possibilities when it comes to fears and traumas. The concern is how films and other horror media tap into this element to appeal to a new audience.

Teens aren’t particularly expecting masked serial killers or monsters, which clearly don’t exist (?), so a lot of their fears may originate from what they have seen on the internet.

The internet has shown a lot of teens things that they’ve wanted to see, but it has arguably shown more teens what they haven’t wanted to see – and that’s what teenagers are so afraid of now.

But this can’t exactly be said for certain. If you take it from Hicks, an author on Wicked Horror; “All of this exposure on the Internet is bringing in what horror desperately needs: new blood.” Hicks brings up a good point that the internet has brought new fame to a lot of old and forgotten horror movies, and the same can be said about anything newly produced across the internet. 

Considering today’s horror films, this is undoubtedly proved. There is a new experimental wave in the industry that is occurring, and it’s all thanks to the good and the bad that the internet has shown people.

In this case, the good is old horror films, and the bad is actual terror spread across the internet.

As Samara Hayes, an iSchool junior, puts it, “I think a lot of modern horror movies try to base their plot off of old movies – but I’m not sure it’s the right blend.” Several film companies are in the process of trying new elements and spinoffs of old horror movie tropes and plots in order to see what value those concepts hold now. It sounds smart from a business standpoint, but in terms of entertainment “It’s like they’re trying too hard to be like those old movies that are considered popular,” Samara claims.

So when it comes to what actually makes a good horror movie in Samara’s case, “I don’t know anymore really, what good horror movies consist of, but their own unique blend of plot and jumpscares can get to me.” Seeing as how remakes of old ideas are dime a dozen now, the industry really does rely on ‘new blood.’

The thing is, this wave of horror media is already here, and it’s all thanks to the internet.

There have been several new breakthroughs in horror because of the internet, such as ARGs, “Creepypastas”, video games, “SCPs”, analog horror, etc. Now some have been better and some have been worse based entirely on their use of elements and resources, but they have meant everything towards this generation’s interest in horror.

Ms. Colón has actually shared her interest in horror short films on the internet with her advisory: “There’s this one channel, I think called “ALTER”, that has a lot of horror shorts that I like to watch. They’re pretty short, 15 minutes give or take, and I’m able to make sure in the description that there’s no gore or torture.”

With the internet, there’s a perceived notion to flag certain media based upon what’s in them. This is super easy now, thanks to commenting systems, descriptions on videos, and otherwise. This helps curate people’s interest in certain elements, in case they’re looking out for ones they may like or dislike. That way, they can type into search engines to find what they like, plain and simple; and this system is profitable.

There is something to be said about horror media that actually do use this renaissance as a chance to profit on new ideas, especially within film. Time to point out some examples.

“Cloverfield” was released in 2008, inspired by the fear and trauma gained from a real attack on New York City, that of course being 9/11. This event entailed the Twin Towers falling due to a terrorist hijack operation, causing catastrophic damage immediately around the financial district, and a crippling effect on transportation, business, and the general public. That fear gained from the said event is what inspired an extremely grounded monster movie.

It follows a man documenting his day leading up to a party, which ends up being interrupted by a giant monster destroying the city in its wake. The terrifying thing isn’t exactly the monster itself, but rather the destruction it causes. Within this film, the audience hardly ever gets a good look at the monster itself, with the first-person shaky camera angles, and the focus being entirely on the destruction and the people who are affected by it.

It’s gripping, terrifying, and puts viewers uncomfortably right within the terror. This very film is part of the “found footage” archetype of horror films, including but not limited to other projects such as “Troll Hunter” (2010), and “The Blair Witch Project” (1999). All movies have their cinematography orchestrated to create a sense of realism behind a more practical camera, not the kind used for typical Hollywood films, that want the movies to be as clear as possible.

This kind of horror thrives off of the mystery and suspense, as to what may be hiding just out view, within the static.

Another movie that is extremely telling of it’s inspirations is The Lighthouse, a movie loosely based on a true story about a lighthouse crew taking charge of an island, until a storm passes over the island and they disappear off the face of the earth, seemingly plucked from their duties, with no sign of struggle.

In the film, we follow characters acted out brilliantly by Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson, of course playing the lighthouse caretakers. The cinematography is done in the style of old black and white films, as it is literally black and white, and shown in a 1.19:1 aspect ratio, which is roughly square. For a while, everything is just fine and only slightly concerning and miserable, as Pattinson’s character, Thomas Howard, is off-put by Thomas Wake (Dafoe’s character)’s mannerisms, similar to that of Captain Ahab from Moby Dick.

Slowly, the film descends into madness, and the viewers are left utterly confused by the end of what happened. Were they actually going insane on their own accord? Or was it due to some incomprehensible psychological power?

It’s telling of just how lost humans are, and what an absolute tragedy they’ve become. This style of film where the audience is utterly lost on what’s real and what’s fake is seen in other films. The most popular of its kind is undoubtedly “The Shining” (1980).

So, what is to be said of these movies released in the 21st century?

Without a doubt, they take it upon themselves to get inspired by what people have perceived and experienced within this modern age. Cloverfield reminds us of how extremely grounded destruction can be, and The Lighthouse taps into nostalgic remembrance of classic arts, while both films spin the current film industry on its head with their killer cinematography.

This brings this article to its final point: new blood of horror has seeped into the internet, so much so that it has inspired people to create their own films and stories, within the recognizable platforms we associate the internet with. That being said, there is one new kid on the block that has really made a name for itself on the internet.

It’s hard to say where analog horror really began, but loosely speaking, it is inspired by found footage films. This archetype also expresses itself with VCR and other late 20th century and early 21st-century recording tools, to hail back to that feeling of wondering what’s hiding in plain sight, with general audio and video degradation.

This kind of horror has gained a cult following on YouTube, where several content creators use this same basic principle to branch out their own convoluted plots and storylines, or standalone experiences, all right on the most basic video sharing platform, not on the silver screen.

While these videos are created using very basic software and editing skills, they are woven with masterful creativity that could arguably rival the effects used in Hollywood today, based upon scare factor, and not how much money went into rendering slobber, shading, and pores.

Almost every video has the same formula, where it seems unassumingly fine, until it spirals into horror, mostly without warning. However, creators use this concept and run with it, spinning the formula on its head in their own unique ways.

What some argue was roughly the first of its kind was “Local 58, a channel presenting itself as a television channel, that actually has otherworldly forces meddling with it. The series started in October of 2015, with a dashcam video of someone being led on by their GPS into the woods, where they meet a strange monster that ends up supposedly killing the driver. No other context is provided until later uploads, where the viewers see the channel get corrupted into telling US citizens to “surrender”, to anonymous. In other uploads, there are also mentions leading towards this corruption coming from something on or in the moon. The series is ongoing.

To rapid-fire more entries to the Analog Horror craze, there’s “Gemini Home Entertainment”, loosely based off of Local 58 but instead focusing on a threat from beyond the stars that are taking over people’s bodies, in the style of infomercials instead of TV programs. The series is ongoing. “The Monument Mythos” is an alternate history anthology on the basis of several American monuments having dark secrets. Additionally, James Dean becomes president. The main series is finished, but will most likely spin-off into another series.

The two with arguably more of quote-unquote “cult following”, is “The Walten Files”, a creative spin on the known Five Nights at Freddy’s game series, following loosely the same concept of haunted animatronics, but with a much more terrifying, human story. As far as the story goes now, the most heart-breaking murder in this tale is entirely accidental. The series is ongoing.

The other is The “Mandela Catalogue”, following a familiar story of doppelgangers causing terror across midwest American counties, but with the threat coming instead from the pages of the Bible. Demons roam Mandela county in the form of “Alternates,” who collaboratively psychologically torment humans, as they take after the humans, and possess their Televisions and homes. The series is ongoing.

These are the most popular additions to the YouTube and internet sensation of analog horror, with several others to be found.

The thing about analog horror is that it is arguably the culmination of horror’s complete influence on the internet, with its effects taking after found footage and old cameras while blending in that mystery and suspense. Not to mention that teens have been eating it up, most likely from its deep psychological elements.

To further drive this point home, a few of the creators have shared their insights on where their elaborate stories came from. Alex Kister, the creator of Mandela Catalogue, has discussed how a fear of his as a child, was of him arriving home from school to find himself, waiting in his room.

Ms. Colón expands upon this idea: “I really wanted to watch ‘The Exorcist” when I was young and demanded my mother to let me watch. When she did, midway through I told her that I didn’t want to watch it anymore. She told me ‘too bad,’ and that I was going to keep watching it because she told me that it was too scary. I couldn’t go to sleep that night, but I learned my lesson.”

For her, she eventually looked back on that with excitement and intrigue, as the plot told a story that couldn’t be seen anywhere else. 

What’s to be learned in general from horror, is that it is one of the most elaborate and collaborative entertainment projects in human history. The explanation for this is because of how all of it beautifully builds on top of itself: Every film is inspired not just by the last, but by what was felt in the last, by that particular creator. What sets itself apart from other genres is how it focuses on tapping into one particular feeling: fear. 

While it feels slightly invasive to get inside the psyche of what these brilliant creators see in the worst of humanity and their capability to tell these scary stories, it is remarkable to understand every new addition to the fullest and enjoy it.