When we think of postmodern horror, we tend to think about distinguishing characteristics, whether we enjoy it, etc. I think we should consider it in a broader context, asking where it exists, why it’s popular, and what those things reflect about us. I’ll attempt to kickstart that discussion, examining two categories of postmodern horror and assuming Isabel Pinedo’s five characteristics of the genre. Those are: 1) a violent disruption of the everyday world; 2) a transgression and violation of boundaries; 3) the validity of rationality being thrown into question; 4) no narrative closure; and 5) a bounded experience of fear, (Pinedo, 20).
Postmodern horror unquestionably falls into postmodernism, which I’ll loosely define as an ongoing artistic resignation to chaos. But rather than attempting to live in harmony with chaos, as much of postmodernism tries to do, it emphasizes how–in a chaotic world–horrific things can happen to anybody, and we can’t control what happens. Postmodern horror doesn’t have a uniform take on this; it can be gripping, funny, both, or neither, but regardless, it exists in the bleakest corner of postmodernism.
And it’s advertised as entertainment. Entertainment can feed our impulses, teach us things, make us work, or provide an escape for relaxation, depending on what it is, but it can also numb us and stimulate our fight-or-flight fear responses, and these are postmodern horror’s functions. On the one hand that can mean creating a truly horrific piece, like Sinister, where children kill families as they sleep (I would put a demonstrative photo here, but we don’t really need that image), which functions to–what? Help us not be alarmed by the prospect of children killing their families? Put us on guard against our siblings and children? All because we wanted an adrenaline rush? I think there are less harmful ways to achieve that. On the other hand postmodern horror can delve into dark comedy, like Shaun of the Dead, where it’s still exciting and everyone still dies, but humorously this time. And what does this help us do? Embrace the inevitability of death and the possibility of it coming unnaturally to ourselves or others we know?
Are those things we really need to preoccupy ourselves thinking about while they aren’t the immediate reality? And do we really want to be numb to them if they happen? I don’t. The horrific and humorous aspects of postmodern horror are two sides of the same coin and it isn’t a happy one.
Postmodern horror thrives off of only the worst parts of the human experience, portraying our existence to be one of futility, promoting emptiness and nihilism, and I think we’re better off without it.
Derrickson, Scott, et al. Sinister. Summit Entertainment, 2012.
PINEDO, ISABEL. “RECREATIONAL TERROR: POSTMODERN ELEMENTS OF THE CONTEMPORARY HORROR FILM.” Journal of Film and Video, vol. 48, no. 1/2, 1996, pp. 17–31. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/20688091.
“Shaun of the Dead Reaction Zombie GIF.” GIFER, i.gifer.com/8g4T.gif.
Wright, Edgar, director. Shaun of the Dead. Universal Pictures, 2004.