A New Era of Horror
by Patrick Smith '26 on October 9, 2022
Arts & Entertainment
A Clash of Bold Innovation and Time-Honored Tradition
Throughout its history as a genre of film media, horror-related cinema has long been defined by the tropes and stylistic flourishes of its era. There has often been a film, or a small collection of films, that would go on to inspire countless successors, imitators, and more. Films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre which went on to lay the groundwork for the slasher sub-genre, the original Scream which led to an era of revitalized quality and self-awareness within the genre, and even more filmmaking-based trends such as The Blair Witch Project, which single-handedly created the found-footage boom. Now, within the last decade or so, an era of horror polarized by a distinct separation in philosophy has spawned. We have seen the rise of both the elevated horror subgenre, which prioritizes a greater narrative message and depth of commentary within films, as well as a “back to basic” approach to horror cinema and an emphasis on rebooting or continuing classic franchises. The duality of the art form is truly unique and eventful, and only time will tell which facet this period will be better remembered for.
Elevated horror is a subgenre of modern horror that prioritizes a more cerebral experience for the viewer and contains a greater emphasis on a thematically driven plot and source of terror. Most of these films contain social commentary as a core component such as It Follows (2015) which dealt with sexually transmitted disease as a key theme. Get Out (2017) dealt with racial microaggressions as a primary talking point, and The Lighthouse (2019) came to terms with the effects of isolation on mental health. Elevated horror was largely popularized by independent American entertainment production company A24, as well as indie directors and directors typically classified within the art house genre of filmmaking. This often gives these films a very unique look and feel unlike other works in the genre. They often incorporate very distinct shot composition, sound design, soundtracks, and a more personal narrative style. A work like Robert Eggers’s first feature film, The Witch, a masterful but extremely slow-burn period piece about a Puritan family confronting evil lurking in the woods. Complete with era appropriate dialect, it could never have been funded and produced in an era before these films were deemed acceptable and profitable. This is the beauty of the elevated horror movement. It provides a gateway to new ideas within the genre and substantially more experimental styles of filmmaking.
The other primary genre of horror popularized by the modern era is a combination of back-to-basics horror and the revitalization of classic franchises. Back to basics horror is relatively simple. It’s a trend of increasing complexity that elevated horror has brought to the table in favor of the basic genre staples such as one-dimensional slashers or classic tropes. A great example of this is Don’t Breathe (2016), in which a group of teenagers must escape from a dangerous and agitated blind man. It utilizes a simple set-up and classic genre elements but injects modern sensibilities and advancements to create a more refined, unique experience. The revitalization of classic horror franchises has also been a massive part of the modern horror renaissance. A multitude of franchises like Halloween, Scream, Candyman, and soon Hellraiser have returned to moderate success, but are mostly of questionable quality. These films tend to suffer from the same flaws of other nostalgia sequels within the modern era and are generally less impressive than the fresh ideas that new, unique projects have brought to the table. Still, some of these reboots present an interesting opportunity to reconfigure classic films and franchises to be better than they were originally. The upcoming Hulu reboot of Hellraiser seems to be much closer in line to what the original should have been tonally, and that’s inspiring. Careful and cautious innovation based on what worked and didn’t work in the past is often the best form of innovation.
In summary, we live in a fantastic era for cinematic horror. We are at the forefront of an extremely competitive artistic arms race to reconfigure the genre in bold and innovative ways. This is a golden age for fresh new ideas and consistent high production values in the field of horror movies. Only time will tell if the ideals of the auteur, art house style film makers or the classic, straightforward approach of traditionalists will reshape the genre going forward into the next decade.
The Fork Ran Away, But the Spoon Came Back for Revenge
by The Cowl Editor on October 28, 2021
by Sarah McLaughlin ’23
It all started with one simple question: Should you eat mac and cheese with a fork or with a spoon?
“A spoon, obviously,” Genevieve says. “It provides the utility for maximum scoopage.”
Britney rolls her eyes. “A fork can scoop, too, idiot. And you can stab the noodles. It gives you options.”
“Guys,” I interrupt. “This is so pointless.”
“Just like a spoon,” Britney mutters. I shoot her a glare.
“Let’s just all agree to disagree and go to bed,” I say, walking over to the kitchen with my empty bowl (and fork, because that’s obviously the right answer, but I wasn’t going to spend another hour fighting about it).
About thirty minutes later, we’re all tucked into bed (or, in my case, lying on top of my covers—even in late October with the windows open, the air in the apartment is somehow sweltering). I’m on my phone, and Genevieve and Britney have both fallen silent, so I figure they’re asleep, but then Genevieve hums softly.
“Do you guys remember that viral video from, like, 2009? ‘The Horribly Slow Murderer with the Extremely Inefficient Weapon’?”
“Is that the one where he killed the guy by following him around and beating him to death with a spoon?”
“Yeah,” Genevieve says. “See? Another reason why spoons are superior.”
“It’s literally called ‘horribly slow’ and ‘extremely inefficient.’”
“I’m going to murder you in your sleep with a spoon and then you can tell me how slow and inefficient it is.”
“Shut up, guys,” I mumble, rolling over onto my stomach. “I have an 8:30 tomorrow.”
Genevieve and Britney giggle in unison, but they do quiet down, and it’s only a few minutes before I succumb to sleep.
It seems like mere seconds pass before I wake up with a start. I swear I just heard something metallic, like a sword being pulled from its sheath, but maybe I’ve just been reading too much King Arthur for my English class. Still, it sends a chill down my spine, and I sit bolt upright.
It takes a moment for me to notice something thin and cold pressing against my neck.
My body freezes. I try to glance down, but whatever is touching me is too small to see. Is someone behind me? I don’t feel a warm presence or hear anyone’s breath. The room is pitch black save for the distant orange glow of my laptop charger, but I’m pretty sure if there was an arm holding something, I would be able to see it.
“Hello?” I whisper.
Hello, something whispers back. I don’t even know if I can call it a voice. It’s metallic, like the noise that must have woken me up, and it sounds like a metal utensil scratching and squeaking against a ceramic plate—one of those sounds that instantly sets my nerves aflame.
“Who—who are you?” I manage.
Who do you think I am?
The cold thing seems to press deeper into my skin. It feels sharper now.
“What?” I gasp. “Is this, like—a sentient knife?”
Try again, the voice says.
I think back to last night’s conversation, and dread grows in my stomach. “A—a fork?”
But as soon as I say it, I know I’m wrong.
You fool, the voice hisses. If only you had been on my side. I’ll make you wish you had defended my honor.
“Wait!” I exclaim, wincing at the pain against my throat. “You’re—you’re great for ice cream! And soup! And—and hot chocolate before it’s cooled down—”
But I’m too late.
American Horror Story Returns with “Double Feature”
by The Cowl Editor on October 7, 2021
Arts & Entertainment
American Horror Story Returns with “Double Feature”
Hit Show Promises To Scare Viewers in More Ways Than One
Olivia Riportella ’25
It has been two years since the hit series American Horror Story brought a new tale to the small screen. The much anticipated 10th season finally premiered earlier this year on Aug. 25 on FX and Hulu.
This season, producer Ryan Murphy has taken on yet another unique American Horror Story narrative. The season is split into two separate storylines—hence its name, “Double Feature.” While not much was known about the new “story” for quite some time, trailers teased the appearance of sirens and aliens, and viewers have seen these elements appear in the new season.
Many of American Horror Story’s most beloved cast members have returned this season. Sarah Paulson, Evan Peters, Finn Wittrock, Lily Rabe, Frances Conroy, and Leslie Grossman are some of the familiar faces that appear in its first part, “Red Tide,” which “takes place by the sea.” Many of them are also speculated to make an appearance in “Death Valley,” the second half of the season that takes place “by the sand.”
Interestingly, Macaulay Culkin, most famously known for starring in Home Alone, is making his American Horror Story debut in “Red Tide.” While Culkin is perhaps the most well-known addition to the cast, there will certainly be other new faces appearing on screen in this new season as well.
The first part of “Double Feature,” “Red Tide,” takes place in New England. It is set in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and follows struggling writer Harry Gardner (Finn Wittrock) who moves his pregnant wife Doris (Lily Rabe) and daughter Alma (Ryan Kiera Armstrong) to the beach town of Cape Cod to seek inspiration. Harry quickly discovers that there has been a series of disturbing murders in Truro, the next town over. Soon enough, the culprits, who are some of the town’s more chilling residents, begin to make an appearance.
It is speculated that this part of the season is inspired by true events that have taken place in New England. For instance, one of New England’s most famous serial killers, Antone Charles “Tony” Costa, committed numerous murders in Truro, the town referenced in Red Tide. Costa was dubbed the “Cape Cod Vampire” because he left bite marks on each of his victims. Similarly, in “Red Tide,” the Truro victims are left dead in seemingly animalistic ways. Such real-life horror stories make this season of American Horror Story all the more sinister.
The second part of the season, “Death Valley,” takes a turn into a 1950s black and white timeline, where President Dwight Eisenhower is confronted with an alien invasion and subsequent tests on the strange new species. Part two also depicts a group of present-day college students that is faced with the recurrence of these horrors decades later.
Although it has yet to air, the ending of “Double Feature” will certainly be jam-packed, since part two is restricted to just four episodes. The final episodes of the season will be released in the upcoming weeks of October, with “Inside” airing on Oct. 6, “Blue Moon” on Oct. 13, and “The Future Perfect” on Oct. 20. The season finale, whose title has yet to be announced, is set to be released on Oct. 27, so American Horror Story fans will have something spooky to watch right before Halloween.