Aesop’s Terrors: Horror & the Moral of the Story

The horror genre is really a “sign of the times” and new horror does not buck the tradition of often coming with a neat little moral lesson for the viewer. This not to say that all new horror films follow the fable-like quality of childhood tales, but you cannot ignore the recent trend of cautionary horror stories concerning man’s interaction with technology. I’m not talking about Skynet and the end of the world but rather the slow creep of the loss of privacy and the loss of control due to the omnipresent and seemingly omniscient computers in our hands.

2013’s The Den (which didn’t hit US screens until March 2014), centers around Elizabeth, a young twenty-something working on an academic project about internet interactions. Things quickly get sinister as Elizabeth witnesses a murder online and her own accounts/tech devices start getting hacked.

When I first watched The Den, as a young graduate student I appreciated the conversations regarding new social/cultural research and the need for funding and a solid project proposal. This film felt built for those my age with an understanding that the recent technological advances are changing our world on a simultaneously intimate and global scale. The moral of the story – even when you’re smart and lock your doors at night, the internet always leaves the light on and the window open for anyone passing by.

2014’s Unfriended (which didn’t hit US screens until April 2015), focuses on a group of teens and the technology angle goes supernatural in which an online account of a dead friend starts enacting revenge.

Given the age of the characters and the innovative way it was shot, horror fans have mixed feelings about this movie. Unfriended deals with something only younger audiences really experience – the troubling trend of cyber bullying. Whereas a decade ago kids were at least able to escape bullying classmates once the school day ended, once again today’s tech is connecting people, whether they like it or not. The moral of the story – treat those the way you would like to be treated. If you wouldn’t want an embarrassing video posted for the world to see, don’t post one of someone else.

2015’s Scream: The TV Series begins with a viral YouTube video…and ends each season with a grisly serial killing scenario for the teenagers of Lakewood.

Pretty much exactly like Unfriended, Scream stretches the moral tale over many episodes, each one dropping little messages about how to be a good friend and that while bad guys and bullies often get their comeuppance, good people can also get hurt by ignorance, distrust, and bullying.


2016’s The Good Neighbor centers around two teenage boys looking to do a surveillance heavy experiment in which they rig an unsuspecting neighbor’s house to appear haunted while they capture everything on hidden cameras.

Recently released on Netflix, this film is more in the “thriller” area of the horror genre. Unsure of where the story is going, the audience just knows that the protagonists are blindly rushing towards some misfortune, despite having access to high quality cameras and spy-like surveillance technology. The moral of the story – just because you can see everything, doesn’t mean you know everything. Everyone has their own story, their own tragedy – just because you can’t see it doesn’t give you the right to judge another’s life and worth.

These stories are not for everyone. The horror genre adapts to its audience and environment, a bloodthirsty chameleon. To appeal and resonate with new audiences these narratives pull horror into the 21st century, close to home and unsettlingly close to something we may see popping up on our Facebook newsfeeds.