The state, condition, or period subsequent to that which is modern; spec. in architecture, the arts, literature, politics, etc., any of various styles, concepts, or points of view involving a conscious departure from modernism, esp. when characterized by a rejection of ideology and theory in favour of a plurality of values and techniques. Also in extended use in general contexts, frequently used ironically.

Postmodern is a term that encompasses a broad cultural movement. We hope that this definition from the OED will offer our readers a general overview of the complexity involved in postmodernism.

Now, let’s  examine some postmodern tropes that we find in our horror films.

  1.  Indeterminacy

In the postmodern world we are a lot less sure about the nature of our objective reality… The more we know about the world the less stable and certain it seems. Instead of our knowledge and understanding growing steadily in a cumulative way, science and philosophy, along with many other disciplines, seem to be telling us that we will never know anything. (Lewis 2)

 Confidence issues? Your in luck! Postmodernism strips all our confidence away by reminding us that our knowledge doesn’t amount to much.  This same scenario happens in Nightmare on Elm Street. Hero and final girl, Nancy Thompson, thinks she just defeated Freddy once and for all. Nancy leaves her bedroom and everything appears to be normal. Check out this clip and see what happens!

Fittingly the title for this clip is “The Nightmare Never Ends.” What appears to be the physical world, the real Elm Street, in fact, is now the nightmare world, or the “nightmare reality” (Rathgeb 8)

2.  Irony

Is it ironic that we are all familiar with irony? Horror movies employ irony to build suspense for the audience. A specific kind of irony that horror movies employ is dramatic irony in which the audience knows something more than the characters in the movie. For instance, “Don’t go into the basement; the killer is down there!”

This irony has been employed in other forms of entertainment before postmodernism was around. Postmodernism takes irony to a deeper level — to the audience themselves. For instance, in Halloween, Annie takes her clothes to the laundry outside the Wallace house. We see Michael waiting for her and we think we know that Michael is about to kill Annie…

But Michael does not kill vulnerable Annie…yet. The movie seems to show us a moment of dramatic irony, but in fact plays on our apprehensions as Michael does not kill Annie.

3.  Metafiction

Lastly, a major postmodern technique found in these horror films is metafiction. Metafiction is a technique that references other texts or media within its work. For example, in Halloween we see Tommy Doyle watches The Thing From Another World, an old horror movie made in 1951. This reminds us, the audience, that just like Tommy we too are watching a horror movie.  Scream is another notable horror movie that uses metafiction, referencing characters and movies such as Dr. Loomis, Halloween, Friday the 13th, and A Nightmare on Elm Street.

Why discuss these techniques? We have seen these tropes played out in many contemporary horror movies. Have  we become too familiar with these tropes that horror does not affect us? We’d argue, on this site, that these tropes do in fact work on the audience when executed right. For example, in the recent movie Get Out, Chris visits his white girlfriend’s family hoping to make a good impression on them.  Chris notices weird things happening at the house the longer he stays there. He realizes that this family actually auctions black people to white people who want to transfer one’s brain into a black person’s body. In postmodernist terms, both Chris and the audience experience an indeterminable world — the more they learn then the worse it gets for them.  In Blumhouse’s case, these tropes do not have the same effect. Some of his movies, like Truth or Dare or The Bye Bye Man, fail to build on our apprehensions of knowing so little. Their borrowed ideas and motifs from previous horror movies appears unoriginal and boring.