Photo: DreamWorks, Universal Pictures and Columbia Pictures
Forget the threat of zombies or vampires. It’s 2015, and we’re dealing with things that are actually terrifying: Snapchat, instant messaging, video streaming. Millennial-friendly scary flick Unfriended, out this weekend, takes aim specifically at social networking and Skype, but it’s not the first horror film to vilify newfangled technology. Below, some of the best modern creations we’ve been told to be afraid of.
The Net (1995)
The premise: A systems analyst discovers hidden information in a computer game that leads her down a crazy road of hackers, thieves, and killers — who manage to erase her identity completely and assign it to someone else, leaving her on her own and on the run.
What should we be afraid of? The idea that much of the information that identifies us as us exists in a computer somewhere and could potentially be compromised at any time. (It could be even worse by now! This movie was made 20 years ago!)
How do you kill it? You hack into a security software company’s system by sneaking around their offices, email evidence straight to the FBI, and release a virus prepared custom to destroy the mainframe. (Oh, then you make sure the person posing as you is killed.)
The Ring (2002)
The premise: Based on the Japanese film Ringu, this is a story about a cursed VHS tape. If you watch it, you get a phone call, and then die seven days later.
What should we be afraid of? VHS tapes?
How do you kill it? DVDs? Streaming? Don’t accept VHS tapes from strangers? If you make a copy of the tape and get someone else to watch it, then you won’t die. What does this say about modern society? Well, remember how annoying it was to make copies of VHS tapes?
Stay Alive (2006), eXistenZ (1999)
The premise: In Stay Alive, a bunch of kids play a video game and proceed to die (in real life!) the exact way their characters do. eXistenZ is about a video-game designer who creates a game you can enter by connecting a bio-port plug into your lower spine.
What should we be afraid of? Video games, virtual reality, super-nerdy teens.
How do you kill it? Beat the game? Just kidding: Stay Alive ends with brand-new players starting the cycle again, while eXistenZ has its protagonists wondering at the end if they are in reality … or not.
Smiley (2012), The Den (2013), Untraceable (2008)
The premise: In Smiley, a “Bloody Mary”–style internet myth revolves around a Chatroulette-style website (remember Chatroulette?) where if you type the phrase “I did it for the lulz,” your chat partner would be murdered by a serial killer named Smiley. In The Den, that Chatroulette-style site is called The Den, and a woman comes across a stranger being murdered. Untraceable has a serial killer who uses KillWithMe.com to livestream murders with the catch that the more people watch, the faster people die. Uh-oh.
What should we be afraid of? Chatroulette, Anonymous, livestreaming, virtual rubbernecking.
How do you kill it? Uh, just don’t talk to people on the internet? Turns out that in Smiley, most of the gang are actually members of an Anonymous-esque online group who made up the myth to begin with. Keep your friends close, but your online friends closer. (Just kidding! Keep them both far, far away.)
One Missed Call (2008), Cell (2015)
The premise: Remember when horror had to find ways to have characters get rid of their cell phones so that they couldn’t call for help? But what happens when that cell phone is the killer? Based on the Japanese film of the same name, One Missed Call features a spirit that calls people and tells them the exact time of their future deaths. Cell has yet to be released, but will be adapted from a Stephen King novel in which a “pulse” sent out over the cell-phone network turns dialers into zombie killers. Oops.
What should we be afraid of? Apparentl,y the scariest thing about cell phones isn’t voice mail. Who knew?
How do you kill it? Don’t pick up. Or (in the case of Cell) anything you’d use to kill zombies.
Pulse (2006), FeardotCom (2002)
The premise: Based on the Japanese film Kairo, in Pulse, a terrifying virus connects the living with the dead through the internet. FeardotCom is about an angry ghost who kills people through a website.
What should we be afraid of? The internet, ethernet cords, strange frequencies, dead people who still find time to hang out online.
How do you kill it? In Pulse, a plan to vanquish the spirits fails, and the living flee the city (and its technology). A voice-over at the end of the movie sums it all up: “What was meant to connect us to one another instead connected us to forces that we could have never imagined.” FeardotCom has a slightly more positive ending: The angry ghost, mad about her livestreamed murder, is finally able to kill her killer, and then shuts down the dangerous website.
Swimfan (2002), Cry_Wolf (2005), Strangeland (1998)
The premise: In Swimfan, a girl who goes by Swimfan85 online (really) harasses her high-school obsession; In Cry_Wolf, a crew of friends play a Mafia-style game of “wolf” that involves threatening IMs and subsequent murders; In Strangeland, an IM from “Captain Howdy” (the moniker of a guy who is eventually played by Dee Snider) causes a girl to go missing.
What should we be afraid of? Instant messaging, clearly.
How do you kill it? Murder, sadly.
The premise: An angry ghost harasses a crew of friends online, which they suspect is that of a classmate who killed herself after an embarrassing video leaked.
What should we be afraid of? Skype, Snapchat, Google Hangouts, general sexting.
How do you kill it? You can’t just turn off your computer and “walk away,” say the rules of this movie (although you can certainly do that in real life). Lesson: Don’t be a bully in the first place.