The Identity Crisis of Internet Horror

As if the infernal screech of dial-up wasn't scary enough.

Internet horror Pulse Kairo
Toho

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video on how two very different films, Pulse and FeardotCom, epitomize the early days of the internet horror subgenre.


From atomic behemoth B-movies to satanic panic pictures, horror has always had a finger on the pulse of what ails us. Naturally, when the abject horror of Being Online reared its pale face, horror was eager to oblige. After all, genre film had been plugged into the terrifying potential of technology long before dot com anxieties. Films like 1977’s Demon Seed and James Cameron’s The Terminator presciently theorized about our slavish relationship to black-box tech long before the internet even existed.

However, when it comes to the internet, few things are scarier than the real deal. This is why web-based horror has a reputation for being hit-and-miss, to put it mildly. The subgenre often resorts to out-of-touch exaggeration and the dull trope of the web as a modern haunted house filled with jump scares. These critiques are more than deserved. But it’s worth remembering what the best showings of the subgenre can offer. Namely: a stern reminder that we’re all-too-willing to surrender our attention, our privacy, and ourselves to this ubiquitous thing very few of us understand.

The video essay below unpacks two very different films that epitomize the early days of internet horror: Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s slow-burning masterpiece Kairo (2001), a.k.a. Pulse, and William Malone’s expressionistically schlocky FeardotCom (2002). The essay compares and contrasts the two films and theorizes about what they can tell us about the complicated identity of the subgenre.

Watch “PULSE & FEARDOTCOM: The Rise of “Internet Horror“:

Who made this?

This video is by Ryan Hollinger, a Northern Irish video essayist who specializes in horror films. Hollinger’s analysis usually takes the shape of a personal retrospective. Indulging in a healthy dose of nostalgia, Hollinger’s videos are contagiously endearing, entertaining, and informative. You can also check out Hollinger’s podcast The Carryout on SoundCloud here. And you can subscribe to Hollinger’s YouTube account here.

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(Senior contributor)

Three toddlers in a trenchcoat. Currently running The Queue, How'd They Do That?, and Horrorscope.