Retells and Remakes: Understanding How Horror Urban Legends Change Over Time

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Virginia Tech


This study seeks to understand how horror urban legends undergo changes over time and the possible reasons for their alterations. Past researchers have yet to analyze the shifts that have occurred within the retellings of these dark tales, and through this analysis, light will be shed onto what truly affects the media's storytelling behavior. Building upon meme theory, this study will use narrative and historical context analyses to uncover the objectives, narrative elements and temporal environments surrounding 10 replications of three horror urban legend memes over the past century. This research will uncover how these memes have mutated over time and inform the world as to how context plays a role.

A total of 30 horror urban legend artifacts (10 per meme) were analyzed using qualitative research methods in order to uncover the similarities and differences that appeared in the replications of each of the memes. Also, the contemporary thoughts, attitudes and values of the various time periods in which each of the retellings existed were analyzed to understand how historical events and movements may have led to a change in the story. The findings revealed that social movements played a large role in the alteration of horror urban legend memes, particularly in regards to the second wave of Feminism. Additionally, the findings showed that memes that heavily portrayed racism were altered in more recent decades to include leading actors and characters of various ethnic backgrounds. Because of these findings, this research aligns with and expands upon the work completed by Joel Best and Gerald Horiuchi (1985).



meme theory, narrative analysis, historical context analysis, urban legends