Near the Black Hills of South Dakota sits one of the largest Indian reservations in the country: the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Home to the Oglala Lakota tribe, Pine Ridge has a long history of trauma. It’s the site where hundreds of Lakota Indians were killed during the Wounded Knee Massacre, and it’s currently one of the poorest county’s in the United States. When it made headlines in 2015 for a spree of teen suicides, many began to suggest that darker supernatural forces were at work in Pine Ridge, citing the urban legend of Walking Sam.
Between December of 2014 and March of 2015, there were 103 suicide attempts made. Nine of those were successful, and none of the victims were older than twenty-five. Many died by hanging. In previous years there had been other clusters of suicides, but none this large. Stuck in a crisis situation with no clear answers, many began to point to a sinister force that has long existed in Native American tradition and lore. Children raised in Lakota households grow up hearing of “suicide spirits,” “stick people,” or shadow people who attempt to lure adolescents from the safety of their homes at night. Over time, and with the explosion of popularity in Slender Man, these stories may have morphed into the single figure now known as Walking Sam.
The Legend of Walking Sam
Though he goes by other names as well (most notably “Tall Man” or “Stovepipe Hat Bigfoot”), most of the stories describe Walking Sam as a seven-foot tall figure with eyes but no mouth, sometimes wearing a stove-pipe hat. When he raises his arms one sees the bodies of previous victims hanging beneath. When teenagers hear him calling, he tries to persuade them of their worthlessness, encouraging them to kill themselves. Some believe he targets younger people because they are more susceptible to his tricks.
There are also those who believe he is not even necessarily a malicious entity, but rather one who wanders the forests as some sort of punishment and is merely looking for companionship. There are also the obvious ties to boogeyman folklore and Slender Man legends, but from a cryptozoological standpoint some believe he may be another version of, or in fact related to, Bigfoot. Finally, for a people group who have such an intertwined spiritual connection between the land and their heritage, some believe that Walking Sam is a sort of physical manifestation of the hurt and trauma that Lakota Indians experience on a regularly basis.
A Growing Epidemic
Whether Walking Sam is real, or perhaps a metaphor for depression, many of the adults at Pine Ridge take the threat he represents seriously, asking for help from government officials in curtailing the devastating effects of the legend. Disturbing videos have surfaced of teens explaining how to tie the rope just right. Pastors and teachers have stepped in at the last moment to stop group suicides. Authorities find nooses hanging grimly from trees. Whether or not these young adults are having their dark desires exacerbated by an ominous urban legend boogeyman remains a mystery. However, what is clear is that in a land plagued by extreme poverty, alcohol abuse, and skyrocketing high school drop out rates, teens are struggling with mental health issues and need proper care and support.
Ben’s love for horror began at a young age when he devoured books like the Goosebumps series and the various scary stories of Alvin Schwartz. Growing up he spent an unholy amount of time binge watching horror films and staying up till the early hours of the morning playing games like Resident Evil and Silent Hill. Since then his love for the genre has only increased, expanding to include all manner of subgenres and mediums. He firmly believes in the power of horror to create an imaginative space for exploring our connection to each other and the universe, but he also appreciates the pure entertainment of B movies and splatterpunk fiction.
Nowadays you can find Ben hustling his skills as a freelance writer and editor. When he’s not building his portfolio or spending time with his wife and two kids, he’s immersing himself in his reading and writing. Though he loves horror in all forms, he has a particular penchant for indie authors and publishers. He is a proud supporter of the horror community and spends much of his free time reviewing and promoting the books/comics you need to be reading right now!
Count Dracula has earned his place alongside the most iconic horror monsters, including Frankenstein and the Wolf Man. The 1897 novel by Bram Stoker has left a legacy on the gothic horror genre and beyond, with the depiction of vampires in pop culture transforming over the decades in the same way that Dracula’s victims did upon receiving a bite from the famed blood-sucking monster. But where exactly did the origin of vampires begin? Is Dracula real? Who inspired his taste for human blood? As it turns out, Count Dracula is widely believed to be based on real-life prince Vlad Dracula also known as Vlad the Impaler, who used his royal status as a weapon and lived up to his violent name.
Who was Vlad Dracula aka Vlad the Impaler?
Born in the early 1400’s as Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia (now known as Romania), this ruler had a variety of monikers. The first was Vlad Dracula, which means “Son of Dracul” and was adapted from his nobleman father Vlad II Dracul. And then there’s the universally known Vlad the Impaler, a name derived from his reputation for torture and mutilation of his enemies. But he had quite the journey towards such cruelty, and it all began when he was captured by the Ottoman Empire in 1442.
“The sultan held Vlad and his brother as hostages to ensure that their father, Vlad II, behaved himself in the ongoing war between Turkey and Hungary,” said historian Elizabeth Miller. While the two boys were treated decently, being taught in science and philosophy as their father returned to Wallachia, Vlad III felt reasonable hostility towards his captivity. It came to a head when Vlad Dracula was ousted as ruler of his country and later killed by noblemen. Vlad III made it his mission to reclaim his late father’s seat from Vladislav II, which he did for a mere two months before the latter returned from the Balkans to reclaim his throne.
In the years after, Vlad III switched teams and severed his ties from Ottoman governors to obtain military support from King Ladislaus V of Hungary. After the fall of Constantinople in 1454, he achieved his goals and was named voivode of Wallachia in 1456. That’s when the bloodshed began.
How did Vlad Dracula get his name?
Tales of Vlad III’s lust for blood have been told for centuries. One tells of two Catholic monks that he had impaled to “assist them in their journey to heaven,” before butchering their donkey as well. Another time, diplomatic envoys declined to remove their hats for religious reasons upon a meeting with the voivode, only for Vlad to keep the hats forever on their heads by nailing them to their skulls. Perhaps one of the most famous, however, is the time that Vlad III invited hundreds of unsuspecting and feuding boyars to dinner – before having them stabbed and then impaling their still-twitching bodies. Red Wedding from Game of Thrones vibes, anyone? The most widely-believed reason for the dinner massacre was that the boyars were causing strife and dysfunction amongst the land, and Vlad simply did what he had to do… but we’re more inclined to believe that he just liked the violence and power that came with it.
“I have killed peasants, men and women, old and young, who lived at Oblucitza and Novoselo, where the Danube flows into the sea,” Vlad III wrote to a military ally in the late 1400’s. “We killed 23,884 Turks, without counting those whom we burned in homes or the Turks whose heads were cut by our soldiers.” His body count is believed to be around 80,000 – with 20,000 being impaled and put on display in the city. The violence continued until his death in the 1470’s.
How did Vlad Dracula inspire Dracula?
As you can see, Count Dracula and Vlad Dracula aren’t exactly the same person. The two biggest similarities are likely a surname and sensational taste for blood, but they share other traits as well. The Transylvanian setting, reputation as an outcast, and desire for vengeance are just a few other mutual characteristics between the Romanian prince and the classic horror icon. Was Dracula a real person? Not exactly, but he had a beautifully bloodthirsty real-life inspiration!
I am a lifelong pop culture junkie with immense passion for all forms of art and entertainment. On a typical weekend, I can be found at a concert or musical, chasing ghosts on the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland, or watching way too many makeup tutorials on YouTube.
Myths and Legends of Werewolves have been popular throughout their history, not only as a source of inspiration for writers of fiction but as the fiery spark of terror that haunts the dreams of those who believe–their origin story from Petronius Arbiter’s The Satyricon has been built upon for almost two millennia has resulted in an enthusiastic following in the last century. Within medieval folklore, there are numerous tales of villages in rural areas being ripped apart by werewolves–uncontrollable beasts with blood-lust and an insatiable appetite for human flesh. By day the only evidence of their existence would be dead bodies, bloodied and torn by enormous claws, and a trail of bloody paw prints that marked their presence. As noted by Petronius and a plethora of other writers, this was centralized around the appearance of the full moon. So, while werewolves are considered exciting, dangerously fun, and possibly even a little sexy (thanks toauthors like Charlaine Harris by Patricia Briggs) in today’s horror culture and paranormal fiction, they were vicious and brutal beasts that threatened the lives of villagers in the middle ages.
In the former province of Gévaudan–Lozère and Haute-Loire–in the south of France, the presence of La Bête du Gévaudan terrorized the countryside beginning in 1764 and lasting until 1767. This beast was reported as a massive wolf-like creature–about the size of the cow–that had razor-sharp claws, a mouth that housed giant fangs, and reddish-brown hair. Its head and ears were said to be shaped like a greyhound’s, with a wide chest and a back streaked with black.
In May or June of 1764 was the first known encounter with the beast, where it charged a young woman tending to her cattle in the Mercoire forest in the eastern part of Gévaudan–it is said the bulls in her herd were able to keep it at bay and finally drive it off after two attempts to charge the woman, and she was able to escape with her life. What followed was a continuous onslaught of the region against what was deemed easy prey–women, children, and men who were tending to their livestock alone in secluded pastures. Unusually, it wouldn’t target the legs or throat like a wolf might, instead it went for the head; victims that were left behind partially eaten were often with their heads completely crushed or without one at all. There was such a high volume of attacks that there was suspicion of there being more than one beast, as well as a person training these creatures to do the killings–but as the attacks continued, the supernatural quality of it increased, when it was seemingly unaffected by gunshot wounds inflicted upon it by two hunters in October 1764. Having believed they had mortally wounded the beast, they followed the blood trail to the woods the next day and instead of finding the body of the wolf, they discovered freshly slaughtered victims.
Seeking the large reward that was posted for slaying the beast, soldiers and hunters traveled from far and wide to find the creature, but months passed and it was no closer to being captured or slain. After hearing of a brutal public attack of two young children, Louis XV sent a Norman squire and hunter by the name of Denneval to aid in the hunt of the beast and in February of 1765, this man began tracking it with his six best bloodhounds. He was joined by Jacques Denis, a sixteen-year-old who lost his twenty-year-old sister to the beast and sought vengeance. After hunting it for several months, Jacques was killed and Denneval retired from hunting the beast at all. The Beast continued its rampages, was shot through the eye by another hunter, fell to the ground, seemingly deceased, then rose and went for a final attack, but was met with another barrage of bullets and was at last killed. Upon examination, they determined that this beast was actually a rare wolf that was on the larger end of the reported spectrum.
This tale would seem to be fairly run of the mill in circumstances with a bloodthirsty wolf, except that after a year of peace returning to the community, in the spring of 1767 the beast was reported to have come back to life and start massacring once again. This time, they took no time assembling the largest hunting party yet, comprised of over three hundred men, as well as a man by the name of Jean Chastel; Chastel had heard rumors that the Beast of Gévaudan was actually a werewolf, so he loaded his gun with silver bullets that were blessed by a priest. Turned out that the rumors allowed him to be well-prepared, as after shooting the beast twice in the chest with these silver bullets, it was instantly killed.
During its reign of terror over the countryside of Gévaudan, it was said to kill between sixty and a hundred men, women, and children, while injuring more than thirty.
Livonia and the Hounds of God
In the late 1600s, Thiess of Kaltenbrun a man living in Jurgenburg, Livonia–what is now the Latvia and Lithuania regions–was widely believed by neighbors and peers to be a werewolf who regularly had dealings with the devil. Although it didn’t help his case that he admitted that he was one, especially during a time when an association with the devil meant a death sentence. Either way, the local authorities didn’t seem to care, since Thiess was an eighty-year-old man.
The authorities eventually had to question him on an unrelated matter in 1691, which oddly enough ended in him volunteering information about his being a werewolf. His confession to his lycanthropic lifestyle was quite strange, with no real consistency within–he said that he had stopped participating as a werewolf a decade prior, but that he and his companions would wear magical wolf pelts and turn into wolves to celebrate St. Lucia’s Day, Pentecost, and Midsummer’s Night.
His claim throughout was that werewolves were the agents of God, that they traveled to hell to battle the Devil himself and bring goods stolen by witches back to the people who lost them, but strangely also kill, cook, then eat farm animals. He also claimed that if they failed to keep the witches and demons in Hell that the community would have poor crops for the entire season. To counter the accusations that he was in league with the devil, he instead told the authorities that he and his companions were actually working for God, that they were a group of lycanthropes that were titled the “Hounds of God.” Thiess claimed that this ensured them an ascent to Heaven when they died. Eventually, when it was discovered that Thiess was not a devout Luthern and that he occasionally performed folk magic, the judge ordered Thiess to ten lashings and permanent exile.
The Wolf of Ansbach
In 1685, in what was the town of Neuses, Ansbach–now Germany–there was a wolf terrorizing and killing people; while this was not completely out of the ordinary, this particular instance coincided with the death of the cruel and unpopular chief magistrate, Michale Leicht. The people of the town believed that this wolf was Leicht who had returned from the dead as a werewolf. Once the wolf had been killed, they paraded the streets with its corpse, cut off its muzzle, then dressed in to look like Leicht, even going so far as to put a mask and a wig on it. After the parade concluded, they hung the body in a prominent position in town so that everyone could see that this creature had been killed, but eventually the wolf’s corpse was preserved and put on display at a local museum.
The Werewolf of Allariz
Manuel Blanco Romasanta, born in 1809, was thought to be Spain’s first-ever serial killer; although, there weren’t many stories other than his own to corroborate his being a werewolf. When he was accused of murder, he actually confessed to thirteen of the incidents but claimed he was cursed with Lycanthropy. When asked to display his ability to transform, he stated that he was no longer afflicted; he was eventually acquitted for four deaths, which were killed by actual wolves, but he was found guilty of the rest. Sentenced to death, but then to life in prison after being seen by a French hypnotist who believed that Romansanta was actually just delusional and had a mental illness. He passed away the same year from stomach cancer.
The Werewolf of Bedburg
Perhaps the most notorious werewolf case is that of Peter Stumpp, in Bedburg, Germany 1589; having gained his wealth as a farmer, he was accused of multiple counts of murder, cannibalism, and ultimately a werewolf. At first, thought to be the work of wolves, incidents started with the mutilated bodies of cattle, but were soon followed by townsfolk, but the creatures couldn’t be caught. In 1589, a hunting part cornered the wolf with its hounds, however, when the hunters approached they saw Peter Stumpp instead–what was more damning was that the wolf they had been hunting had had his left forepaw cut off and when they came upon Stumpp he also had his left hand cut off. After a torture-driven confession was made by Stump, he admitted that when he was twelve he had made a pact with the devil and had been given a magical wolf pelt belt which enabled him to turn into a wolf. He confessed that he had murdered and cannibalized fourteen children and two pregnant women, killing his own son, and molesting his own daughter–so Stumpp was fixed to a breaking wheel, had his flesh torn from his body with red-hot pinchers, then his limbs were broken with the blunt side of an ax so he wouldn’t rise from the grave, and he was beheaded. This is a more controversial story, as it was believed by some that he was the victim of a political witch hunt, as the Catholic church had recently seized the area and Stumpp was a Protestant convert.
How Werewolves Became So Popular
These days, it seems like werewolves in the supernatural genre are a dime-a-dozen, so it’s no big surprise that there are too many movies to list here–these are just some of our favorites, but they’re also ones that have contributed greatly to the modern lore that are currently associated to the story of the werewolf. Details change from one story to the next, but the broad picture remains the same.
North Carolina-based author and artist, Mary has been a horror aficionado since the mid-2000s. Originally a hobby artist and writer, she found her niche in the horror industry in late 2019 and hasn’t looked back since. Mary’s evolution into a horror expert allowed her to express herself truly for the first time in her life. Now, she prides herself on indulging in the stuff of nightmares.
Mary also moonlights as a content creator across multiple social media platforms—breaking down horror tropes on YouTube, as well as playing horror games and broadcasting live digital art sessions on Twitch.
The official definition of Lycanthropy? “A delusion that one has become a wolf,” or “the assumption of the form and characteristics of a wolf held to be possible by witchcraft or magic.” Basically, it’s the werewolf that’s become a common fixture in not just horror, but cinema in general. There’s something truly terrifying about this half-man, and half-wolf creature that brings bloodshed wherever it goes. Perhaps it’s the fact that this affliction usually happens to a helpless man – in the wrong place at the wrong time as he’s bitten by a mysterious creature and becomes a monster right before his own eyes. Or the fact that lycanthropy dates back to centuries-old folklore, and many believe that the wolfman isn’t just a symbol of cinema… but a real-life terror that walks among us. Here’s what you need to know about the phenomenon of lycanthropy.
Where did Lycanthropy Originate?
Where does the legend of lycanthropy, or werewolves, originate? It’s complicated. Like many mythical creatures, the werewolf is a widespread concept in European folklore… was a critical part of stories told throughout the Medieval Period. However, the witch hunt (literally) for werewolves began during the Late Middle Ages and the Early Modern period alongside the witchcraft trials. According to Wikipedia, “the trial of supposed werewolves emerged in what is now Switzerland in the early 15th century and spread throughout Europe in the 16th, peaking in the 17th and subsiding by the 18th century.”
Being accused of witchcraft is one thing, but accusations of lycanthropy were quite literally a whole other beast. While many believed that you could become a werewolf by being bitten by one, others believed that lyncathropy took place by sleeping under the full moon or eating the wrong type of meat. In her book “Giants, Monsters, and Dragons,” folklorist Carol Rose notes that “In ancient Greece it was believed that a person could be transformed by eating the meat of a wolf that had been mixed with that of a human and that the condition was irreversible.” Yikes.
Accusations of Lycanthropy
While the accusations are featured in less textbooks and movies than those of witchcraft, they were very much alive for centuries. One of the best known cases is that of Peter Stumpp, who was accused of werewolfery, witchcraft, and cannibalism in the 16th century. Known as “the Werewolf of Bedburg,” he had a violent and brutal history of torture, murder, and eating everything from goats and lambs to human children. After a grotesque execution where he had flesh torn from his body, limbs broken in multiple places, and was beheaded before being burned… his lyncathropy story became one of the most famous in history.
That being said, Peter Stumpp was a special case. And like the Salem Witch Trials, it’s safe to say that most accused of lycanthropy were not actually werewolves. Or were they? Many genuinely believed that werewolves walked among us centuries ago… and they remain a common presence in the gothic fiction and horror genres. We all love a good werewolf movie, but it becomes a bit darker after learning the fascinating history of lycanthropy.
I am a lifelong pop culture junkie with immense passion for all forms of art and entertainment. On a typical weekend, I can be found at a concert or musical, chasing ghosts on the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland, or watching way too many makeup tutorials on YouTube.
There’s something tantalising about an Urban Legend. They crop up wherever people gather, offering insight into that culture’s fears and beliefs. They spread across regions and across generations, twisting and evolving. Centuries ago, they might have all been considered real, with no way of proving otherwise. Decades ago, they would have been told over campfires, with flashlights dramatically clutched beneath chins and shared imaginations conjuring demons in the darkness. Today, the internet has given humanity its largest canvas yet to paint whatever terrors our collective minds can conjure.
Connecting up the planet has allowed for ideas to spread further and faster than ever before. It has allowed for a mingling of cultures and concepts, and even caused global phenomenon. In 2016, for example, the world was awash with ‘killer clowns’. Appearing after midnight, individuals dressed as clowns began to appear in any country that sold clown costumes. Sometimes they clutched helium balloons, sometimes they wore masks or full face-paint, sometimes they would even chase passersby. Each new clown helped inspire the next, like some deranged circus-oriented virus. One moment it was some creepy video on our phones, the next we were getting alerts from the local neighbourhood groups of nearby sightings. Then began the counter movement – people who were so agitated by these Pennywise-wannabes that gangs of grown men would patrol the streets, looking for clowns to beat up. Even governments began to warn its citizens of the dangers, with Russian and Fiji authorities both issuing guidance about the so-called ‘Killer Clowns’.
The sceptic in me still thinks the whole endeavour was some sly marketing plot – IT Chapter One was in production at the time and released the following year, but it seems it was just a completely random viral moment. A photograph from 2014 seems to have been the culprit, showing just how explosive and unpredictable the internet can be. A two year old photo from the United Kingdom, gaining traction in America, then spreading across the planet.
I’m no stranger to American influence on my horror tastes, or the internet for that matter. Growing up in nineties Britain, there was a vast smorgasbord of terrors from across the pond, and just as I was blossoming into my teens, urban legends and creepypastas were finding their way online. Quicker than you can say ‘Candyman’ into a mirror, me and my friends were hooked. We’d share the worst offenders, stories that only exist as intangible shapes in my memory now – serial killers hiding under cars, a hand being licked by a dog-killer, goatmen infiltrating a group of teenage campers. But in my early twenties, something happened to morph this shared interest into an obsession.
The Urban Legend of Slenderman
If there’s a greater poster child for the era of internet urban legends and ‘fakelore’, I’ve yet to hear about it. Most fascinating of all, we can trace his entire origin. Each shift in his evolution, every strand of his existence; logged and recorded for all to see. Demonstrably false. And yet somehow, he gripped the world in his elongated fingers. Such was the power of the Slenderman (or Slender Man) myth, two twelve year old girls were prepared to kill their friend, stabbing her nineteen times and leaving her for dead. Mercifully, she survived, and the two girls received 25 and 40 years sentences in psychiatric institutes.
But what is it about this digital boogeyman that captured the global consciousness so intensely? What can he teach us about horror, and our innermost fears? Unlike his more mysterious ancestors – Bigfoot, Chupacabra, Skinwalkers or the Loch Ness Monster – we know exactly where he started. With his entire lifespan so well documented, he is the perfect sample to dissect.
Let’s start at the beginning, and at the obvious. From the outset, the Slenderman mythos was designed to be a contagious paranormal concept. On the ‘Something Awful’ forum, Slenderman was part of a contest to create paranormal images. Eric Knudsen made two such images of a tall, mysterious figure surrounded by children, and accompanied by text that read like an archival document. One image showed a blurry faced man with hands outstretched, dressed in a black suit. The other showed a shadowy silhouette of a tall figure, tentacles flitting out and extending towards the children gathered around him.
The black and white format and accompanying text made these images feel as though they were cut out of an old library book, and gave the images an authentic, yester-year feel. The two figures, although slightly different, both played around with ancient fears that are embedded in our human psyche. We are afraid of the uncanny. We like to spot patterns and label things. If something is large, hairy, hunched on all fours, we can think of it as some sort of animal, or even a monster. The label gives us some small comfort. Although witnessing Cthulhu with your own eyes may drive you insane with incomprehension, seeing a painted or rendered image of him isn’t nearly so unsettling. No more so than say, Godzilla, or King Kong. For most, the Ancient One fits neatly into the label of ‘really f**king big monster’. But I personally think there are few labels that leave humans more unsettled than ‘almost human’.
Faceless. Unnaturally tall with elongated limbs. Wearing clothes. Somehow, I feel as though it was the third element that truly sent shivers down the forum’s collective spine. We have always been scared of faceless things, and that’s no surprise – so much of our communication is delivered by facial features. Without eyes or a mouth, we cannot read a thing’s intent, empathise with it, or even know if it has seen us. Likewise, we have always been scared of things that are larger than us, or things that possess unpredictable (potentially dangerous) appendages. These are primal fears, seared deep into our subconscious from the time when such fears helped our ancestors survive. But something tells me those same ancestors would not be scared by suits and ties. That is a new fear; one of control, greed and ruthlessness. Whether we recognise it or not, we fear the suited man. He represents a sterile, uncaring world. Finally, there was a fourth, implied element; possibly the most natural and powerful fear we have. Slenderman was targeting children.
Perhaps it was this fusion of fears – old and new, natural and artificial – that so potently enraptured the forum. Suggestions and contributions came quickly, with new images and new opinions taking the partially completed form and solidifying it. Within a thread of forum posts, Slenderman was born, and moulded by committee.
He was ancient. His motives were unclear, but many believed he abducted children and deaths wouldn’t be far behind. He was around eight foot tall, and his skin was pale. His tentacles were downplayed by some, enhanced by others. He was often seen around wooded areas, and in the darkness would be difficult to distinguish from swaying branches or thin, pale tree trunks. Part of his appeal was the lack of ownership. He belonged to the internet. The community could cherry pick their favourite and most unsettling aspects, with the creepiest surviving and becoming lore.
Perhaps it is this aspect of Slenderman that made him so contagious in those early days. A brand new boogeyman; adjustable to each person’s individual nightmares. What did he want? You decide. What happened if he ‘got you’? You decide. How did he eat, or see? Where did he come from? What WAS he? You decide.
For me, I didn’t like the way he almost seemed to be pretending to be human. As if he was a spider, but in a vaguely human shape. I never found the tentacles creepy. Slenderman was at his most sinister just standing there, in the distance, watching. His true power was our own imagination. He left an intriguing blank that our minds were all too willing to fill. It was a collective story the internet was telling in a way most of us had never seen before. There was always another image finding its way online, a new fan-made creation. The lame ones were ignored. The good ones made your skin crawl. But at the peak of my own fascination with the character, along came something that took slenderman to a whole other level. Marble Hornets.
Low budget. Blair Witch-esque. Episodic. I’m not sure which of us found it first, but my entire friend group became obsessed. By the time we stumbled across it, there were only a handful of episodes, but it was precisely this feeling of finding something new and ongoing that really sucked us all in. As well as the videos themselves, the creators would also upload messages, images, and even other in-world youtube channels that would lead to all sorts of speculation and theories amongst our circle. The video series revolved around found-footage that someone had discovered in a chaotic jumbled order but might hold the key to finding an old friend. Prior to disappearing, this friend (Alex) had been shooting a student film called ‘Marble Hornets’, but had shut down filming after apparently suffering some sort of nervous episode. Several clips within this bundle of footage were strange and intriguing; both the paranoia displayed by Alex and the silent, handheld glimpses at Slenderman himself.
Whilst these were always goosepimple-inducingly creepy, what really left an impression on me was the fact that there were new and intriguing aspects on display. Effects I’d never seen attributed to Slenderman. Audio distortion. Visual tearing. As we slowly pieced together a larger picture from sporadic video clips, it was clear that there were rules here. We just didn’t know them. Whilst I watched, we never truly learned them. They were always consistent, but it was left to the viewer to discover what the rules were, and most significantly, what they meant.
Whenever Slenderman was sighted, a visual tear in the lower part of the screen always came first. Was he causing it, and was it on purpose, or just a passive effect? Whenever Slenderman was on screen, the audio was always removed. Had Alex done this, was this another ability of Slenderman, or had someone else removed it? Alex was always filming himself. Was this to protect himself? To act as an early warning system when Slenderman was near?
These questions that came to mind made the story and the mythos akin to a puzzle. The audience was no longer a mere observer, they were made to feel like a participant. There were forums and fandoms set up to solve the mysteries, figure out the secret rules and even communicate with the ‘characters’. I talked earlier about campfire stories. This can often feel like a part of humanity that has been lost – we’re more connected than ever, yet most of us can feel alone and isolated. I think these types of shared storytellings, much like roleplaying tabletop games, appeal to outsiders and introverts because it gives us back that campfire feel. It gives us all some part to play. And when it comes to horror, what could be scarier than inserting yourself into the story?
Ever since those early days, the Slenderman mythos and the experiences I had on that journey have inspired my own horror writing. Any boogeymen or strange objects I can conjure up must follow a set of rules, even if the protagonist and the audience do not know them at first. Once the rules are known, it doesn’t make the horror any less scary. Look at ‘It Follows’ or ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’. If anything, having the threat be consistent and tangible makes it feel more real. Too many horror films rely on characters making bad decisions, with ‘Scream’ even going as far to riff on that trope. But watching characters do things that make sense given everything you know – doing the exact thing that you would do – and still having it fail? That’s terror.
A mix of natural and unnatural. A combination of the recognisable and the uncanny. Vague motivations mixed with rules of engagement. I think it is precisely these contrasts that made Slenderman such a fascinating concept. He allowed the audience to insert themselves into his stories, yet wasn’t so vague as to be all things to all people. During a time where a lot of horror relied on shock, jumpscares and gore, here was a silent figure who just… watched. And got closer. And closer. And closer.
Drive anywhere you want. He’d still be there.
Tell your friends or the police. They wouldn’t believe you.
Flee. Fight. Negotiate. Surrender. None of it will matter.
Your only choice? What you believed he’d do when he finally reached you. Towering above you. Limbs slowly raising. Close enough to touch…
Ryan Hunt was born in the gutter and raised by wolves. A freak accident involving harps helped him discover a love for music and danger. He is a certified rascal and is often suspected of telling fibs on his author bios.
His billions of adoring fans have eventually deduced his true identity – an Engineer from Derbyshire, England. When he’s not openly lying to the general public, he can be found with a pint in his hand, and his Border Collie, Pepper, at his side.
His love of horror, science-fiction and fantasy have swirled together into the world of Floor Fifty-Four; an underground government facility that locks away paranormal artifacts too strange and too dangerous to allow roaming freely in our world. His first book, ‘Tales from Floor Fifty-Four’ is available now.
Tritone’s love of horror and mystery began at a young age. Growing up in the 80’s he got to see some of the greatest horror movies play out in the best of venues, the drive-in theater. That’s when his obsession with the genre really began—but it wasn’t just the movies, it was the games, the books, the comics, and the lore behind it all that really ignited his obsession. Tritone is a published author and continues to write and write about horror whenever possible.
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