I’ve always thought creepypasta was a great word.
For those uninitiated, creepypastas are horror-related legends or images that have been copied and pasted around the Internet, most often focusing on supernatural horror (although serial killers, suicide, and other non-supernatural types of horror are also covered).
For this Halloween season, I want to talk about a few notable recent creepypastas to whet your appetite: SyFy’s remarkable and under-the-radar Channel Zero series, and the recent novelization of Slender Man.
If there’s any creepypasta you’ve heard of, it’s probably Slender Man–the internet boogeyman that started as a photoshop submission and became subject of a myriad different written and visual fictions, including a pretty effective webseries, video games, and, eventually after years of copyright struggles, a major motion picture. (A really, really terrible one.) There’s also infamous near-fatal stabbing in 2014, when two twelve-year-old girls attempted to sacrifice their friend in order to summon Slender Man (and the subsequent news frenzy, HBO documentary, and even a new questionable taste fictionalization). Slender Man–also known as the Operator, the Tall Man, amongst many other aliases–is depicted as a spindly-limbed, tentacled, suit-wearing figure, usually abducting and traumatizing his victims (often children). Depending on the story, film, or game, Slender Man’s abilities and affections change–his motives, however, always remain somewhat vague. In the true vein of great urban legends, the fear Slender Man causes is for no reason other than fear itself.
In the new eponymous novelization, this maxim holds true: Slender Man is an epistolary book, told in the form of journal entries, text messages, a bit of creative writing, spot-on reddit posts, and newspaper clippings. The story is fairly simple: Matt, a high school teenager in New York City’s cushy Upper West Side lives a privileged life and hides his friendship with popular girl Lauren (who happens to be into the creepypasta, internet horror meme thing). Their parents are tight, so it’s like, whatever–though clearly the friendship is important to Matt. So much so, that Lauren’s the only person Matt shows his creative short fiction–the beginning of a fantasy novel about an aging warrior who chooses to risk his own life to save a young woman from the village, who has been abducted by a dark, spindly figure in the woods. And then Lauren walks out of her parents’ apartment in the middle of the night, and disappears.
As the investigation turns up fruitless leads, Matt fears desperately for his friend and then weird shit starts to happen. There are the figures he captures in Lauren’s photos. The starlings that start throwing themselves at his balcony window. The night terrors that keep getting stronger, and the word docs that show up on his laptop from origins unknown. Matt doesn’t want to believe that he’s conjured the impossible, somehow–but it’s the only explanation, and the only way he can hope to save his friend.
So far as novelizations go, Slender Man is pretty effective, if 3-4 years too late to truly capitalize on the Slender Man wave (let’s face it: this particular bogeyman is long dead). Putting that aside, though, Slender Man accomplishes what the film adaptations miserably fail to do–the novel is self aware and, thankfully, not tone-deaf. The fact that it’s anonymously penned with no author credited on the book, lending to a found footage type of sensibility, works to the book’s credit. It reads like a collection of internet clippings, down to the trollish, if entertaining, reddit comments. Personally, I’ve never found Slender Man particularly scary and to that end, the weakest parts of the novel are where they try to describe the horror of this particular bogeyman explicitly–be it in Matt’s 3am ramblings (which would have been much more effective, Marble Hornets-style, had this been a trans-media endeavor), or in his descriptions of the darkness when he confronts the monster. Despite its shortcomings, Slender Man does its job and delivers a self-contained longform meta kind of creepypasta. If you’re curious about this particular legend and don’t know where to start, here’s as good a place as any.
But Slender Man is just one of a veritable cornucopia of creepypastas (and in my opinion, one of the least scary)–enter SyFy’s Channel Zero.
There are 4 seasons to the show; each full season focused on a single creepypasta, but embellished and extended to glorious extremes in 6 episodes. That’s the other thing I love about Channel Zero, in contrast to the other anthology horror television show on the air right now, American Horror Story: Channel Zero is much more restrained and self-contained, yet still managed to truly push the boundaries of what horror is and what it can be in 6 hour-long episodes. While American Horror Story is gaudy and histrionic a, Channel Zero is an exercise in creeping, building terror. While AHS is exhausting in its 15+ episode seasons, CZ takes an important lesson from the best horror short fictions: it knows when to end, and how to end.
I’ve only watched 3 of the 4 seasons, but I’ve loved them all in very different ways.
The subject of season 1 is “Candle Cove” by Kris Straub. The original (very) short fic is told in forum entries by nostalgic adults trying to find others who remember a childhood television show. (So far as creepypastas go, “Candle Cove” actually nails a bunch of short horror tropes, including a Twilight Zone-style twist at the end.) The television show invents an entirely new backstory for the short story: Candle Cove was a television show that aired for a single season over twenty years prior, during which time a rash of child murders took place in a small town. Now, child psychologist Mike Painter returns home to find that the show is back again–and so is the violence. The inaugural season of Channel Zero, directed by introduces some disturbing (really disturbing) imagery and gorgeously unsettling storytelling. While “Candle Cove” stumbles along the way, losing its narrative thread and picking a few too many detours in terms of its villains (both supernatural and ordinary), you can’t help but want to keep watching. This first season isn’t entirely successful, but it tries something new and isn’t afraid to fail. (Not to mention it’s fun seeing Mark “Brandanoquits” from Parks and Rec in a horror role.)
Season 4, just completed today, is based on Charlotte Miller’s “I Found A Hidden Door In My Cellar, And I Think I’ve Made A Big Mistake”–more commonly known by its short name and the name of the season, “Dream Door.” In this season, a newlywed couple moves into the husband’s childhood home–and as they’ve known each other and the house for over twenty years, they’re both shocked when a door mysteriously appears in the basement wall. This isn’t just any door and the secret of its existence, of what lies behind it, lies with wife Jillian and Pretzel Jack–an imaginary friend she had back when she was a child. This season delves into the secrets we keep from ourselves and our loved ones, and the manifestation of those secrets, anxieties, and frustrations–especially when the rest of the world doesn’t take that distress seriously, or tries to dismiss it as hysterics. Jillian’s feelings of betrayal, anger, of not being listened to are palpable things that manifest in powerful, uncontrollable violence. This season is really, really good at capturing the rage, fear, and consequences of being dismissed, lied to, and hurt, and its monster is both unconventional and unexpected.
But my favorite season of Channel Zero (at least so far) is “No-End House” based on the creepypasta of the same name by Brian Russell. A young woman named Margot has taken a year off following the accidental death of her father, with whom she was very close. When her best friend Jules returns from college and convinces Margot to go out for a night on the town, she reluctantly agrees. The night takes a turn when the group decides to find and enter the No-End House–a traveling haunted house, with just 6 rooms, each scarier than the last. Rumor has it that most people don’t get past 2 rooms, and those who have made it as far as 6 have never been heard from again. Margot and Jules go the distance… And pay the ultimate price.
No-End House takes the concept of a traveling haunted house and personalizes every interaction based on each visitor, luring them deeper (while each room until the sixth has a clearly marked emergency exit–which makes it even scarier because every single decision made to go deeper is of the girls’ free will). This particular season is my personal favorite because of its core concept–I won’t spoil it, but the concept of the sixth room and the “cannibals” each entrant is warned of before the first room are brilliant and macabre and holy crap scary–but also because of its focus on characters and relationships. In particular, the painful relationship between Margot grappling with her father’s death, and the strained friendship between Margot and Jules as they struggle to understand, support, and save each other are powerful thematic cores to this season. Oh, also, it’s unsettling as hell.
There’s one more season of Channel Zero that I have yet to devour–but I hear “Butcher’s Block” is every bit as powerful as it’s companion arcs.
Have a creepypasta on us
We’re offering up a copy of Slender Man for a lucky reader. The giveaway is open to all addresses in the United States, and will run until Sunday November 11 at 12:01am. To enter leave a comment below letting us know your favorite creepypasta or central horror boogeyman-type figure.