Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Is This The Future of Online Horror?

by Nickolas Cook

Recently, I spent some time online doing some research for a book I'm writing. Now, I don't know how many of you guys have ever spent a good deal of time online doing any kind of research for anything--my guess is, these days, most everybody has to spend at least some time online researching just about anything we do in our lives. It is, after all, where the most amount of information can be found in the quickest possible manner.

One of the things I have been researching for this particular novel is the way horror fiction has begun to appear online. With books, we have the printed page and our imagination is the driving force behind how the scares reach us. An author can spend hours of his/her life writing a particular scene just the way they see it in their head, but it really comes down to two things: How well did the author make his/her scene come alive through words? And how receptive was the reader to that description? With film, of course, it's a bit different. The filmmaker has more than just a story to worry about; there's the actual imagery that has to work with the story to scare the viewer.

So what happens when you have a medium which allows you to do both of those things? What can a master of horror do with a medium that allows you to write your story and gives you the means to place your imagery within the narrative to help tell that story?

I said 'master of horror' above, but let me go back to what we've come to think of as a 'master of horror'. Well, in most cases, it's been who has the ability to get their books published and in the most bookstores, for the most readers to buy and share the experience, or the person who gets their movies made and on the big screen for the most people to see and share that experience. In days past, it's been the likes of Stephen King, Dean Koontz and other bestselling writers of dark fiction who have been considered 'masters of horror' in the printed word. And in in film, it's been the masters like John Carpenter and Wes Craven who have been able to scare millions of new and old horror fans with their particular horrific visions. But I submit to you that things have changed. And they are continuing to change ever more rapidly with each new wave of people interested in bringing their particular dark visions to a mass audience. Because these days people who really want to scare the be-jesus out of millions of people don't necessarily have to rely on getting their books published via the old standard means of NYC Publisher Row companies (which for the past twenty years or more have come to resemble more closely your heartless, soulless corporate-minded KMARTS and WALMARTS than what we used to think of as book publishers, who seemed to care about their authors and their product over the bottom line) and they don't have to depend upon getting their horror films made and distributed via the normal big studios (which, again, have come to resemble those same heartless, soulless corporations...and apparently dull as well).

The internet has allowed thousands of writers and filmmakers to get their books and movies online for little to no cost, as compared to the thousands or millions of dollars usually involved in the past in getting anything into the world for others to read or watch.

Now, I know there are literally thousands or examples of such online for me to point out to you guys, but I'm going to highlight the ones which I have recently come across that actually scared me, creeped me out and even leeft me with some nasty goddamned nightmares.

No, seriously. No joke.

These three items below actually scared me. And I actually had nightmares about the goddamned "Slender Man" after watching the 60 part movie on YouTube.

The first thing I ran across during my researches online was a little website called CREEPYPASTA WIKIA , a site for all intents and purposes seems to be created to do one thing and that's creep you out. There are several different sections to peruse on CREEPYPASTA WIKIA, such as creepy pictures, creepy stories and so on. It's the combination of the two--the stories and the pictures--in which the creep factor becomes almost unbearable. And let me reiterate this: THESE ARE ALL WRITTEN, POSTED AND MAINTAINED BY NORMAL FOLKS WHO JUST WANT TO SCARE EACH OTHER. That is so exciting in terms of how the horror genre is changing because it's become much more organic than it was before when it was being controlled and dessiminated by people with money and the means to do so. Now anyone can do so. CREEPYPASTA WIKIA has a whole list of guidelines by which anyone can submit their own creepy pics and/or stories--most of which really are more like an organic, multi-authored, meme-faux urban legend project that keeps growing as more and more people add their own little dark slants of creativity to the website. But some of you might still be confused by the site's name and ultimate function. So just what exactly is "Creepypasta"? A "Creepypasta" is a short story, posted on the internet, that's designed to unnerve and shock the reader. Apparently their goal is "to have a fairly well stocked library of creepypasta, including very obscure and rarely posted, to original content". And they definitely did "unnerve and shock" this new reader. In fact, here's a video which I first found on the site, which can also be found on YouTube, that disturbed right off the bat. THE GRIFTER

(the original version)

And, by the way...don't underestimate the scare-factor of the infamous "smile dog jpeg".

But, let's move on, shall we?

By reading through the various creepy items on the above site, I ran across another site that really gave me a shiver. It was a strange site, with a very misleading name, "normalpornfornormalpeople" , which has a buline in its logo that reads as the following: "A Website Dedicated To the Eradication of Abnormal Sexuality".

Now, given that byline and the title, one would think this might be some sort of softcore or "normal" porn site for those who don't like their dirty porn quite so dirty. But that's where you're wrong. Because from what I can gleen from the information I was able to find about this website--which has now been shut down for an indefinite period and by some nebulous agency that may or may not have been for real--this site catered to the darkest and weirdest videos I've ever heard of. There was some porn, apparently, but not very much and it was mostly the run-of-the-mill kind of stuff that you can find on just about any online porn site.

The videos I found descriptions of by people who claimed to have been to the site before it was shut down included such things as women who were tied to chairs and being yelled at by off camera people, who may or may not have een physically abusing them off camera as well. One video supposedly included closed-circuit camera footage of a washing machine repairman working on a broken machine; when he has finished with his job, he packs his tools and leaves the scene; shortly, a man appears on camera who is apparently the machine's owner, who then spends the remaining seven minutes of the short film LICKING THE WASHING MACHINE where the repairman has touched it. Another film that people claimed was on this site was of a woman being made to dance until she sobs and breaks down. But the one that probably got the site closed down--if any of this is actually even real, by the way--was the supposed film of a tied down woman who is berated off camera and then is attacked by a SHAVED CHIMP THAT FINALLY RIPS PIECES OF THE WOMAN'S FLESH OFF AND EATS IT!

Now, is any of this for real? Did this site actually exist? Or is this some sort of online urban legend?

During my researches online, I was able to find several people who claimed to have seen some of the videos and even claimed to have downloaded them to their personal harddrives. There were a few people who also claimed to have tried to upload these found films to other websites, only to have them deleted by an unknown agency. And this happened no matter where or when they attempted to do so. this for real? Who knows? I do know the idea that it might be scares the hell out of me. I actually found a channel on YouTube that actually has tons of the videos which were purported to have been included on the site. It is under the name "shirtfag's channel", otherwise known as "creepytube":

The last online future of horror I 'discovered' actually came from a fellow horror author and friend, GARY MCMAHON who pointed me towards it. The name of the movie is MARBLE HORNETS, which is the working title of a supposed student film being made by a college film student named ALEX. Alex has apparently become the target of a supernatural entity called "The Slender Man", who keeps appearing in the background of the film as it's being shot. It soon becomes obvious that this terrifying entity has attached itself to Alex and over the course of the film's shooting gets closer and closer to Alex, until...

Well, I think it would be best if you watch the 60 parts (as of 3 days ago, the genuis filmmakers have that many snippet parts uploaded to YouTube) for yourself to see what happens to Alex, and eventually the unnamed person who is uploading these snippets instead of Alex, who has apparently moved away and hasn't been seen for years.

This is the MARBLE HORNETS CHANNEL on YouTube. Do yourself a favor and do not watch this at night, alone. It will seriously freak you out and I can almost guarantee you'll think that "The Slender Man" is watching you from the shadows.

(Here's the first installment to begin your MARBLE HORNETS adventure...)

Enjoy the nightmares, folks...

The cool thing about this whole project, which has been finding more and more fans with every new snippet post on YouTube is that the filmmakers seem to have created what is possible the first ever internet urban legend monster. Their creation "The Slender Man" seems to be a monster that keeps finding itself in other people's projects and even in their nightmares, as well. That is an extraordinary thing, when you think about it. Because we all know deep down that the entity is really a tall man in a suit, whose face is generally always in shadow or smeared by various in-camera techniques. And yet...the damned thing is terrifying. And perhaps it's because we never really know this is a man in a suit, and maybe a small part of us wants to believe this might just be a supernatural evil entity in funereal garb, who haunts the shadows and the darkest parts of the woods.

For someone like me who has spent years learning to write horror with any amount of craft, this is tremendously exciting to see. It means that there are still things that scare our post-modern, uber-materialistic, techno-phile society. A tall man, in a dark suit, that never speaks, and even though we never see him doing anything evil, we know he is exactly that: evil. "The Slender Man" Mythos has grown to include his own wiki page, which seems to have even more background than the young filmmakers have been able to slip into their film, several fan run websites with thousands of members, and an online following for the MARBLE HORNETS film that is almost impossible to least until you watch the various installments. Once you see them, you can easily understand why so many people are making such a big deal out of this little homemade YouTube horror sensation.

There's even a very good documentary about the mythical horror known as "The Slender Man". Actually, there's more than one. Check online for others.

It seems this may be the entity which also appeared in the classic 2000 debut horror novel, THE HOUSE OF LEAVES by cult writer Mark Z. Danielewski--which was also another highpoint in what the power of the internet can do for the genre and I can guarantee you've never read a book like it in your life. Much of the narrative was an ongoing internet project that grew organically over a period of years, until it was eventually "finished" enough to publish.

But the "Slender Man" is only one a small component of the tangled and complex narrative, and possibly not one that will be completely recognizable to everyone who reads the book. I could go on about the "Slender Man" phenomena, but I'll stop there and let you guys find more on your own.

But don't forget to watch the "response videos" from the mysterious person known only as "totheark" (here is the channel with all of the videos uploaded so far by this person: totheark --many of them have been layered with visual and/or audio messages and clues that have to be extracted from the messages using simple to sophisticated video and audio programs to do so. Most of the them have been deciphered by other helpful, and more tech savvy fans, so there won't be any problems finding out what the videos have hidden within them.

Again, this is well worth your time. Hell, it's almost addictive watching all the tangential stuff involved with this new mythos.

So, there are three items that I think represent the future of horror as an online power with whcih to be reckoned. I think in the next few years, we're going to see more and more of these online ventures that continued to grow organically and maybe even take over where the big budget Hollywood studios have dropped the ball. Because, honestly, I cannot think of a film since 1999's "The Blair Witch Project" that has scared me so much as the above examples.

--Nickolas Cook