DARK WEB: Steven Hickey’s ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO CREEPYPASTA: A NEW BEGINNING
– By Steven Hickey
For as long as mankind has communicated with one another, we have told frightening tales of the macabre that act as warnings. From the monsters of ancient mythology to cautionary urban legends, people have always been drawn to spreading stories of a darker nature. They serve a purpose — giving a face to a fear or very real danger that we all face, and encouraging those with whom we share the stories to give those threats due care and attention.
Worried about the local children drowning in the river that runs through your village? Keep them away from its banks by inventing tales of some terrible, malevolent beast that lives beneath the surface of the water and will gobble them up should they stray too close.
Concerned about the chance that your youngsters could fall afoul of the many life-altering risks of having sex too young? Spread stories of a hook-handed maniac who loves to slaughter teens that canoodle in parked cars to scare them celibate.
The internet age has revolutionised the world of communication in ways that are almost immeasurable – and that includes the telling of horror stories.
For the past year, over at the now sadly defunct UK Horror Scene, I have been taking a look at the extremely popular modern digital storytelling trend of Creepypasta.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, banish thoughts of spooky spaghetti or frightening fettuccine — Creepypasta is directly descended from the phrase ‘Copypasta’.
Copypasta is an online slang term that originated among users of the imageboard website, 4chan. The phrase was coined to describe a block of text or image that is spread throughout the internet via users who copy and paste (get it, copy + paster = Copypasta) on web forums and sites such as the aforementioned 4chan and reddit. In the case of Creepypasta, it is disturbing or frightening content spread in such a manner.
The term has been in use for some time now (since the mid-late Noughties) and this web-based horror genre has built a huge online presence.
While earlier examples simply took old-fashioned urban legends that had been doing the rounds via word of mouth or written articles for some time and just retold them via email (for example, the popular myth debunking site snopes.com tells of the oft-recited ‘gang high-beam initiation ritual’ tale being circulated via email as early as the late Nineties), it didn’t take long for the web to birth its own horrors.
From emails concerning a whole host of terrible fates that could befall unwary web users (one famous hoax involves a serial killer with 56 victims to his name who finds his victims over the internet), the stories developed and became less about tricking readers and more about scaring a willing audience — one that is both prepared and able to suspend disbelief and accept one another’s tales of the macabre no matter how far-fetched they may be.
Stories are now told and disseminated through sites dedicated to such fiction, such as creepypasta.com and the thriving nosleep subreddit, by writers who have genuine skill in crafting and structuring short stories, and some have attracted huge followings.
Arguably the biggest of these is the now infamous Slender Man mythos, which sprung up after some skillfully photoshopped black-and-white images by ‘Victor Surge’ (real name Eric Knudsen) were posted in the forum pages of website Something Awful during 2009.
Since then the mysterious, tall, thin, faceless, besuited entity has inspired films, stories and a whole series of videogames, and it has become a legitimate cultural phenomenon. There’s a successful web series, Marble Hornets, that borrows elements of the Slender legend, while a larger collection of seemingly disparate stories that link to Slendie (as fans have affectionately come to know the character) has been born and spread under the name The Fear Mythos.
The character has since spawned fan-made siblings, including Lady Melody, the cheerfully fabulous SplendorMan, the sartorially refined Trenderman and the, ahem, ‘more adult’ Sexual Offender Man. The story of Slender Man has also advanced and evolved to include a number of human ‘proxies’ in his thrall, and the growing number of original characters produced by Creepypasta fans to fulfil this role is positively booming on creative sites such as DeviantArt.
Tragically, an obsession with the Slender Man mythos was even implicated as playing a part in an attempted murder in Waukesha, Wisconsin on 31 May, 2014, when two 12-year-old girls, Anissa Weier and Morgan Geyser, stabbed a classmate, Payton Leutner, from Horning Middle School of the same age. Thankfully the young lady survived this brutal and reprehensible attack.
When questioned, Weier and Geyser stated that they believed Slender Man was real and, after finding a page devoted to Victor Surge’s creation over at the Creepypasta wiki, had intended to kill Leutner to appease the fictional being. The two suspects claimed that they had planned to sacrifice their classmate to Slender Man to prove their loyalty, which would allow them to become his proxies and prevent him from harming their families.
Needless to say, the resulting media furore over this deeply disturbing event only brought even more attention to one of the internet’s most enduring myths.
The whole story went on to become a smash hit HBO documentary, entitled Beware The Slenderman, which aired in January 2017.
However, Slender Man is not the only Creepypasta creation to make a significant cultural impact. The character of Jeff the Killer, originally a disturbing image spread on multiple shock sites, is hugely popular with pasta fans.
Rumours persist that the image of Jeff may have been spawned by a real-life tragedy, as some web users have insisted that it was formed from a doctored image of a girl named Katy Robinson who killed herself after being teased by online trolls. An individual claiming to be the creator of Jeff has vehemently denied this allegation, but still the rumours persist.
Whatever the source of the image, Jeff has spawned a number of origin stories, and even spin-offs involving an equally striking nemesis, Jane the Killer.
Jeff has since spawned a whole new sub-genre of Creepypasta, as creative writers and artists strive to create their own iconic characters. Key examples include the demonic clown Laughing Jack, sweet but murderous ghost Sally, and the vicious possessive spirit known as Jason the Toymaker.
Other tales focus on monstrous beasts and creatures that stalk the dark places outside the borders of civilised settlements. The pale whispering nocturnal entity known as the Rake is a firm favourite with Creepypasta aficonados, while others write stories featuring the nightmarish B.O.B.
Many of these beasts prey on the young, and the effectiveness of such stories is all too apparent. As the vast majority of the readers of Creepypastas are high school aged teens, tales of monsters that prey on children strike close to home, acting as a startling analogy for the very real predators among us who pose a threat to youths. However, that’s not to say that all of these stories focus on supernatural dangers. Some of the very best (and most disturbing) Pastas feature unspeakable human antagonists. Short stories such as 1999, Where Bad Kids Go and PENPAL are perhaps most disturbing because of their believability — they don’t terrify because they boggle mind, but because they reflect the most terrible stories we see on the news or read in papers every single day.
Yet it is not just the threat to children that forms the basis for the most popular Creepypastas — there is a strong trend of stories that subvert the innocence of childhood.
This is a common theme in Western horror (one need only look at the hundreds of thousands of horror films that boast creepy dolls, spooky nursery rhymes and other chilling childhood artefacts to provide strong scares), and the various ways that this device can rear its head in Creepypastas includes stories of lost and disturbing episodes of popular children’s TV programmes, whether real, such as the stories of Squidward’s Suicide, Dead Bart or Suicide Mouse, or fictional such as Happy Appy or the stellar Candle Cove.
An equally prominent trend in creepypasta to cast a terrifying shadow over fond childhood memories is that of the video game story. Examples of this perhaps over-used trope include tales of Lavender Hill Syndrome, which describes how a level in Gameboy classic Pokemon has been linked with psychological problems, to more outlandish stories of haunted or possessed games cartridges. These latter stories include the creatively astonishing NES Godzilla story, with its hundreds of carefully created ‘screenshots’ or the deeply unsettling Ben Drowned, which even provided gameplay videos as evidence as to its authenticity.
It is this creativity and craftmanship that converted me from an individual who was merely interested in what I originally perceived as odd and quirky little memes, to a full-blown fan of the horror phenomenon that is Creepypasta.
Beautifully written stories such as The Russian Sleep Experiment, No End House, Normal Porn For Normal People, The Smiling Man, Search and Rescue Woods and Psychosis have been read hundreds of thousands of times, all around the world, by a growing army of Pasta fans.
So popular have such stories become that they have inspired hundreds of high quality shorts by aspiring filmmakers, and a number have even formed the basis for Syfy’s hit horror show, Channel Zero, soon to start its third season.
Furthermore, Hollywood has turned its attentions to the creators of these stories, and a number of former Reddit writers have been recruited by studios to form part of their writing teams. Having read some of the very finest works that these gifted creators have penned, I can wholeheartedly understand this move, and I cannot wait to see what horrors they have planned for the big screen.
So, are you interested in discovering more about this rich, diverse and extremely creative web community, but not sure where to start? Let me guide you.
Over the weeks that follow, I aim to introduce you to some of the very best and most historically significant Creepypastas to have ever hit the darkest corners of the web, and examine how and why they work so well.
From tales of otherworldly demons to black magic rituals, cursed videos and the monsters that lurk among us, this series aims to provide a detailed guide to the most nightmarish Internet tales out there.
Feeling brave? Then come back next week for the first in a special two part look at a monster that inspired a whole new branch of cryptozoology — the Goatman.