From the Internet to the Woods of Wisconsin: The Rise of Slenderman

By: Emily Weinstein

slen

Since his birth on the Internet in 2009, the faceless, tuxedo-wearing bogeyman known as Slenderman has since grown from a creepy online fairy-tale to terrifying real-life horror story. Originally created by Eric Knudsen on the Internet forum called Something Awful, Slenderman seeks to attract the attention and fright of the younger generation of his readers. He then uses their attention and fear to gain control over them and force them to do his dirty work. However, this mind control is actually much more intricate. Many of his victims suffer from actually physical symptoms including coughing, confusion, and memory loss. Examples of the effects that Slenderman has on his victims can be seen in many of the Marble Hornets videos that we watched for and discussed in class. For example, in entry #20, Tim suffers from heavy and uncontrollable coughing. Additionally, Jay experiences significant memory loss, including losing all memory of the previous seven months. However, after doing some research, I confirmed that the Marble Hornets videos are indeed works of fiction. I was able to locate the IMDB page for Marble Hornets along with the names of the actors who played characters such as Jay, Alex, and Tim. Although this story was fabricated, a real-life incident connected to the mythical and creepy Slenderman did in fact occur in 2014, and this incident along with evidence from the Marble Hornets video are now being combined to create an HBO documentary in January 2017 titled, Beware the Slenderman.

First released at the DOC NYC festival on November 12th, Beware the Slenderman takes a deeper look into the terrifying real-life incident that occurred in Wisconsin in 2014, in which two 12-year-old girls brutally stabbed one of their friends in order to show their devotion to Slenderman. Specifically, this new documentary seeks to question to safety of today’s Internet as well as our younger generation’s unrestricted access to it. How safe are today’s children if they are so easily able to access information on the Internet that convinces them to commit horrendous crimes such as murder? According to research, this was not a spur-of-the- moment attack, but instead one that had been methodically planned out for months. So what drove these two young girls to want to commit such a strategic murder solely to please a mythical creature that they had read about online? This is the big question at hand, and the court charged with handling this sensitive case has struggled to determine the next step. Since the attempted murder was so strategic, should the girls be tried as adults? Or was this crime just derived from the imagination of children? It really is quite difficult to decide. In addition to looking at the Wisconsin case, the documentary will also examine the recent fascination with Slenderman as well as how this newly-created fantasy has turned into a horrifying reality.

The new Slenderman documentary will be released on HBO on January 23rd, 2017, and I can definitely say that I am very interested to see from what point of view it chooses to evaluate the case. Here is a link to the newest trailer.

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A Waking Nightmare

By: Emily Zuo

An emergency siren was blaring. As the horrifying, shrill scream resonating in my head grew louder, I tried to sit up – to wake up – but I couldn’t escape. My body seemed to be pinned to the bed, and my panicked efforts resulted only in strangled, sporadic jerks. My eyes, which seemed to be drifting open and closed, saw the sunlight on my bedroom ceiling, but it didn’t register. In that moment, I knew nothing of Saturday morning – only a visceral terror as I was continuously dragged back.

It sounds like something out of a horror story or nightmare, but actually, it was my first experience with sleep paralysis, though I had no idea at the time. Sleep paralysis is a phenomenon in which a person is unable to move or speak when waking up (or, less commonly, while falling asleep). This happens because your brain “shuts off” your muscles during REM sleep to prevent you from acting out dreams, and sometimes, you become conscious while your muscles are still in this state. This usually lasts a few seconds to several minutes, during which people often experience auditory or visual hallucinations, feel like they’re being suffocated, or sense a menacing presence. Needless to say, the entire experience is often disturbing and terrifying.

Throughout history, these episodes have been thought to be caused by demons and other supernatural figures. The phenomenon has been the basis of folklore in numerous cultures, spawning a malevolent creature generically known as “the night hag” who sits on a sleeping person’s chest to immobilize them. Additionally, ideas of alien abduction, near death experiences, and shadow people may have originated from incidences of sleep paralysis. Regardless of if you believe in the scientific or the supernatural, experiencing sleep paralysis is often like experiencing horror in real life; you have an awareness that you lack when just having a nightmare, while still being unable to do anything about your situation. It is a uniquely horrifying event that is different for everyone who experiences it.

I have had sleep paralysis several times since then. Luckily, I’ve never felt the suffocation or pressure on the chest I’ve seen so many people describe, but I have hallucinated intruders in my room and a shadowy presence lurking next to my bed – all, of course, while not being able to move. In fact, one episode happened just last month. I was taking a nap in the lounge chair in my room, during which the sun had gone down completely, and I suddenly woke up in utter darkness to the feeling that I wasn’t alone. I then heard whispering right next to my ear. Weirdly, a small, semi-logical part of my brain immediately thought that people had broken into my house. However, upon feeling that familiar paralysis, part of me recognized the episode for what it was. I convinced myself to stay as calm, attempted to wiggle my fingers (which is supposed to help wake up the muscles), and waited it out.

Fortunately, I can say that my first sleep paralysis experience was definitely my worst, since I didn’t know what was happening (and panicking definitely makes it worse). Nowadays, I can gain a semblance of logic and wait for the awful feelings to go away. But there are many other people out there who experience sleep paralysis in much more severe ways than I have. Here is a trailer for a 2015 documentary about sleep paralysis, with the horrifying input of several real victims:

New Year, New Horror

By: Cristina Tye

Last night I came across this article on Rotten Tomatoes. It was titled “Best Horror Movies by Year since 1920,” and had 10 pages worth of information detailing what movie was chosen for every year since 1920 and scored. This article cited the percentage value given on Rotten Tomatoes for the movie, an adjusted score in percentages detailing any variations of reviews, a critic’s consensus review, a synopsis, whose starring in each movie, and who directed it. This particularized article sparked my curiosity. Although I have not seen every horror movie, especially every horror movie ranked #1 on the list, I have seen some. So, I decided to provide an analysis for two of the movies on the list detailing the mechanisms used to cause horror in each.

Winner for the year 2014: The Babadook. Rated 98% on Rotten Tomatoes with a critic’s consensus emphasizing how The Babadook relies on “real horror rather than cheap jump scares—and boasts a heartfelt, genuinely moving story to boot.” Although I personally disliked this movie, the story did boast several scary attributes and received five-star reviews. According to Carroll’s taxonomy, the Babadook is considered horrific metonymy given the Babadook is described as a human with a pale face, top hat, and pointed fingers who torments his victims after the reading of his book. The main character, Amelia, believes he is a human force, as she runs to the police believing she is being stalked by a mysterious man. The Babadook demonstrates his power and influence as he infiltrates character’s minds, planting gruesome thoughts. He also exemplifies supernatural capabilities through opening and closing of doors, mysterious items planted in food, streaming of thoughts and voices, and the resemblance of the destroyed Babadook book. The mechanisms of horrific metonymy and paranormal activity scares the viewer, causes mayhem on the screen, and creates a depressed mood. Additionally, the ending of the Babadook possessing Amelia and her eventual escape from him, represents a frame story, as the Babadook represents the story of grief within the context. Although I do not give The Babadook a five-star rating, I will admit this movie creates lasting horror and a sense of loss within the audience.

Winner for the year 2002: The Ring. Rated 72% on Rotten Tomatoes with a critic’s consensus review stating “with a little gore and a lot of creepy visuals, The Ring gets under your skins, thanks to director Gore Verbinski’s haunting sense of atmosphere and an impassioned performance from Naomi Watts.” In my opinion, I could not agree more that The Ring, with a combination of fearful pop ups, scary visuals, and dark horror, created a traumatizing film. Samara, the monster, represents a fusion monster, as she is a young girl dead, but still alive and haunting the people who watch her cursed videotape. Given her terrifying appearance, Samara seems haunted by demonic forces with supernatural capabilities in an unbalanced frame. This especially scares the audience, as Samara is able to turn on TVs with black and white static, blur human faces photographed, and move around freely in the air. Also, The Ring did a phenomenal job at using real-world situations to its advantage to scare the viewer. The fuzzy TV is common on TVs (during this time), as well as the idea of falling down a well. Implementing real-world possible horrors with supernatural capabilities and a fusion monster was genius by the producer. The scary attributes in this movie support real-world horror and a frightening film. And, the horror most definitely got to me.

Although I only analyzed 2 out of almost 100 horror films, each winning movie for the year was effective in scaring its viewer through classified monsters and other horrifying mechanisms. The goal of a horror movie is to invoke alarm, shock, or fear within its viewers.

Types of horror can change each year, so I look forward to seeing new mechanisms created to scare viewers. In my opinion, any movie that incorporates pop-up creepy monsters is the true winner of fear.

My Crippling Fear of the Film “Signs”

By: Chelsea Pingston

I was 7 years old when I first saw the film, Signs. It’s basically a science fiction thriller about an alien invasion and how a family that lives on a farm deals with it. I’m really bad at summarizing plots so click here for a more in depth summary. Anyway, my oldest sister was babysitting me while our parents were at work or running errands during the film’s opening night in theaters. She decided to take me along with her friends to see the film and told me not to tell mom or dad. I had no idea what the film was about or why she wanted to keep it a secret from our parents. I was just excited for a night at the theater with my sister and her friends (mainly because she never included me with her friends because of our age gap). I remember my excitement of the drive to the theater and the pure euphoria I felt when my sister bought me a bag of popcorn and an icee (looking back on it, she was totally bribing me so that I wouldn’t tell our parents what we were doing). All of us gathered into the theater and chose the back row where the cool kids sat and soon enough the lights turned off and the film began. The film started with me happily munching on popcorn and the film ended with me on my sister’s lap and wrapped in her shirt. She was clearly frustrated with me because of how much the film terrified me.

Once we got home that night I slept in my parent’s bed with the scene of the black, faceless alien walking across the yard at the child’s birthday party replaying over and over in my head. Here’s the scene I’m referring to (I was literally shaking when I searched for this video clip for you guys).

I began to sleep with my parents every night for almost a week. They finally sat down and asked me why I was so scared until I told them the truth (with much dismay from my sister). They were mad at my sister for allowing me to see the movie and they were frustrated with me because my fear of aliens stuck with me for another two weeks until my mom did the coolest thing any mom could ever do. She finally sat me down and called the actor who played the alien in the movie and had him talk to me on the phone and explain to me that the alien was not real and that he was just an actor. He even went as far as to tell me that if aliens were real, that they were harmless. After that phone call felt so relieved. It was incredible. That night and every night after that, I slept peacefully in my own bed.

Years later my mom and I talked about what she had done for me. She admitted to me that I had not talked on the phone with the actor from Signs, but she had instead called our local theater and asked a young usher to convince me, her daughter, that he was the actor of the alien and asked him to help me not be afraid of the film anymore. I will never forget what my mom and the theater usher did for me. It had helped me overcome not only my fear of aliens, but also every horror movie I had watched from that day forward. It helped me realize that the monsters on screen were just actors and actresses, nothing more.

Vicious

By: Noah Kihata

At the beginning of this class, we were asked to watch two short videos and a story. Since this viewing, I have become more interested in short horror videos. One day, while viewing Imgur before going to bed, I came across this page. Usually I am smart enough to file this page away and look at bunnies or puppies, but I wanted to push my limits for this class and watch one or two of these videos.

I started with ‘Get with the Times’, which revolved around brain stimulation for pleasure. The horror in this video results from societal implications caused by the stimulation, and the lives people may live if this comes to fruition. This video, while slightly disturbing, did not leave the same creepy feeling as pieces such as The Witch. Combined with a forgettable plot, the poorly animated cartoon gore and fuzzy voice-over were enough to make it creepy at best.

The next video I viewed was titled “Local 58- Weather Report.” This video revolves around a fake weather report concerning the moon. Watching this video late at night, alone, can give the viewer some inner turmoil. The video is purposely left vague as to the actual phenomenon happening. It is likely a video that plays at the end of the world or when some major meteorological phenomenon is happening. There is a very large feeling of existential dread when watching this video. The use of existential dread in horror is not a new or unique style of horror, but it is usually successful when used, at least on me.

When watching a horror movie, directors use eerie music, camera angles, and lighting as buildup to horror scenes. This may happen many times throughout the movie, and sometimes the director may choose for nothing to happen at the apex. Save the last scene, each of these segments is a few minutes long and is usually quickly forgotten. And that is why “Vicious,” the third video I viewed, has become so stuck in my mind. Vicious is a short film concerned with staying in this build-up phase for as long as possible. Almost the entirety of the 12-minute video is in this state, leaving the viewer little time to recover from the last episode of buildup. I viewed this video the next day, during the day, and with my roommate (As Rachel mentioned, videos are less scary in groups). I am not one to jump or scream at horror scenes (Sinister being a terrifying exception), but Vicious had me holding a blanket over my eyes like I was 8 again. The human brain can only stand so much strain from horror before it begins to wane. And I guess my tolerance is less than 12 minutes. The issue with this kind of horror is that once you’ve seen the video once, it is much less scary. This is the same effect that “Light’s Out” had on me, so I would place it in a vein of horror similar to it.

Learn from my mistakes. If someone puts together a compilation of horror films, do not assume that you are strong enough. Tread carefully when looking through horror compilations, and always have some puppies queued up just in case.

“Time Lapse”: A Monster Within All of Us

By: Julie Siefker

If you’re like me, you love movies with twisted plots, the kind that changes dynamic all the way until the end. Time Lapse is exactly that kind of movie. Being rather unimpressed with modern, commercialized horror movies and what seems to be their staples: gore, jump scares, and bad acting, I am always looking for a unique horror movie experience. I was pleasantly surprised with this one, especially the plot twists (my favorite) that catch you off guard almost the entire movie. The movie is a success because it takes advantage of the ideas everyone has in their head of a “normal” scary movie and defies the stereotypes with each plot twist.

It starts out with a seemingly normal group of friends, Callie and Finn who are in a relationship, and Jasper who lives with them. The beginning leads us to believe it will be a scary movie like all the others when Callie goes across the street to check on their neighbor, Mr. Bezzerides, as he has not been collecting his newspapers or paying his rent. When she returns with a shocking discovery, the audience prepares for the dead body, murder scene, or whatever other horrific event that usually opens a scary movie. Instead they find a large camera pointed at their front window and hundreds of pictures of them in their living room lining the walls. They realize the camera takes a picture every day at the same time, but each picture shows what will happen 24 hours into the future. More investigations about the curious machine lead them to find the body of Mr. Bezzerides. From reading his journal, the characters discover he saw his own death in one of the photos and died trying to change his fate. Armed with their new time-traveling camera, they decide to cover up the death of Mr. Bezzerides and use the camera for their own personal gain. The three conclude that they must replicate each photo for the plan to work otherwise they should experience the fate of Mr. Bezzerides. Each day they collect the photos, finding a painting Finn can create and results of races Jasper uses to win bets.

I know what you’re thinking, this movie does not sound scary at all. I thought the same thing. But, as the characters try to change things out of their control, their reality becomes increasingly more complicated. As things go wrong, they try to compensate, to change their fate, creating even more problems for themselves. The story gets progressively creepier and more mysterious as the pictures reveals more disturbing images. Jasper’s boss–a dangerous man–in their living room. Callie being unfaithful to Finn. A blood splatter on the wall. A warning painted onto Finn’s canvas. With every new photo, the characters begin to question each other. As motives become unclear and situations become more intense, the fragility of their relationships are revealed. Besides the intricate plot, what I really liked about this movie is that there is no monster. Classic scary stories involve the devil, ghosts, murderers, stalkers, aliens, vampires, what have you but this one does not contain any of these. All of the bad things that happen to the characters are a direct result of their own actions as they communicate with the future. This movie shows that you don’t need ghouls or ghosts to make a scary movie. Sometimes, monsters are just regular people like you and I who get a little too carried away, find out a little too much, and get just a little too greedy. Without spoilers, I’ll simply leave you with this note: the movie will not end how you think, the characters are not who they seem and the future is not a guarantee.

The Horror of The Stalker: Two Film Recommendations

By: Nina Muller

I cannot be the only one who found the readings in this course that involved stalkers (or embodied certain arguable elements of stalkers, as in Oates’ “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”) to be among those that have terrified me the most thus far. Without question, Penpal ranks pretty high on my list. Reading, discussing, and analyzing these particular texts as well as writing my first pass earlier in the semester got me thinking about the often overlooked yet truly horrifying aspects of the stalker. When asked what ‘monsters’ or entities scare them the most, few would think immediately of a stalker. I think this is a mistake and an oversight due to the lack of recognition within the genre of horror for such predatory people. To demonstrate, I provide film reviews and recommendations of two excellent thrillers — one new and one old (ish) — that convey just how truly terrifying a stalker can be.

  1. Cape Fear (1991):

I will start with the older of the two films and one of my all-time favorite movies across every genre: Cape Fear. Starring Nick Nolte, Jessica Lange, and Robert De Niro (as the stalker) and directed by Martin Scorsese, this film is a remake of the earlier original version that was released in 1962 and directed by J. Lee Thompson. I have seen both versions, and although the original is also extremely noteworthy and worth seeing, I chose to recommend the remake because Robert De Niro’s portrayal of a deranged and maniacal ex-convict is among one of the most terrifying performances I have ever seen. The basic gist of the film (without giving anything away) is that a convicted rapist named Max Cady – De Niro – is released from prison after serving a fourteen-year sentence for his crimes, and returns to meticulously haunt the family of the lawyer who represented him during his trial many years before. With a mercilessly heavy plotline, the film grabs the audience’s attention from the very beginning and refuses to let go, rather steadily and increasingly tightening its grip upon the viewer’s emotions and well-being. It challenges every assumption we have made about human nature and capabilities to reassure ourselves of the inherent morality and humanity of mankind. It breaks down our natural trust in familial relationships and motivations by presenting a deeply flawed protagonist as well as a demonic and almost super-human antagonist with a barbaric yet intelligent and calculating predatory nature. This film will have you constantly checking over your shoulder, fearing that someone is out there seeking retribution for every decision you have ever made.

  • Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score: 76%
  • Rotten Tomatoes User Score: 77%
  • Terrified Nina’s Score: 90%

*Keep in mind that old trailers are not as good as newer ones!*

  1. The Gift (2015):

This film, which came out this summer, is written and directed by Joel Edgerton and stars Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall, and Joel Edgerton. I saw this movie in theaters just a couple days after it came out, and left thoroughly terrified despite a relatively slow-moving plot for much of the film. In this thriller, everything culminates in the final few scenes — and you will not be disappointed with the turn of events. In some ways, The Gift reminded me of Cape Fear, particularly in the carefully planned and meticulous methods of the stalker, Gordo (played by Joel Edgerton). Gordo’s deeply rooted motivations and painstaking patience are deeply reminiscent of De Niro’s Max Cady, and leads to a similar blurred distinction between the antagonist and protagonist as is seen in Scorsese’s work. However, the two are markedly different in many aspects as well, with The Gift utilizing an incredibly psychologically tormenting and slow-burning horror tactic with a dramatic and highly unpredictable turn of events in the end. If you are a fan of unforeseen twists and teeth-grinding suspense — or perhaps just want to see Bateman break out from his traditionally funny guy roles — then this is the film for you.

  • Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score: 93%
  • Rotten Tomatoes User Score: 77%
  • Terrified Nina Score: 85%