If you’re reading this, it’s already too late
Revitalizing horror within the independent genre
Published: Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, October 24, 2012 18:10
It’s difficult to make modern audiences scared. Fail to build suspense and movie-goers yawn, chop off one too many limbs and all of a sudden it’s a comedy—any way you look at it, horror is extremely easy for moviemakers to mess up. However, a new trend is bubbling in the art of making ourselves scared, following in the footsteps of the monster flick, the psychological thriller and the slasher film before it—and it’s not coming from Hollywood. Instead, independent filmmakers, video game designers and authors are finally getting their turn to shine.
The current horror genre has become so stale even its parodies like “The Scream” franchise have run out of tricks, and one can only handle so many “Exorcist” look-alikes before wanting to take directors by the shoulders and say “stop.” But who can blame horror film directors? In these tough economic times, their job is to take a small budget and give audiences exactly what they want in order to bring as many bodies to theatres as possible. As a result, vampires, zombies, serial killers, ghosts and witches will never fail to appear on screens every October.
But never has this effect been so easy to create. As the Internet becomes more and more accessible, every Tumblr owner is a published writer, every Youtuber is a filmmaker and any budding developer with a bit of C++ knowledge and a RapidShare account can disseminate their gaming creations.
For horror enthusiasts, fresh meat is created every day in corners of the Internet like creepypasta.com and 4chan’s Paranormal /x/ board. Here you can find short stories created by users that often include photos, Youtube videos and complex journal entries detailing plots of suicide and insanity.
These user-generated stories often include modern issues and feature main characters that mirror their writers and readers, like the idea of a 20-something introverted individual who notices something while reading old books or browsing old web archives, and then is thrust into a horrible situation they’d rather not be in. Though it is known that these stories are fabrications, they are presented as true, and readers are expected to buy into the ploy in order get the full experience.
Everyday readers have even spawned some of their very own monsters to join the leagues of Frankenstein, Dracula and the Mummy, such as the Slender Man, a tall and slim humanoid creature with long arms and no face that can teleport at will and always wears a trademark suit and tie. There is also the Rake, another humanoid creature with long fingers and a trap like jaw that walks on all fours.
With so much uncopyrighted material at their disposal, it wasn’t long before creators in other mediums picked up these stories for their own purposes. Slender Man is the most commonly used. Created in 2009 on Something Awful Forums as part of an Adobe Photoshop contest, the Slender Man quickly spawned a “Blair Witch-esque” documentary web series and multiple independently produced video games, including the 2012 hit “Slender: The Eight Pages.” “Slender,” developed by a single man, spread virally over the summer as a simple .zip file that could be downloaded and shared for free, similar to previous horror hits like SCP-087, another independently developed game based on a parallel mythos of stories.
Part of the appeal of user-inspired games is the spartan, cheap and gritty brand of horror that arises from the lack of a budget. Though it can be restricting, working within these limits allows developers to play with what scares us. None of these viral games last more than 15 minutes, but sit down to play one on your own and you will not be in any mood to sleep when evening comes.
Independent and web-based horror arises from a community, mostly anonymous, where users scare others because they love to be scared themselves, and this community aspect has contributed to the rise of some of the scariest creations of the 21st century. This is not to say that horror films, books and video games created for profit cannot be terrifying. As someone with fond memories of watching “The Shining” in her basement as a child, I have the utmost faith in the mainstream horror industry. But while the current Hollywood horror world tries to sort itself out, do yourself a favor and opt for a quick Google search. The scariest stuff currently available is free for the taking, and being produced every day.