Slender Man, the King of Creepypasta.
Despite his relative vintage, Slender Man remains one of the greatest characters in internet horror history.
For those of you new to the Slender Man mythos, that statement might seem like a stretch. After all, the official Slender Man movie finally came out, and the reviews are… not great. And even aside from that, Slender Man’s modern reputation can be more memey than menacing. Still, make no mistake: Slender Man earned his spot as the faceless face of internet horror. He got as popular as he did because he actually terrified us, thanks in part to some massively influential stories and series’ that popped up early in his lifespan.
To give you the complete picture of Slender Man’s influence, let’s go back to his origins and explore the most popular works he’s been featured in.
The Photoshop contest that started it all
Believe it or not, Slender Man’s origins are pretty mundane. In a paranormal-themed Photoshop contest held on the Something Awful forums, user Victor Surge posted two photos of a tall faceless man in a suit. The photos came with accompanying eye-witness accounts of the man, describing how he was last seen following a group of children who mysteriously vanished. With little information to work with, officials would refer to the monstrous being as “The Slender Man.”
This is all fiction, of course, but it was enough to spark interest in the character. Sporadic fan art and fan fiction was made about Slender Man thereafter, all which built upon the established lore of the character. Because the original post was accompanied by such sparse details, writers were able to take the character in virtually any direction they’d want without fear of breaking canon. Slender Man could have easily persisted like this as a niche piece of internet history, but a group of ambitious filmmakers had other plans.
Enter Marble Hornets
Marble Hornets is a combination of a found-footage episodic horror series and an alternate reality game, all based around the Slender Man mythos. In the series, protagonist Jay is investigating raw footage from his friend’s college film after he abruptly canceled the film due to prolonged exhaustion and irritation. Though the series starts with Jay uploading footage from the movie that seems suspicious or out of place, things quickly go south once Jay sets out to investigate the mystery after repeatedly seeing an unsettling tall man in many of the clips.
Marble Hornets went crazy viral, with over 96,650,000 total views on the channel to date. By extension, Marble Hornets also popularized its own version of Slender Man, which is known for stalking its victims and distorting camera footage as it draws closer. Audiences were sucked into the story because of how creatively it utilized the internet as a storytelling medium, featuring an active in-universe twitter account and a separate Youtube account that was woven into the narrative. Marble Hornets may not have been the first Youtube channel to use these techniques, but it made these tropes popular enough to be a common staple of internet horror stories today.
After even getting praise from legendary critic Roger Ebert, Marble Hornets found itself in the company of many copycat channels about Slender Man. But while copycats would be frowned upon in most cases, Slender Man was already a character developed largely by fan fiction and communal story telling. The most successful Youtube series post Marble Hornets include EverymanHYBRID and Tribe Twelve, each which added their own twists to the Slender Man story. There was plenty of other stories and videos made about Slender Man during this time, but we’d be here all day trying to list them all.
Naturally, as Slender Man went more and more viral, the jokes and memes surrounding him became abundant. Most jokes were based on the Marble Hornets Slender Man, others calledback to his original description as a child abductor. Notable examples include Slender Man songs performed by Vocaloids and Neil Cicierega’s Splendor Man (embedded above), i.e. the creator of Potter Puppet Pals. Slender Man references also started showing up in other works of media, most notably in Minecraft in the form of Enderman.
Slender Man: The Movie: The Game
This would be more than enough material to establish any character as an internet legend, but there was one more trick up Slender Man’s dangling sleeve. Slender: The Eight Pages was released as a freeware game in 2012, utilizing the lore and aesthetics established by Marble Hornets. The game tasks players with wandering a dark forest looking for the titular eight pages, all while avoiding Slender Man’s constant stalking. As if Slender Man wasn’t viral enough, Slender took the character’s popularity a step further by making the rounds on gaming and let’s play focused YouTube channels.
Much like Marble Hornets, Slender became a trend setter in low-budget minimalistic horror. It similarly has inspired a number of copycat games outside the Slender Man mythos, albeit on a smaller scale. Slender received a sequel titled The Arrival that… well, arrived in 2013 on PC and most modern gaming consoles.
The Elephant in the Room
Unfortunately, all this viral popularity wound up inspiring a tragedy that cast a terribly dark light on Slender Man. In 2014, two 12 year old girls in Wisconsin attempted to murder one of their friends by stabbing her to supposedly appease Slender Man. Though the victim in question thankfully and miraculously recovered from her serious wounds, the case drew national headlines because of its unusual motive. As viral as Slender Man is, this would be the first time hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of people would ever hear of him. The two girls are currently sentenced to decades in mental hospitals for their crimes.
This is an uncomfortable subject to have to broach because of how horrific the event in question is. I will say, based on my own knowledge of Slender Man lore, that no popular Slender Man story encourages the violence that transpired here. Honestly, Slender Man could be switched to almost any fictional monster and the case would make equally as much sense. The problem with Slender Man is that, like other internet ARGs and urban legends, all the tales are presented as true despite being fictional. This is done for the sake of immersion since audiences presumably know they’re seeing fiction, but younger audiences who stumble on the character might not have that frame of reference. I’m sure the gravity of this event could warrant a lot of debate. I’d only say be respectful of everyone’s feelings on the subject, since there are many valid arguments on all sides. The event is in the past now, and thankfully no crimes like it have happened since.
The Truth About Slender Man
This all brings us to the modern day. Slender Man’s day in the sun has mostly come and gone, and the Slender Man movie probably won’t change that. These days, Slender Man suffers from the “Seinfeld is Unfunny” trope. Much of what the character popularized at the time is played out and cliché today, so it’s hard for newcomers to see the appeal. But for people who were there during the surging popularity of Slender Man, the character’s legacy endures. Like a good urban legend, Slender Man snowballed into an amalgamation of everyone’s thoughts, ideas, and fears. Artists used the character to create Lovecraftian horror stories that used the interactivity of the internet in creative and interesting ways. Sure, there’s lots of bad, cringey Slender Man fiction out there, but the stuff that’s good is really good.
Would I expect anyone, in this day and age, to get enthralled with Slender Man like when he was new? Well, I could see it happening if you watch and read the classics (some of which are still ongoing!), but generally speaking no. But should anyone who’s a fan of new age horror owe some form of gratitude towards the faceless man in a suit? Yes, absolutely.