Slender Man’s Origins and History Explained

Urban legends don’t always translate well to the big screen, but Sony is betting on the rich, albeit brief, history of the contemporary horror meme, The Slender Man. The movie, produced by imprint Screen Gems will be the first major studio release to directly adapt a “creepypasta,” or stripped-down, digital scary story.

One of the best known and most controversial of the online tales, the Slender Man wound its tendrils into the deepest, insomniac message boards on the web, before expanding across our collective consciousness. The Slender Man mythology has now surpassed its humble origins, popularizing a new breed of online horror, and influencing mainstream film, TV, and video games. It has also impacted contemporary culture in some very painful ways.

The failed Slender Man movie was a nail in the coffin of a dying fandom -  The Verge

RELATED: Beware The Slenderman Documentary Review

Now it’s getting the proper big screen treatment, it’s time to take a look back at how it all began. Turn off the lights, close the curtains, and learn the history and origins of Slender Man.

‘Creepypasta’ Gets Up Close and Personal

Much like the oral storytelling tradition or an urban legend, it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact origin of creepypastas – adaptable, sometimes collaborative horror fiction that gets its name from a verbal mashup of ‘creepy’ and ‘copypasta’ (which refers to viral, copy-and-pasted text blurbs). Aja Romano notes in The Daily Dot that the modern terror tales are derived from early, anonymous writers whose tales were dutifully plastered across the Usenet and in emails during the 1990s. One of the recognized first creepypastas was “Ted the Caver” – which debuted in 2001 on an Angelfire site. The story consisted of a barebones narrative told from the perspective of a caver named Ted as he heads deeper into a cavern that grows progressively more disturbing.

Since then, numerous, sometimes faceless storytellers have crafted fictions, often told as anecdotes from the first person and relating somewhat viable experiences in an easily reblogged or memed format. Their accounts usually reflect contemporary fears about inexplicable forces or technology gone awry. Much was the case for the Slender Man, although this particular creepypasta began life with a visual twist.

Enter the Slender Man

The lanky, malevolent force first reared its ugly head on the Something Awful forum in 2009. During a horror-based Photoshop contest, a user named “Victor Surge,” the pseudonym of Eric Knudsen, posted two otherwise innocuous pictures of kids with a creepy, faceless man in a suit-and-tie hovering in the background. He also added a text-based twist, captioning the first photo (see above):

“We didn’t want to go, we didn’t want to kill them, but its persistent silence and outstretched arms horrified and comforted us at the same time…

— 1983, photographer unknown, presumed dead.”

And the second photograph:

“One of two recovered photographs from the Stirling City Library blaze. Notable for being taken the day which fourteen children vanished and for what is referred to as “The Slender Man”. Deformities cited as film defects by officials. Fire at library occurred one week later. Actual photograph confiscated as evidence.

— 1986, photographer: Mary Thomas, missing since June 13th, 1986.”

Knudsen claims he was inspired by Stephen King’s “The Mist,” H.P. Lovecraft, the video game Silent Hill, and the Tall Man from Don Coscarelli’s cult film, Phantasm (1979), with other possible influences stretching back to an eerie German folklore about Der Grossman (loosely, the Tall Man), among others. Knudsen’s fiction and photos caught the imagination of the forum readers, who added their own ideas and aspects to the eerie, child-kidnapping nightmare-fueling figure that dwells in desolate places.

And from there, the Slender Man only grew.

The Influence of The Slender Man

The Slender Man slowly became a folklore phenomenon, inspiring numerous retellings and other creepypastas. The pliant horror format also took hold in idea cauldrons like 4chan and Reddit, spreading across the web through forums, YouTube channels, websites, and wikis and encouraging countless adaptations of creepypastas across numerous media formats.

Of particular note for Slender Man is an early web-series named Marble Hornets. The low budget project, created by Joseph DeLage and Troy Wagner, aired sporadically on YouTube from 2009-2014, spawning three seasons and 92 webisodes ranging in length from 1 to 25 minutes. The semi-linear tale followed a man obsessed with a student film project that went south after a certain willowy figure began to pop up on-set. The shorts also helped define the concept of Slender Man (or The Operator in the series), giving it an insignia – a scrawled ‘X’ in a circle – as well as the ability to spectrally influence its victims. Sadly, the now-prevalent horror story also inspired some real-world horror as well.

In 2014, two 12-year-old girls from the Milwaukee, WI suburb of Waukesha brought a classmate into the woods, stabbing her. When caught, they blamed their actions on the Slender Man, claiming they had to sacrifice their friend to the malevolent force in order to save their own families. Both young women were later diagnosed with mental illnesses and sentenced to extended stays in psychiatric hospitals. Their case also became the subject matter for the HBO documentary, Beware the Slenderman.

The creepypasta was also linked to several other cases that same year. In Florida, a teen girl was purportedly driven by the character, as well as the Japanese Manga Soul Eater, to set her house ablaze while her mother and brother were still inside. Fortunately, everyone escaped unharmed. Slender Man, which bears similarities to certain “suicide spirits”, reportedly sparked a rash of suicides and attempts on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation during 2015.

Along with the controversy, though, also came a lot of media attention, which, naturally, means adaptations.

Page 2 of 2: How The Media Evolved Slender Man

The Media Embraces Slender Man

Since the creepypasta craze hit the mainstream, it’s inspired a number of films, TV adaptations, and video games, including two seasons of Syfy’s renowned series Channel Zero. “No-End House” (based on Brian Russell’s “NoEnd House” story) and “Candle Cove” (based on Kris Straub’s “Candle Cove”) both brought fascinating takes on the sparse, disturbing tales to the small screen. Slender Man itself, or at least a variation of it, even showed up on long-running series Supernatural and was teased for season 6 of American Horror Story.

The lanky meme-creature also got a nod in the wildly popular blockhead game, Minecraft, with a character known as Enderman. In addition, Slender Man spun-off several fright games, including Slender: The Eight Pages and its sequel, Slender: The Arrival. In particular, Eight Pages aptly captured the solipsistic fear of the creepypasta, since its first-person perspective forced the player to wander the woods while collecting eight pages of cryptic notes and avoiding the omniscient, slasher-like presence of the Slender Man. Not only that, but its varied endings and levels echoed the manifold spinoffs created from and influenced by the character.

Beyond the games and TV series, several low-budget films have already tackled the digital urban legend. The Tall Man (2012), The Slender Man (2013), Always Watching: A Marble Hornets Story (2015), and the Slender-inspired Bye Bye Man (2016) all tried to channel the zeitgeist-dread of the gawky creepypasta. Unfortunately, none of them met with a great deal of critical or audience aplomb.

Released in 2016, the HBO documentary, Beware the Slenderman also detailed the real world impact of the character. It tried to put a human face on the bizarre Waukesha crime, with director Irene Taylor Brodsky speaking with the families of the killers (as the victim and her family declined to be interviewed). More so, the film delves into the nature of the mythos as well as its pervasive popularity, examining the influence of meme culture on the disturbed girls and their fear of a modern boogeyman – one that fuzzed the line between reality and fiction.

Slender Man Goes to Hollywood

On the heels of the web drama, so-so film adaptations, and real-world drama comes the first studio film directly based on the character. Sony’s low-budget production house, Screen Gems, announced in 2016 that they’d tackle the terrifying tale, hiring Sylvain White (Stomp the Yard) to helm The Slender Man and David Birke (Elle) to write it. The film stars Joey King (Independence Day: Resurgence), Julia Goldani Telles (The Affair), Jaz Sinclair (When the Bough Breaks), and Javier Botet (Insidious: The Key) as the eponymous evil entity.

The trailer echoes the roots of the story, including a few parallels to the web series Marble Hornets. The movie follows four girls who perform a ritual, in an attempt to debunk the Slender Man legend (and logic itself, apparently). Clearly, things go wrong, and one of the young women goes missing, leading her friends deeper into the nightmarish world. The film also takes inspiration, at least loosely, from actual events – which stirred up its own recent controversy.

Shortly after the first trailer dropped, the father of one of the Wakeshau assailants decried the film as a cheap publicity stunt. While it is unclear how much of the horrendous crimes influenced the script, the presence of young, female protagonists and thematic similarities, as well as the apparent mind control the titular villain exerts, could stir ugly memories for those close to the crimes.

In its brief but colorful history, the Slender Man has grown into a legitimate phenomenon, impacting art and the real world in countless (not all positive) ways. So far, few of the films have done the disturbing story justice. For Screen Gems’ upcoming adaptation to truly capture the unique flavor of the digital folktale, it will need to avoid the trappings of low-budget and found footage horror films, much like Channel Zero did with their own foray into creepypasta. Hopefully, White and Birke can create a truly ethereal tale of terror around the elusive and mysterious villain without opening up any old wounds for those hurt by the long, dark shadow of the Slender Man.

Related Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *