The internet has transformed most forms of social interaction, from gaming, to dating, to the ancient act of telling scary stories. Back in the day, stories of ghosts and hook-handed serial killers were something you told huddled around a campfire, and while the internet has stripped away the intimacy of old-fashioned ghost stories, it’s a platform that allows scary stories to spread. Eerie photos, “creepypastas” (scary stories that get copied and pasted around the internet), and disturbing Reddit posts are the urban legends of the digital age, so to celebrate Halloween, here are a few of the most famous, most chilling scary stories from the internet.
No discussion about internet horror can avoid mentioning Slender Man, far and away the most famous example of a viral scary story. Slender Man has been the subject of a feature film, video games, and was even name-dropped in a disturbing real-life stabbing, but his origin can be traced back to the forums of Something Awful, where in 2009, users created a thread for posting creepy, Photoshopped images. The biggest hit was user Victor Surge’s post of a pair of otherwise normal images with a tall, shadowy figure in the background, along with some background info on the photos and the “photographers,” both missing.
“The Slender Man” became the star of the thread, and fans quickly built an entire mythos around him. The character spread beyond the confines of the Something Awful forums, with more people adding their own takes on the story through fan art, blog posts, even short films. Slender Man’s ominous presence evokes the cosmic horror of H. P. Lovecraft, whose stories dwelled on humanity’s tiny place in a vast, dark, uncaring universe. Like Lovecraft’s most famous creation, Cthulhu, Slender Man has lost his edge through oversaturation, his frightful aura stretched thin across years of fan projects (and a critically reviled 2018 movie), but his story remains a terrific example of viral media. For a vintage taste of the Slender Man mythos, check out Marble Hornets, a series of short “found footage” films.
To a first time visitor, the SCP Foundation website may look like a relic from a previous age of web design. That plain visage belies the terrifying content within — a vast collection of creepy stories united by an overarching mythos. The community-driven site presents itself as the database of the SCP Foundation, an international group dedicated to collecting and studying supernatural objects and creatures. The site features entries on the various subjects contained by the Foundation, which range from more mundane entities (like SCP-021, a parasite that resembles a tattoo) to abstract monsters (SCP-087 is a dark staircase where people report strange sounds and visions). SCP’s entries are written in a plain, diagnostic style that one might expect from internal government documents, and this commitment to the act only adds to the creepiness.
Lavender Town Syndrome/Pokémon Black
When Pokémon reached the United States in the late ’90s, the internet was still a mysterious place where rumors could spread without being immediately disproven, and plenty of urban legends have since sprung up about the original games, Pokémon Red and Blue. Some were mundane — like the rumor that you could, through some sequence breaking, find a truck under which was the rare Pokémon Mew — but some of them could be disturbing, such as a post alleging that, after the original games came out in Japan, numerous children committed suicide after hearing the creepy theme music of Lavender Town.
Another Pokémon tall tale involves the wild world of bootleg games. The original Pokémon games came out on cartridges, which were prone to glitches and hacks. Bootleg games circulated, and could often have bizarre errors. One well-known creepypasta tells the first-person account of a mysterious, bootleg Pokémon cartridge. The author boots up the game to discover that it is called “ Pokémon Black Version,” and that the player begins with a Pokémon called “GHOST” which possesses a terrible power. Stories like these are a reminder of the mystery and power that Pokémon held for a generation; one wonders if today’s kids will one day swap stories of creepy encounters they had in Fortnite.
Not as famous as the other entries on this list, but it stands out in the world of creepypastas for being straightforward in its prose, so it resembles a story an ordinary person would tell. The story comes from 4chan’s paranormal board, /x/, detailing a poster’s account of how he and a bunch of other teenagers went out for a night in the woods, only to realize they aren’t alone. It’s not a polished story, which helps add an air of authenticity, and the author wisely avoids the sort of edgy twists that poison a lot of scary stories on the internet.
Although it didn’t reach the same level of ubiquity as Slender Man, Candle Cove followed a similar trajectory, starting out as a forum post that gained momentum, generating fan fiction and eventually making it to television. Written by web cartoonist Kris Straub, the original Candle Cove story was a series of forum posts in which different users reminisce about a show they watched as kids, Candle Cove, which featured disturbing puppets (and of which they could find no traces in adulthood). Straub’s original story is effective in its simplicity, and Syfy later adapted it for the first season of Channel Zero, an anthology series with each season building on a different creepypasta story.