Horror is, in a way, a historical artifact. Our scary stories reflect what we are frightened of and offer deep insights into certain time periods. The Satanic panic era is an excellent example of this, but you can always look to the horror genre if you want to understand any time in history. It’s no coincidence that Mary Shelley’s landmark novel Frankenstein came during a period of industrial and technological revolution.
We are currently in another transformative period in human history. The Internet has become increasingly important to our existence, and our anxiety over the presence of technology is growing. Yet, somehow, mainstream horror usually doesn’t engage with questions of artificial intelligence, social media, or the Singularity. We’ve seen one-offs like Unfriended, but these pieces have been a bit too heavy-handed to really stick with audiences.
There is a genre of horror that feels incredibly pertinent to our modern times, though. I’m talking about creepypasta. Don’t let the silly name fool you: these digital scary stories show a unique way for horror to relate to the Internet. The medium really is the message here.
What is Creepypasta?
Anyone who grew up by poking their heads (avatars?) into murky corners of the web over the past decade or two should be somewhat familiar with creepypasta. They are, in essence, just scary stories, much like the urban legends that used to be traded in classrooms. There are a few defining factors of the genre, though.
First of all, most creepypasta stories are decentralized. Yes, they are written by fiction aficionados, but they are often presented as having no authors. This begets the term “creepypasta.” It’s a play on “copypasta,” a term referring to a post that is copy and pasted all over the Internet. Copypastas exist and are traded in an authorless realm, and creepypastas are simply the scary version of that.
This is important because it differentiates creepypasta from traditional horror writing. When you pick up a Lovecraft story, you know that it’s just that: a story. When you stumble upon a creepypasta story at 3 AM, there is no author, explanation, or background. It’s easy to believe that what you’ve just found is a bonafide relic of something dark and forbidden.
This brings us to the next defining aspect of creepypasta. All of the best stories are presented as non-fiction. Now that creepypasta has bloomed into a well-known type of storytelling, this effect is no longer quite as scary. But rewind to a few years ago when the Internet was a slightly more lawless realm. If you saw a story that read like an urban legend describing some type of occult murder, you might just believe that it’s real.
Finally, many creepypasta stories play upon themes of technology. They might be about haunted video game cartridges or evil websites that allow ghosts to track you down (I’m just spitballing here, but you get the idea). This once again plays into the fact that these stories are solely found on the Internet and are read by tech-savvy youngsters.
The key here is that you’re engaging with the medium that is being presented as scary while you read the stories. Reading creepypasta stories is like reading a paperback novel about a book that chomps off the hands of its readers. The major difference is that we understand how books work – we know they aren’t going to bite us. But most Internet users don’t really understand what’s going on behind the scenes, and there’s a whole lot of room for terror there.
5 Creepypasta Characters You Should Know
If there’s one creepypasta character that you should know, it is undoubtedly Slender Man. He has transcended the genre at this point and become a legitimate part of pop culture, but he first began to rise in popularity in the late 2000s or early 2010s. A forum user drew up some pictures of a vague but frightening faceless man, and creepypasta authors simply ran with it. There’s an endless amount I could write about Slender Man, including plenty about the very real and very horrifying stabbing that was committed by two 12-year-old Slender Man disciples. For now, though, I’ll leave you with a classic Slender Man story.
Jeff the Killer
Many creepypasta characters originated during a period of the Internet where we were all a whole lot more gullible. Jeff the Killer is one of them. The infamous image of Jeff was burned into my retinas when I was 10 or so, but he hasn’t really stood the test of time. (The Photoshop job isn’t so impressive by today’s standards.) The original Jeff the Killer story is a good one, though, and he has since appeared in countless creepypasta stories around the web.
Most people around my age have at least one creepypasta character that still freaks them out. For me, it’s the Rake. He’s described as looking like a “naked man, or a large hairless dog of some sort.” The original story of the Rake is accompanied by a thrillingly low-light picture of the supposed creature, and it will never not make my skin crawl.
More obscure than the characters above, Mr. Bear originates from a creepypasta story called 1999. He’s said to have a public access television show filmed from his cellar (sounds totally innocent, right?) where he sings to children while dressed up in a bear costume. It’s a great idea for a horror character, and I love how it plays on the natural creepiness of low-budget television.
Smile Dog is another creepypasta character that you may have seen before. The story claims that the image of Smile Dog causes people who look upon it to go insane, so they have to forward the image on to more people. Thus, the story goes on. This character is obviously based on those cheesy chain emails from back in the day, but Smile Dog is definitely scary enough in its own right.
5 Scariest (and Classic) Creepypasta Stories
Candle Cove is one of the finest examples of creepypasta stories as a unique form of storytelling. Rather than being told in a traditional manner, the story takes place in a fabricated forum called NetNostalgia. There is no narrator, and it is instead just a series of (fictional) posts written back and forth between the forum members. They discuss an old TV show called Candle Cove, and they begin to remember increasingly worrying details about it as the thread goes on.
For instance, one poster happens to remember a character named the Skin-Taker (this is meant to be a children’s show, by the way). I won’t spoil the ending, but it’s definitely worth reading. I find this creepypasta story so effective because we all have those weird, slightly freaky memories from childhood that we may or may not have imagined. Candle Cove plays upon that liminal space in our minds. You can read the original story here.
Below is Channel Zero’s Candle Cove, which was adapted in the first season of the show into an original story.
Normal Porn for Normal People
Normal Porn for Normal People starts with a very compelling sentence: “Everybody knows that if you surf the web long enough, you’ll see some pretty sick shit.” Interestingly enough, though, the story actually features almost no sexual content. It is based around descriptions of several odd videos that range from off-putting to full on snuff.
The similarities to Videodrome are illuminating here. Cronenberg’s flick managed to be so creepy because the audience at the time was accustomed to seeing creepy stuff on TV late at night. Normal Porn for Normal People plays upon the same idea but updates it for the digital age. It’s like peeking into a red room for a moment. The full story is here.
Lavender Town Syndrome
To be honest, I’m not entirely sure if the idea of the Lavender Town Syndrome actually started from a creepypasta story. There have been so many versions of this myth over the years that it’s hard to pinpoint the origin, and that’s part of what makes it so scary. An urban legend is far easier to believe if you can’t immediately find the source of it and prove it wrong.
The idea behind Lavender Town Syndrome is that a song from the original Japanese release of Pokemon Red and Blue caused a spike in childhood suicides. It sounds a bit silly, but just listen to the song and you’ll understand why this myth exists. Not only does it sound horrifying, but there’s just something generally unsettling about those early video game worlds. This one hits a lot harder if you played these games as a kid, but I think the Lavender Town Syndrome and all of its associated creepypastas can be appreciated by anyone. Here’s an early one.
Another story based around a video game, Sonic.exe is one of the most infamous creepypastas around. The original story is based around a boy who receives a Sonic the Hedgehog video game in the mail. He starts to play it, and it becomes immediately obvious that something is wrong with it. Dead animals litter the levels, and the characters behave strangely. The story finishes off with a Sonic plushie covered in blood appearing in his room, signalling an attack from some kind of demonic presence.
This story has been covered all over the web, and it’s basically turned into a multi-media franchise at this point thanks to a fan-made game. But the original tale itself is written well, and it stands out as one of the few creepypasta stories that was successful enough to make it into the mainstream.
In all fairness, the SCP Foundation isn’t really a stand-alone creepypasta story. It’s a website containing thousands of posts made by a community of Internet horror fans. Each story is written like a classified government report on a very dangerous creature or entity. Think of it like the X-Files for zoomers. Each SCP “report” contains writing, photos, links, and any other media necessary to make the story as believable as possible.
There are lots of great SCP reports out there, but the site is best taken as a whole. Log on, get a sense of the aesthetic, and read a few. It’s meant to simulate a real government site with classified documents, so I’ll let you have the fun of exploring it for yourself without spoiling any of the best critters on there.
Additional Links About Creepypasta Stories
Last Updated on August 25, 2021.