Are Creepypastas The Next Big Thing For Horror Films?

By  · Published on July 2nd, 2015

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Apparently, Max Landis reads creepypasta. How do I know this? He’s adapting one into a TV series: according to Deadline, Landis and Hannibal writer Nick Antosca are partnering up to make Channel Zero, a horror anthology series for Syfy. The first season will be based on “Candle Cove,” a creepypasta authored by Kris Straub.

Oh, and if you’ve gotten this far and are still scratching your head over “creepypasta,” here you go: the word comes from “copypasta,” which is Internet slang for any text (stories, jokes, angry screeds) that get passed around from forum to forum via copy/paste. Creepypasta is the same thing, but specifically for scary stories. Think of them like word-of-mouth campfire stories, but for millennials.

The announcement about Channel Zero skips over the one burning question I have about the series- is every season going to be a creepypasta adaptation?- but that’s OK. This is a concept with oceans of potential. And one I’m surprised people haven’t jumped on sooner, given the whole “Hollywood sucking up anything with a shred of name recognition” thing.

Creepypasta (kind of a stupid word, but read it enough times and the stupidness fades) could almost be the next generation of found footage. Because the intent of any creepypasta is to be “real” (like found footage- or any good campfire story), so the stories tend to tinker around with the medium (the Internet) or include a dash of “meta” to up the urban legend factor. Take “Candle Cove,” which is written entirely in forum posts on a fictional “NetNostalgia” message board, as various users try to remember an old ’70s kid’s show they used to watch (read it here… if you dare). If a creepypasta involves say, a haunted episode of SpongeBob (that’s a real one- “Squidward’s Suicide”) then obviously, it comes complete with the “real” video on the side.

Or “Normal Porn for Normal People,” about someone opening a chain email for, and describing various clips seen on the page. The videos grow from mundane (a dog eating peanut butter sandwiches) to unsettling (a group of mannequins huddled around… something) to downright gruesome (which I won’t spoil it, but it involves a chimpanzee). At the end, the author notes that all the videos have been scrubbed from the web, but lingering screenshots and scraps of video might still be out there. And once you’re done reading, you’re conveniently still on the Internet. Might as well try a few Google searches, right?

It’s a very cool concept (and frankly, a little more 21st century than the found footage genre’s insistence that everyone still carries around camcorders) and I’d love to see those same meta-elements applied to Channel Zero. Even if translating them to film might be a bit tricky. Most of those meta elements- video clips, forum posts, what have you- add a sense of realism when you’re reading words on a page. Maybe not so much when you’re already seeing real people and real computers on film. Although it’s still possible- watching The Ring on VHS is a very relevant example, I’d say.

And yes, creepypastas can sometimes err on the juvenile side and are usually aimed squarely at people within a certain age bracket (along with a haunted SpongeBob episode, popular stories revolve around a haunted Legend of Zelda game and a haunted Godzilla game). And quite a few creepypastas are nothing but lead-in to the gotcha! twist ending. If the gotcha!’s no good, the entire story feels like a waste. But film can smooth that over. Take “White with Red” (read here). It might be a little inartfully written (and clunky in executing the big twist ending), but it makes for a very entertaining horror short:

There’s an entire Internet full of untapped material that, frankly, deserves hours more screen time than Ouija boards and endless found footage possession flicks (even if the found footage thing seems to be tapering off, of late).

A few others besides Landis have taken notice. Clive Barker’s adapting his favorite creepypastas into a webseries called “Creepy Pasta.” A few films have already eked out- the story “Ted the Caver” became the indie flick Living Dark: The Story of Ted the Caver, and Slender Man (that name you might have heard) became a webseries (Marble Hornets) which then morphed into a film (Always Watching: A Marble Hornets Story). And White with Red up there is just one of about 800,000 fan-made creepypasta shorts.

There’s a small, reclusive part of me that feels online short films are where creepypasta belongs, like this should stay a “what happens on the Internet, stays on the Internet” kind of deal. If only because taffy-pulling them out to 90 minute length (plus rewrites upon rewrites) might strip away that murky, backwoods-forum mystery about them. But I remain extremely excited over Channel Zero. If anyone should be adapting a handful of fake message board posts into a TV series, it’s Max Landis, and as far as fake message board posts go, “Candle Cove” is top notch. Some images in there that definitely deserve to be seen, like a skeleton marionette whose “mouth didn’t open and close, his jaw just slid back and [forth].” Spooky.

There’s a whole world of homebrew horror stories out there. Here’s hoping horror films start taking notice.