Spawned on website forums and defunct blogs, today's urban legends live online — and they're more horrifying than you'd imagine.
According to the legend, Candle Cove was a children’s marionette show on local access TV during the ‘70s. In 2009, commenters on an internet forum got together to discuss their memories of the show, including one of the more disturbing characters named “Skin-Taker,” a skeleton who wore a cape made out of children’s skin, and an episode that only featured the characters screaming for 30 minutes. One of the participants also shared a disturbing revelation, that when he asked his mom about the show:
she said she was suprised i could remember that and i asked why, and she said ‘because i used to think it was so strange that you said 'i’m gona go watch candle cove now mom' and then you would tune the tv to static and juts watch dead air for 30 minutes. you had a big imagination with your little pirate show. [sic]
The legend of Candle Cove is part of a collection of Internet urban legends referred to as “creepypasta,” the name derived from Internet slang for something copied and pasted throughout the web, “copypasta.” Creepypastas are like urban legends in the traditional sense, but they aren’t told around a campfire; they’re shared through links. In the mythos of Candle Cove, the alleged original thread discussing the show is lost to the annals of time, but some Internet sleuth supposedly preserved that information by copying the content and pasting it elsewhere online.
This is also the case with “Normal Porn for Normal People,” which takes the form of a blog post. The author describes receiving a chain email from a stranger encouraging him to visit a website called normalpornfornormalpeople.com. By the time the author has decided to recount his experiences the website has long been taken down, but he does remember it was a plain homepage with the tagline: “Normal Porn for Normal People, a Website Dedicated to the Eradication of Abnormal Sexuality.” The rest of the site contained a long list of links, some leading to blank pages, some to videos. After spending the night tracking down the videos on a forum with others who had received the same email, the author (and co.) was able to compile a collection that ranged from strange, arthouse-like short films to a graphic snuff movie of a woman tied to a bedframe being mauled to death by a chimpanzee. Shortly after the videos were compiled, the website was removed and any forums containing links to the videos were deleted. The author claims that some of the videos can still be found on torrent websites, including the chimpanzee snuff movie, which is titled “useless.avi.”
One of the earliest examples of creepypasta (which appeared online before the term originated on the popular forum website 4Chan around 2007) is an Anglefire blog from 2001 called Ted’s Caving Page. The website is classic net nostalgia, with different colored texts, annoying slide pop-up ads and zero attention to design. Ostensibly, it’s a site created by a caving enthusiast to keep people updated on the progress he and his friend have been making breaking into a virgin tunnel. The blog is long and contains extremely descriptive details of technique and equipment, as well as photographs of Ted and his friends in the cave, and the progress they make as they slowly chisel open the passageway. When the story begins to take a sinister turn, the horror is heightened by these seemingly banal notes. The images, which do not contain anything scary, add a sense of intimacy because they match the narrative; they aren’t just random pictures of caves that someone could have pulled from Google. Ted’s Caving Page is, in many ways, the prime example of how adhering strictly to a balance of narration and form makes creepypasta so frightening. The blog’s last entry, now posted over 10 years ago, ends with Ted writing that he is going back to the cave to get to the bottom of the strange things he’s experienced. The last line is: “See all of you soon, with a lot of answers! Love, Ted.”
Form is what separates creepypasta from traditional urban legends — and, arguably, what makes it scarier. With Candle Cove, “Normal Porn for Normal People” and a similar legend called “1999,” which involves a blogger trying to get to the bottom of a disturbing public access channel he watched during his youth, there is no reliance on “a friend of a friend” or “a girl who lived here a long time ago.” Using a forum or blog post to tell these stories means they can be original sources themselves; the people whose words you are reading are — allegedly — the ones who experienced the trauma. Although none of the reporters of these legends appear to be in real danger anymore, they (and you) can still bear the psychological scars of going down the wrong Internet rabbit hole.
Some creepypastas go even one step further and imply direct danger to the audience. These often take the form of cursed YouTube videos (see above) or demons that target their victims through chatrooms (“Funnymouth”). Another trope is the “lost episode” or “hacked game.” Some of the most popular examples include lost episodes of Spongebob Squarepants and The Simpsons called, respectively, “Squidward’s Suicide” and “Bart Dies.” These stories usually involve someone who works at a studio finding the mysteriously produced episode, which contains bizarre, graphic content and, after being watched, occasionally yields supernatural results. Video game-related stories are even more popular, with people reporting to have played hacked or haunted versions of Pokemon, Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask and Skyrim, sometimes with accompanying video “evidence.”
Many creepypastas read like traditional urban legends with an Internet twist. The Russian Sleep Experiment, the story of a secret Soviet experiment involving gas that makes humans not need sleep, reads like a Cracked article from hell. Two of the most well-known creepypastas, “Jeff the Killer” and the now infamous “Slender Man,” are plain-old urban legends that were inspired by unrelated doctored photos posted on 4Chan and Something Awful, another popular online forum. These don’t have quite the same spirit as the previously mentioned creepypastas, though “The Rake” and several entries on Reddit’s No Sleep forum are terrifying. (“The Basement” is still giving me nightmares.)
Horror stories have always played on one particular aspect of human nature: curiosity. Going back through the canon, from oral traditions and folklore to H. P. Lovecraft, Shirley Jackson, Stephen King and our modern urban legends, there remains the common theme of leaving home, heading out into the world and encountering evil. The monsters themselves are not the only things that have frightened people for generations; it’s also that the temptation to explore can be overpowering. Presented with a haunted house, a cursed object, an opportunity to enter a tomb or hunt down a serial killer, people’s desire for knowledge causes them to silence the parts of their brain that warn caution.
And that is what creepypasta plays into. Humans no longer go out exploring the furthest reaches of the globe; we go online. When you read “Normal Porn for Normal People,” you may be disgusted or scared, but there remains a part of you that needs to know, and that can’t be helped. Creepypasta is so effective because it takes the monster out of the tomb and puts it right at your finger tips. All you need to do is click.
Robert Balkovich is a Brooklynite via Oregon. (He is not from Portland.) His writing has appeared in/on Splitsider, 7 Stops Magazine, Park Slope Reader, The State Column, Ubiquitous and TravelSquire.com. Besides writing, he enjoys anthropology and ethnography books from the 1970s, and clay face masks. He is really trying his best at Twitter, so please follow him: @RobertBalkovich.
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