As Internet horror stories continue to grow in popularity and YouTube becomes cluttered with innumerable videos of people reading them, even professional filmmakers are answering the siren song of adapting the stories into short films. It has reached a point where considerable technical skill and creativity goes into some of them.
10White With Red
We talked about this story under its alternate title “The Keyhole.” A man rents a hotel room and is told not to look into the room next to his. When he does, all he sees is red. He thinks that someone must have put a red dress across the keyhole. In truth, he is looking at the horribly bloodshot eye of a long-dead hotel guest.
Brandon Christenson’s short film adaptation of this story is really exceptional. Robert Scott Howard establishes a character with very little dialogue, and Rusty Meyers as the clerk is colorful without becoming a cartoon character. The effects work on the inhabitant of the room with no number is terrific, producing one of film history’s creepiest blinks. Also, the movie has a wry little joke about pretzels that is played subtly enough that it doesn’t distract from the story or the unnerving atmosphere.
This short story by Tom Lever was shared and believed by enough people on the Internet that it needed to be debunked by the famous website Snopes.com. It tells of how in 1972, Cedar-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles was visited by a very strange being. A woman with a face as blank as a mannequin’s wandered into a hospital. Her gown was soaked with the blood of a kitten, which still sat in her mouth. The hospital staff took her into a room for treatment. After cooperating briefly, she lashed out at them. When security personnel arrived, she bit the first guard in the jugular. A doctor on hand asked what she was. She smiled, walked over, leaned over the cowering doctor, and said, “I . . . am . . . God.” She subsequently disappeared and become known as “Expressionless.”
This hardly seems like the sort of story the owners of the YouTube channel Totallysketch would be able to adapt competently. That channel’s most popular videos are broad comedies based mainly around cleavage. Its guest stars have included YouTube celebrities like Shane Dawson and Jenna Marbles, who are about the least scary people imaginable. And when the channel attempted a feature-length horror film, it produced the widely reviled 2013 movie Smiley.
For all that, The Expressionless works very well as a horror short. The production values are great for the small scale of the work, and director Michael Gallagher stages the story superbly. Naturally, the real standout is Denna Thomsen as the titular character. She doesn’t look like a mannequin, but her performance is terrifying enough in its own way during the more subdued scenes. Indeed, when she begins killing, if anything, it’s a step down in terms of scariness.
“Sonic.EXE” is perhaps the worst creepypasta to ever become popular. The plot: Tom receives a CD from his missing best friend, with a note telling him to destroy it immediately instead of playing it. Tom puts the disk in his computer to play the game and finds that it’s been modded in scary ways. The character Sonic is evil in the game and has black, bleeding eyes. Sonic effortlessly kills all the characters Tom uses in the game then threatens the player in his nightmares. The story ends with Tom playing the game again, hearing a voice behind him, and then turning to find . . . a Sonic doll.
Despite attracting enough fans to get thousands of pieces of fan art and to motivate someone to modify the original Sonic game as described in the story, “Sonic.EXE” is more laughable than scary. Beyond’s Tom fear of a small doll and his stupid decision to play the game despite his missing friend’s warning, the 8-bit laugh of a character named Kefka is described as scary—here’s the sound; judge for yourself.
The author also has a weird obsession with stating each action’s duration with ridiculous precision (e.g., “I sat there for maybe 25 seconds”). As a result, creepypasta.wikia, the site that made the story popular, eventually listed it as “trollpasta.” This meant it was so badly written that it was likely made so on purpose. But the author objected strongly to this label, indicating that he’d meant it sincerely.
Jake Pound’s ability to convert this story into a successful short film is borderline miraculous. Jake is a competent enough actor and sensible enough not to oversell the emotions of playing the game, and his use of sound is very effective, even if he keeps some of the less effective choices such as the Kefka laugh. His best decision is definitely to change the ridiculous ending so that the audience isn’t forced to try to find a little doll scary.
72 AM: The Smiling Man
Originally a story from Reddit’s NoSleep section, “The Smiling Man” has become an urban legend of unusual simplicity. As we’ve described before, the supposedly true story tells of a man walking down a street seeing someone doing an odd dance with a big smile on his face. The crazy person runs up to him and looks at him in a manner which is ambiguously threatening. Author blue_tidal only claims that “he looked completely insane,” making it unclear whether he was any danger at all.
Probably the greatest strength of Michael Evans’s adaptation of “The Smiling Man” is that it features no dialogue, which gained it significantly more of an international audience by removing language barriers. It’s probably no coincidence that it’s currently by far the most viewed video on this list.
Another nice touch is how Sean Simon initially reacts to seeing the Smiling Man by chuckling at him. The filmmakers were well aware of how this movie skirts the line between horror and comedy and acknowledge it rather than try too hard to make the movie scary. Blue_tidal seemed very satisfied with it despite some nitpicks about its accuracy.
6Five Nights At Freddy’s
Scott Cawthon’s indie horror game Five Nights At Freddy’s features a security guard who must check monitors and doors to keep himself from being killed by roving animatronic characters. Although critics found the story behind the game convoluted, the character design and scares more than make up for that as far as the public was concerned. It’s an especially big success considering that Cawthon’s previous games were all fairly minor Christian games. Supposedly, this hit game was inspired by a criticism of one of his earlier games that the 3-D characters all looked like creepy animatronics.
Jake Pound returns here for another short film which is much shorter than his Sonic.exe adaptation. His movie is about a man playing the game rather than a security guard. Many more people have played the game than been a security guard in circumstances the least bit similar to those in it. The image of Freddy Fazber glowing in the background is perfectly done, looking desaturated but detailed. Since Pound uses a bit of game footage for the final shot, that part doesn’t look so realistic, but it’s still an effective jump scare.
5The Midnight Man Ritual
The Midnight Man ritual is a ceremony performed in deepest night to summon a humanoid being. The summoners must then try to survive the being’s efforts to catch them and torture them to death.
The ritual’s steps: Write your full name on a piece of paper, bleed a drop of blood onto it, turn out the lights, put the piece of paper on the front door, light a candle, and then create a circle of salt. You must now avoid the Midnight Man if he manifests in your home and stay out of the circle until 3:33 in the morning, making sure the candle doesn’t go out for more than 10 seconds.
8-BitMassacre’s video of someone deciding to test the ritual is a real standout in several ways. It’s the only “found footage” horror movie on this list. While the main character doesn’t become very sympathetic, he’s still very believable as the kind of person who would do this. The Midnight Man himself is impeccable both when he stalks the hero and during the jump scare at the end. The audio during his appearance is especially well done.
4The Girl In The Photograph
This is one of the more wryly amusing creepypastas on the net while still having a creepy premise. A student named Tom finds a photograph of the most beautiful girl that he’s ever seen, and she’s holding up two fingers, flashing a peace sign. He asks if anyone knows who the person in the photo is, and no one has any idea. That night, he hears giggling and tapping on his window and goes out to investigate. No one’s there. The next night, it happens again, and he once more follows the sound of giggling, bringing the photo with him. A passing car hits him, killing him. The driver gets out and sees the photograph. The girl in it is now holding up three fingers.
John Chris Lopez’s adaptation is shot almost entirely in black and white, with a few exceptions, such as the petals of some flowers. The film improves on the story a bit. Tom in the short film is a photographer who finds the photo (more suspiciously, the photo’s in a frame this time). He sees the woman as a vision instead of just hearing tapping and giggling, making his willingness to walk out into the street a bit more sensible.
This story predated the whole concept of creepypasta, with Snopes claiming that it dates back to at least 2004.
A babysitter is at an unfamiliar home. She notices odd inconsistencies around the house, like water left running on its own. Also, there’s a life-size statue or mannequin in the house, either of a clown or an angel. On the phone with the homeowners, she asks about the weird statue. The homeowners tell her that they don’t have one.
The UK film team Bloody Cuts made a really exceptional adaptation of this story starring Bethan Hanks as the babysitter and Paul Ewen as the “statue.” Even though, by now, everyone has heard some version of this story and knows where it’s going, the production values make this a pretty unique experience. Just the shots of odd trinkets and toys scattered around the house are disquieting. The lighting and camerawork are particularly strong.
The Rake is believed to have been conceived in 2005 on the site 4chan and then codified in 2006 on a blog for SomethingAwful.com by Bryan Somerville. It’s an emaciated-looking humanoid monster with long claws that sneaks into people’s homes and does various things to them. Sometimes he’s violent, and sometimes he is deadly. Other times, he’s merely threatening. For hundreds of years he has appeared around the world, numerous times on video.
Go For Broke Pictures, the makers of the aforementioned 2 AM, have gone a more violent route than most with their version of Rake. Director Shun Ostubo’s creature is a powerful predator with hollow eye sockets instead of a sneaking, sickly creep.
Before we even see the monster, it’s already killed a father character. While the majority of the story centers on the surviving family members trying to avoid the beast, the last scenes are wonderfully made pieces of pseudo-historical evidence of the monster. The photos of the apparent victim from above and the crime scene investigation are particularly creepy.
Slender Man is still the most popular creepypasta character despite numerous parodies and a considerable degree of saturation. He is also one of few horror figures to inspire actual murder (unsuccessfully, so far). At some point, creator Eric Knudsen will undoubtedly allow a commercial motion picture or other production to be released. Until then, we have numerous videos and games to occupy our time.
Most videos about Slender Man are made to be as unpolished, vague, and amateur as possible to ape the style of the viral series Marble Hornets, which made Slender Man popular. Gearmark Pictures went in a completely different direction. Their film about Slender Man is slick and professional.
Their story is about a Confederate soldier from the American Civil War trying to protect his little sister Emily from the mysterious being. The acting in this film is so good that Slender Man himself isn’t even the scariest part. Scarier is Daniela Leon’s portrayal of Emily after she falls under the unknowable predator’s influence.
An urban legend about the Pokemon games, similar to Lavender Town Syndrome, tells of a particularly dark bootleg version of Pokemon. A man receives a black cartridge and plays as a ghost character who can kill all enemies instantly with a move called “Curse.” Then he begins to kill all the human characters with it until the world is emptied out. He considers that maybe the bootleg, modified version of the game was meant to be a lesson in mortality for children.
Pokemon Black became the main focus of one of the best parodies creepypastas have ever received: a video by Ridgway Films entitled Creepypasta. Despite broad humor (a cereal box full of game cartridges is the first sign of the game’s unnatural power) and some extremely campy acting, the film includes some surprisingly creepy moments. The shot of the protagonist surrounded by Pokemon ghosts is surprisingly horrific for how absurd it is. Even people who don’t find Internet stories about video games interesting at all should give it a look.
Dustin Koski has a story of his own about his last camping trip. Everyone’s free to make a film of their own out of it.