Who’s that guy standing way off in the distance, just behind that tree? Why, it’s the Slender Man, the modern monster that has captured the attention of everyone from posters on Reddit and Deviant Art to local and national news reporters all across America. And now, Slender Man is coming to the big screen from Screen Gems this spring (watch the trailer below).
The Slender Man may not be a true folk figure in the traditional sense, but in an era of internet memes, he definitely qualifies as an embodiment of terror deliberately tailored for the iPhone generation, and folklore scholars tend to agree. But just who is the urban legend known as Slender Man? Read on… if you dare!
The Slender Man is just that – a nondescript (he has no discernible features, but his face occasionally takes different forms) pale figure in a black suit with preternaturally elongated limbs (or even tentacles). His primary targets are children, although all human beings are potentially prone to being traumatized by his very presence. Seeking to know more about him often draws his unwanted attention, and he can teleport directly to your location with little to no warning. Lurking in forests or other lonely, abandoned places, his proximity can trigger increasing disorientation, paranoid feelings, insanity, and the occasional nosebleeds. Attempting to record him on video or audio is usually futile.
In keeping with the meme origins of the character (see below), his story has been built by multiple authors since his first conception; many encountered him for the first time via the found footage “Marble Hornets” video series posted on YouTube, which drew over 50 million views and corralled a quarter million subscribers. The series also established the Slender Man symbol, which has since turned up in many other stories featuring the character. But the Slender Man’s reign of terror all began with one man, and a simple little Internet competition to come up with something new and disturbing…
The sinister saga of Slender Man began on June 8, 2009, when his creator, Eric “Victor Surge” Knudsen, posted some Photoshopped images of the creature on the “Something Awful” Internet forum as part of a contest to come up with original “paranormal” pictures. Unlike other entrants, Knudsen captioned his pictures with eerie snippets of text that suggested a larger story involving abducted children that may even have been pressed into service to murder at the behest of the Slender Man. Other posters started shaping a backstory for the character almost immediately, and Slender Man soon became one of the most popular viral “creepypasta” (basically, easily copy-and-pasted short horror stories that can be shared online) tales shared all across the web as a crowd-sourced meme of modern horror.
The Slender Man, an amalgam of countless other characters that populate horror literature and entertainment, draws on elements of Lovecraftian madness, stories of the mysterious Men in Black and Greys associated with UFO lore, games like Silent Hill and Resident Evil, and the works of Stephen King and William S. Burroughs. Knudsen has also acknowledged the influence of the Tall Man from the 1979 Don Coscarelli film, Phantasm, and the legend of the Mothman, while the similarities to creatures like the Gentlemen in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the Charlton/DC Comics character the Question are also undeniable (notably, Knudsen’s pseudonym “Victor Surge” is very reminiscent of the Question’s alter ego, Victor Sage).
Sadly, the Slender Man’s biggest claim to fame may be that he found himself at the center of a real-life tragedy when two 12-year-old girls living in Wisconsin attacked a classmate on May 31, 2014, and stabbed her 19 times. The “Waukesha Stabbing” was an attempt by the two girls, as they later told police, to please the Slender Man and protect their families from his wrath (the “Marble Hornets” series was the first to establish the notion that human “proxies” could serve the Slender Man with heinous acts). Their intended victim survived the attack, but the story of the horrific assault carried the story of the Slender Man to every major news outlet, and even led to Knudsen himself issuing a brief statement in which he refused to discuss the incident further beyond offering his sympathies. The entire tale has since been covered by HBO in the documentary, Beware the Slenderman.
Since the “Waukesha Stabbing,” other Slender Man-related crimes have been reported, including a June 2014 stabbing of a mother by her own 13-year-old daughter, a September 2014 incident in which a 14-year-old girl set fire to her family’s house, and a rash of 2015 suicide attempts at the Indian reservation at Pine Ridge, in which the character was frequently named as a primary inspiration, resembling the “suicide spirit” that was part of their traditions.
Despite these terrible stories – or perhaps at least in part because of them – Slender Man quickly captured the imagination and slipped his way into pop culture through games, television, music, and much more. Aside from the Screen Gems Slender Man movie coming this spring, references to the dapper denizen of the dark have popped up in Minecraft and other games, while TV adaptations or aspects of his “legend” have included stories about “Glasgowman” on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and “Thinman” on Supernatural… and yes, there has even been a My Little Pony incarnation of the Slender Man. Now that’s truly horrifying!
Find Arnold T. Blumberg on Twitter at @DoctoroftheDead.