Horror changes depending on who’s making it. This is because we have our own ideas of what counts as terrifying and what makes good horror good.
Before the days of the internet and the storytelling culture that is uniquely characteristic of online horror, the genre used to be defined by big-name studios whose resources made them the only ones with enough reach to popularize tropes and ideas in horror fiction. But with the rise of internet forums and accessible personal blogs came what we would later look back on as the creepypasta subgenre of horror.
The word ‘creepypasta’ is an evolution of the term ‘copypasta’, a portmanteau of the words ‘copy’ and ‘pasted’. The word first emerged from 4chan in the early 2000s to refer to horror stories shared online that were often copied, pasted, and re-posted in what can only be described as a game of online horror literature telephone.
Creepypastas have since evolved from their simple, and admittedly often low quality, origins to become the more refined forms of internet horror that we see today. Continuing and improving on the traditional narrative style of many creepypastas, r/nosleep is the current home to many of the internet’s newest horror stories. Members upload their tales of fright onto Reddit and let other horror fans decide whether their work skyrockets in popularity or disappears into the shadowy bowels of the web.
Another child of the creepypasta trend is the SCP Foundation, a website that hosts the internet’s most bizarre and terrifying creatures while presenting itself as a covert organization that tracks down and contains anomalies. Its first supernatural entity, SCP 173, was sparked by an avant-garde sculpture from a Japanese art gallery.
But before the SCP Foundation and its collection of anomalies could run, creepypasta characters walked.
If there’s one creepypasta character that truly entered urban legend status, it’s Slenderman. This tall, dark, and murderous figure of internet horror first appeared online on a Something Awful thread where members shared images they altered to look like evidence of the supernatural. User Victor Surge, who was later revealed to be Eric Knudsen, contributed two black and white photos that featured a blurred, towering figure hidden somewhere in the background of his otherwise normal photographs.
Gerogerigege, the user who started the thread, inspired this classic creepypasta character when he posted: “I always wondered if it were possible to get one of my own chops in a book, documentary, or website just by casually leaking it out into the web — whether they’d be supplements to bogus stories or not.” Little did he know, it was Victor Surge’s work that would skyrocket into fame, not his.]
Slenderman, sometimes shortened to ‘Slendy’, captured the imagination of early 2000s horror fans. Inspired by the works of H.P Lovecraft, Eric Knudsen’s Slenderman had touches of Lovecraft’s unnamable brand of cosmic horror. Though there is a mythos around what Slenderman is and how he can be stopped, his ambiguous origins and methods of killing were what made the character the classic he is today.
Slenderman appears to his victims as a tall figure in a bespoke black suit. This classy creepypasta character may not have a face but he knows the importance of making a good first impression, especially when you’re going to be using your tentacles to murder an unsuspecting victim.
The creepypasta character has since become the subject of further fiction, going so far as to get his own movie and videogame adaptations. While the game was a huge hit that struck while the iron of Slendy’s fame was hot, the movie came dreadfully late and played out more like a conventional horror movie, disappointing fans of the urban legend who were looking for Slenderman’s unique flavor of terror.
Jeff the Killer
A sharp contrast to Slenderman, Jeff the Killer is a creepypasta based on a photograph of a human face that has been heavily altered to look unrecognizable as a normal human face. Skin as white as snow, blood-red lips, and dark eyes make this creepypasta character something of a horror Snow White.
YouTuber Sesseur essentially created this online urban legend when he uploaded a 2-minute video showing an entity he called ‘Jack the Killer’. The origin story for this creepypasta character is that he spilled a bucket of acid on his face while cleaning his bathtub, resulting in horrific burns that left his face a melted, near featureless mass.
In the heyday of creepypasta, Jeff the Killer was widely recognized as a creepypasta character in the same league as Slenderman. While he hasn’t stood the test of time half as well as his dapper colleague, Jeff the Killer did inspire newer creepypasta characters like The Crooked Man.
The Rake is a creepypasta character that shares the key element that allowed Slenderman to age so well: it was unexplainable by nature. The ambiguous cryptid is a child of 4chan’s /b/board where an anonymous user started a thread asking if they can create a new monster. Just like Slenderman, the Rake was created with the express purpose of becoming a lasting urban legend and 4chan did just that.
The creepypasta character shares many other physical traits with the later Slenderman as well. 6 feet tall and with deathly pale skin, his only major difference from Slendy was the fact that he had a face, appearance-wise at least. The Rake combines the creepiest features of both Jeff the Killer and Slenderman, having a deformed face and an unnaturally tall and pale body.
They don’t make video game creepypastas like they used to. Though this type of creepypasta arguably aged the worst out of all types of pastas in the genre, video game creepypastas still managed to give us a few classic characters.
Among the creepypasta characters that videogame creepypastas contributed to internet horror’s hall of fame is BEN Drowned. This urban legend revolves around the discovery of a cursed copy of a Majora Mask cartridge, a game that features the popular character of Link from the Legend of Zelda. This association is why the face of BEN Drowned is a version of Link that looks just as cursed as the cartridge is.
Players who attempt to change the cartridge in a bid to stop its anomalous properties from manifesting fully will find themselves facing a screen where BEN Drowned stares back at them, saying, “You shouldn’t have done that.”
Next on our list of hall of fame creepypasta characters is none other than Sonic.exe, another video game creepypasta involving a haunted game, except this time it’s a disk instead of a cartridge. Even demonic entities need to keep up with the times, after all.
The original tale of Sonic.exe features a young Sonic fan by the name of Tom who collects older versions of the Sonic games. In a move that’s typical of horror protagonists, Tom doesn’t listen to his friend Kyle who had begged him to destroy the Sonic.exe disk. Since Tom is a fan of the Sonic games series, he decides to play the game himself and is forced to play through several disturbing scenarios that involve mutilated animals and a horrific version of Sonic with bloody eyes.
The creepypasta character, who is suspected to be a demonic entity that merely uses Sonic’s image, claims to be a god and seeks to enslave the souls of Sonic fans who make the mistake of playing its game. So, if you have a copy of the Sonic games, you might want to consider burning sage, washing it with holy water, and then burning it in a cleansing ceremony.
Smile Dog sounds like an innocent name, doesn’t it? After all, who wouldn’t like to look at a dog smiling happily at the camera? Apparently, you wouldn’t want to see a dog smiling with a full set of human teeth.
The creepypasta character originates from a creepypasta story entitled Smile.jpg. Smile Dog plays on the internet horror trope that is now known under the SCP Foundation universe as a memetic hazard. Memetic hazards are said to be dangerous information that causes anomalous effects when knowledge of it is spread. In the case of Smile Dog, the memetic hazard comes from a picture of Smile Dog himself that, when viewed, plagues the viewer with nightmares until sleep deprivation either kills them or drives them to the point of suicide.
Smile Dog cares for only one thing and that is to be known. it will continue haunting and causing real serious physical and psychological harm to its victims if they refuse to comply with its wish to spread the word of what it is. Not forwarding the photograph within three days causes the Smile Dog to begin his hauntings.
Ted the Caver
if creepypasta is the granddaddy of internet horror, then Ted the Caver is the granddaddy of creepypasta. Unlike other creepypasta characters that have become part of urban legend, Ted the Caver isn’t the bad guy, he’s actually the protagonist.
Ted the Caver is the nickname given to a character in a caving-themed horror story originally posted on Angel Fire in the 2000s. Compared to most creepypastas, Ted the Caver’s story looks like it was written by Edgar Allan Poe, and really, there’s no better way to kick off an entirely new approach to horror. The story takes the form of several journal entries that detail the journey of our protagonist down into a mysterious cave system. Its riff on the epistolary style of storytelling was one of the first signs that we would get something like the SCP Foundation, which is known for telling its horror through official documents.
The proto creepypasta character takes us on a claustrophobic journey down a cave system with strange features that hint at a haunting without really showing us what’s down there. Its masterful use of the unknown takes a page from Lovecraftian horror stories, making it no surprise that the story would remain a legend to this day.
While the death of Ted and his friend may be in the realm of fiction, the dangers of caving aren’t. The story of this creepypasta character was inspired by the Nutty-Putty Cave, a cave system known for its tricky paths and restrictively small openings. The Nutty-Putty cave has claimed lives, namely John Jones who thought he had gone into the right opening before realizing the path he took got narrower instead of opening into a larger path. The Nutty-Putty, just like the Mystery Cave of Ted the Caver, has become his permanent grave after it proved impossible to get his body out. It’s no surprise that the cave has been sealed up permanently since the incident.
Looking for more horror classics? Check out our Top 10 Classic Horror Movie Posters for a trip through horror graphic design history and a suggestion on what movies to watch next.