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Thursday, 18 August 2016

DARK WEB: AN ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO CREEPYPASTA – PART 19: ANNIE96 IS TYPING

THIS FEATURE FIRST APPEARED AT UK HORROR SCENE HERE. ALL SUBSEQUENT CHAPTERS WILL BE PUBLISHED THERE FIRST.

Technology has utterly revolutionised the way in which we communicate. And not just for business purposes — this whole series of features has followed the web’s version of campfire ghost stories.
I’ve mentioned the opportunities that the Internet affords storytellers for enhancing their tales, be it images, videos or even audio clips.
But one way in which a clever storyteller can scare his tech savvy audience, is by effectively echoing the use of technology to spin his yarn.
Few creepypastas have done this as effectively as Annie96 Is Typing.



The story first appeared at storiesforyourscreen.com on 20 March 2014.
Submitted by Pascal Chatterjee, it effectively plays out as a transcript of a Whatsapp conversation between two users that Chatterjee discovered. It describes an evening in which a young woman, the titular Annie96 discovers a strange presence outside her home in the early hours of the morning and the conversation she has with her friend, Mcdavey, as a dire situation develops into something even worse.
But that isn't the cleverest thing about the story — it’s that the reader has to click through the story to uncover the next message, meaning that the story seems to unfold in realtime. And that’s not all Chatterjee’s story does to screw with its readers.

This storytelling method takes an already fine tale and ramps it up to an unbearably tense read.
There’s no skipping ahead to find out what happens, the story is told in it’s own time, while the familiarity of the format to the legions of Whatsapp users around the world really does succeed in making the whole story far more immersive than your usual creepypastas.
Of course, part of the reason it resonates so strongly with the audience is that it addresses a couple of key needs.
First, it teases the very human trait of curiosity — the part of us all that wants to snoop when we really know we shouldn’t. As demonstrated very early on in the conversation between Annie96 and Mcdavey, this is definitely a private conversation. By reading it we feel as if we’re peeking into something we shouldn't (just imagine if your entire message history were to be made available to somebody you’ve never even met… it’s a sobering thought). The fact that we instantly recognise that we are reading something we shouldn't heightens the realism — we feel this is not meant for our eyes because it is genuine… which of course means that the events must be true too.
And with this it touches on the second, and most important role, it fulfils — embodying our very real fears. 



There can be no denying that while technology has opened up our horizons when it comes to communication — without the internet these features wouldn't find an audience, let alone one as far flung as the United States, mainland Europe or Asia — yet at the same time it has removed that personal touch, stripping the humanity from the process. By doing this, we lose the ability to really check who it is that we are speaking with. 
There have been a number of web safety awareness campaigns warning children and teens (the primary consumers of Creepypasta) that they can never be truly sure exactly who they are communicating with online. (This is just one of scores of sites offering sound and important advice to youngsters online: http://www.safetynetkids.org.uk/personal-safety/staying-safe-online/
Annie96 Is Typing takes the very real concern and spins it off into something even more horrifying.
That it has struck a chord with readers cannot be denied, the story quickly went viral, with the hashtag #WhoIsAnnie96? trending on Twitter during May 2014.
There have been online debates and discussions about exactly what happened at the conclusion of the story and even some thematic follow-ups over at storiesforyourscreen.com, such as the very cool Joralemon by Dave Grilli.
It’s a real testament to Chatterjee’s story that today, more than two years on, people are still writing about it online.
Annie96 Is Typing is a triumph on many levels, from a technical standpoint it impresses as an exquisitely programmed medium, to authenticity (the writing style utterly suits a pair of high school age teens) to the wonderfully worked twist ending.

I was lucky enough to get the chance to speak to the author of Annie96 Is Typing, Pascal Chatterjee about the creation of one of the internet’s most widespread viral horror stories.



UK Horror Scene: Hi Pascal, thanks so much for agreeing to speak with UKHS.
I’ll start with the most obvious question — what served as your inspiration for the story?
Pascal Chatterjee: My inspiration was actually the real-life survivor accounts you find on Reddit, from people who've lived through things like school shootings or terrorist attacks.
I remember the horror I felt when reading a teenager's account of hiding from Anders Breivik during his rampage, in a closet, trying not to be heard while using their phone to send what might be their last message to their family. It was that image I started with, and I worked backwards from there, making the person in the closet with her phone Annie and then inventing a reason for her being there.

UKHS: Which writers, horror or otherwise, do you consider yourself a fan of?
PC: Stephen King and George R. R. Martin, because I’d say they’re storytellers first and writers second.  They can both make you care from their first few words, not through fancy prose but through the way they tell their stories.
I think they, like the best storytellers, know intuitively what the reader is thinking, so like a magician performing a trick, they can make their audience look to the right while they go left.
I feel that George R. R. Martin especially is good at realism, even in fantastical settings — he doesn’t let his affection for his characters get in the way of the internal logic of his universe, making his stories feel a lot more authentic than a lot of Hollywood movies.

UKHS: The story uses a very interesting structure — a series of instant messages that the reader is actively encouraged to click through to drive the plot forward. What made you choose this structure and what challenges did it cause?
PC: When I wrote the first draft, the text looked just like a normal script: Annie says something, David responds, and so on. The only difference was that it wasn’t spoken dialogue I had, but written dialogue in the style people write instant messages online.
That gave me the idea that the text should be presented like real instant messages, one by one, triggered by user input. And then, when I realised how tense this would make the reader, I added code to only show a new message at most once every second or so, even if the reader spam-clicks the next message button, and I threw in a couple of “annie96 is typing” popups to slow down the reading process at the tensest moments.

UKHS: How does it feel to know that people are still posting questions to the web wondering if the events of Annie96 Is Typing are real? Do you feel proud that your work was so well written that it's often mistaken for fact?
PC: Coming back to what I said about George R. R. Martin — I think there’s a huge lack of realism in storytelling today.
Movies, especially blockbusters, rely far too heavily on special effects and unchallenged power fantasies, and most TV shows suffer from having to hit the reset button after every episode so that the show can hit the same reliable beats next time around.
This means that movie and television plots don’t seem like they’re set in the world we all live in, where not everything happens for a reason and the “guy” certainly doesn’t always get “the girl”. So when a fictional world actually features somewhat realistic cause and effect, like the worlds of say, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones and The Sopranos, it feels like a breath of fresh air.
I’m happy that the small world I created was realistic enough to be mistaken for fact, but I think that’s the minimum every storyteller should be aiming for.

UKHS: I've seen plenty of theories online about the theme and message behind the story, especially a lack of humanity in modern communication. Was this a theme you wanted to explore? Or was Annie96 purely intended to frighten?
PC: I think the theme of missing humanity in Annie96 is what made it a genuine creepypasta.
The first creepypasta chill happens when Annie realises it’s not David in her garden; it’s not even a person but *something* that looks like him. That theme of emptiness in a human shell, emphasised in Annie96 by the contrast between how the thing looks and how it behaves, is I think at the core of a lot of creepypasta.
The sting in the tail of the story, when David unknowingly talks to the thing, is effective for this reason too — the thing writes in a far less human way than Annie did, and the fact that David and the reader realise this at roughly the same time is what makes the ending work.

UKHS: Finally what else can your fans look forward to from you in the days ahead? The somewhat open ending to Annie96 Is Typing suggests there could be more to come. Would you ever consider returning to the story?
PC: I won’t return to Annie96 because I think that story has reached its full potential. And I don’t plan to return to the instant messaging form of storytelling until I have another story that fits the format as well as Annie96 does.
Instead, I’ve been playing with the idea of making an interactive graphic novel, in mobile app form, which would keep the dialogue-heavy storytelling and the reader-triggered progression from Annie96 (this time swiping comic panels instead of clicking for new messages), and also add illustrations into the mix.
But I need to write the right script first, and seeing as I can’t draw I’ll need to find the right illustrator too. Here’s hoping it works out!

With technology at the core of the spread of Creepypasta, it comes as no surprise that authors should adapt technology as a key theme of the genre. Yes, it helps us to spread the words we want the world to hear — but what else does it spread?
Next time I’ll be looking at another such story, one based in the online world of Internet chatrooms from a name that will be familiar to longtime readers of these features…

TheHouse went offline.


If you haven’t already, do please check out and Like the Hickey’s House of Horrors Facebook page, which you can find here. It gives you a nice quick link to any new posts on this blog, plus regular news updates from around the web. I check the Internet so you don’t have to! Alternatively, follow me on twitter: The House @HickeysHorrors

Until next time, I hope you enjoyed your stay.

Friday, 15 July 2016

RAW REVIEW: BASKIN

A couple of weeks ago I reviewed Can Evrenol's dark and disturbing short, Baskin. It left quite the impression here at the House and built plenty of anticipation for Evrenol's feature-length adaptation of the same story. Combined with the rave reviews coming out of the festival circuit, the movie has become something of a must-watch for horror fans.
So would I be baskin' in its glow afterwards?
Or would the viewing experience become a real descent into hell?
Read on...

BASKIN (2015) 


Dir: Can Evrenol
Starring: Gorkem Kasal, Ergun Kuyucu, Muharrem Bayrak, Mehmet Fatih Dokgoz, Sabahattin Yakut, Mehmet Cerrahoglu

SPEEDY SYNOPSIS: I'll try not to spoil too much here but continue at your own risk.

After a haunting prelude on which a young boy is terrorised in his home by a seemingly otherworldly entity.

Years later we are introduced to five Turkish policemen working a night shift: aging, cynical boss Remzi (Kuyucu); young and upstanding Arda (Kasal); crude loud-mouth Yavuz (Bayrak); loyal Apo (Dokgoz); and agitated, tight-lipped Seyfi (Yakut). The officers are sat in a grimy late-night diner, regaling each other with a series of sordid anecdotes about their sexploits. We soon see that several of the group are a pretty rough and unlikeable bunch, picking on the young waiter for no real reason, a situation that escalates into violence.
Meanwhile, the increasing unwell-seeming Seyfi has to run to the toilet to vomit, and has a screaming fit over a nightmarish encounter.
As the group leave they receive a radio call telling them to report to an incident at Inceagac, a nearby small town, to assist other officers.
Despite their initial misgivings the group allow Seyfi to take the wheel — he regularly drives the ban and knows the area and the roads even better than most.
However, as they speed along the lonely mountain roads late at night, the group's impromptu singalong is interrupted when a mysterious figure dashes out in front of the vehicle, causing an accident which sees the van crash into a river. Unable to rescue the vehicle, the group are forced to make their way to the crime scene on foot.
They arrive at a dilapidated gothic mansion and head inside — unaware of what exactly waits for them within.


THE BEST BITS (mild spoiler warning): When I reviewed the short version of Baskin, I couldn't help but praise the beautiful and disturbing imagery. This movie version ramps that up even more. The striking lighting and colour palate give this a giallo-sequel feel. In fact the surreal nature of the plot, plus the highly stylised visuals, are most reminiscent of the great Mario Bava and Lucio Fulci's work. Rich deep blues and reds ensure that the film is always eyecatching and really ramps up the style of the picture.
From it's dreamlike feel during simple yet deeply-layered conversational scenes to the more nightmarish, gory, blood-soaked moments later on, Evrenol's film really is a feast for the eyes. He certainly owes a debt to cinematographer Alp Korfina, whose work is flawless once again.
Of course, I know plenty of you will have picked up on what I said earlier about the gore. Rest assured, if you want your horror bloody, cruel and violent, Baskin delivers the goods. It isn't far removed from the excesses of the likes of Rob Zombie, by way of the splattery physical supernatural horror of the seminal Hellraiser
The splatter of the most intense scenes is very hard hitting, with disembowelments, serious eye-trauma and multiple slashed throats on the menu for viewers with such tastes. What's more, the effects work that brings these scenes to life is sterling.
The visuals don't just rely on grue to set the mood either — we have plenty of other disconcerting images to evoke horror.
From swarms of frogs, to the sackcloth mask wearing followers in Inceagac, even down to the distinctive countenance of Cerrahoglu — the film contains plenty of nightmare fuel.
Cerrahoglu has a genetic condition that makes his face a living make-up effect, but there is so much more to his performance than just his unique visage. His take on the demented cult leader at the heart of Baskin's horrors, Father, is fascinating. It's a cold, quiet, almost sympathetic performance, spewing philosophical and poetic lines as he presides over the most gruelling and utterly nihilistic scenes in the movie. It's a wonderful performance and he very nearly runs away with the film. It's quite excellent.
The acting is strong throughout the film, especially from our three main protagonists.
The handsome Kasal makes for a suitably heroic lead and captures the essence of his character well. Elsewhere, the gravel-voiced Kyucu oozes gravitas and is an actor that I'll definitely be keeping an eye on in the future. He's truly impressive.
Finally the sleazy character of Yavuz is wonderfully realised by the charismatic and suitably nasty Bayrak. His is a thoroughly unpleasant role, one of machismo and bravado, a character you can't help but hope gets his comeuppance, yet during the horrors of the later scenes he manages to portray the character's fear and helplessness to such a degree that you can't help but sympathise. This is no mean feat and shows that Bayrak is a very talented individual indeed.
Yet even the characters are forced to take a backseat to the true star of Evrenol's movie – the eerily dreamlike ambience throughout, echoing Don Coscarelli's superb Phantasm or the shockingly nightmarish visuals of 1990's Jacob's Ladder. The film cultivates an atmosphere of mystery and dread through an awesome throwback soundtrack, those startling visuals and the russian doll-like format of the script (penned by Evrenol along with Ogulcan Eren Akay, Cem Ozuduru, Ercin Sadikoglu), which layers dreams upon dreams and often leaves it unclear as to whose story we are watching and what is truly-happening.
Combining the cerebral mindfuck of the best unsettling tales with the gruesome splatter of exploitation cinema, Baskin is a horror film that hits on all fronts.



THE WORST BITS (mild spoiler warning): As is often the case with stories of somewhat unlikeable characters, one flaw in Baskin is that it's difficult to root for the characters. As interesting as the likes of Yakuz are, they simply aren't sympathetic enough to warrant much of an emotional investment until they are truly put through the wringer late on. A side effect of this is that the spectacle becomes the star of the show and thankfully, the spectacle is more than worth the hype.
A word of warning though, less patient viewers who want to be spoonfed a simple coherent plot may find the challenging nature of Evrenol's film something of a chore. There may be some minor pacing issues, but patient fans are in for a hell of a ride late on in the story. I get that some viewers may be frustrated by the lack of explanation but, to me, the lack of explicit exposition works in the film's favour. It encourages the audience to think, it keeps us on edge by never explaining what exactly is going on. It's as chaotic, unnerving and utterly gripping as a descent into Hell should be.
Finally, and this is a matter of personal preference, one of my favourite things from the short film was the terrifying character of Mother, as played by Fadik Bülbül. Sadly, she's not in this movie. Don't get me I like Father, but surely there was room for two utterly horrifying antagonists here? Here's hoping for a sequel where she gets to make an appearance.


THE VERDICT: Baskin deserves all the praise in the world for the stylish manner in which it combines cerebral and visceral horror. It may not be for everyone, but understandably it is being hailed as the film that draws the world's eyes to Turkish horror.
Personally, I enjoyed the film a great deal, even if it maybe doesn't quite live up to the potential of the superb short that spawned it. However, as a movie in its own right it is well worth your time.

Baskin is released today, Friday 15 July. So check it out! Until then, head over to the official Facebook page here. Show it some love while you're there!


If you haven’t already, do please check out and Like the Hickey’s House of Horrors Facebook page, which you can find here. It gives you a nice quick link to any new posts on this blog, plus regular news updates from around the web. I check the Internet so you don’t have to! Alternatively, follow me on twitter: The House @HickeysHorrors

Until next time, I hope you enjoyed your stay.

DARK WEB: AN ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO CREEPYPASTA — PART 17: PENPAL

THIS FEATURE FIRST APPEARED AT UK HORROR SCENE HERE. ALL SUBSEQUENT CHAPTERS WILL BE PUBLISHED THERE FIRST.

One of the key tools in creating unease that Creepypasta authors employ is subverting the innocence of childhood.
Whether it be creating monstrous warped reflections of familiar childhood memories (such as the multiple ‘Dark Disney’ creations I’ve covered in this series), addressing very real childhood concerns (such as bullying in the story of Jeff the Killer or last week’s Liars) or even the creation of new bogeymen (such as 1999’s Mr Bear and the faceless government officials who run the institute Where Bad Kids Go), childhood offers plenty of fuel for horror.
While I’ve been vaguely familiar with the Creepypasta scene for some time, it was four years ago that I truly became a fan.
I praise a handful of masterfully written Creepypasta stories for inspiring this fandom (many of which have yet to appear in these features, so do stay tuned), but arguably the best of these was a series of Creepypasta stories published to the r/nosleep Reddit by user 1000Vultures. This series would later come to be known as PENPAL.




In March 2010 the story Footsteps was published to nosleep. You can read the post in full here. It details a childhood memory of the author about a curious incident in which he woke up alone in nearby woodland. The story plays on the manner in which the gentle thump of your own heartbeat in your ears could easily be mistaken for footsteps. The story builds to a truly frightening conclusion. 
The story was extremely well-received by the users of nosleep. 1000Vultures replied to the comments, remaining in character throughout (the first rule of nosleep is that everybody must treat each story as if it is a true account of events from the reader), and, spurred on by this positive feedback, decided to return to the story to answer any questions with a follow up post, Balloons.
Read the story here.  
In this story, set prior to the events of Footsteps, the author talks about a school project in which the class each attached letters to helium balloons and released them, waiting for replies to come back from whoever discovers the balloon.
In this story we are introduced to the author’s best friend Josh, and soon discover that the recipient of our author’s letter may well have found its way to the wrong person.
Equally popular with readers, Balloons was followed by Boxes; Maps; and Screens; before the story concluded in Friends.
Each chapter introduces new elements to the tale, expanding the cast of characters to include elderly neighbours suffering with dementia, a love interest and people with a number of dark secrets. The subsequent entries escalate the intensity of the story’s horrors, and the whole thing is, to this day, ESSENTIAL reading for Creepypasta aficionados.

The story is an intricately assembled puzzle box, each segment coming in non-chronological order but both setting the scene for future chapters and providing additional meaning and perspective to those that precede it. The beautifully crafted plotting on display is leaps and bounds above that of the vast majority of Creepypasta authors, while the use of language rivals that of any published writer.
It uses the hazy, dreamlike quality of childhood memories, plus the naivety that comes with youth to tell us a far darker story than the narrator originally realises. By using this technique, in which we understand the grimness of a tale far more than those characters within it, we are set in a position of uncomfortable tension, seeing the inevitable horrifying conclusion long before the other foot drops and the characters realise what they have stumbled into. It’s a technique used in horror films (a slip in an unseen puddle of liquid that later turns out to be blood, flies and an unpleasant smell, the now legendary lines: ‘Is this some kind of joke?’ or ‘Stop goofing around!’) and it works every bit as well in prose.

Which explains how and why the demand for this story saw it take that next logical step.
Buoyed by the positive feedback, 1000Vultures decided to combine the story into one long tale, rewriting it in places and expanding it, and to self publish the complete work under the title PENPAL
To this end, 1000Vultures, under his real name of Dathan Auerbach, launched a Kickstarter campaign on 2 April 2012, looking to raise $1500 to cover his publication costs (.
He raised more than 10 times that amount.




The book is still available in print, and honestly, it’s one of the finest horror novels of the new millennium. I’ve bought a copy not just for myself, but as gifts for friends.
You can order your own copy from Amazon here
I THOROUGHLY recommend you do.

It’s hard to explain why PENPAL resonates so well with the reader. I think the most obvious strength that Auerbach’s story has is that rather than inspire straightforward fear, it engages us and gets us to respond to the characters on an emotional level. In a way, it’s a sentimental piece, the story one of realisation and of relationships torn apart. It is a deeply personal story and, by setting the events over the time in which the narrator transitions from childhood to adulthood, it accurately the reflects the melancholy of the time in our lives in which we bid farewell to innocence. It works because it’s good enough to make us care.

Obviously I’m not the only person to have spotted the quality in philosophy teacher Auerbach’s work — Academy Award winning producer Rich Middlemas (who scooped an Oscar for documentary Undefeated) optioned the film rights for PENPAL back in 2012 before the book was even on sale through Amazon.com. The film has yet to appear on the big screen, but developments are continuing. It’s a story that I genuinely believe will translate well to celluloid, so I await its arrival with baited breath.

Yet exciting as this news is, PENPAL would not exist were it not for one man, original author Dathan Auerbach. 




Dathan’s work can be seen over at 1000vultures.com and he was kind enough to speak with Hickey's House of Horrors about his fantastic creation.

Hickey's House of Horrors: Hi Dathan, thank you so much for agreeing to answer my questions.
I’ll start with the most obvious one — what served as your inspiration for the story? 
Dathan Auerbach: When it comes to the story itself, I guess there are two things. 
1) I had dreams of being kidnapped when I was a kid. There were a bunch of different versions, but in almost all of them I was carried away while I cried for help and no one seemed to mind at all. For some reason, that left a pretty unshakable impression on me. 
2) I went to sleep in my bed and woke up on my porch. My mom will deny it to this day, but facts are facts, mom. I think the most likely explanation was that she was trying to get rid of me, but she’s a small lady and couldn’t carry me all that far. 
When it comes to posting the story: it was the r/nosleep forum on reddit. I’d read a bunch of stories – gobbled them up, really. I loved the premise: that everything was true even if it wasn’t. I wanted to give something back, to contribute to the community. I posted one story, people wanted to know more, so I kept going. That community inspired me with its work and then with its warm reception. 

HHoH: Which writers, horror or otherwise, do you consider yourself a fan of? 
DA: I read lots of different stuff, I guess. I tend to gravitate toward people who find the menace the world as we know it. Whether it’s unapologetically terrestrial horror/suspense or supernatural stuff that’s allegorical. Richard Matheson and Ray Bradbury do the latter really well. Dennis Lehane and Thomas Harris are great at the former. 
Sometimes you just need something brutal and out there; Clive Barker and Stephen King and Lovecraft are great for that. I’ve been on a big Erik Larson kick lately.
Obviously, there’s lots of other stuff. This question shouldn’t be so hard. 

HHoH: Congratulations on the successful Kickstarter campaign that allowed you to publish PENPAL. What inspired you to do this? What were the biggest challenges with self-publishing? 
DA: Thanks! It’s funny, but I was initially pretty averse to any kind of crowdfunding. The story (the six parts that eventually comprised PENPAL) were all on reddit for free. The book was an expansion on those stories, but I didn’t feel quite right charging for it before it was even out for sale. 
It was actually at the behest of some of my readers that I began to seriously explore Kickstarter. I just wanted to raise enough money to cover the ISBN, art, and formatting costs. I had to bump the number up a bit to cover the costs of the extras I offered on the Kickstarter. I never thought I’d hit the goal; the fact that my fans flew past it as far as they did still blows my mind. 
One of the biggest challenges was having pretty much complete control. There was never a point where I could turn something over and just be done with it. 
Don’t get me wrong, I had some really talented people taking care of things that were outside my skillset, but making executive decisions about cover art and layout was all new to me. It’s hard to know when something’s done, especially when it’s your first time doing it. 
And that was probably the biggest challenge: finishing PENPAL — knowing/deciding when it was done. Trying to expand upon the existing material without taking it so far away that fans of the original stories would think I’d messed it up. I went back and forth on a lot of stuff. Finally, I just decided that this was something I was doing for myself and for however many fans would want to check it out. If they didn’t dig it, they’d always have the original stories to go back to. I found a middle ground I was comfortable with and let it loose. 

HHoH: How does it feel to know that people are still posting questions to the web wondering if the events of PENPAL are real? Do you feel proud that your work was so well written that it's often mistaken for fact? 
DA: Feels crazy. The comment section of the original reddit post Footsteps was the crucible of the whole series. They were asking whether the police ever found anything. If anything more ever came of the events. I gave some short answers and then decided to write another story to give something a bit more substantive. It took off from there. 
After that, I had at least one (alleged) psychologist reach out to me and offer an ear if I felt I needed help. I got a lot of messages from people who didn’t know quite what to say. They’d congratulate me on a good story with the caveat that, if it was actually true, they meant no offense and offered me their condolences. 
I still get emails to this day about it. I never say whether it’s true or not. To me, it’s not so much a testament to the quality of the writing (though thank you for saying so); I think it’s more to do with the environment where it was born. 

HHoH: The fans are very passionate about the story. Are there any examples of fan art, such as films or readings, in particular that have impressed you? 
DA: To be honest, I’m impressed and enthralled by any fan-generated material. I wrote PENPAL to participate in something that I thought was great – r/nosleep. The fact that my contribution has inspired others to create things is moving, and I don’t say that lightly. The collector cards that shipped with my Kickstarter were done by a great artist named Carolyn Nowak; originally, she wanted to work on a comicbook adaptation with me, but it evolved into something different. A filmmaker named Brooks Reynolds reached out to me really early on to adapt Footsteps. The camera-work is terrific, and it was so wild to see people acting out something that I had written. YouTuber MrCreepyPasta did an audio narration of my stories that turned out to be really fantastic. 
My biggest hope was that a handful of people would read the stories; I never imagined that they would inspire people to create things of their own. 
Someone even reached out to me recently to show me a Super Mario Maker level she had made that (unbelievably) had elements of one of my stories in it. It’s really all pretty incredible. 




HHoH: I see that a deal was signed to bring PENPAL to the big screen some time ago. Are you able to share any updates on that? Will you have a role in the adaptation? 
DA: There’s really not much I can say here, other than I’m excited. 

HHoH: And finally will you ever return to the PENPAL story in the future? And what else can your fans look forward to from you in the days ahead? 
DA: The story of the narrator and his penpal is over, but that’s not to say that world is complete. I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw it again. 
I’m almost done with a new book. It’s very similar to PENPAL in tone. I’m excited to get it out there and see what people think.

In my last feature I covered the dubious ground of Crappypasta, those attempts at Creepypasta that are dismissed by the vast majority of readers as amateurish, poorly structured and inadequately composed. There are plenty of stories that are quickly and easily cast aside under this banner.
So why do readers keep coming back? 
Because nestled in among these stories are genuine works of astounding quality.
PENPAL is one of the very best.
Come back next time for an introduction to another.

If you haven’t already, do please check out and Like the Hickey’s House of Horrors Facebook page, which you can find here. It gives you a nice quick link to any new posts on this blog, plus regular news updates from around the web. I check the Internet so you don’t have to! Alternatively, follow me on twitter: The House @HickeysHorrors

Until next time, I hope you enjoyed your stay.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

DARK WEB: AN ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO CREEPYPASTA – PART 18: SEARCH AND RESCUE WOODS


PLEASE NOTE, THIS FEATURE FIRST APPEARED AT UK HORROR SCENE HERE. ALL SUBSEQUENT CHAPTERS WILL APPEAR AT UKHS FIRST. 

In my last Creepypasta feature, I wrote about the critically acclaimed Penpal, a novel born out of a series of connected posts over on Reddit’s r/nosleep board.
This week we look at a similar success story, a number of posts that was met with plenty of recognition from the notoriously discerning readers of one of the internet’s top breeding grounds for fantastic Creepypastas.

On 26 August 2015, user searchandrescuewoods posted a story to r/nosleep entitled ‘I’m a Search and Rescue Officer for the US Forest Service, I have some stories to tell’ (read it here).


It comprised of a number of anecdotes from the narrator’s career as a Search and Rescue officer in an unnamed heavily wooded area of the United States. The narrator lists several cases — some heart-wrenching, some head-scratching, and some legitimately disturbing — before wrapping up. Among these stories are tales of children mysteriously snatched away then recovered dead in places in which they had no right to be and, bizarrely, stories of strange but dangerous staircases standing in the woods.
At first glance these seem like a fairly scattergun approach to telling spooky stories, but then the following day a second batch of stories was posted to Reddit. These all seemed rather haphazard, but on closer inspection certain elements from the first story were expanded upon.

Over the course of these posts a rich ‘mythology’ is laid out, from the aforementioned stairs to the ‘fuzzy’ man and encounters with ominous faceless people. We are given no answers, no cast-iron solutions or detailed exposition, instead we receive details of a series of incidents that encourage us to think about the links and draw our own conclusions. That element of mystery really adds to the storytelling process, causing the reader to engage with the subject material on a personal level.
But it isn’t just the format that draws the reader in. The author, Searchandrescuewoods, is an accomplished writer. The stories and subject matter are written with authority and include enough subtle details to help convince the reader that they are really hearing from an experienced and qualified US Forest Service agent.
They are so convincing that plenty of readers have since linked the stories with the work of David Paulides.
For those who don’t know, Paulides is a writer/investigative journalist who once served as a police officer in San Jose. He has carved out quite the niche by writing bookss on both Bigfoot and unexplained disappearances (especially those in the US’s national parks).
Paulides founded a research group, North American Bigfoot Search, while his extensively researched books on the subject — Tribal Bigfoot and The Hoopa Project: Bigfoot Encounters in California — are widely regarded as THE authority on Sasquatch sightings in North America. 


Paulides’ Missing 411 project, which has been the subject of several nonfiction books that he has penned, focuses on unexplained disappearances and deaths in national parks and was allegedly instigated by a conversation with an off-duty park ranger who recognised Paulides’ considerable investigative talents and asked him to look at a number of baffling cases. Since then Paulides has discovered a huge number of utterly bewildering cases around the world that are very much a perfect match for the stories told by SARwoods.
In fact, the events in Paulides’ books and the Search and Rescue Woods series are so similar that he has been asked, multiple times, about stairs in the woods and other SARwoods stories at public speaking engagements.
It became such a problem that SARwoods has had to include a disclaimer at their Tumblr blog and recently commented:

‘It is with great regret that I think back to the initial impact that my stories had on Paulides’ work. I have, of course, apologized, but unfortunately I suspect that irreparable damage has been done as far as our potential friendship goes. I hope this isn’t the case. I also hope that in the future my fans will express my feelings on this to him. He is my greatest inspiration; without him these stories would not exist. ‘

I think it’s actually a testament to SARwoods’ writing talent that people read these stories and feel compelled to check them out with the real world’s most esteemed expert in the field. But this should come as no shock. SARwoods’ own blog reveals that the author has studied writing at length, a study that has yielded real dividends.
The r/nosleep audience is clearly enamoured with the stories — it received a staggering level of support which saw the series scoop one of NoSleep’s coveted Best Monthly awards.
And perhaps most excitingly, SARwoods has suggested there is more to come, stating that work has started on a manuscript of a novel that will collect and expand on these stories. Like the legions of fans SARwoods has cultivated, I for one cannot wait to see what other macabre wonders this talented storyteller has in store for us.


It was my pleasure to converse with the very friendly, charming SARwoods while researching this piece, and the author was kind enough to answer some questions for Hickey's House of Horros.

Hickey's House of Horrors: Hi, thanks so much for agreeing to speak with UK Horror Scene. I’ll ask the most obvious question first — what served as your inspiration for the story?
SearchAndRescueWoods:  I've always really enjoyed the woods as a setting for both horror and fiction. I think that there is a very ancient kind of fear in us of the trees that can be incredibly powerful when used in the right way. As for the stairs, they were inspired by some of the themes and imagery in House of Leaves.

HHoH: Which writers, horror or otherwise, do you consider yourself a fan of?
SARwoods: I have too many favorite authors to count. I enjoy an incredibly broad range of material, and there's very little I won't try. In particular, I enjoy Ann Beattie, Stephen King, Chuck Palahniuk, Brett Easton Ellis, and J. D. Salinger.

HHoH: The stories use a very interesting structure — a series of anecdotes that when read together hint at several larger plot lines. Why did you choose this format for storytelling? And what challenges did the format give you?
SARwoods: I enjoy writing from the close first person because it is a very intimate form of storytelling. We get the impression that the narrator is speaking directly to us, and in horror this is critical in order to maintain tension. I think the casual tone also makes the story more approachable, and a bit easier to understand. When we aren't caught up trying to understand the material itself, it frees us up to imagine more. The challenge, of course, is that you are working so closely with the character. In a horror setting especially, everything that happens to the narrator has a consequence, and this has to be dealt with in a realistic manner.

HHoH: How does it feel to know that people are still posting questions to the web wondering if the events of your Search and Rescue stories are real? Do you feel proud that your work was so well written that it's often mistaken for fact?
SARwoods: It makes me incredibly proud and flattered that people are still mistaking my stories for fact. In fiction, belief is the highest form of flattery!

HHoH: The fans are very passionate about the story. I've seen plenty of very atmospheric creepy images of stairs in the woods over at your Tumblr page (searchandrescuewoods.tumblr.com) Are there any examples of fan art, such as films, images or readings, in particular that have impressed you?
SARwoods: I am amazed with and am incredibly grateful for every piece of fanart I receive. I have incredibly talented fans!

HHoH: At the end of the eighth and final Nosleep post you mention assembling and expanding on these tales in a book in the future. Is that something that you are still pursuing? If so, how is it coming along? I'm sure I'm not the only fan who wants to know when we might be able to buy a copy!
SARwoods: I will be releasing more details on that at a future date.

HHoH: Congratulations on the stories' tremendous success over at Nosleep. What was it like to receive that level of positive feedback and recognition from the Reddit community?
SARwoods: It's been incredible to see how much Reddit, and NoSleep, have embraced my work. I am the top rated story of all time on NoSleep, and hold numerous other positions, which is absolutely mind-blowing. I would never have imagined that there would be so much interest in my work!

HHoH: Finally what else can your fans look forward to from you in the days ahead?
SARwoods: My fans can continue to look forward to, and receive, more work from me. I am switching gears from learning mode to application, so I will be producing much more content in the coming months. 

Ultimately, the reasons that SARwoods’ stories resonate are twofold.
First, they tap into the natural fear of nature in modern man. We’re a civilised bunch and we have shaped the world to our own will, but there are still those places in the world, older than our society, that maintain their original primal form. Places that are dangerous, without the artificial safety we have built into our own habitat.
In the depths of the woods it is easy to feel both alone and completely surrounded. It’s a place devoid of human contact, utterly isolated, yet still teeming with life. It’s just that this life is the savage, instinctive kind, the sort that thrives in the kill-or-be-killed environment of the wild.
The question is, are you?
The second reason the tale hits the mark is it's engaging and unique method of story-telling. It matters not a jot how strong a plot is, if the story is poorly told it will not find an audience. And it is here that the talented SARwoods is a resounding success.
Come back next week when I’ll look at another unique and original story-telling method for a Creepypasta guaranteed to chill.
Until then, stay safe… and avoid the stairs.


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Until next time, I hope you enjoyed your stay.