Malicious Myths: The Nian (年兽)

To most people, the beginning of a New Year promises a fresh start; a chance to right the wrongs of the previous year (of which there are, undoubtedly, many) and become the person you’ve always dreamed of being, albeit after you’ve gotten over that horrific hangover. But it’s important to remember that not all New Year’s celebrations are full of such hope. The Chinese may not celebrate New Year at the same time as us, but that’s not the only thing that sets them apart.

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Every year, when winter ravages the land and there is nothing left to eat, a terrifying beast rises up out of the sea and prowls the Chinese countryside in search of prey. It terrorises villages, kills livestock, razes farmer’s crops, feasts on the villagers themselves, and has a horrifying preference for child meat. After all, nothing goes down smoother than a ten-year old vintage. And by “ten-year old vintage” we mean your son. This ferocious beast travels from village to village, leaving destruction and devastation in its wake. Its Chinese name of “Nian Shou” (年兽) literally means “The Year Beast”, and its presence has become synonymous with that of the New Year itself. So, while the rest of the world is popping bottles of champagne and drunkenly regaling their friends with their 2015 woes, the people of China are huddled up in their homes waiting to be devoured. Or are they?

It turns out that the Chinese preference for the colour red isn’t just a tribute to their Communist leaders (or should we say overlords). This love of all things scarlet dates back thousands of years, to when the Nian first began raiding the villagers’ pantries for long grain rice and supple young boys. In spite of its enormous size and brute strength, the Nian is deathly afraid of three things: loud noises, bright lights, and anything red. It might look like a fearsome lion, but it’s really more of a scaredy-cat.

legend_nian2Thus during the New Year or Spring Festival period, Chinese people make more noise and create more commotion than a busload of preteens at a One Direction concert. They beat drums, set off fireworks, burn firecrackers in the street, and (from personal experience) do everything in their power to assault your eardrums on an almost hourly basis. Seriously, it’s a small wonder that the entire population hasn’t gone deaf by now. At night, paper lanterns are crafted, lit, and paraded through the streets, while red decorations and couplets of auspicious sayings are hung from the doorways of houses. People will often stay up late or even all night long on New Year’s Eve simply to ward off any sneaky demons lurking nearby.

The tradition of the Nian has become so ingrained in the culture that, rather than a cheery “Happy New Year”, people will greet one another with the phrase “Guo Nian” (过年), which means “the passing of Nian” or “surviving the Nian”. And we thought New Year’s Resolutions were bad. So you may have to start a diet and give up smoking, but at least you didn’t ring in the New Year by congratulating yourself on not being eaten.

Appearance

nianDepictions of the Nian vary depending on which part of China you’re in, but generally speaking it is immense in size and has a jaw so wide that it can scoop up several people in a single go. Remember that time you ate a whole can of Pringles and then cried bitterly about what a fat waste of space you had become? Well imagine doing that with a can full of small children, and that’s how the Nian rolls. It is often portrayed with a single horn or several large horns on its head, which it uses to skewer youngsters before toasting them over a fire like fleshy marshmallows.

In some instances it is said to have the powerful body of an ox and the head of a lion, but in other cases it appears as a half-dragon half-unicorn hybrid. The former usually depicts it with a snub-nose or relatively flat-face, while the latter portrays it with a much longer snout. In any case, it has large sharp teeth capable of tearing through even the strongest of children’s clothes. That is, until Matalan finally brings out their “flesh-eating monster friendly” range.

Origins

The story of the Nian dates back thousands of years, to a period that the Chinese refer to as “Shang Gu” (上古) or “the Ancient Times”. Long before the human race had achieved such heights of civilisation as the shotgun and the indoor toilet (both of which are still very hard to find in China), farmers were being terrorised by the ravenous Nian. It was supposedly so formidable that even other demons and beasts dared not get on its bad side, for fear that it would straight up murder them and feast on their tasty organs. At one point, to prove it was the baddest of the bad, it even killed every wild beast in the mountains and drove several species to extinction just to win a bet. Move over Chuck Norris, we got a serious badass over here.

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If I fits, I sits

On the run-up to New Year, villagers from across China would flee into the mountains and hide from the creature. That was until one year, when the people of Peach Blossom Village were preparing for their annual fleeing. As Hallmark always says, nothing brings a family together quite like fleeing for your life. Suddenly an old beggar entered the village, his hair a silvery white and his eyes a bright blue. Everyone was too busy making preparations to pay him any mind, but an elderly woman approached him and gave him some food.

She beseeched him to follow them into the mountains, as the Nian was fast approaching and would surely devour him if he stayed. The beggar promised that he could drive the monster away and would do so on one condition: the elderly lady must let him stay in her home for one night. But it wasn’t kinky geriatric sex that was on his mind. In spite of the woman’s entreaties, the beggar would not be moved and she was forced to head up into the mountains alone.

9753b31f15dd7a88d4f2e91b0add00baNight fell and the dreaded Nian dashed into the village, searching for a couple of kidlets to whet its appetite. It was furious to find that the village had been abandoned, but soon noticed that the candles in the old lady’s house were still lit. Approaching with caution, it was horrified when it saw a piece of red paper stuck to the door. Loud sounds like thunder began emanating from the house and the beast was paralysed by fear. At that moment, the beggar burst out of the house wearing a red robe and, with its enormous tail between its legs, the Nian bolted into the darkness.

The next day, the villagers returned and were amazed to find that their homes, livestock, and grain stores were still intact. The beggar was gone, but inside the elderly woman’s house they found the remnants of his nightly activities: a few candles, some used firecrackers, and reams of red paper. They realised that the beggar was actually a celestial being who had been sent to teach them how to ward off the Nian. Overjoyed at the prospect of a casualty-free New Year, they all dressed up, set about preparing a huge banquet, and then travelled to nearby villages in order to inform others of the incident.

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Rawr

From that day onwards, during the New Year period, people would stick red paper couplets to their doors, keep their homes well-lit, set off firecrackers, and violate all fire-safety laws known to man. The next day would be spent visiting friends and relatives to congratulate them on having survived the night and not blown themselves up. Seriously, it’s a miracle so few people end up blowing their hands off.

Modern-day Usage

Wherever there are knock-off martial arts games or TV shows, there will always be the Nian. After all, cultural appropriation is totally okay so long as you keep it factual, right? Right?! With that said, here are a few modern-day references to our leonine leviathan:

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  • A Chinese animated comedy film called Mr. Nian (年兽大作战) is set to come out on February 8th 2016, the date Chinese New Year falls on this year. The main character is a hapless and bumbling Nian.
  • There is a two-headed canine beast in the online game World of Warcraft called a Nian. During an annual event called The Lunar Festival, a boss version of this monster appears called Omen.
  • In the online role-playing game Guild Wars, the Nian is part of an event called the Canthan New Year Celebration.
  • There is a monster in the mobile strategy game Game of War called the Nian Lion whose appearance is clearly based on the Nian.
  • Nian or “The Year Beast” features as an event boss as part of the New Bloom Festival in the online video game DOTA 2.
  • In the video game World of Kung-Fu, the Nian features as a mount.
  • In the online game Perfect World: International, there are creatures known as Nienbeasts that are available as mounts and were visually based on the Nian.
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Ride ’em Cowboy
  • The Nian makes an appearance in an episode of the animated sitcom Three Delivery entitled “Night of the Nian”.
  • There is a television series called Spirit Warriors which feature Nian as characters, although they are portrayed as humanoid rather than bestial.
  • In 2013, McDonald’s launched this amazing advert where a man refuses to give his hamburger to the Nian.

 

 

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Malicious Myths: The Nian (年兽)

It Doesn’t Think, It Doesn’t Feel, It Doesn’t Give Up: A Review of It Follows (2015)

it-follows-35781Release Date: March 13th 2015

Director: David Robert Mitchell

Country of Origin: United States

Language: English

Runtime: 1 hour 40 minutes

You’re probably all wondering why it’s taken me so long to write a review of It Follows, particularly since the film has been out for over nine months and I’ve been raving about it for nearly as long. The real reason is that I’m incredibly lazy and have a terrible work ethic, but the reason I’ll give you is that it was my favourite horror film of the year. I felt that, with 2015 finally coming to a close, it seemed somehow poetic to leave it to the last minute; one last happy memory of a year so riddled with natural disasters that it pretty much confirmed we are probably all going to perish as a direct result of pollution and global warming. Ah, what a cheerful thought. So snuggle down in your doomsday bunkers and read about why I thought It Follows was the greatest horror film of 2015.

This rather unconventional “creature feature” (for lack of a better subgenre) follows a young girl named Jay (Maika Monroe), who has just begun dating a ruggedly handsome guy named Hugh (Jake Weary). The couple appear to be hitting it off and, in spite of his occasionally suspicious behaviour, Hugh seems to be solid boyfriend material. That is, until they finally have sex. Unlike most scumbags, who just drop you an impromptu phone call when they discover they may have given you the clap, Hugh takes the whole ordeal a step further by strapping Jay to a wheelchair and informing her that he’s passed on a ghastly plague; a sort of supernatural STI that will follow her around and try to kill her. It takes the form of a human being (technically any human being it wants) and is invisible to everyone but her. The upside is it can only walk, so hop on a Segway for the rest of your life and you’ll be fine. Jay must find another unsuspecting victim to sleep with before she too falls victim to this sexy curse.

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Perhaps not the best way to deliver bad news

What immediately attracted me to this film was its unusual premise. While most creature features entail a flurry of violence and tease out the monster’s eventual reveal, It Follows is punctuated by just a few moments of graphic violence and is instead more of slow-burner. The emphasis is taken off of the “creature” and is placed on the protagonist, focusing on Jay’s attempts to escape this entity with the limited means at her disposal. In this way the film feels far more real, since she reacts in much the same way as you imagine that you would. In real life, there are no occult specialists or voodoo princesses knocking around in every high school library or on every street corner. When faced with a supernatural entity that is almost beyond our comprehension, chances are most of us would choose to just run. After all, how are we supposed to fight something that we know virtually nothing about?

As a slow-burner, this film depends almost entirely on the realistic performances of its actors and they certainly deliver believability in spades. The interaction between the characters felt eerily real, as if I was re-watching conversations from my awkward teenage years. There was no Hollywood sparkle, no witty one-liners, and no painfully cheesy dialogue. There was simply the heartfelt and confused rhetoric of a bunch of goofy kids desperately trying to figure out what’s going on and how to stop it. I bought into the dynamic of Jay’s friendship group immediately, and this was what hooked me into the storyline from the beginning.

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On a far more technical note, the cinematography and score of the film are fantastic. Some of the shots are not only breath-taking; they also serve to capture the essence of the film. When Jay leans out of the car after having sex with Hugh and the camera pans over her hand gently caressing a flower, we instantly understand what is being said without the need for dialogue. In many ways, this is a film about growing up and the innocence that is lost in the process. The film’s soundtrack, which was masterminded by US composer Disasterpeace, is a wonderful blend of jarring synth and eerily soothing tunes that are deeply reminiscent of classic 80s horror flicks like Nightmare on Elm Street and Halloween. The violence may not be there on screen, but it exists in the music and atmosphere that David Robert Mitchell has masterfully created.

In terms of the horror elements, it is not the most immediately terrifying film, but it certainly sits with you. One could almost say, it follows you (oh yes, I went there). While I only felt a few twinges of fear whilst watching it, I found myself constantly checking behind me after I left the cinema, swivelling my head around like an owl on meth and wondering which of the many yawning cinema-goers could be “it”. I even gave my family dog a wide berth. Personally, what makes a successful horror movie for me is something that sticks with you long after you’ve watched it, gnawing at you and leaving you with thousands of delightful questions like: What exactly is “it”? What could “it” be a metaphor for? And how do I overcome the suffocating malaise of facing another year on this planet? For these reasons, It Follows holds a special place in my heart and is, without a doubt, my top horror movie of 2015.

If you want to know what other films I’ve loved this year, be sure to check out my reviews of Spring and Krampus.

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Acting: 9/10, all of the performances in the film are solid and the characters are easy to identify with, as they portray teenagers with startling believability.

Storyline: 9/10, the storyline is fresh and original without seeming absurd or unworkable.  

Fear Factor: 8/10, it may not get you while you’re watching it, but it’s sure to send a few shivers down your spine when you’re in the supermarket and you notice that creepy lady with the “come-hither-I-wish-to-murder-you” look.

Overall: 9/10, the performances, score, cinematography, and fascinating premise come together to make one of the finest horror films I’ve seen in decades.

 

It Doesn’t Think, It Doesn’t Feel, It Doesn’t Give Up: A Review of It Follows (2015)

Malicious Myths: The Jiangshi (僵尸)

After working in a Chinese middle school for nearly two years, I considered myself pretty hip with the lingo. When a student jokingly told me their favourite animal was a “turtle’s egg”, I was already aware that the Chinese word for turtle egg (王八蛋) was in fact a horrific insult. When another student tried to get past me by called their friend “sb”, I kindly informed them that I knew the term “sb”, or “shǎbī” (傻逼), meant “retard”.

Yet my confidence was soon to be shattered in a lesson on Halloween, when I asked one of my students to pretend to be a zombie. In the strangest gesture I have ever seen, the teenager placed their arms straight ahead of them and hopped on the spot, much to the delight of their peers. I hoped this might be a one-off, but it happened again in every single one of my nineteen classes. I was stumped.

That is, until I discovered the mighty jiangshi. The term jiangshi (僵尸) literally means “stiff corpse” in Chinese, perhaps because the term “wobbly corpse” wouldn’t inspire much fear. These Chinese zombies have almost completely succumbed to rigor mortis and so are too stiff to move properly. Instead they must hop around with their arms outstretched in a manner that looks totally cool and is certainly not ridiculous. Okay, it’s ridiculous. Also, they’re blind. And incapable of independent thought or speech. Basically they just kind of suck all round. They locate prey using their sense of smell or by listening out for their breathing. So if you happen to meet a jiangshi, the key is to hold your breath…indefinitely.

They are sometimes referred to as the Chinese vampire, the “hopping” vampire, or the “hopping” zombie because of their penchant for jumping around and draining people’s life force. Yep, unlike vampires, they do not drink blood but instead feed off of the “life force” or qi of their victims. They usually strike at night and spend the day resting in a coffin, hiding in dark places such as caves, or contemplating how pathetic they are.

Some things that can help ward off a jiangshi are: mirrors, as they are terrified of their own reflection; an item made from the wood of a peach tree; a rooster’s call; the hooves of a black donkey; and the blood of a black dog, to name but a few. They also have an obsessive desire to count things. So apparently just throwing a load of objects, such as rice grains, at their feet will halt their path, as they will feel an overwhelming urge to catalogue your useless junk. According to the Chinese practice of feng shui, most Chinese homes are equipped with a comedy oversized wooden threshold on their front doors to prevent jiangshi from entering the house. After all, it’s not like they can just hop over it or anything. Oh wait.

While jiangshi may not seem all that terrifying at first, there are six levels of this creepy bopper that become less laughable and increasingly more dangerous as they go on. They start off as white jiangshi, since they are covered in tiny white hairs. White jiangshi are deathly afraid of sunshine, fire, water, chickens, dogs, people, and…well pretty much anything. They also move incredibly slowly and can be killed very easily. Just pushing them over will apparently do.

However, after a couple of years spent feeding on the life force of ox and sheep, the white hairs on their body turn black. These black jiangshi are still afraid of sunlight and fire, but will boldly confront chickens and dogs. They still take great pains to avoid humans, and will only try to drain their life force once they are asleep. So watch out for that heavy corpse breathing!

Five years later, if the black jiangshi drinks up just enough life force, its black hairs drop off and it starts swiftly bouncing around like some kind of demonic pogo stick. These jumping jiangshi no longer fear any kind of domestic animals and are extremely dangerous. While dogs become deadly silent in their presence, cats will hiss at them with great ferocity. After one hundred years, the jumping jiangshi magically acquires the ability to fly and can also climb trees and high buildings. These flying jiangshi stalk their prey with ease and can drain the life essence from any creature without even leaving a mark. But, on the bright side, at least you won’t have to cover up any hickeys with a ridiculous scarf.

After nearly a thousand years, the flying jiangshi inherits demigod-like status and becomes a ba (魃) or Drought Demon. Ba can shapeshift into any creature, cause droughts, and infect large groups of people with plague. It is thought they can even fly into the heavens to kill celestial dragons. Tens of thousands of years may pass before the ba makes its final transformation and becomes The Demon King. The Demon King enjoys practically godlike status and has virtually limitless powers. It can even challenge heavenly deities so, if you see one, prepare for the end of days.

Appearance

Jiangshi are normally depicted as stiff looking corpses dressed in official garments from the Qing Dynasty. Their arms are outstretched and they move with a disjointed hopping motion, kind of like a rabbit on LSD. While some jiangshi appear to be just normal people with a fetish for ancient Chinese clothing and an overwhelming desire to hop wherever they go, those who have been left to rot too long before being reanimated may be in a horrifying state of decay.

They have greenish-white skin, perhaps derived from fungus or mould having grown on their corpses or perhaps because they were just filthy people. They have long white hair on their heads and, in some accounts, are portrayed with more bestial features such as claw-like fingernails and a long, prehensile tongue. Sometimes they are shown with a mystical white tag glued to their forehead, as this is the sign that a Taoist priest has reanimated them.

Origins

Jiangshi may be the result of several misdeeds, including the use of necromancy to resurrect the dead; the spiritual possession of a corpse; a corpse who has absorbed enough qi to reanimate of its own volition; a corpse who has not received a proper burial after its funeral; a corpse who has been struck by lightning or jumped over by a pregnant cat; and a person whose soul fails to leave their body for various reasons, including an improper death, suicide, or the simple desire to want to ruin other people’s lives for no reason.

Stories of jiangshi began emerging around about the 15th century, during the Ming Dynasty, and were usually related to a practice known as “transporting the corpse over a thousand li” (千里行尸). It was, and still is, commonly believed that a person’s soul would become homesick if they were buried in an unfamiliar place, so it was paramount that the body be brought home for the funeral. Supposedly if someone died far away from home and their relatives could not afford a vehicle to carry their corpse back for burial, they could hire a Taoist priest to conduct a ritual that would reanimate the deceased and incite them to “hop” their way home. These priests would transport several corpses late at night and would ring bells to notify others of their approach, as it was considered bad luck for anyone to set eyes on a jiangshi.

This practice was also called “driving corpses in Xiangxi” (湘西赶尸), as many people left their hometowns to work in Xiangxi Prefecture of Hunan Province. In actual fact, it is commonly thought that corpses would be arranged upright and tied to two long bamboo rods, which would be supported and carried by two men at either end. To the untrained eye, as the bamboo flexed up and down, the corpses would appear to be hopping.

Modern-Day Usage

Though the jiangshi may not be the most popular monster in the Western canon, it has graced media of all kinds in the Far East. In fact, in Hong Kong and East Asia, there is even such a thing as a jiangshi genre of film. Without further ado, here are some modern-day references to our bouncy buddy:

  • The two short stories “A Vampiric Demon” and “Spraying Water” in Pu Songling’s epic Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio both contain jiangshi.

  • Encounters of the Spooky Kind, a 1980 Hong King comedy horror directed by Sammo Hung, is credited to have pioneered the jiangshi film genre.
  • The 1985 Hong Kong comedy horror film Mr. Vampire, directed by Ricky Lau, is considered the most successful of the jiangshi film genre. The story revolves around a Taoist Priest, who happens to have supernatural powers and be adept at kung fu. He is on a quest to vanquish a vengeful ghost, assisted by his incompetent sidekicks.
  • The Era of Vampires, released in 2002 and directed by Wellson Chin, is one of the only films in the genre that is not a comedy.
  • Jiangshi feature as enemies in the expansion pack for the video game Sleeping Dogs known as “Nightmare in North Point”.

  • In the video game Phantom Fighter, you play a traveling monk who goes around fighting jiangshi.
  • There is an optional boss in the video game Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia which is a jiangshi. It is the only boss in the game that cannot be permanently destroyed.
  • In the video game Super Street Fighter IV, the alternate costume for the character Rufus is that of a jiangshi.
  • The plot of the video game Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines revolves around a conflict between classical Western vampires, who are the “good” guys, and jiangshi, who are of course the bad guys.
Malicious Myths: The Jiangshi (僵尸)

Malicious Myths: The Slender Man

The Slender Man, or Slenderman to his friends, represents one of the most fascinating horror phenomena of modern times and is the direct result of that nebulous entity, that filthy temptress, we know as the Internet. Unlike many urban legends, which have their roots in ancient folklore or unexplained events, Slenderman began virally and unfurled its tentacles to all corners of the earth. This elusive stalker, this haunting presence that pursues its victims relentlessly; what’s not to be afraid of?

The Slender Man is an entity who predominantly targets children or young adults that have suffered some major trauma. It follows them, takes delight in psychologically tormenting them, and then eventually abducts them. Remove that last part and he sounds like every ex-boyfriend I’ve ever had. He is said to haunt forests or abandoned locations, has the ability to teleport, and may stalk his prey for months or even years. He may look like an upper class businessman, but he has all the sleazy determination of a used car salesman.

Close or extended proximity to Slenderman will trigger a condition known as “Slender sickness”, where victims will experience rapid onset paranoia, nightmares, delusions, and nosebleeds. So basically just your typical night in an underground rave, but with a creepy monster stalking you. Scratch that, just your typical night in an underground rave.

In the web series Marble Hornets, it was established that Slenderman could create “Proxies”, which are human beings who have fallen under his influence and act as his puppets. Kind of like Beliebers, only a lot less violent. They also introduced the “Slenderman Symbol”, a circle with a cross through it that looks about as macabre as a children’s drawing, and the concept that his presence interfered somehow with video and audio recordings.

With all that in mind, Slenderman is unique in that his stories rarely employ graphic violence or body horror. Originally it was believed that he impaled his victims on tree branches, removed all of their organs, placed them in plastic bags, and then returned them to the victim’s body. Kind of like a piñata for people on the organ donor list. As the Slenderman canon developed, he became far more of a passive aggressive creature, choosing instead to stalk his victims and kill them in unknown ways. In fact, since no bodies are ever recovered, it is unknown whether he even kills his victims or simply spirits them away to an unidentified place. This leaves both his motives and modus operandi incredibly vague.

Yet on May 31st 2014, the Slenderman stories became far too real for the residents of Waukesha, Wisconsin when a couple of 12-year-old girls lured one of their classmates into the woods, held her down, and stabbed her 19 times. Fortunately the victim was able to crawl out of the woods and onto the roadside, where she was found by a passing cyclist and promptly rushed to hospital. She survived and the perpetrators were swiftly apprehended. When questioned by the authorities, the two girls claimed that they had read about the Slender Man online and had attempted to murder the other girl in the hopes of becoming his Proxies.

During an interview, one of the girls believed that Slenderman watched over her, could read her mind, and could teleport. That being said, she also believed that she’d had extended conversations with Lord Voldemort and one of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, so perhaps not the most reliable source. The girls are being tried as adults and are now facing up to 65 years in prison.

Not long after this news story broke, an unidentified woman from Hamilton Ohio informed a WLWT TV reporter that her 13-year-old daughter had attacked her with a knife and written macabre fiction usually centred on Slenderman. Then, on September 4th 2014, a 14-year-old girl in Port Richey, Florida set her home on fire while her mother and nine-year-old brother were still inside. A police report later confirmed that the teenager had been reading online stories about Slenderman, as well as the manga Soul Eater by Atsushi Ōkubo.

So why, in spite of his clearly fictional status, has the Slender Man become so popular? And what is it about him that makes him both horrifying and strangely alluring?

Appearance

Slenderman is the master of chic, as he is regularly depicted wearing a black suit, white shirt, tie, and long, black dress shoes. However, since he is entirely based on random accounts by various authors, his appearance is not fixed and continues to change. Typically he is depicted as a thin, unnaturally tall man with a blank and featureless face. In some cases he has no face, while in others he has a different face depending on who is looking at him.

Some people portray him as having many tentacles that protrude from his back, although it is noted he can retract them at any time. It is believed that, once his arms and tentacles are outstretched, his victims are lulled into a kind of hypnotised state, where they helplessly walk towards him and become ensnared in his trap. Hypnotic tentacles, you say? We’re looking at you, Japan.

Origins

The Slender Man’s origins are part of what makes him so fascinating, as he started as an Internet meme created by Eric Knudsen, known online as Victor Surge, on the Something Awful forums. Two black and white photographs containing Slenderman were posted to the forum on June 10th 2009 as part of a photoshop contest where users were challenged to create “paranormal photographs”. Knudsen supplemented his submission with a few snatches of texts from “witnesses”, which further fleshed out the original story. One such statement reads: “We didn’t want to go, we didn’t want to kill them, but its persistent silence and outstretched arms horrified and comforted us at the same time…” — 1983, photographer unknown, presumed dead.

The original photographs by Eric Knudsen

Slenderman rapidly and unexpectedly went viral, spawning numerous works of fanart and fanfiction, particularly on the website Creepypasta. Our slender pal swiftly became divorced from his original creator and subject to an overarching mythos created by a range of authors. In the totally serious and not at all laughable academic work Folklore, Horror Stories, and the Slender Man: The Development of an Internet Mythology, Professor Shira Chess attempts to compare Slenderman to ancient folklore about fairies. Because fairies are vague looking creatures that haunt woods and kidnap children too! Except they don’t have tentacles and an Armani suit.

Chess argues that, although Slenderman’s origins can be identified and he is clearly fictional, he can still be classified as folklore because he was created by a collective whose stories change depending on the storyteller. According to Chess, the way the Slenderman mythos has developed online provides a fascinating insight into how traditional folklore becomes established. Some people attribute Slenderman’s success to the ambiguous nature of the Internet, which consistently blurs the line between fact and fiction by providing the reader with myriad stories that breathe authenticity into the lie. Yet why do we want to believe in this faceless fashionista so badly?

Chess believes that he represents the looming threat of death and the helplessness involved when faced with anonymous, unknown forces. Others posit that he simply represents fear of the unknown, which is a fear that is growing ever stronger in the modern age of technology and information. The creator of Marble Hornets, Troy Wagner, posits that Slenderman is terrifying because of his malleability, as he can shape himself into whatever the reader is most frightened of. Other theories suggest that he guards the undefined cultural boundaries that are alarming simply because victims do not know when they have violated them.

Perhaps, as a modern-day Pied Piper figure, he could even be seen to represent the faceless populous behind the computer screen. Slenderman is that vague, humanoid threat that you consistently meet on the web, that unknown force which can reach out and ensnare your children. Because, after all, how do you know who you’re really talking to when you never see their face?

Modern-Day Usage

As this post is getting a little long, let’s not be coy about this. Here are but a few of the modern-day references to our skinny friend:

  • The Youtube video series Marble Hornets is a found footage style fictional documentary about a group of high school students and their encounters with Slenderman. It has received over 55 million views.
  • Other, similar Youtube serials include EverymanHYBRID and TribeTwelve.

  • In 2012, a video game entitled Slender: The Eight Pages was released based on a fictional encounter with Slenderman. The video game was so successful that it was swiftly followed by a sequel, known as Slender: The Arrival, and it inspired similar games such as Slenderman’s Shadow and Slender Rising.
  • The independent film The Slender Man, released in 2013, was funded by a Kickstarter campaign and is based on Slenderman.
  • Slenderman makes a cameo appearance in the music video for the song “Equinox” by Skrillex.
  • The character Enderman in the indie video game Minecraft is believed to be based on Slenderman.
  • He bears great similarity to a “modern Yōkai” or urban legend created on Japanese websites known as the Kunekune, which appeared online around about 2003.
  • He’s also visually very similar to SCP-096 or “Shy Guy” from the SCP series.
  • The Slendy Review is a blog dedicated entirely to stories in the Slenderman canon.
Malicious Myths: The Slender Man

Malicious Myths: El Chupacabra

From a young age, something about the chupacabra both deeply unsettled and fascinated me. It was small, it was feeble looking, and it was kind of cute in a creepy, reptilian sort of way. Yet the disturbingly vicious method in which it killed its victims skyrocketed it in my childish mind from mischief-making sprite to bloodthirsty emissary of Satan. The name chupacabra literally means “goat sucker” in Spanish and before you ask, no, this isn’t some kind of freaky Hispanic porno. The chupacabra is classed as a “contemporary legend” and supposedly began terrorising the Americas in the 1990s, starting with a spate of killings in Puerto Rico.

In March of 1995, eight sheep were discovered dead on a Puerto Rican farm. The victims had only three puncture wounds on their chests and had been completely drained of blood. Now I don’t know about you, but I’m kind of a fan of my blood and would prefer that it stayed in my own body. By August of the same year nearly 150 farm animals and pets had reportedly been killed in the same way. Violent, ‘Nam-style flashbacks began plaguing the locals as they were reminded of a similar epidemic in 1975, when the Puerto Rican town of Moca had been terrorised by “El Vampiro de Moca” or “the Kitten of Moca”. Just kidding! “THE VAMPIRE OF MOCA”. As if life wasn’t hard enough, it appeared as though the towns of Puerto Rico were once again being targeted by the only vampire with a goat fetish.

At first, people thought a satanic cult may be behind the killings, until a woman named Madelyne Tolentino came forward and claimed to have seen a creature. Not just any creature, but a small, scaly, kangaroo-like reptile that hopped after goats in a menacing and totally non-comedic way. Silverio Pérez, a Puerto Rican comedian, is credited with coining the term “el chupacabra” not long after the incidents were reported, which is a testament to just how seriously people were taking our little lizard friend. When you’re named after a joke by some two-bit comedian, you’re hardly striking fear into the hearts of men.

Yet our slithery bloodsucking imp wasn’t about to let this deter him. Not long after Tolentino’s testimony, similar killings were reported from the Dominican Republic and Bolivia right through to Mexico and the United States. Apparently, by March of 2005, el chupacabra had even reached Russia and took the liberty of killing and draining 32 turkeys just to, you know, let everyone know he was there. The last known sighting took place in April of 2014, when a couple from Ratcliffe, Texas claimed to have captured one of the beasts. Scientific researchers discovered the animal was in fact just a racoon with sarcoptic mange but I have to believe that, if I was confronted by a foot-high hairless creature rummaging through my garbage, I’d probably think it was Hellspawn too.

Lately, some people have started to argue that the chupacabra may in fact be an ABE or “Anomalous Biological Entity”. In sci-fi speak that means a pet or experiment that once belonged to an extra-terrestrial race but has since escaped and decided to wreak havoc on our planet. These UFO aficionados claim that the government has been trying to hide the presence of the chupacabra for years and that perhaps, just perhaps, the Republican Party is actually being sustained by goat’s blood. Okay so that part about goat’s blood is a complete lie but, if hyper-intelligent alien life forms did exist, do you really think they’d spend the better part of their time engineering a creature whose primary goal was to terrorise a few Russian turkeys? This reporter says, yes…yes they probably would.

Appearance

By artist Rodrigo-Vega

Physical descriptions of the creature vary between countries and it appears to range in size from “large rabbit” right through to “small bear”. It’s characteristically reptilian, with either leathery skin or greyish green scales covering most of its body and spines or quills jutting out of its back. Most descriptions claim that it hops like a small kangaroo, but in some areas it appears to run on all fours like a wild dog. It is often portrayed as looking slightly emaciated, with unnaturally pronounced eye sockets and skeletal features. Being a predator, it has large fangs and claws for taking down goats and turkeys, the most cunning of prey, but it is sometimes depicted with features like that of a vampire bat due to its predilection for drinking its victim’s blood. So just imagine a bug-eyed, scaly frog with oversized choppers and you’re practically there.

Origins

Sil from the movie “Species”

Believe it or not, chupacabras may not actually be real. I know this may come as quite a shock to you, so just take a moment to let it all settle in. After a five-year investigation, Benjamin Radford, author of Tracking the Chupacabra, discovered that the original eyewitness, Madelyne Tolentino, had actually been describing the alien Sil from the sci-fi horror flick Species. Why it took Radford five years to figure this out is beyond me, particularly when you take into account the fact that Tolentino had seen the movie only a few days prior to the event. Evidently it was a slow day at the Bureau for Chupacabra Investigation, or Radford just really needed the money. Either way, Radford concluded his investigation by stating that Tolentino had not seen a chupacabra but was in fact just batshit crazy, as she had begun to believe that the events from the movie Species were really happening.

By artist hellcorpceo

Over 300 reported victims of the chupacabra were examined by veterinarians and a necropsy of the corpses found that the animals had not actually been drained of blood but were just a little deflated, as I’d imagine anyone would be after, you know, becoming a corpse. Many of the reports in the United States and several other countries were confirmed to be coyotes suffering from sarcoptic mange that had started hunting livestock because, in their weakened state, they couldn’t take on their usual prey. The two holes on the necks’ of the victims were consistent with canine teeth and the fact that the animals had not been eaten indicated that they probably escaped their predator but died later due to internal bleeding.

So a rather disappointing end for our creepy little critter. No one knows exactly why the legend has perpetuated for so long or why it spread to so many different countries, but at least now goats of the world can sleep a little easier.

Modern-Day Usage

Considering how young this urban legend is, the chupacabra has managed to weasel its way into a number of media outlets. In fact, its fame is so far-reaching that I can’t even begin to mention all of the references to it here, so I’ve chosen a smattering of the more famous ones to give you an idea:

  • The films Chupacabra: Dark Seas, starring John Rhys-Davies, and Guns of El Chupacabra, starring Scott Shaw, both revolve around the urban legend.
  • In Marvel’s Fantastic Four miniseries “Isla de la Muerte”, our heroes head to Puerto Rico to confront the chupacabra.
  • Marvel’s notoriously controversial antihero Deadpool is at one point enlisted by a Mexican goat-herder to save his prize goat Bella, which has been kidnapped by a group of chupacabras.

    Dexter’s cheeky chupacabra
  • During the second season of the cartoon Dexter’s Laboratory, Dexter accidentally creates a creature known as “La Chupacabra” that subsequently escapes and makes its way to South America.
  • In the South Park episode entitled “Jewpacabra”, Eric Cartman tries to hunt down a Jewish chupacabra that he claims kills children on Easter Sunday.
  • In an episode of Futurama, the Planet Express crew travel down to the sewers and are confronted by a vicious monster that the local mutants call El Chupanibre.
  • In the anime Occult Academy, Maya and the gang investigate a series of mysterious cattle deaths near their school. The character Ami is eventually kidnapped by the chupacabra, and it’s up to her friends to save her.
  • In the wildly famous T.V. series X-Files, the episode entitled “El Mundo Gira” reveals that the chupacabra are actually illegal immigrants who have been infected with an alien fungus.
  • In an episode of the T.V. series Bones entitled “The Truth in the Myth”, one of the possible murder suspects is a chupacabra.
  • In the video game franchise Castlevania, later games feature an enemy known as the “Cave Troll” but this is a mistranslation; the enemy is in fact a chupacabra.
  • The chupacabra features as an enemy in the video game series Shin Megami Tensei.

  • In the video game Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare, a chupacabra can be killed as part of a side-quest. Killing it even rewards you with an achievement entitled “Chupathingy”.
  • In the video game Fallout: New Vegas, the character No-Bark Noonan confuses an enemy known as a Nightkin for a chupacabra. When someone explains to Noonan that the holes in the murdered cattle were in fact made by bullets, he responds by saying “well…we got a chupacabra with an automatic weapon”.
Malicious Myths: El Chupacabra