Once upon a time, if you wanted to make a creature squirt blood in an actress’s face, you needed some rubber, a complex system of tubes and some food coloring. Now, the digital blood and squirts from a CGI creation. The deep-down visceral horror is gone, because we can explain it as CGI. Older movies, like The Thing , didn’t have such technology, and many of the physical effects hold up even to today. CGI rarely, if ever, ages well, with formerly cutting-edge effects now looking like something from a previous generation of video games.
Today, horror is mass-marketed, oversaturated with CGI and clothes that all too easily peel away. There’s a craftsmanship in rubber suits and carefully aimed blood spatter that is all too rare today. Many horror fans, tired of the pixels masquerading as guts and gore, the sequels, the reboots, the preboots, the re-imaginings, have been forced to turn to other avenues to scratch the horror itch, either to out-do what is currently being produced, or to see something that doesn’t necessarily have to appeal to an audience of tweeny-boppers looking to get spooked.
YouTube has become a holdout of horror, where the effects are physical and the budget is low. Young filmmakers are letting their sensibilities run wild, with either classic monsters, recent pop culture phenomena, or even with their own creatures. Some are forgettable, some are watchable, and a few, just a few, could stand side by side with some of the greats. Here are 15 of the best horror series you can watch on YouTube right now.
16. Marble Hornets
The granddaddy of most online horror series, Marble Hornets opens with Jay inheriting unedited footage of a friend’s student film. Curious about what happened to cancel filming, he starts watching them and finds something terrible lurking behind the scenes. Armed with a box of tapes and a cast list, Jay sets out to find out what the hell happened to everybody who was a part of Marble Hornets.
The first major Slender Man series, Marble Hornets documents a descent into madness, misery and murder, with an on-going mystery that enthralled viewers for three years, spanning two YouTube channels and two Twitter accounts, and even got praise from Roger Ebert. You can check it out here.
15. No Through Road
Predating Marble Hornets, and a clear influence, No Through Road took its inspiration from The Blair Witch Project. Four kids disappear late one night, and are found several days later, brutally murdered. In the course of the search, their camcorder is found. The recorded footage of an unending road and a man in a mask is released to the public in the hopes that somebody can offer any explanation.
After its release, a surviving friend heads to the same area to commemorate their disappearances and find closure, but history repeats itself and he quickly finds himself in way over his head, trapped on that same, unending road with a traumatised survivor on the run.
No Through Road is a four part series, with all four episodes released on or around Halloween. Will another episode be uploaded this year?
14. Sitting and Smiling
Not quite a horror, but certainly creepy, Sitting and Smiling is exactly that. A few times a week, for the past nine months, Benjamin Bennett has sat in front of a camera for four hours and smiled. He has apparently never broken character, not even when someone broke into his house and barged into the room he was recording in. He found that staying in character, remaining seated and smiling, unnerved the burglar enough to leave.
When asked, he said he doesn’t know why he’s doing it, but that he feels a compulsion to do it. Stephen King has done more with less.
13. Alan Tutorial
Young Alan wants to be successful on YouTube, so he jumps on the popular tutorial bandwagon to try to make a name for himself and earn some fat stacks as an internet entrepreneur, all while having a lot of fun and providing edutainment for his viewers.
Sounds simple, right?
Alan has an unknown disorder that has left him a child in a man’s body, trapped in a house with a family that apparently hates him and in his desperation to escape he winds up sleeping in the woods before getting held against his will by a mysterious cartel that wants him to produce more YouTube videos, even if it kills him.
Check it out here.
12. Enter Viral
A bit different from what came before, Enter Viral is a studio that produces horror films on a budget of whatever they can find. Although their uploads are sporadic, most of their short films can hit an hour or even longer. They’ve experimented with editing together random videos recording on iPhones to make a full length film, explored abandoned subways and even gotten to Area 51 and the Vatican to film upcoming flicks.
Tension is expertly built, the areas they film in are spectacular (apparently Oregon has a preponderance of abandoned hospitals and homes) and monsters are appropriately creepy.
A woman wakes up in a small, dark box. Her only company is a man trapped in a similar box and trying to escape too. Both of them are branded with numbers on their arms, and the room outside the box contains a lot of pointy, bladed implements.
31 is a short series. 31 episodes, each 31 seconds long, with one bonus alternate ending episode, makes for an incredibly short series. Less than 20 minutes, in fact. It’s creepy, mysterious and unsettling, with some stellar performances from the two leads. Clocking in at a little over 16 minutes, there’s no excuse not to check this one out.
Similar to Enter Viral, Fewdio produces short horror films, but with a much bigger budget. The studio was set up during the scriptwriters strike, using funds earned from an Axe advertising campaign to produce the horror films they wanted to see, without studio interference. They had a major viral hit with Bedfellows, which taught its audience to be careful about who you’re allowing to sleep in your house and won the Chiller-Eyegore Award for Best Short Film in 2009.
The group disbanded in 2010, but continues with some staff in the Daywalt Fear Factory. Some shorts you should check out are Bedfellows, Five minutes earlier and The Easter Bunny is eating my candy.
9. Everyman Hybrid
Easily the most successful Slender series after Marble Hornets, Everyman Hybrid documents the attempts of Vinnie, Jeff and Evan to get fit on a budget. This quickly goes out the window when a prank backfires, and Jeff’s girlfriend disappears under mysterious circumstances. What started as a simple fitness series quickly becomes a video diary of death, violence and human suffering, as three monsters begin to play with the crew.
Everyman Hybrid builds on what Marble Hornets had created, expanding the universe by slowly introducing other monsters, some of whom make the Slender Man look like a girl scout. At times violent, with some genuinely impressive visual effects and editing (check out the car attack in Ashen Waste), EMH is a genuinely great horror series.
8. Chilling Tales for Dark Nights
Rather than a video series, Chilling Tales for Dark Nights is a series which uses professional voice actors or YouTube personalities to read horror stories and even make radio plays.
Harkening back to the golden age of radio, Chilling Tales for Dark Nights allows for submissions from young writers seeking exposure, as well as established greats like H.P. Lovecraft, and runs several contests throughout the year, and has so far clocked up more than 5 million views. Some of the narrators have included cult YouTube hits like Markiplier, Tay Zonday and Rob Dyke, as well as New York Times best-seller Patrick Rothfuss.
7. Welcome to Nightvale
Similar to CTFDN, Welcome to Nightvale is a podcast, or rather, a radio broadcast from the sleepy little town of Nightvale, where the people dream big, terrifying dreams that repeat several times a year and the town council feed dissenters to the things hiding in the park.
Narrated by the silky smooth voice of Cecil Baldwin, Welcome to Nightvale is at times funny, sometimes sweet, and brings just enough outright terror to the memorable cast of characters to hold anyone’s attention.
Some guest stars have included Wil Wheaton (Star Trek Voyager), Mara Wilson (Mrs. Doubtfire), Molly Quinn (Castle) and James Urbaniak (Venture Brothers).
6. Dr Anton Jessup
For too long, monsters have been vilified by Hollywood and bad science. Given bizarre powers and abilities that make no sense, the modern vampire or ghoul is adrift, unsure of what they’re actually capable of.
Enter Dr. Anton Jessup, sole (possible) human resident of the University basement, where he conducts his experiments and research. And although he’s more than happy to share his findings with the general public, the University would rather he didn’t, so he turned to YouTube to educate the masses on what monsters really do. Like how rather than an erotic, sensual moment, getting bitten by a vampire will probably mean you get urinated on, or how the mushroom monsters of The Last of Us would really work (painfully, if you’re wondering). The series starts here.
5. The West Records
Randall takes a job as a videographer for Parker, an aspiring journalist. All he has to do is record Parker’s investigation into why a naval base was abandoned, with 3,000 people unaccounted for and missing.
Predictably, things go awry, and they are quickly running for their lives, hunted through the woods by parties unknown. Ultimately, Randall is the only survivor, diagnosed with a battery of schizophrenic and paranoid delusions. The only proof Parker and the rest of the crew ever existed is on these tapes, and Randall is out to find more.
Drawing major influence from The Blair Witch Project, The West Records is a tense, creepy series that just started up again after a brief hiatus.
4. Just Acquaintances
After a series of motiveless break-ins, two brothers go missing. An acquaintance of one of them later receives a package with some memory cards and a camera that contains footage of what happened over the last few months before they went missing.
Basically, don’t mess around in a graveyard. You never know who, or what, is watching, and how far they’ll go to get their stuff back.
With some clever camera tricks and some really well done physical effects, Just Acquaintances could almost pass for a fully-fledged tv show, rather than an online show with a budget of whatever they find in the couch.
3. Who is Mr Tom?
An unnamed filmmaker is investigating an alleged group of underground exorcists, at war with people possessed by monsters from beyond the veil. He hopes to meet with Mr Tom, an apparent exorcist with an unusual facial deformity accused of murdering several of his “patients.” His argument is that the murdered were possessed and he was just defending himself. As filming continues, the director finds himself drawn into Tom’s monstrous life and attempts to help him, rather than simply record events as they happen. Is Tom just another monster, or is he really the last line between mankind and demonic annihilation?
2. Louise is Missing
Louise Paxton is a young woman from Norwich who relocates to London after the death of her grandmother and a bad break up. She celebrates her move to the big city with a series of video blogs that detail her move, her new apartment and her first few months in London. Over time, though, she starts to notice something is off. Someone is wandering around her new apartment when she’s not there, strange noises keep her awake at night, and stuff disappears and reappears at random. Could an ex-boyfriend be behind it, or is there something more sinister at play?
Louise Is Missing is a very well made horror that avoids a lot of the stereotypes that would later define YouTube horror series. Directed by Andrew Cull, a horror director with a few credits to his name and starring Zoe Richards as Louise, it’s a creepy series with a seriously unsettling ending.
1. Dad’s Tapes
After his estranged father dies in a hospice, our unnamed protagonist inherits his collection of movies on video tapes. He decides to watch them, to try to reconnect with a man he barely knew. Within minutes of watching the first tape, it becomes apparent that his old man used to run with a very dangerous crowd, who don’t take kindly to having their faces plastered all over the internet.
The first channel was infamously shut down after one video violated YouTube’s standards for violent content, Dad’s Tapes avoids supernatural mischief to focus instead on an all-too human enemy. Some of the videos seem pointless (there’s an 18 minute long video of a man watching tv in the dark and nothing else), but the best videos more than make up for the weak ones, especially in terms of the splatter effects.
Gory and grisly, this series cuts right to the bone.