Who is Slenderman? The Viral Bogeyman Behind HBO’s True Crime Documentary Explained

In November 2016, HBO released the first trailer for their upcoming documentary Beware The Slenderman. The feature-length documentary focuses on the cult fictional horror figure Slenderman and the affect it had on internet users. In particular, on two young girls who were inspired by character to commit a near-fatal stabbing of a friend. But who is the mysterious, terrifying Slenderman and where did this modern myth come from?

What is Slenderman?

Slenderman is described as a supernatural figure who is depicted as an abnormally tall, thin man with white skin and no facial features. According to the myth, he convinces children and others to commit various crimes, like murder and abduction, to appease him.

2016_slenderman_victorsurge_111116Victor Surge

Where did it start?

The first known use of the character was on an internet forum in 2009 by user Eric Knudsen. During a photoshop contest on site Something Awful, users were challenged to ‘paranormalise’ real-life pictures. Knusden (going by the username Victor Surge) contributed the original image of Slenderman, holding hands with a young girl. He also provided fictional quotes alongside the pictures of the character alluding to its paranormal ways.

The first read: “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…”

The second read: One of two recovered photographs from the Stirling City Library blaze. Notable for being taken the day which fourteen children vanished and for what is referred to as “The Slender Man”. Deformities cited as film defects by officials. Fire at library occurred one week later. Actual photograph confiscated as evidence.”

Soon after, fellow users began creating their own fictional encounters and quotes with the figure as the meme began to spread.

How did it spread?

SeveralSomething Awful users began linking Slenderman to often unsolved crimes, and the horror stories created by users were then shared across the internet on various forums as what’s called ‘creepypasta’ – fictional horror myths and stories that are pasted across the internet.

Though the figure was well known on internet forums, it didn’t really enter the mainstream until 2012 when the character was incorporated into a computer game. Slender: The Eight Pages was created by Parsec Productions as a first person survival game, in which the player had to avoid being caught and abducted by Slenderman. It became a viral hit and was downloaded over 2 million times, and spawned numerous similar games.

What is the documentary about?

The new HBO documentary focuses on the murder of a teenage girl by two classmates, who claim to have been inspired to commit the crime by Slenderman.

In May 2014, two 12-year-olds in Wisconsin discovered the Slenderman on the Creepy Pasta Wiki (a site for horror legends and myths) and became obsessed with obeying him. They soon were ‘convinced’ by the character to commit the murder of a friend to appease him and become a follower.

Soon after, the pair lured their classmate into a nearby forest for a game of hide and seek and here they attacked the victim, held her down and stabbed her 19 times. The victim managed to seek help on a nearby road and recovered from her injuries. The two girls were soon apprehended by law enforcement, and the pair were both charged with attempted homicide, but have yet to stand trial for the crime.

What was the aftermath?

A worldwide moral panic ensued as schools, news channels and more decried the character and the dark websites that perpetuated the myth. Similar copycat attacks on family members and more followed, including one girl who set her home on fire with her mother and sibling inside, ‘on instruction’ from the Slenderman.

Where else has it appeared?

Since its mainstream awareness increased it has influenced several different musicians and TV programmes. In 2016, US horror-punk band Haunted Garage released an EP called ‘Slenderman and Other Strange Tales’ which directly referenced the stabbing incident case, and the makers of TV show American Horror Story indicated that the show’s sixth series could influenced by the character.