INTERNET HORROR // Analogue horror

(Including 'The Mandela Catalogue', 'The Smile Tapes', 'LOCAL58', and UrbanSPOOKS' 'The Painter'.)

One of the things that currently greatly unnerves me is the distorted facial imagery in analogue horror. Analogue horror, specifically the content belonging to the subgenre that is available on YouTube, are often video projects or short series that rely on the aesthetic of older technology to develop their style and scares. A recurring trope in the genre is the use of edited uncanny facial imagery.

'The Mandela Catalogue' has recently made waves in online horror circles. Created by Alex Kister in 2021, the YouTube series is ongoing, though currently has 11 episodes of varying lengths. The series is set in the fictional Mandela County, Wisconsin, which is plagued by beings called alternates- doppelgangers that sometimes possess uncanny or inhuman physical qualities. Their appearances are an overly exploited element that create much of the horror in the series. Alternates enact psychological warfare, causing paranoia and driving victims to suicide. They are also able to hijack analogue broadcasts. The possible origin of the alternates stems back to biblical times: a recurring narrative in the series is a hijacked cartoon bible tape that tells of an alternate angel Gabriel who, instead of delivering 'the good news' to shepherds, instead instils fear in their hearts. This Gabriel also, in a revised telling of Genesis, convinces Adam to eat the apple first and then apparently terrorise Eve, also forcing Noah to bring a different type of 'creature' onto the arc.

The angel Gabriel as he appears in 'Overthrone'

The biblical overtones in the story come to a head in a portion of the narrative set in the 2000s wherein paranormal investigator Adam Murray is discovered to have been corrupted as an infant by an alternate appearing on the television. Adam is not human, but, possibly unbeknownst to even himself, the alternate of the real Adam Murray. He also may be the messiah of the alternates and the source of their power, or at least, play a pivotal role in Gabriel's plans.

In my opinion, the series devolves with the introduction of more characters, but for me, the first few episodes, presumably made with a negligible budget, mostly comprised of on-screen text and still images, are truly alarming. The faces of the alternates that appear in these episodes bug me near nightly.

An alternate from 'The Mandela Catalogue Vol. 1'

This one I find particularly horrific for some reason. He is the star of an excerpt told through scanned children's drawings, labelled 'The Scary Night'.

A messenger (the alternate form of a nun in 'interlude')

An alternate appearing on a TV in 'exhibition'

'The Mandela Catalogue' is definitely a paranoia agent. It's not just the fear of something in the dark, staring with sinister intent. They could look like anyone. They could appear in a blur of static late at night on the television- an unexplained broadcast interruption- and all they will do is smile and slowly the smile becomes a taunt as you can't help but feel that they're getting to know you. Adam's fate, living as a human while actually being the stuff of nightmares, is arguably worse.

Corrupted versions of the characters Mark Heathcliff (left) and Cesar Torres (right), shown in 'Vol. 1'

The world of 'The Mandela Catalogue' is sparsely populated. Apart from a few surrounding counties, there is no sense of a bigger, outside world. This is a local problem, hyper specific. There's no escape because nothing exists outside of the confines of a few Wisconsin counties. Of course, the alternates are feared, and characters vow to stop them, or yell at them to go away, crave to be left alone, but at the same time, bizarrely, can't imagine a world without them or the problems they pose.

The Intruder from 'Intruder Alert'

The next analogue horror series I will cover, I'm ashamed to say, I couldn't finish, even for this project. 'The Smile Tapes', in its staging, is derivative of 'Mandela' in many ways, as well as borrowing from other internet-circulated horror mysteries. This is a shame, as its story- about a fungus-based drug that may have come from outer-space and causes mania and uncontrollable, rigid smiling before permanently deforming the users face and driving them insane- is at first compelling.

Created by YouTube user Patorikku, who has since decided to quit filmmaking and focus on his music career instead, 'The Smile Tapes' ran from 2021 to 2022.

Two victims of the smile drug in Stage 2 of the drug's effects, in 'The SMILE tapes vol. 1'

It's as you can probably imagine with my (poor) illustration above- lots of distorted, and heavily edited photographs of people smiling manically. 'The Smile Tapes' is told through tapes detailing the scientific/criminal investigation into the drug. These tapes are also seemingly corrupted, though by who or what, I cannot say, as I didn't finish the series. In the episodes I did watch, one character, Shaun, narrates his descent into madness after the smile drug is thrown at him in the street and he accidentally inhales some. In his online diary entries, he details having vivid dreams of a man- a photo of said man is then shown.

This Man

This photo pre-existed on the internet before 'The Smile Tapes' (i.e. was not created by Patorikku), as it is actually tied to a marketing stunt that captured the imagination of online sleuths in 2009. The man is from a website titled, which was created by Andrea Natella to promote his viral marketing business. The story on the website goes that the photo of 'this man' was a drawing presented to a psychiatrist by one of his patients who claimed to dream of the man often. Other patients noticed the drawing on the psychiatrist's desk and also claimed to have dreamed the man- so the website asks 'ever dream this man?' and collects the experiences of people from around the globe (though, as previously mentioned, none of this is real).

I tried to stop myself from becoming irrationally angry at 'The Smile Tapes' co-opting this man, as, after all, other sub-genres of internet horror, such as creepypasta stories (and some of my favourites at that) frequently provide extended backstories for pre-existing imagery. However, this man, in my opinion, already was given a decent backstory by its own creator. So there.

The next series I want to discuss precedes both 'Mandela' and 'Tapes'. It also features a premise wherein VHS-style footage is corrupted, possibly even originating the genre, or, at the very least, being a prominent piece at the inception of analogue horror as a whole so that its creation and the creation of this particular series are linked. The series is 'Local58', also freely available on YouTube, under the channel 'Local58TV'.

The series was created by Kris Straub, who, outside of 'Local58', is best known for creating the creepypasta story 'Candle Cove' in 2009. 'Candle Cove' is about a children's TV programme named, and set in the fictional Candle Cove. It is a pirate adventure story that gradually gets darker and darker, showing unsettling content unsuitable for its young audience. One of the main things about the 'Candle Cove' story that I remember was that there was a character in the TV show called The Skin-Taker, who was a skeleton that would fashion clothes out of human flesh. In the story, the TV show Candle Cove would air on a channel called Local58, however, it is revealed that the children who viewed Candle Cove were merely tuning in to static. Regardless, 'Local58', which started in 2017 and is apparently ongoing, seems at once a spin-off to 'Candle Cove'.

Sure enough, in the series, Local 58 routinely broadcasts strange and disturbing content and has its transmission hijacked to show subliminal messaging. The antagonist behind the hijackings? The moon- or a living entity that we only know and take for granted as 'the moon', or maybe even the people that have fallen victim to its brainwashing messages broadcast on the Local58 channel, and have taken to worshipping it. Unlike its successors, 'Local58', doesn't overutilize distorted facial imagery. One of its only uses in the series is in the episode 'Real Sleep'. The episode presents a VHS recording of a presentation about dreams by the 'Thought Research Initiative'. The VHS tape is seemingly corrupted, and begins showing many uncanny faces, along with the text: "there are no faces." In 'Local58', not even the channel's switch from analogue to digital can sever the moon's influence.

There are no faces

Analogue horror, as a sub-genre, is obsessed with identity: the idea of being, or not being, human. The idea of corrupted identity or your free will being taken from you (all formally presented in hijacked tapes). As is understandable from the format, the genre is also obsessed with the past. 'Mandela' has two main storylines, one taking place in the 2000s, and one in the '90s. 'Tapes' takes place in the '90s. 'Local58' takes place from the '80s (approximately) up to the present day. The childhood years of the creators, and the presumable audience, myself included. The internet of the '90s and early 2000s was a wild west petri-dish that allowed things like creepypasta stories (the first, 'Ted the Caver', was published in 2001) and other disturbing content to flourish, unmoderated, and to be seen by children, like me, who had unlimited internet access. In analogue horror, there's a constant battle of autonomy: characters want to know things (and the viewers too, of course) but don't want to be changed by their discoveries. They want to remain themselves, but outside influence wishes to take this away from them. What better way to hyperbolise the struggle to retain autonomous while dealing with a deep-seated curiosity than with a face that is not quite a face. Let me explain: during my 2000s childhood I was constantly warned that "anyone could be anyone on the internet," and that I would "never truly know who I was talking to." Avatars became only a human disguise, and I found it hard to equate a text-bubble with an actual person, so every message sender became a collage of magazine cutting features that I had gained from interaction to interaction- an assembled face, not quite moulded together properly. The half-human autonomy that internet profiles provide make it hard for children to attempt to disclose information about inappropriate people they may have encountered online, and at the same time, makes people with less than honourable intentions more brazen.

'Petscop' and 'The Walten Files' are both analogue horror series (I use the genre classification here loosely) that deal with the idea of childhood corruption and the battle for autonomy, so I know it is not out of left field to propose the marriage of these two ideas. What makes the online abuse of minors possible is that if anyone could be anyone online, it is no wonder that personal images are takes for other people's use, that online profiles are incorrectly interpreted in depraved ways. All the time, people fill in the blanks, consciously or unconsciously, with people they have only met online, maybe so incorrectly that they have created an entirely different person in their head to the one they are actually talking to. Things are often circulated without context, or with the context changed. Work is stolen. Remaining autonomous on the internet is nearly impossible. So, of course, I think back to 'Mandela's alternates, who twist the logic and intentions of those they duplicate, and present an uncanny and distorted visage of the original person.

An ongoing series, titled 'The Painter', was created by the YouTube user 'UrbanSPOOK' in early 2022, and is an excuse to show impressive artwork of uncanny and injured faces under the guise of police investigation tapes. Law enforcement search for a killer who paints morbid interpretative portraits of his victims and soon-to-be victims, often detailing the injuries they have/will suffer at his hands. The tapes show the paintings and ask anyone who may know the person pictured to come forward with information. The names of the paintings, written on the backs of the canvases and given in the tapes, seem to taunt the victims. For example, a portrait of a young girl whose face was smashed open with a hammer is titled 'Flower Face Flora'. The victims are stripped of autonomy not only via their murders, but by being transformed, in death, into a new person of The Painter's own imagination, in name and visage. Re-interpreted to better suit him- he has taken something intensely personal, like a name and a face, and warped it, making it his own.

Flower Face Flora from 'ANALOG HORROR - WITNESS'

It is no wonder then that 'The Painter' does not shy away from detailing sexual abuse, particularly that of minors, where other analogue horrors may only allude to it. In particular, 'The Painter' tells of two murdered 11-year-olds, twins Cory and Margaret Beck. Margaret's upper-body was found sewn to Cory's lower-body (minus his genitals, which were removed). Though the remainder of the corpses (Margaret's lower-half and Cory's upper-body) were not found, a painting of a child's face and the title 'Fucktoy Cory' leaves little to the imagination. Other paintings, named things such as 'Breeding Mount Mae' and 'Four Holes Fiona' lend themselves to a similar theme. This is not to say that 'The Painter' approaches the topic of sexual abuse in any meaningful or respectful way- it often comes across as crude shock value- but I can understand the sort of thing UrbanSPOOK is trying to achieve. I appreciate, above all else, the simplicity of a series that says "there is a horrific image attached to this case. We will now show you said horrific image," and then does so without tact.

I can't remember their names or avatars. There were many. They wanted me to send them things. Sometimes I obliged but I am not that.


I don't want to re-edit what I had said about 'The Painter' but I will add that whilst I was writing the segment that follows this, UrbanSPOOK uploaded a new episode, titled 'ANALOG HORROR - FAMILY' that implies that there are two killers to 'The Painter'. I can't wait to see where this series goes.