Sunday, 25 September 2016



One of recurring features of the Creepypasta stories that I’ve covered in this series is that somebody, somewhere, inevitably believed that the events described are true. It’s not just naivety that fuels this belief, the stories are so well written that they touch on a part of our mind that is prepared to believe in their horrors — the part that imagines the monsters of the horror film we’ve just watched might really be the source of that strange noise in the dead of night.
Despite this, these stories are all just that — fanciful tales told to elicit chills and thrills straight from the imagination of their authors.
Except one.
There is one Creepypasta bogeyman who, the writer swears, comes from the real world that we all inhabit. He is among us, even now.
He is the Smiling Man.

The encounter with the Smiling Man first appeared on Creepypasta fans’ radar back on 24 April 2012, on Reddit's r/nosleep subreddit. The story details an encounter that Redditor Blue Tidal had late one evening in a North American city some five years prior to the time of writing.
Something of a night person, the author decides to go on a stroll through the empty streets sometime between one and two a.m one Wednesday. It is while walking near a police patrolled park on this evening that Blue Tidal encountered the Smiling Man.
The author describes turning into a small side street and seeing an odd figure ‘dancing’ steadily closer. Upon closer inspection Blue Tidal noticed that the figure was clearly deranged, a lanky figure in an odd suit, with a painfully wide cartoonish grin and wild eyes cast up towards the sky.
Understandably, Blue Tidal crossed the street to avoid the Smiling Man, but it soon emerges that the Smiling Man is not so easily shaken…

As Creepypasta stories go it is extremely well written, and genuinely unnerving. Ultimately it is a deceptively simple story — a lone protagonist encounters an individual with some form of mental illness and, despite being shaken by incident, emerges safe and unharmed. It’s the sort of story that will be alarming but familiar to most city dwellers (as somebody who works in the heart of London’s Camden Town I’ve come across more than my fair share of lunatics).
This makes it easy to believe (far more so than stories of haunted video games or attacks by pale-skinned humanoid monstrosities), a trait which works very much in its favour, allowing readers to place themselves in the author’s shoes with very little imagination or suspension of disbelief required.
The story cleverly gives us plenty of details with which to form a mental image, but leaves others out, so we are now able fill in the gaps with our imagination to create something all the more frightening to ourselves. Look at the description of the Smiling Man — age; race; hair and eye colour, all of these are left out, encouraging us to paint a picture of a lunatic ourselves.
It was touches like this that saw the story become a huge hit with Creepypasta fans. It went on to receive a staggeringly high approval score among the nosleep community and eventually spread to other Creepypasta sites, such as the Creepypasta wikia where it appeared in September 2013 or Scary For Kids in October of that year. This just served to garner even more fans for the story, and in time fan art popped up on all the usual sites, including DeviantArt and Tumblr.
So big was the demand for the story that eventually filmmaker Michael Evans created a short adaptation of the story titled 2AM: The Smiling Man, which he posted to YouTube on 23 July 2013. Check it out here.

It’s a good short film and remains very faithful to the source material. Evans is clearly a talented director and he could well be a name worth keeping an eye on for horror fans in the year ahead.
If that wasn’t enough, a short while later another, longer student film was created by Benjamin Dizdarevic that expanded on the story. He posted the film to YouTube himself on 28 February 2014. It was filmed in Bosnia, with a Bosnian cast,  and added some nice spooky details, including a large sunflower and the always creepy Tiptoe Thru The Tulips by Tiny Tim, which perfectly matches the sinister Smiling Man. It is also a pretty strong short and well worth eight minutes of your time.

In fact, the impact on The Smiling Man on Reddit is so big that, after its tremendous success at r/nosleep, it actually received its own subreddit: r/TheSmilingMan/, which was first created on 18 November 2012 and aims to actually track down the real Smiling Man.
This is no idle task, as several individuals have claimed to have bumped into Blue Tidal’s assailant and some have even claimed to be him. One such case crops up halfway through this post asking Redditors if they’ve ever read a reddit story which turned out to be about them.
However, this — like all cases in which somebody has claimed to be The Smiling Man has since been discredited by Blue Tidal.

However, r/nosleep is not the Reddit in which the story of The Smiling Man originated. It was actually first published in r/letsnotmeet on 6 April 2012, more than a fortnight before the nosleep post. For those unfamiliar with LetsNotMeet, it is a sub-reddit in which users recount real-life encounters with strangers that weren’t exactly pleasant.
Allow me to emphasise that for you, REAL-LIFE ENCOUNTERS.
That’s right, Blue Tidal says that this isn’t just one of those horror stories that claims to be based on a true story — it IS a true story.

Since achieving a level of celebrity on Reddit, Blue Tidal has since invited users of the r/SmilingMan board to ask questions about the encounter, in which further details about the story have been revealed. That the Smiling Man was middle-aged and Caucasian, and the city in which the incident occurred was Seattle, among them. You can read the post here.

Blue Tidal was also kind enough to speak with The House about the Smiling Man. However, as helpful as this redditor was, Blue Tidal is still very much a private person, even declining to confirm gender during our conversation, stating: ‘I’m not particular on the gender pronoun usage. I've been referred to as both, and I think the fact that no one knows anything about me is a good thing (for personal reasons, and for the good of the story). I like that men tend to think I'm a man, while women tend to think I'm a woman. Rather, they tend to insert themselves into the story. At least that's what I think happens, and part of what helped the story reach its quasi-urban legend status (which is more or less what creepypasta is, I suppose).’

That such a private individual was prepared to speak with me just makes the very rare interview that follows all the more exciting and insightful.

HICKEY'S HOUSE OF HORRORS: Thanks so much for speaking with me.
What convinced you to tell your story on Reddit? And what inspired you to submit it to Nosleep later?
BLUE TIDAL: I can't remember exactly how I first came upon LetsNotMeet (the place I originally posted the story), but I loved the idea of a place for people to share true encounters that left them rattled or creeped out. The problem, I found, was that most writers simply recounted the events that happened, rather than attempt to make the reader experience what they felt. So I told my story with that in mind. I wanted people to put themselves in my shoes. Regarding NoSleep, several people on LetsNotMeet recommended that I cross post the story there. I hadn't heard of it before that point, so I didn't think much of it at the time.

HHoH: Have you returned to the scene of the incident since your encounter? And have you ever seen this particular individual again?
BT: I have returned, mostly during daylight hours, but I haven't seen the smiling man since. Unless dreams count. I actually moved out of the city (and the country, in fact) for several years, but I moved back 5 or so years ago.

HHoH: Has anybody ever contacted you claiming to have also encountered the smiling man or to have any idea as to his identity? If so, have any of these accounts been convincing?
BT: Plenty of people have contacted me claiming to be the smiling man. I actually did something sneaky before posting the story, though. I changed a few minor, but important, details. So until the day comes when I'm accurately corrected, I will remain unconvinced. I can't really imagine him sitting in front of a computer reading short stories, though. Beyond that, I get messages every now and then (much less frequently than a few years back) from people claiming to have seen someone who was behaving similarly, or their cousin had, or their friend's friend. It has a very "Sasquatch" feel to it. There used to be small communities dedicated to trying to track sightings of the smiling man. It was very surreal.

HHoH: There's a fair bit of online discussion over the validity of the story. It's certainly the most convincing creepypasta story I've read. How do you feel about the debate surrounding your story?
BT: I'm in favor of skepticism, so I have no problem with the debate. If you remove the storytelling, the core of what happened is simple. Someone behaved in an bizarre, aggressive way, and it was frightening. I'm not a believer in the supernatural, so I don't see it as anything much deeper than that. Honestly, it you've spent any amount of time in a city, particularly in the middle of the night, you'll be aware that people are much more terrifying than monsters or apparitions. And they're everywhere, all around you. At all times.

HHoH: Your writing is excellent and really brings the story to life. Have you considered writing and/or publishing horror fiction under your Reddit username?
BT: Thank you. I actually have posted one fictional short called Outside, but removed it after it raised some confusion. It was an odd story where I took elements of something strange that actually happened to me and layered it with fictional elements. I like the idea of doing that, as it allows me to keep my personal life personal while continuing to tell stories based on my experiences. I've been playing with the idea of a collection of horror short stories in that vein. At the same time, however, I don't want to give the aforementioned skeptics any undue cause to doubt The Smiling Man. So who knows.

HHoH: I've seen plenty of examples of fan art, with two pretty polished short films and dozens of portraits of The Smiling Man. Have any of these impressed you? And do you feel any are especially good representations of your story?
BT: I can't say that any of the videos I've seen have been particularly accurate, but they get pieces right here and there. I feel that this story is best suited for the imagination, where the reader can make the smiling man look exactly like whatever it is that frightens them the most. Hence my minimalist description. If I went into detail about the size of his shoes or the length of his hair, I think it would detract from the telling. Honestly, my favorite videos and stories related to The Smiling Man are reaction videos. They're not very common these days, but at the height of its popularity there was an adorable video of two little girls reading the story on the bus on their way to school. And my personal favorite Reddit reply was from a kid who was so scared after reading the story that they woke their little sister up, made her read the story, and then watched cartoons with her when they were both too scared to go back to bed. Honestly, that's the most ringing endorsement I could have ever hoped for.

HHoH: Finally do you have any other stories like The Smiling Man that you might post one day? I'm sure I'm not the only fan who'd like to read more!
BT: I originally had three different personal experiences that I was considering sharing, but that was before The Smiling Man caught on. I'm definitely writing more stories, but I don't know if I'll do so under the name Blue Tidal. I'm in no hurry, either way.

The Smiling Man proves that the telling of a story is every bit as important as the tale itself in cultivating an atmosphere of dread and genuine fear. With writers as talented as some of those currently gracing the Creepypasta community, such as Blue Tidal, it’s easy to see why its popularity is going from strength to strength.

Next time I’ll be looking at the work of another skilled storyteller. Until then, keep smiling.

Thursday, 22 September 2016


I don't think it's hyperbole to say this, but the most influential horror film of the last 20 years is probably The Blair Witch Project.
Sure, horror fans are often quick to point out predecessors (such as 1998's The Last Broadcast and, especially, Ruggero Deodato's Cannibal Holocaust) but it was Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez's 1999 sleeper hit that truly ushered in the Found Footage phenomenon. Of course, that could be enough to have some genre fans cursing the flick, but I think it's pretty safe to say that without The Blair Witch Project there would have been no REC, no Cloverfield, no V/H/S and (of course) no Paranormal Activity franchise.
But it wasn't just the filming style that makes the movie so influential. It was also one of the very first to use the internet and viral marketing to create a buzz. It came with a web site that presented the events of the movie as fact, as well as expanding upon the elaborate backstory and lore that made it so rewarding. This kind of marketing is ten-a-penny today, but back in 1999 this was truly groundbreaking.
And finally, how can we ignore its astonishing commercial success? Made at a cost of just $60,000, The Blair Witch Project went on to gross $248,639,000 worldwide. In short, it was a phenomenon.
The studio was quick to follow up this success, hastily pumping out sequel Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2. Sadly this underwhelming effort was critically panned and so ended the story of one of the most successful genre movies ever.
Or so we thought.
Fast-forward to July 2016 and the world was shocked to discover that Adam Wingard's The Woods was actually titled Blair Witch and would be a long awaited 'proper' sequel to the 1999 movie.
With the hype machine in full force, is this Blair Witch good enough to cast a spell over modern audiences?
Or is it lost in the woods?
Read on...


Dir: Adam Wingard

Starring: James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Corbin Reid, Brandon Scott, Wes Robinson, Valorie Curry

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

After a YouTube video surfaces, pertaining to the disappearance of Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard and Michael Williams 17 years ago, Heather's (much) younger brother James (McCune) decides to head into the Black Hills Forest to investigate his sister's fate. He is joined by love interest Lisa (Hernandez), a media student who wants to document James' trip as part of her thesis, plus long-term friends (and couple) Peter (Scott) and Ashley (Reid). To document the occasion the group assemble a far more high-tech array of gadgets than their ill-fated predecessors, including GPS, ear-piece cams and even a flying drone camera for sweeping aerial shots.
When the group reaches Burkittsville to discuss the tape with the YouTube user who discovered it, Lane (Robinson), and his girlfriend Talia (Curry), the local Blair Witch enthusiasts agree to show James and company where they discovered the footage with one proviso — that they be allowed to accompany the group into the woods.
Despite some initial misgivings about heading into the middle of nowhere with two obvious oddballs, the group feel they have no choice and acquiesce.
The following day the youngsters hike into the woodland to a warped, lightning-struck tree under which Lane discovered the enigmatic footage. However, a bare-foot river crossing causes a minor but still gruesome injury to one of their number. As the group camp for the night they are plagued by unexplained, disturbing occurrences before internal tensions boil over the following day.
However, as tough as things have been until now, events soon become far, far worse.
Lost, scared and pursued through the forest, the group soon realises that their modern technology is no match for the ancient evil that stalks the woods...

THE BEST BITS (mild spoiler warning): Do you remember the pulse quickening terror brought about during the final scenes of The Blair Witch Project? Well rest assured, there are times at which Blair Witch delivers equal chills and thrills.
I've watched my fair share of horror titles this year and I'm going to go on record right now and say that I think Wingard's film might just be the scariest title I've seen so far this year. I shan't spoil the ending of the film, but suffice it to say the last 20 minutes or so of Blair Witch are up there with the climactic scene of REC as some of the most genuinely frightening cinema since the turn of the millennium. EVERYTHING that occurs from the point at which the familiar house in the woods makes an appearance is petrifying. You have been warned.
A big part of this is undoubtedly down to some very clever sound design in the buildup to those moments. Blair Witch takes the echoing cracks and snaps of branches heard in the original movie and then adds some massive, booming treefall noises that really do unnerve the viewer. Combine these with climactic crashes of thunder and it's enough to keep you on the edge of your seat.
This is a movie that really rewards unspoiled viewing, so it's actually very difficult to explain why it works without ruining a lot of its impact. Keeping things as vague as possible, Wingard nails it through very clever film-making, not least of which is the way in which he both efficiently utilises and subverts Found Footage tropes which will be all too familiar to modern genre fans.
The use of camera angles and empty space in particular is effective, causing those of us who have grown accustomed to the trickery of the blockbuster Paranormal Activity films to anxiously scan the screen for frights that may or may not be forthcoming.
Often those that do arrive are of the jumpscares variety and — cheap as they are — they are flawlessly executed. I also want to praise the manner in which the film directly addresses the one major logical flaw of many Found Footage flicks. In this case the film never feels too convenient in the way in which it happens to capture the action at the right time, Wingard manages to keep the movie feeling natural, never forced, which is no mean feat. The ear-piece cams worn by the characters also deal with that ever-present criticism of the genre: 'Why the hell are these people still carrying a camera when they should be running for their lives?'
The plot, written by Wingard's long-term collaborator Simon Barrett, is another aspect of the film deserving of credit. What I most admired was the way in which it remained reverential to the established mythos of the first film and assorted supplementary materials, such as those of D.A. Stern's The Blair Witch Project Dossier. The film boasts direct references to the drowning of Eileen Treacle, the dreadful fate of the men at Coffin Rock, serial killer Rustin Parr and, of course, the suspected witch herself — Elly Kedward. There's even an oblique reference to the lurid hoax book, The Blair Witch Cult.
One of my favourite parts of the script was the point at which one character directly contradicted the lore of the Blair Witch universe (prompting an eye-rolling 'oh, here we go, messing with the story' from me), only to be immediately corrected by another character. Smart, very, very smart.
But this story, while familiar, is not a simple retread. What I liked was the manner in which Barrett and Wingard expanded on the plot of the first film. It's a sequel that delivers exactly what fans disappointed by Book of Shadows were waiting for — a continuation AND elaboration of the story of the evil in the Black Hills Forest.
Of course, one thing people expect of a sequel is more — studios often seem to take the ‘Let's take what worked in the first film and crank it up' approach. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the fact that from the trio of leads in The Blair Witch Project, we now have double that number of potential victims.
The cast are pretty good, the standouts are probably the very likeable Scott and McCune, whose laid-back natural delivery makes him an easy protagonist to root for.
The rest all do a stand-up job. There are obviously big things in the future for the pretty and talented Hernandez.
Due to the events of the plot, Reid's character is mostly reactionary, but ********** SPOILERS FOLLOW ********** she does a great job of portraying somebody struggling with illness ********** SPOILERS END ********** and she is very sympathetic. 
Elsewhere Lane and Curry are just weird enough to help you buy into their character arc, each really sinking their teeth into the roles.
With plenty going on throughout the story to keep viewers gripped, perhaps the biggest surprise is one that I really want to talk about, if only after you've seen the film. If you do wish to remain unspoiled (and you really, really should), perhaps you would be better off skipping this next section and returning after you've viewed the movie.
Still here?
OK, you have been warned.
********** SPOILERS FOLLOW ********** Either the biggest disappointment or biggest strength (depending on who you're asking) of Myrick and Sanchéz's original movie is that you never shown exactly what is pursuing the hapless victims of the Witch. In this sequel, Wingard gives a face to the fear. Sure, it's only a fleeting glimpse, but we are shown a couple of (what appear to be) genuine corporeal forms for the entity that lurks within the Black Hills Forest. The most eye-catching of these is definitely the spindly-legged form of Elly Kedward, stretched to breaking point by the torture inflicted upon her by the people of Blair. This tree-like figure is legitimately unsettling, and reminded me of some of the restless spirits from the Vicious Brothers' underrated Found Footage flicks, the Grave Encounters series, crossed with the truly haunting Medeiros girl from REC's attic scene. It's a seriously scary creation and works very well indeed within the plotline of the movie. ********** SPOILERS END **********

THE WORST BITS (mild spoiler warning): As I said before, The Blair Witch Project was a truly groundbreaking movie. Unfortunately, Blair Witch is not.

One of the main criticisms I've seen levelled at the film is that it is, essentially, a retelling of much that has come before. This is probably a rather valid complaint. Sure, there is a little expansion on the story but, at the risk of spoiling the film, the plotline for this is: kids go looking in the woods to find answers about a local mystery, kids get lost, scary things happen.
Sound familiar?
Bizarrely, the additional material is also a point of contention. An ill-advised venture into body-horror feels ill-matched with the existing mythology (even if it is rather effective), while I have heard some arguments about the manner in which other additional elements were introduced. I'd argue that the integration of time distortion into the plot is not as out there as first suggested — the supplemental material to the original film makes it clear that the footage shot by Heather, Josh and Mike was discovered in the ruins of Rustin Parr's home, a shack that had burnt to the ground back in the Forties, yet they were obviously roaming around within its still-intact confines during the final act of The Blair Witch Project. With that in mind, is abrupt leaping from day to night really that much of a stretch?
Sadly, there are a number of very silly moments in the script that are less easy to write off — I'd say the point at which the only physically impaired member of the group opts to climb a VERY tall tree in the middle of a thunderstorm to retrieve the drone (which has itself proved utterly useless up to this point) is one of the most bone-headed character decisions I've EVER seen in a horror movie. The ending also suffers from somebody clearly and obviously making a very, very stupid mistake.
But back to the drone. Oh dear, the drone. It seemed such a cool idea! Just imagine the tension that can be caused by an aerial shot showing something moving through the woods drawing inexorably closer to our helpless leads. Awesome right? Except the drone never does anything. AT ALL. It feels almost like a scene has been cut in which the drone actually contributes to the film in some way, because as it stands, it's pretty much just used to pad out five minutes of running time that amount to nothing... well, except the aforementioned idiotic tree-climbing sequence.
I also had an issue with the cast. It's not that they're poor actors per se, it's just that they're all a bit too Hollywood in their looks and their lines are all just a little too crisply scripted. One of the standout features of the original film is that the three hapless film-makers looked and sounded like real people (undoubtedly aided by the fact that the vast majority of the dialogue was improvised). In this sequel they look and sound like the young stars of a horror movie, and sadly, this can take you out of the viewing experience at times.
It didn't help that the cast were subject to that great bane of modern horror: the irritating jumpscare. These were entirely unnecessary and only served to remind us that we were watching a horror movie. How many times did somebody suddenly dive out of the bushes to grab a friend while abruptly shouting at the top of their lungs in Myrick and Sanchéz's original? Let me answer — None. It happens at least half a dozen times by the midway point of Blair Witch.
The other big bugbear that many modern audiences have — especially with Found 
Footage films — is the use of shakycam and the manner in which it makes working out exactly WHAT we're meant to be scared of difficult to work out. Unfortunately there are few points during this movie when the screen basically consists of juddery green and brown blurs accompanied by heavy breathing and shrill yelling as the characters flee through the woodland. It's distracting and at times it does impair one's ability to enjoy the film.
Perhaps the biggest problem that Blair Witch faces however, is that it has arrived toward the tail-end of the Found Footage craze. While its predecessor felt new and fresh with its approach, Blair Witch boasts a look and some sequences that feel just a little too familiar for genre fans. Wingard does a sterling job of shaking these up, but there are still a number of sequences and scenes that feel very 'been there, done that'. I sympathise with Wingard in this respect — when Joe Berlinger tried something different with his Blair Witch sequel, critics and fans widely rallied against his approach to the source material. Now Wingard has steered closer to the vision of Myrick and Sanchéz, he is accused of showing a lack of originality. Damned if you do, damned if you don't...
Finally, I return to the uber-spoiler above. Once again, I urge you to look away here until you have seen the film yourself. It's worth it, honest.
Still with me? Read on. 
********** SPOILERS FOLLOW ********** I'm one of those who holds the opinion that the fact the evil entity in the Black Hills Forest remains unseen throughout the The Blair Witch Project is one of that movie's biggest strengths. The imagination is far more potent a device than the most powerful special effects packages. By presenting us with actual visual depictions of the entity (or, as some reports are saying, at least some of the forms through which it haunts prey) it loses some of its air of mystery. It isn't helped by the fact that the Elly Kedward spirit depicted is so familiar to those Found Footage monsters I listed above. I love the diabolical beasties of Grave Encounters and REC, but for some reason I wanted more from the granny of them all. Of course, this is my own preference and I'm sure there will be plenty of dissenters out there who disagree. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below! ********** SPOILERS END **********

THE VERDICT: Despite what is being reported as disappointing box office results, Blair Witch is a solid, if not game-changing horror film. In terms of frights, I can't think of many genre movies that touch the sheer terror of the closing scenes of the film. Isn't that what horror fans want?

I'm a fan of The Blair Witch Project and, while I can see that the plot isn't necessarily the strongest, Blair Witch deserves full credit for the way in which Wingard and Barrett both stay true to AND expand upon the existing lore. As a standalone horror movie, it works. As a continuation of the story of Elly Kedward and the mysterious event of the Black Hills Forest, it delivers as well. Check it out.
Blair Witch is at UK cinemas now. You can visit the official Facebook page here.

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, 20 September 2016


Rob Zombie is something of a cult character to genre fans.
Undoubtedly every bit as great at marketing his films as he is at actually creating them, shock-rocker Zombie has produced some of the most talked about horror movies of the last 15 years.
His work also proves to be somewhat polarising, a sure sign of an auteur in my opinion, and I've heard lengthy testimonials for, and denouncements of, the likes of House of 1000 Corpses, The Devil's Rejects, Lords of Salem and his two Halloween remakes.
For the record, I dig his movies (and his comics – I own The Nail and Big Foot and think they're both great throwback, grindhouse fun), even though I can recognise some of the flaws in his work that critics are most vocal about.
Which brings us to 31, the latest sick exploitation flick from a man who has built his career on such movies, a tale of carnival workers hunted by killer clowns as part of a deadly game for the rich and privileged.
So, is this a game that you'll want to play?
Or are these clowns no fun at all?
Read on...

31 (2016)

Dir: Rob Zombie
Starring: Sheri Moon Zombie, Meg Foster, Jeff Daniel Phillips, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, Kevin Jackson, Michael 'Redbone' Alcott, Malcolm McDowell, Jane Carr, Judy Geeson, Richard Brake, Pancho Moler, David Ury, Lew Temple, Torsten Voges, E.G. Daily

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

31 opens with a deeply unnerving scene in which an articulate but clearly insane man, Doom-Head (Brake) delivers a lengthy monologue to a captured, bound pastor before ruthlessly executing him with an axe.
From here we meet a group of travelling carnies as they drive along an American backroad back on Halloween 1976. Among their number are the show's owner Venus (Eighties icon Foster), dancer Charly (Moon Zombie), show manager Panda (Hilton-Jacobs), mechanic Roscoe (Phillips), experienced worker Levon (Jackson) and driver Fat Randy (Alcott). 
When the crude, free-spirited group stop for fuel, Roscoe meets a flirtatious pixie of a woman (Daily) who is cleverly able to ascertain that the group are unarmed.
Later that night Fat Randy comes across an eerie display of scarecrows obstructing the road, and as the group investigate they are jumped by a gang of ruthless, armed goons dressed in the black and white stripes of a Nineteenth Century prison inmate. After a brief but savage struggle, five of the carnies are subdued and taken to a mysterious building.
After being escorted to an opulent theatre, in which they meet the foppishly dressed, powdered and wigged 'organisers' of the game, led by Father Murder (Zombie's Halloween collaborator and national treasure McDowell), the group are told the rules of 31. They will be given 12 hours to survive while running through a bizarre maze, all while being pursued by experienced, deranged killers known as 'Heads'. The first to hunt the group is little person, Sick Head (Moler), a Spanish speaking, Nazi obsessive.
As the group are given a disheartening set of survival odds (including 500-1 for some members), they are presented with a number of crude weapons... and then the chase begins. 

BEST BITS (mild spoiler warning): You all know what Rob Zombie does best: garish, eye-popping visuals, extreme violence and an effortless grindhouse aesthetic. So no points if you can guess what 31's strengths are.
However, that's only half of the story. Because, honestly, I think 31 might just be Zombie's best-looking film to date. It takes bizarre, fever-dream visuals and cranks them right up to 11. From the sumptuous set in which Father Murder, Sister Serpent and Sister Dragon watch the events of their sick game, to the nightmarish big top that acts as the main hunting ground for demented brothers Psycho-Head and Schizo-Head, it looks absolutely amazing.
That's before you get to the fantastic costumes: from the more outrageous, such as the aforementioned Father Murder's 'Louis XIV'-style attire and the absolutely astonishing 'mini-Hitler'-look of Sick-Head to the less obvious: I feel Charly's strappy, lioness-print top is destined to become a cult cos-play favourite.
It's not just the sets and outfits that look great (although they do), cinematographer David Daniel uses a beautiful, grainy film-stock look to encapsulate the time period during which the film is set, while Zombie himself shows off a number of cool film-making tricks throughout the movie. There are some excellent, comic-book style scene transitions, many of which make fantastic use of freeze frames (I think my personal favourite may be the transition that opens on a still of one of the leads puking his guts up).
That sentence probably tells you a lot about this film and it leads neatly to the next point — if you're a fan of Zombie's shocktastic, irreverent, 'Don't-give-a-fuck' mentality, this film gives you plenty of that. From disgusting jokes, plenty of gratuitous nudity and, most of all, blood, blood and even more blood, this isn't exactly The English Patient — this is Zombie firing on each and everyone of all of his most offensive cylinders. Like that other extreme clown hit, 'Bloody' Bill Pon's Circus of the Dead, this is as hard-hitting as it gets. It may not be to everybody's tastes (as some reviews from the movie's Sundance premiere have proven), but Zombie fans — of whom there are plenty — will dig the hell out of this.
But back to the blood. A lot of Zombie's fans enjoy the director's unflinching gore and sadism — rest assured, that hits just as hard here as ever before. From brutal eviscerations, bloody chainsaw wounds, gushing jugulars and spiked baseball bats to the skull, there's plenty of grue on display. That's before we get to the depraved acts of torture and cruelty that the various Heads are willing to inflict upon our characters. Be prepared for bad things to happen here... VERY bad things.
Of course, the violence only really matters is you care about the characters: those that inflict or fall victim to it. Zombie is aided in this area by the fact that he's assembled a pretty damn sterling cast. It could seem like stunt casting to bring in the wonderful Foster in this role, but she really is perfect for her part. She's a tough, experienced survivor and with her iconic cold eyes she's everything that Venus needs to be.
Elsewhere, Zombie's wife Sheri Moon Zombie does a pretty darn good job as Charly, showing a decent range as she goes from playfully flirtatious to helpless victim and then to battle-hardened warrior woman over the film's duration.
I was also a very big fan of both Jackson and Phillips. These are very talented guys and, while I was unfamiliar with their work before I saw 31, I shall definitely be looking out for them both in the future. Very impressive.
Speaking of impressive, needless to say the always fantastic McDowell delivers the goods, as do the other British vets Carr and Geeson. Their screentime is pretty limited, but they really do make it count. The same can be said of the charming and very watchable Daily. She may have made a living primarily from voice-work in recent years but that's a terrible waste of her good looks and expressive face. Here's hoping she'll be appearing on our screens all the more after this release.
However, as great as these cast members are, there's one man who absolutely runs away with the show — Richard Brake. At the risk of sounding like I'm overstating this, I really think Brake's work in this might just be the best performance I've seen in a horror film this year. He is, quite simply, absolutely astounding. Terrifying, cool, charismatic — Doom-Head comes across as a mix between David Carradine in the titular role of Kill Bill and Heath Ledger's seminal performance as The Joker in The Dark Knight. He commands your full attention each and every time he appears onscreen. This is, quite simply, a genre acting masterclass. It says something when, in a story as packed full of originality as this, you are the one individual that stands out. Bravo, sir. Bravo.
Touching on that originality, it is the wonderful mix of fresh and familiar ideas that make Zombie's story so rich and rewarding. Obvious commentary aside (in the game of 31 the rich play with the lives of the impoverished beyond the reach of retribution or consequence), it is just an imaginative, entertaining splattershow, jam-packed with striking imagery and an awesome soundtrack. I'm loathe to spoil the ending here but **********SPOILERS FOLLOW********** the gloriously ambiguous climax to the film, accompanied to the classic rock strains of Aerosmith's Dream On is pitch perfect **********SPOILERS END **********

THE WORST BITS (mild spoiler warning): Rob Zombie is an intelligent, creative guy, but he does have a tendency to wallow in the gutter. 31 is no different. Every other word is 'Fuck', every character thrusts their crotch towards the camera at least once, and most of them struggle from being deeply unlikeable.
In truth the gratuitous crudity grates, especially in that 15-20 minutes or so in which we're introduced to our 'heroes'. The 'Sucky Sucky' mantra is especially over-the-top and only serves to irritate rather than amuse, while the constant flow of swearing doesn't come across as edgy, more like a juvenile attempt to impress. 
This is often a problem with Zombie's work and here he is every bit as self-indulgent in his redneck vulgarity as anywhere else. Viewers who found themselves rolling their eyes at Michael Myers' backstory in Zombie's Halloween will be just as annoyed by the incessant wave of obscenity that 31's cast spew in scene after scene.
Another criticism often levelled at Zombie's films is that it is pretty clear that he cares far more about his interesting villains than the barely fleshed-out protagonists. Sadly, this is also apparent here. Sure, by the time we reach the end of the film we find ourselves caring about the few remaining survivors but, at the point that our heroes numbers are thinned early on by Father Murder's cool-looking henchmen we have very little reason to care about those whose guts and bodily fluids are spilled on the dusty road. Hell, after an hour there's only one or two who've made any kind of lasting impression, which definitely hurts the emotional investment of an audience. I'm sure nobody is watching this movie looking for a deep, complex character study, but a little more to care about would definitely have helped the film.
One criticism I've heard elsewhere that I don't agree with, is that of 'shaky-cam' action sequences that impair one's ability to truly work out what is happening during some of the more frenetic scenes. Sure, they are hyper-kinetic, but I was perfectly capable of ascertaining what was going on throughout the film and don't feel as if I missed any important details due to the camerawork. Perhaps it's a matter of taste, but I honestly felt that it utterly matched the balls-out, crazy as hell vibe of the rest of the picture.

THE VERDICT: 31 is an excellent piece of faux grindhouse, popcorn cinema. Sure, its crassness won't be for everybody, but I thoroughly recommend it for fans who want their horror to hit them in the face, kick them in the nuts and refuse to apologise. Visually stunning, edgy, imaginative and boasting a star-making performance by the superb Brake, this, behind The Devil's Rejects, is my second favourite Rob Zombie flick to date. Well worth your time and money.

31 will be appearing at select UK cinemas and video on demand from this Friday, 23 September. Until then, check out the film's official Facebook page here.

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.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016



In my last feature I touched on the shrewd manner in which writers of Creepypasta incorporate common web/communications experiences into their stories to tailor their scares to the CP audience.
There are a number of Creepypasta authors who, quite deservedly, have cultivated a real reputation for producing high-quality work.
One of my favourites is the prolific Slimebeast, creator of the fantastic Abandoned By Disney series, which I have covered here before.
This week I return to his work for a story that utilises its web origin flawlessly: Funnymouth.

The story first appeared online at Slimebeast’s website on 1 January 2013 ().
It opens with a very realistic transcript of an exchange between three users of the #ReferSales forum: lemonlimeskull; GhostJorge; and funnymouth.
The bizarre funnymouth dives into the channel, spouts a load of gibberish, then promptly disappears, drawing the curiosity of lemonlimeskull, whose real name is then revealed to be Charles Watts as he takes over narrator duties. After attempting to chat with the increasingly weird funnymouth, Charles moves on.
However, he soon finds himself cyber-stalked by the mysterious web-user, bombarded with emails to his private account. Funnymouth’s actions become increasingly intense, including somehow bringing down causing it to redirect to, a site which seems to consist simply of a large bitmapped image of a face with a long, distended tongue lolling out.
Charles also finds himself cracking under the pressure and haunted by grim nightmares.
Finally a frightening truth is revealed about who or what funnymouth is…

There’s no denying that Funnymouth manages to pack a lot of frights into its comparatively brief length. That the story starts with such a realistic chat transcription really draws the reader in, echoing an online setting with which many Creepypasta consumers will be familiar. By engaging a reader in this way early on, Slimebeast builds a natural suspension of disbelief, before heading into his trademark, personable and likeable narration as the ill-fated Charles Watts. Watts is something of a horror fiction archetype, a flawed protagonist who proceeds along a path to damnation by allowing his natural disposition to cause him to wander into the sights of something deadly. Think the stuffy disbelieving sceptics of M.R. James’s ghost stories, or in more modern terms, the blindly driven Ellison Oswalt as played by Ethan Hawke in 2012’s Sinister.
In this case it is curiosity in the face of what he knows to be wrong — lemonlimeskull says as much himself when describing his initial encounters with funnyouth
With online stalkers and trolls a very real threat to web users, the slowly building intensity of funnymouth’s attentions is decidedly unsettling, long before the story reveals the terrifying imagery of Charles’s nightmares and that haunting climax.
The image is also disturbing, a devilish ‘face’ to place to the name funnymouth. The long tongue is reminiscent of several depictions of Satan, while the intense glare is definitely a spine chiller.
In August of that same year the story appeared over on the Creepypasta Wikia where it was a massive hit with readers. The story took on an even more legendary reputation when it emerged that the sites and email addresses within the story were all genuine. is still live, although has since gone done.
This really was a fantastic display of commitment to his craft from Slimebeast, one which has seen the usual questions regarding whether the story is truly based on fact.
Of course, we all know that Slimebeast is a well-known and talented creator of fiction, but as the story spread throughout the Internet (copied and pasted, like all truly great Creepypastas) some readers lost track of where the story originated.

The waters were muddied even further on 18 July 2014 when a sequel to the story, titled Funnymouths appeared at Slimebeast's site.
The story really toys with the reader, taking a more meta approach and directly referencing the spread of the original story online and even the author himself.
This story follows a sceptical protagonist who accidentally stumbles across the original Funnymouth story online, then starts to research the tale. It leads him to the YouTube channel of a user called Tormental, who it seems may have crossed paths with the dangerous funnymouth while playing an online game. Another video is then described which tells us about the fate that befell poor Charles Watts — and it is chilling.
Suitably creeped out by the video, that evening our poor narrator goes on to have a vivid nightmare. Waking in a state of real terror, he tries to get over the shock by posting to a web forum, pointing out that the story is clearly a well-worked hoax and that a broken jaw isn’t THAT scary.
Then he receives a private message from a familiar name…

Funnymouths is a good follow-up and the clever manner in which it incorporates elements of real-life into its narrative really adds to the suspension of disbelief, while the large cast of (mostly online) characters and subtle changes in writing style for each by Slimebeast really adds to the experience.
Arguably the biggest scare comes from the description of the “Watts-01_10_13” video.
This touches on the very real fear of insanity, Dementophobia, a phobia that is actually pretty common. We all fear the thought that one day our mind will betray us. That our perception of reality could become inherently flawed, not through external stimulus, but through the very processes we use to make sense of the world around us. With madness comes the very real threat that we could harm ourselves or others without reason, and this is truly horrifying.
Factor in the historical cruelty or mistreatment of those with mental disorders and it’s all too clear why the thought of suffering some kind of mental break could cause deep anxiety.
That this sequence culminates in some startlingly gory imagery really drives home the horror of that moment.
Once again there’s a nice real-world reference, YouTube user Tormental is actually one of the author’s YouTube channels — there’s no Charles Watts video there, but the story directly addresses this. It’s another dedicated, clever and artful piece of work from a Creepypasta icon who consistently excels at this kind of thing.
This author Slimebeast (Christopher Howard Wolf) was kind enough to speak with me again about his very successful, yet very different creepypasta double act.

UK HORROR SCENE: Thank you for agreeing to speak with me.
First, what served as your inspiration for the story?
SLIMEBEAST: It's basically the classic "something is after you" story, with an "internet troll" twist thrown in. It's basically inspired by all the lolrandom trolls out there.
UKHS: It cleverly utilises a real website to contribute to the story telling process. What inspired you to do that? And what challenges did that present?
SB: I've made a few websites in the past, just to see if I could convince people they were real. For example, before The Dark Knight Rises finished production, I made a fake viral site for Poison Ivy's high-class escort service. It hit about 400,000 views in a day or two before people started picking up that it wasn't an actual part of the marketing campaign. I guess it's just something I like to challenge myself with — can I create a false reality and convince someone of it — even for a short time? As for challenges, I suppose the only real challenge is paying the domain name fee every year. XD

UKHS: I've noticed that has closed, but you can still access the site if you know how to through ReferSales. What happened to
SB: Before I used in the story, I had it up for sale along with a bunch of other names. I forgot to remove it from the sales website because I hadn't used it in a year or more. Needless to say, once it started getting traffic, someone bought it. I regret forgetting it was on the market, but really the fact that it went down kind of adds to the story a little bit, eh? I actually used to respond to email at as Funnymouth before it got overwhelming.

UKHS: The character Funnymouth writes in a very distinctive manner. Is it based on anybody real you've encountered online?
SB: Yes, some of his style of speech is based on a forumgoer I used to see on a comic book message board. There was more than one discussion on the site about whether he was legit or a troll. He would post comic scripts and say stuff like: "tom cruise can star in the movie. i hope he can like it."

UKHS: The opening section of the story takes place as a transcript in an Internet chat room and is frighteningly believable. Was that difficult to do? Would you consider writing a full story in that manner?
SB: It's not all that difficult. Most of the aggravation just comes in the form of typing the usernames out every time, and making sure I didn't misspell them somewhere. Copy/paste doesn't really help when you have two or even three names to use over and over again in a quick-fire discussion. I don't really know if I'd write a non-Funnymouth story in this exact format, because then it'd basically just be borrowing from this story.

UKHS: The sequel, Funnymouths is very self-referential (I like to refer to it as the Wes Craven's New Nightmare of creepypastas) and takes a decidedly different tone than the original story. Why did you choose to try a different tack with the sequel?
SB: I tackle sequels, prequels, etc. with a sort of "meta" approach. I want them to actually seem like a movie or book sequel in some regards, like using various tropes or behaviors associated with sequels. For example, "Lost Episodes" ends on a very final note. However, the follow-up story, "Sid's Video", takes that ending and basically undoes it. People get aggravated at that, but that's the point. It's a story about movies and TV shows, so the second story is like a movie sequel that doesn't respect the source. I probably get too far into my own head on these things, but yeah. Funnymouths does this by attempting to sound like someone else is writing their own spin-off of Funnymouth. Like a second author decided "this looks popular, I think I'll write an unofficial sequel!" I don't know if any of that carries across, but you can hopefully see it in little touches here and there.
UKHS: Funnymouths in particular really blurs the lines between fact and fiction. Was this hard to do? And have you heard of many people who have actually mistaken either of the stories for fact?
SB: It's not all that hard to blur the line. I think most of my stories have some connection to real-life events I've experienced. Even if it's just "One time I fell down the stairs and hurt my foot... but imagine if I had somehow kept falling for hours!" or something dumb and mundane like that. People have definitely mistaken the stories for reality, unless they're all shining me on. People still email Charles at and ask if he's okay.

UKHS: Both stories leave quite a lot of mysteries unanswered. Do you think you might return to the story in the future? Or do you prefer this element of mystery?
SB: I like to leave things open to interpretation. Hopefully I can do this in a way that doesn't frustrate people so much as inspire them to imagine their own meaning. I want to set up a situation where the reader can walk away thinking rather than just being done with the story and moving on. Whether or not I accomplished it depends on who's reading, I suppose.

You can read more of Slimebeast’s work over at his web site or check out more creepypasta writing at Slimebeast’s other site,

It’s clear that Slimebeast’s stories work so well because they are frightening realistic in their descriptions of, thankfully, fictitious horror. For creepypasta to work, most of the time it needs to convince the reader that it is based on fact… so what happens when a viral horror tale really is based on true events?
Check out my next feature for one of the internet’s most enduring viral horror stories that just so happens to be based on a genuine heart-stopping encounter the author experienced.
Prepare for nightmares...


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.