Column: Cthulhu Eats the Movies – Marble Hornets: The Complete First Season (2009)

By Brian M. Sammons

Marble Hornets: The Complete First Season (2009). Director: Troy Wagner.

I’ve been sort of in an indie mood with the last couple of Cthulhu Eats the Movies columns, so I thought I’d continue that trend of highlighting movies too groovy to go without notice with this creepy little gem. But let me start things by asking if you’ve ever heard of the Slender Man? If not, then you’re in for a treat. If you have, well, keep reading, anyway, because while you might have seen some pictures or videos featuring this unique ghoul before, chances are good you didn’t know the Slender Man has his own DVD. But I’m getting ahead of myself, so for the uninitiated, let’s start at the beginning.

The Slender Man was born on the Internet in a Photoshop contest to create new, creepy images back in 2009. The exceptionally tall, thin, long-limbed, and literally faceless fellow was easily the hands-down favourite of the new monsters. He was always well-dressed in a black jacket, white shirt and black tie, and sometimes shown with tentacle-like appendages sticking out of his back because, as we all know, everything is made better with tentacles. Anyway, later that month, two young film students began posting a series of videos on YouTube under the account of “MarbleHornets”. Not only was a certified internet meme born, but so, too, was an original, reality-bending, interactive horror experience.

The videos were shot in the first person POV style of The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield. Yep, more found footage film – oh, how I do love them so. They recounted the segmented story of one film student named ‘Jay’ looking for his friend, Alex, who went missing after abandoning his pretentiously titled student film, Marble Hornets, for unknown reasons. The last contact Jay had with Alex was when the latter mailed him the raw video from his shoot, with the suggestion that he should burn all the tapes. Why Alex didn’t burn the tapes, himself, if he feared them so, I guess we’ll never know. However, Jay, being intrigued by the sudden bizarre turn of his friend, started watching the videos. Whenever he found something important or interesting, he would post it on YouTube as a permanent record of his investigation. So began an independent, episodic horror movie, told in a nonlinear style.

Each and every video segment – there are 36 of them, ranging from a dozen-or-so minutes in length to just over sixty-odd seconds – have been collected here, along with over a dozen responses from the mysterious YouTuber “totheark”, who begins to play a larger role in the story as it progresses. Some of the snippets are mundane and just go to build character, but the majority of them have subtly creepy elements to them. You just have to keep your eyes open to see them all. That’s because the Slender Man’s M.O. is to stalk and haunt, like any good monster, all the while driving his target insane. If that’s not Lovecrafty-enough for you, there’s the idea that, the more you look into the Slender Man, the more interested it gets in you, so there’s the very Lovecraftian idea of forbidden knowledge and the price you must pay for prying into the unknown. So, knowing that, I bet you can guess what starts happening to Jay as he continues to poke his nose into things he’d be better off staying away from. That’s right – all too soon, Mr. Slender Man starts popping up in a lot of Jay’s videos. At first, he’s just in the background, creepily keeping watch on the filmmaker a la The Shape in the original Halloween. Not only is this unnerving, but it’s also kind of fun, like a horror version of Where’s Waldo?. However, all too soon, this inhuman voyeur isn’t content to just watch. He starts to take matters into his long, thin hands.

I won’t give anything else away, as these videos work best when viewed with as little foreknowledge about them as possible. I will say that the tiny cast of unknown amateurs does a good job; the way the pieces of this puzzle come together is well-handled and keeps things engaging; and the special effects are mostly utilised in bringing the creepy Slender Man to life. As such, they are used sparingly and only glimpsed, which means they are used well. So, if you’re looking for some brand-new horror fun in this world of endless remakes and sequels, then this is what you’ve been waiting for. This is a brand new monster with its own mythology. If that gets you excited, and it should, you can get in on it on the ground floor with this DVD set.

Final Verdict: While not based on anything H.P. Lovecraft ever wrote, Marble Hornets does follow many of the same themes of good Lovecraftian fiction. Instead of just reciting the same old litany of unpronounceable Great Old Ones, musty old tomes of dreaded lore, or fantastical places, Marble Hornets does new things and does them well. Both of those can sometimes be in short supply when it comes to the Cthulhu Mythos. But if you’re still not convinced on these videos’ Lovecraftian bona fides, then just think of the Slender Man as yet another mask of Nyarlathotep, as it easily could be.

If you’re looking to start unraveling the Marble Hornets mystery for yourself, you can find the videos on YouTube for free, including new episodes of season two as they get posted on an infrequent schedule. Or, if you want to start it off quick and easy, you can get the complete first season on a two-disc DVD set directly here: www.marblehornetsdvd.com.

Brian M. Sammons

About Brian M. Sammons

Brian M. Sammons has been critiquing all things horror, science fiction, dark, or just plain icky for over a decade. His reviews and columns can currently be found in the pages of these magazines: Cemetery Dance, Shock Totem and Dark Discoveries, and on these websites: Horror World, The Black Glove and now here. Not being satisfied at being a humble and handsome critic, Brian has penned a few tales himself. They have appeared in the magazines Bare Bone, Cthulhu Sex, Dark Animus, and Horror Carousel, and in the anthologies Arkham Tales, Cthulhu Unbound Vol. 2, Horrors Beyond, and Twisted Legends, among others. He has also written extensively for the Call of Cthulhu role playing game, in an attempt to corrupt as many new, young minds as possible. Despite all this, Brian is often described by his neighbours as "such a nice, quiet man", and he loves animals.

Brian M. SammonsColumn: Cthulhu Eats the Movies – Marble Hornets: The Complete First Season (2009)