There are plenty of ways for horror fans to scare themselves – pick up a Stephen King novel, turn on a John Carpenter movie, or even press play for an episode of the “Welcome To Night Vale”. But a growing community of creatives believe the next great horror tale may not come from a book or a movie, but rather from the internet.
“In the digital age we live in, it’s that much easier for anyone with an internet connection to share their stories, their fables, their works of art, you know, with the public,” said Samantha Culp, writer and filmmaker. based in California, told ABC Audio.
She says this emerging genre of online storytelling is collaborative – anyone can build on another person’s idea. And unlike other fan communities, which adapt and add to existing properties such as “Supernatural”, “Doctor Who” or “Sherlock”, many horror fans create stories and worlds entirely new ones that others can dive into.
One of the most popular stories of this new genre is “The Backrooms” – an imaginary space of dimly lit, endless yellow hallways. The idea is based – not on a book or movie – but rather on a photo from an online message board in 2019.
“There was one particular photo posted first on 4Chan, and then it quickly migrated to Reddit, of this particular image of some sort of underground or windowless interior space,” Culp said. “Maybe it’s a basement, maybe it’s an office hallway…it’s from a weird angle, and it’s extremely strange and disturbing at first glance,” Culp said.
The original post contains no information about when or where the photo was taken, or who took it. But one thing is for sure – the image evokes a very specific type of feeling in many who look at it. It’s a feeling that Culp says has to do with our relationship to so-called “liminal spaces.”
“It’s the normal space, which is kind of separated now, because it’s not performing its normal function,” Culp said.
Empty airport lounges or hotel lobbies are examples of liminal spaces – places normally bustling with people who, for some reason, have been abandoned. Another common liminal space that Culp cites is a high school after classes end for the day.
“If you’ve ever been to your high school after hours, like after a sports game or something, and it’s empty, there’s a really weird kind of sense to it,” Culp said. “A lot of these writers – young creators, writers and artists who engage in liminal spaces and The Backrooms talk about it as a formative experience… of liminality.”
The photo inspired another anonymous user to write a short caption, imagining what it would be like to end up in The Backrooms, “where it’s nothing but the stench of damp old carpet, the madness of mono-yellow , the endless fluorescent background noise of lights at maximum hum, and about six hundred million square miles of randomly segmented empty rooms to be trapped in.”
“That quirky image sparked a quirky story,” Culp said, “that kind of conjured up almost a whole universe of inspiration for people engaging in, you know, writing, film, art , video game creation, illustration, even music and soundscapes.”
Kane Parsons, a high school student who goes through “Kane Pixels” online, is one of the most popular creators of Backrooms. His collection of short films has garnered tens of millions of views on YouTube, most of which were made using the free online CGI software “Blender”.
“I came across the original image on my computer… and I just thought, huh, it would be interesting to see if I could go to my 3D software, Blender, and try to recreate a scene in that environment,” said Parsons told ABC Audio. .
His videos tell the story of a shadow organization, called ASYNC, which in the late 1980s opened a portal connecting the real world to the Backrooms.
“It’s a slow-burning story focusing on both the politics of ASYNC and the United States government, as well as the otherworldly and confusing functions of the complex, or The Backrooms.”
Parsons is far from alone – Backroom content has grown in popularity in recent years, with some creators exploring what other Backroom floors look like, and others populating those spaces with monsters.
Culp says these creatures range from “the plausibly scary, like fast-moving shadow people, to the deliberately silly kind. Like, Shrek in a party hat is on some level of The Backrooms in this universe. broadened, in a way, from the tradition.”
As in many online communities, divisions have arisen. Some fans disapprove of the lighter storylines that cropped up in The Backrooms, preferring the isolated horror of the original pic instead.
“There are a lot of other people who are sort of purists who say, ‘No, we like the original! ‘” Culp said.
Unlike the fandoms that spring up around existing properties – where there’s a clear distinction between ‘canonical’ storytelling and fan fiction – no one owns The Backrooms, which means it’s harder to draw a line between authentic storytelling. and jokes.
“There’s kind of a battle between originalists, purists and expansionists,” Culp said.
Parsons, for his part, says he understands the purists’ point of view, although he doesn’t necessarily agree. Rather, his strategy is to tell a story that expands on the original post, while maintaining the atmosphere it evokes.
“I want to do something that tells this story that I think is meaningful, that I made up, while still retaining that feeling that was present in the original post,” Parsons said. “So I think it’s a balance.”
“Most definitely there were vocal, negative people who expressed that sentiment,” Parsons said, but he added that it was not the norm.
“For the most part, I think everyone has been very tolerant and just great — very mature about how it all turned out,” he said.
The Backrooms is just one example of an emerging genre of online collaborative horror. Other stories include the SCP Foundation – a Wikipedia-style website where anyone can document “anomalities; objects and creatures that don’t follow the rules of nature as we know them”. Or there’s the Mystery Flesh Pit National Park, a fictional national park in Texas that’s also a mysterious pit of living flesh.
“Obviously the amount of effort and passion that people have to engage in these stories, these pieces of folklore or some kind of these emerging mythologies, is both something very new and a new generation growing up online is kind of naturally able and interested in doing that,” Culp said, adding “and also it’s tied to I think a very, just, ancient human impulse on storytelling and art, and the functions it serves for our communities large and small.
Parsons says the response to his Backrooms contributions has been very positive overall. Although he spends eight hours a day working on videos, he says it’s worth it.
“I love doing that,” he said. “I almost never burn out. And I think that’s partly because people love this show. I feel like everything I do has value.”
And for fans who aren’t done exploring those seemingly endless hallways, he says he’s not done yet.
“I can’t say much, I really can’t say anything, but there’s more to come, there’s definitely more to come,” he said. “Years – years of Backrooms ahead.”
LISTEN to ABC Audio’s Mike Dobuski on The Backrooms: