To quote AVGN, or the Angry Video Game Nerd, I'm going to take you back to the past. His channel surfaced in the early YouTube days that continued quietly into the late audi's was one of those channels that seemed to co-exist with early YouTube culture, a time of anything goes content. This was before click-bait and TikTok and the overall over-production of YouTube content became. Makena Kelly of the website The Verge wrote:
"It was the mystery and ambiguity of Marble Hornets that drew me in at a time when the internet and YouTube weren’t overrun by brands and 4K, forty-minute vlogs."
I am not saying the entirety of YouTube's audience has the attention span of the chipmunk from the Ice Age series, but the norm is a time of advertising and sponsorships. So what was it like in 2009, shortly after YouTube's first video's were published, a few years past the beginning of Facebook even, and a time for early social media speculation. Let's bring in Marble Hornets.
Through social media rumors and friend's recommendations I came across this seemingly under-explained but overall extremely followed vlog series. What was it like? It was a shrouded by mystery. Apparently released on the site Something Awful, this pseudo-post Blair Witch project was an extended horror mockumentary following a young cast, one of which (the director) is being stalked by the creepypasta famous Slender-Man.
Slender-Man the character also originated from the same website the video series adapted him from. He exists as a very tall man in a black suit with an unrecognizable white blank face. He is allegedly a kidnapper of children, a man who spends his time in the woods with a towering height of over seven feet and sometimes tentacles for arms. So the video series had quite the canon to work with and an audience to impress. Troy Wagner and Joseph DeLage would take on this challenge.
"Focusing on a young man named Jay (played by Troy Wagner), the story revolved around his investigation of a failed student film directed by his friend Alex Kralie (Joseph DeLage), who entrusts Jay with a collection of tapes from the unfinished production before disappearing." (Luiz H.C. of Bloody Disgusting).
Most videos had comment feeds disabled which prevented comments disputing or debating the content or legitimacy of the videos. On top of that, the videos were without names, focusing on entry numbers, making it feel like more of a DIY project than a created horror series. It featured a young but talented cast of very convincing amateur actors, each with their own narrative inter-woven between the scenes and growing conflicts of each situation. This was high-tier horror. It worked against the audiences expectations of jump-scares and gore, and focused on the slow burn of the feeling of a presence that just wasn't in each shot.
There were the occasional shaky camera moments, jumps and visual spooky moments that can be expected of just about all horror media to this day. However, some of what works so well within this series is just how bizarre and unknown the production is. I had to take breaks while watching this, for the first time I believe ten years ago or so, and actually watch it during the day because I was so frightened. Just like The Blair Witch Project audiences could be told it was fake, it was a narrative woven into a found footage experience that could be shared with the YouTube format. Just like The Blair Witch Project I had trouble reminding myself of that truth.
As the series unfolded we got a myriad of content inner spliced by moments of paranoia, confusion and fear. The filmmakers and crew in this story approach the mystery with an appropriate realism. This makes even the day-time episodes scary. One moment there would be a abandoned warehouse that would be explored to eventual terror, and another where the video that is shot would just have bizarre audio interference during a take. Was this a haunting moment or was it just a faulty camera? Marble Hornets lets the viewer decide.
When things get really weird (yes weirder) was when the conspiracy starts to set in. Just like any great mystery, the viewer and investigator gets deeper into the abyss than they're prepared to be, and things start to get dark. Fast. So when I was watching the original series I was not prepared to find alternate YouTube channels make threatening appearances and videos within the narrative of the story over time, some of which directly responded to events that occurred in the episode. I digress, this may sound confusing to those unfamiliar with the series but the way it unfolded was truly terrifying. We felt threatened by an unknown entity and even organization of villains who were following and spying on our protagonist. The video releases would be unpredictable and feel organic. It was exactly like a documentarian's experience through something they couldn't quite predict and would have to be along for the ride with.
Years after and even during the series, critics and web-journalists would approach this series like an amateur film project or true narrative that accomplishes so much on such a probably modest budget. I even stumbled upon a few videos that explore the dissection of the series and tried to explain what exactly happened. It would be unfortunate the controversy and eventual exploitation of the character would become. This series still exists on its own level, and as I initially planned to write it and researched its relevance I found lots of coverage of it to this day. Marble Hornets exists as a YouTube relic and can still be found in all its five seasons today, with a follow up movie and rumored web comic series in the works. This series would perhaps unknowingly inspire the binge-watcher in all of us. It certainly sucked us in with the fear of the unknown, and the desire to just keep clicking next.