Jaquelin Simpson writes in her essay “Rationalized Motifs in Urban Legends” that the difference between a successful urban legend and a failure is the ability for the story to suspend disbelief. In my entire life I have never really held my disbelief suspended by simply folklore, but I’ve always been able to suspend by disbelief in film. I’ve seen roughly double the amount of movies that most people have seen, and I also have an undeniable penchant for horror. People are always asking me how I can watch horror films and what kind of enjoyment I get out of it. The truth is that I really don’t know. I don’t know what is appealing about horror and in a way I think that in and of itself hat is the appeal of horror. The best horror films feel instantaneous, a never ending torrent of tension and terror that keep your hands clenched and your eyes rigidly fixed on the screen. But the truth is that the best horror films also typically have very simple stories. Horror suffers from complexity because the audience is left no time to find plot holes and be pulled out of the experience by slow, clunky, exposition. My favorite horror film is a French movie called “Inside,” in which a pregnant woman on Christmas Eve has a mysterious woman break into her home with the intent of taking her baby for herself, by any means necessary. The plot is relegated to no more than “don’t get killed,” and yet it is breathless and furiously brilliant. By the end of the film the villain succeeds in her mission, leaving a trail of roughly six bodies in her wake, and yet the plot never feels outlandish. It is filmed in such a way that it feels grounded in reality through all of its insanity. Compare that to the forgettable, overly written schlock that Hollywood has made: films like “Silent Hill,” “Mirrors,” “The Perfect Getaway,” “The Hills Have Eyes” and “Piranha 3DD” and you can see the inherent appeal of the simple story and its ability to inspire intense emotion.
No Slender Man story is able to provide a definitive answer as to how the Slender Man actually kills his victims. No Slender Man story is able to agree on what the Slender Man looks like with the exception that he appears to be wearing a suit and he is tall and thin. The blanks are left to your own imagination, and no special effects technology has the ability to create an image nearly as scary as what your own mind can dream up. Stephen King once wrote in his non-fiction assessment of the evolution of horror Dance Macabre that if you’re told that their is a giant bug behind a door you are terrified as to the possibilities. Even if you open the door and see a hundred-foot-tall bug your mind can process that; you think “well, at least it wasn’t a five-hundred-foot-tall bug” (King). It is for this reason that there are far more images produced with the Slender Man then there are stories written about him. All one needs is a figure, something to project evil upon, and your mind fills in the rest. The Slender Man is terrifying even without a story.
So what have I learned throughout this entire process? I believe that it is the combination of the two factors that I have mentioned that make both the Slender Man and all those other urban legends like him as successful as they are. The story is simple, it can be changed and adapted to whatever market or setting that you want., which is the hallmark of a successful rumor (Bordia). The Slender Man could be stalking an Egyptian teenager just as easily as an American executive, and thus the story is not alienating. If you go to the multimedia section of this website, the documentary “Slender Suits” has what is meant to be audio taken from a police interrogation which was attacked by the Slender Man. The man that the officer is interviewing is hysterical, and by the end he’s screaming “he’s right behind you!” The officer turns and you hear a “What the…” and then two gun shots. Following that you hear a few sharp sounds that sound more like mechanical clanking than steps. The screen then informs us that when other officers entered the room two shell casings were the only thing remaining. The scene is terrifying for reasons that are entirely within our own head. You are left listening desperately for something else, something else to be able to explain what has just happened. In the end, the Slender Man is just another boogeyman; another construct of human oral tradition in the new lens of the internet rather than through traditional face to face conversation (Fernback). He endures because on some level the story is plausible. We can imagine that somehow, somewhere, there might be something watching us from the distant treeline. In the process of my research I found an extensive report regarding the old idea of razor blades in Halloween candy. There were virtually no incidents of this (Best), and yet the idea endured for the simple reason that it could never be disproven. Oral tradition will not die with the evolution of new media, it will simply find new life.