Echoes of Fear

A look into the genre of analog horror

Listen to this story:

“Let me in, Mark?” a high-pitched voice calls out. The voice is stuttering, distorted and glitched. It sounds like a corrupted cassette tape. “I have a gift for you!”  

Mark is lying on his bed, listening to the creature calling out to him from the other side of his door. He’s trapped. If only he had never answered the phone or Cesar’s mom had never been taken to the hospital.

“My mom fell, and I am driving her to the hospital right now,” Cesar tells him frantically over the phone. “I need you to check the cameras that we set up after the break in… she screamed before she fell.”  

“Did you lock the doors and windows like the broadcast had told us to do?” Mark asks. “You know how I feel about your house.” 

Mark clutches the pistol closely to his chest. It’s his only salvation, that or being swallowed by the darkness itself, but both of those options are better than letting that Thing in. The voice continues to beg. Mark doesn’t want to open the door, doesn’t want to enter the darkness, and doesn’t want to know. With his heart racing, Mark clenches the pistol even tighter. He swings the door open screaming curses at the creature and pulls the trigger. 

Analog Horror: My Beginning

I first watched this scene from The Mandela Catalogue in 2021 in the basement of my childhood home. I had just returned from walking my dog and decided to kill some time before going to football practice. I wasn’t a fan of horror, so the series was not something that I would normally seek out, but curiosity overtook me as my finger hovered over the video and I couldn’t stop myself. The fear that a creature might grab me through the screen of my phone was not strong enough to stifle how interested I was in the story unravelling within the web series. While scary, what I saw didn’t fit in with my impression of what a horror movie was or could be. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had entered into the world of analog horror.

Analog horror uncovers the powerful dynamic between analog technology and nostalgia. It’s a genre where the allure of the past enhances stories that tap into our deepest fears. The crackle of tape and grainy screens that define analog horror are more than just stylistic choices, they are a portal into a past that is terrifyingly unknown, yet hauntingly familiar. 

StudioBinder and TVTropes classify analog horror as a “sub-genre of film that relies heavily on the use of style and aesthetics of vintage analog media like VHS or cassette tapes,” and write that they are defined by their “grainy graphics, distorted sound, use of static and interference, and a fragmented narrative.”

You might be familiar with the “found footage” style and storytelling techniques from The Blair Witch Project (1999), a film that made the idea of an audience stumbling onto a story through lost footage mainstream. 

Most descriptions of the analog horror genre lead with the analog technology and low-quality sound production that is ubiquitous in the production of these narratives, but analog horror is so much more than that. I decided that I would go ahead and attempt to create one for myself to truly understand what makes an analog horror.

J.A.S.O.N Project: Part 1 (My First Attempt at creating an analog horror)

A Cold War clean-up crew is sent to a war bunker in REDACTED where they stumble across a revolutionary piece of technology hidden in the darkness. (Chris Hambley)

What is Analog Horror?

The way a film looks and sounds is secondary to the story and narrative style. There is nothing traditional in the way an analog horror unfolds. There are rarely any on-screen actors, meaning there is no consistent protagonist the audience can trust to hang around in the series, and there are usually multiple films that make a web series told in chapters. The chapters come in many different forms, but all add dimension to the world that the maker is creating. Vita Carnis, an 18-part film series created by Darian Quilloy, is a great example. 

The start of Vita Carnis is told in seven parts titled “Living Meat Research Documentary 1-7.” Each part is filmed in a documentary style that explains one of the seven antagonistic creatures that inhabit this alternate world, providing just enough information about the creatures to make the audience wary, and leaving out enough to keep the audience wanting to know more. 

The chapters that follow the documentaries are different. They don’t explain the world’s creatures or follow traditional storytelling techniques. Instead, they give the audience insight into the world of the horror itself. Each episode is like a clue that the audience uses to piece together information about the world the documentary takes place in.

In Vita Carnis, this includes a cooking tutorial that teaches people how to cook one of the creatures (Trimming), an infomercial advertising a flavour enhancer made from one of the creatures (Crawl), a self-defence tape on how to defend yourself from a creature (Mimic), and another tape featuring a haunting voice recording of a police report that pertains to a family who went missing in the territory of a Harvester

Before the creation of my own analog horror film, I had to understand what makes an analog horror more than just a film. I decided to ask YouTuber Crowmudgeon (Crow), who has multiple videos discussing analog horror films, how he defines analog horror.  

Crow talked about the unique non-linear storytelling most analog horror uses. “The thing that makes Darian’s film [Vita Carnis] and some other analog horror films so unique is the way that he uses epistolary media, like the story is being told through a series of documents the protagonist is uncovering,” he said.

This fragmented structure allows the viewer to be put in the seat of the protagonist who is discovering information in their world. 

“That is what is really special about Vita Carnis and most other analog horrors: the idea of the separate documents, and they basically treat it like chapters.” Crow said. 

Crow said that rather than thinking a story is talking directly to the audience, the films and media are set up so that the audience feels like they are entering into a new world and piecing the story together for themselves.

“Everything seems to have a purpose within the world, and it is to not communicate the story to you, the viewer. It is to communicate the information to the people of the world. Like we are peeking in on a story happening in that world,” Crow said. 

Crow also mentioned the use of analog technology within the world. “What makes The Mandela Catalogue an analog horror is the fact that the main threat of the series has an intrinsic tie to analog technology, and the fact that it’s using radio waves and stuff, which is why they banned CRT [cathode ray tube] televisions.” Crow said. 

Crow said that while analog horror is a contemporary method of storytelling, it still uses storytelling devices from the old horror stories like Frankenstein, where the story is told through a series of letters.  

Fear In Analog Horror

The best analog horror films rely on the fear of the unknown to make them scary. The lack of information builds curiosity among the audience and leaves them wanting more. Slenderman, a well-known character that came out in 2009, capitalizes on those fears, and turned into a terrifying monster that transcended the pages of the internet forum Something Awful, where it was born.

People would find Slenderman in the background of well populated photos and often near children. Slenderman was meant to cause unease and terror not only because of its unclear intentions and questions about whether it was real or not, but also because it was a faceless and a terrifying looking creature.  

I remember a kid in grade 4 looking up images of the creature and showing them to me in an attempt to scare me. It worked. One time I woke up and thought Slenderman was in my room but turns out that it was just a white billed hat hanging on my dresser.  

The reason that Slenderman was scary to me back then, and still unsettling to me now, is because I didn’t know better. I was a kid with a strong imagination so why wouldn’t a thing like this exist? Unlike analog horror, where realism takes a backseat, Slenderman was a creature of our world and a monster to be feared by children not experienced enough to know better. An example of kids not knowing better was the horrific story of two young girls luring their friend into a forest in an attempt to kill her as an offering to the Slenderman. 

I was scared just looking at the images of Slenderman back then, and it was only recently when I found a large reason for the monster’s popularity, Marble Hornets. It is a series of short found footage films about Slenderman, called the operator in the film. The entire series is found footage style, and the characters are believable, which only amps up the fear when the Slenderman starts tormenting them. 

The downfall of Slenderman was the growing popularity of the monster. There have been multiple films like Beware the Slenderman: a movie with a 28-million-dollar budget that failed to capture the terror that Marble Hornets produced. Slenderman is supposed to be mysterious and terrifying. By having tons of video games, movies, and books about the creature, it lost the mystery and is therefore no longer scary.

Analog horror as a genre is also experiencing an onslaught of minimal effort films that distract from well-made examples. The one thing I didn’t want to do when making my first analog horror was to make a bad one. There are plenty of bad analog horrors online, and I didn’t want the one I created to just add to that lot.

J.A.S.O.N Project: Part 2

An American family was recording television when they caught this disturbance on air during a commercial break. What could have caused it? (Chris Hambley)

Critiquing Analog Horror

I talked to Youtuber Hey Peter (Peter) to better understand what separates good analog horror from the bad . Peter has many videos discussing analog horror on his channel and a viral one is titled “The WORST Analog Horror Series Ever (in my opinion.),” when I asked him why he thinks there are so many analog horrors circulating on the internet, he said that “the barrier to entry is a bit lowered because they are quite simple to make” and that many of their creators are young. 

“Because anyone can do it for relatively no money, you find a lot of people that are just throwing their hat into the ring, putting in two cents worth of effort and seeing a twenty-cent return,” explained Peter. 

“The WORST Analog Horror Series Ever (in my opinion.),” talks about the analog horror film by UrbanSPOOK called The Painter by people on the internet, but whose name isn’t entirely clear. The story behind this film is that there are two painters going around a town in Louisiana murdering and mutilating people, then painting pictures of them and sending the paintings to police officers.  

From what I understand, the protagonist finds a stash of tapes in his grandfather’s basement and decides to put them on an old TV. What the audience sees in the YouTube video is what the protagonist sees in their world. 

UrbanSPOOK created the music and the images in the film. The music is eerie and chilling while the images range from I-can’t-look terrifying, to I-can’t-look-away grotesque, to what-am-I-looking-at confusing, and finally, you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me stupidly funny. 

“I have been vocal. I don’t like all the art pieces in the films, but I can’t deny that he is talented. I couldn’t draw anything on his level, but he clearly understands how to make something that is creepy,” Peter said. 

The paintings are the most substantial part of the analog horror film because they are basically the only real part of this film. While many analog horrors unfold over a period of time, there hasn’t been any character development, leads on the painters, or motive for their murders in over a year. The painters’ personas are not compelling enough to outweigh this film’s lack of story progression. 

“There just hasn’t been like a traditional narrative arc. I find a lot of analog horror’s biggest weakness is that they rely a lot on a slide show mentality where sentences are brief,” Peter says. 

Peter explained that there is only so much text that can be fit on a screen before the audience feels like they are reading a book or watching a slideshow instead of viewing a film. “Many people try to balance it between artwork and writing, but it’s a lot harder to communicate a story just through pictures. I find the very grotesque descriptions of everything kind of takes away from the initial shock of seeing the image,” he said. 

Peter also mentioned there is no point to UrbanSPOOK’s style in this film because the story is based in the 2000s when analog technology was starting to be replaced. Instead of using PSAs or documentaries like other strong analog horror films do, it is just a slideshow of police images from an investigation, which makes the audience question, why they are on tapes in someone’s basement? 

The Painter series, however, took a turn for the better with the seventh tape. Instead of just showing images of the investigation, it includes an audio recording of someone coming face to face with one of the painters. You can hear what it takes to become one of the paintings. I would recommend watching this episode with extreme caution. There may not be gruesome imagery, but the sound effects and voice acting are chilling and have left me with goosebumps every time I go back to it.

Last summer, I was at a friend’s house playing board games late at night, and I remember walking to my truck from the doorstep, which couldn’t have been more than ten feet away. It was slightly raining outside, and fog slightly impaired my vision. Walking to my truck’s driver side door, I stared out into the darkness. The only light came from the streetlights overhead that cut eerily through the fog. This was the same day that I watched Vita Carnis, and for some reason, the image of the Mimic creature popped into my head. A rush of thoughts overtook my mind as I stared into the darkness.  

What if something was out there just past where I could see? What if it was waiting for me to drop my keys or make a mistake so it could slaughter me like it did in the Living Meat documentary? What would I do if it stepped into the light? I couldn’t get into my truck quickly enough. I sped back to my house, sprinted up the front steps, frantically unlocked the door, and went right to bed.  

I don’t know why I thought of the Mimic at that moment, and I don’t know why a horror movie monster impacted me so much. Perhaps it was the fear of the unknown and the dark that influenced me that night, just as those fears influenced and inspired all horror, whether that is books, movies, or analog horror films. It’s the feeling that something unseen lurks beyond our perception coupled with the terror of not fully grasping the world and the monsters within it. These fears, deeply embedded in us by our earliest ancestors, tap into our primal instincts. 

J.A.S.O.N Project: Part 3

Welcome to the J.A.S.O.N Project! Today we have a PSA today to teach you how to use your new Supercomputer Pal! (Chris Hambley)

Technology and Analog Horror

While fear is a huge part of what makes an analog horror, analog technology is right there in the name as well. Most analog horrors rely on older technology like VHS tapes and old computers as plot devices and the means through which they tell the story. This older technology also means that the films aren’t expected to look polished.

Analog horror filmmaker Milos Mitrovic explains, “Shooting in VHS is great because you can hide some of the deficiencies, which all adds to the mystery you are trying to accomplish.” 

He said, “The blacks tend to hide more because the auto exposure is on which is trying to brighten the image. Instead of brightening, it’s creating lots of noise that is used to hide things from the audience.” Milos created some analog horror/found footage films of his own titled homer_a and homer_b, where he and a fellow filmmaker bought masks from The Simpsons and created a hell-like world for the characters to live in. homer_b went on to be shown at the Toronto International Film Festival. 

Film instructor Aaron Zeghers says, “It’s about creating suspense and embracing the darkness and the lack of being able to see,” Aaron is a filmmaker helping teach other aspiring filmmakers the ropes. “It’s a kneejerk reaction for filmmakers to try to do a bunch of crazy stuff when sometimes less can be more. […] It’s about making something that truly scares you.”   

Aaron mentioned the CBC interview where The Blair Witch Project co-creator Eduardo Sánchez echoed that statement. 

Milos agrees and suggests, “In horror, it’s all about what you don’t see, it’s all about making the mystery. No one wants to be told everything in a story. They want mystery, so if you don’t give them enough information, they will be almost obsessing over it.”  

Milos says The Blair Witch Project is a good example: “the movie left so much on the table in terms of mystery and had the audience speculating for years!” 

Theory Into Practice

While working on the analog horror movie, which I trust you’ve been watching throughout this article, I wanted to be positive that this would be a twenty-cent film, or even a two-dollar film, rather than a two cent like Peter mentioned. 

Taking the advice of Milos and Aaron, I ensured the use of older technology by borrowing an old VHS camera from a friend. Despite the allure of digital shortcuts, no array of overlays or filters could replicate the authentic feel of analog style.

My dedication to authenticity faced a reality check quick with the pain of using the old camera. The challenge of navigating an analog camera’s complexities was daunting but ultimately irreplaceable. The unique quality of the shots I achieved simply cannot be mimicked by any digital means. As a novice filmmaker, I am proud of the film I produced, and the irreplaceable value and unique charm of analog filmmaking. 

In the end, the essence of analog horror isn’t confined to its grainy visuals or crackling audio; it’s about the eerie intimacy of its storytelling. The Mandela Catalogue, and Vita Carnis weave their tales through a patchwork of seemingly disconnected media, crafting a narrative that’s as much about the gaps as it is the substance. It thrives on our primal fears of the unknown, the unseen, and the barely glimpsed horror lurking just beyond the darkness. 

Our journey into the world of analog horror underscores a timeless facet of human nature and it’s the same impulse that had my heart racing as I fumbled with my truck keys on that foggy night. Analog horror taps into the fundamental fears that reside within us all, reminding us that sometimes the most terrifying stories are those that allow our imagination to run wild. 

Whether you are a long-time fan of analog horror, or a newcomer enticed by the nostalgic quality of VHS and cassette tapes, analog horror is a genre that promises to deliver an experience that is as unsettling as it is unforgettable. As we peer through the static and listen to the distorted whispers, we remember that in the world of analog horror, nothing is quite what it seems. The story is never truly over. 

J.A.S.O.N Project: Part 4

Escape (Chris Hambley)
Headshot Chris Hambley

Chris Hambley

Christopher (He/him) has enjoyed writing from an early age and wants to pursue a career in advertising. In his free time he is found in front of his laptop enjoying sports, near a body of water fishing, or tastefully applying a gradient to his design work.