Pleasant Horrors of ‘Hornets’

YouTube has conquered a lot of genres: comedy, news, vlogs, and now … horror?

That’s right, found footage fans, rejoice, because “Marble Hornets” is here for you. The web series, viewable for free on www.youtube.com/user/MarbleHornets, has been going strong since 2009, and is now well into its third and final season.

The plot is fairly accessible to both first-time visitors and horror buffs. The story centers on Jay, our narrator, who took part in producing his friend Alex’s student film, a pretentious indie scrapheap named, seemingly without any real purpose, “Marble Hornets.”

When Alex decrees that he’ll be moving to another state and plans to burn the tapes, Jay does what any sane and rational friend would do: obtain the entire raw footage from the “Marble Hornets” production and spools through the tapes one by one.

In between all of the artsy-bad acting, however, Jay finds something terrifying. Throughout production, Alex had been behaving erratically, videotaping his every waking moment, even off set. It becomes horribly apparent that Alex was being stalked by an eldritch monstrosity: a tall, thin being in a suit, with no face, called The Operator.

Jay uploads segments of footage to the YouTube channel and directly interacts with fans via a Twitter page. After concluding all of the available footage from “Marble Hornets,” we as the fans are treated to two more seasons of Jay looking for his friend, getting chased by a man in a mask and, of course, hiding from The Operator, who clearly has a bone to pick.

Internet-savvy individuals might note that The Operator is simply an on-film version of the horror-meme-urban-legend “Slenderman..” The “Slenderman” monster began on the Something Awful forums, but didn’t take off until the “Marble Hornets” crew began their YouTube series. Since then, Slenderman has increased in fame, birthing countless blogs, images and even several other video series like the equally popular “TribeTwelve” and “EveryManHybrid.” An independent film company even has a movie in the works.

But when push comes to shove, “Marble Hornets” is the first, and the best, of the so-called “Slender-Series.” It’s not just your everyday low-budget student film, either: film critic Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times called it “remarkably well done,” and due to increased fan response, DVD copies of the first two seasons were released for purchase, which included hilarious and insightful special features.

Of course, with the release of those first two DVDs comes a sad sort of realization: “Marble Hornets” is almost over. As a dedicated fan since 2009, sure, it makes me a little bummed out, but all good things come to an end. “Marble Hornets” coming to an end doesn’t mean its legacy is. A new horror medium has been birthed, and fans and emulators will continue the genre with a passion, by making their own similar but wonderfully unique series for years to come.

The ever-looming end of the series doesn’t lessen the scares that “Marble Hornets” deals out. Slenderman alone is unsettling enough, but with The Operator character, the scare factor is taken to a whole new level. “Marble Hornets” pushes the found footage genre out of mere shock and awe and into a Lovecraftian sort of horror; a macabre combination of the uncanny valley and the fear that comes with the idea that what you’re seeing on the screen could really be happening … and you could be next.