Over the years, we’ve searched every corner of the web for the scariest, most popular and most perplexing examples of internet phenomena known as “Creepypasta,” and shared our findings with you. [For a quick primer, be sure to check out our list of The 10 Creepiest Creepypastas, some of which are recapped below.]
In our ongoing quest for the creeps, we’ve unearthed many truly unique tales of terror… but we’ve also encountered several examples of creepypasta which have one specific element in common: these particular tales revolved around a single image.
In each case, that image (or in some cases, a brief video clip) remained at the center of the story — regardless of how many times it was shared, where it was posted, or how much the story evolved over time.
Among these, I’ve selected ten particularly chilling viral legends, along with the image or clip that serves as the launch point for each tale — and you can click on each creepypasta’s title to read the entire shocking story.
As you read, take note that some of the images below have been traced to their actual source — which doesn’t necessarily spoil the fun, but will solve the mystery behind their origins. Still, there are a handful of these which remain unexplained to this day…
Arguably the original face of the creepypasta social phenomenon, Slender Man (alternately Slenderman) was “born” in 2009 via Something Awful, a comedy-themed site whose forum users often post inventively altered images. The faceless figure was inserted into a set of vintage photographs via Photoshop, with captions suggesting the photographer(s) went missing shortly after the photos were taken.
The past seven years have seen Slender Man transformed into a major pop-culture legend, and one which occasionally crosses over into real life — mostly in harmless scare pranks and fan projects, but in one horrific instance, he became the inspiration for an actual crime. Thankfully, the victim survived, and the true story inspired an HBO-produced documentary.
One of the most disturbing of all viral legends, the Russian Sleep Experiment is particularly nightmarish for two reasons: first, because there may be a grain of truth behind the legend, which stemmed from very real psychological experiments performed in the Soviet Union during the Cold War; and second, we can’t shake the image of that horribly twisted, emaciated figure which almost always leads off the story, regardless of where it’s posted.
We’ll probably never know if an experiment much like this one actually took place (although the details of the story itself, including the shocking results, are pretty easy to disprove), but we do know where that image came from…
It’s actually a life-size animated Halloween prop called “Spasm,” manufactured by Morbid Enterprises, and you might even be able to buy one at your local Halloween store this October.
I still consider this one of the most haunting creepypastas: the story of a mute Jane Doe patient admitted to Cedar Sinai hospital in June 1972 — a woman whose smooth, pale, mannequin-like face terrified the staff, and whose actions that night resulted in multiple deaths. It’s a well-crafted tale, but I wonder if it would have been nearly as memorable if it hadn’t featured the above photograph, which is actually a photo by Anthony Armstrong-Jones, titled “Student Nurses with Waxwork Patient,” from his 1972 book ASSIGNMENTS.
The dummy featured in the photo is quite similar to the “Resusci Anne” figure used for training First Aid students in CPR techniques. [There’s a creepy story behind that as well, and we’ll be sharing that with you soon.]
Speaking of creepy, featureless faces… this spooky image first surfaced in 2008, along with multiple stories about the exploits of a demonic and homicidal character whose origin story varies from one account to the next. (The most popular version involves a bullied boy who mutilated his own face before launching into a killing spree, murdering his own brother while whispering the words “Just go to sleep.”)
Obviously, regarding the pic above, we’re just looking at what began life as a selfie, and then had a crude image filter applied to “erase” the facial features and exaggerate the eyes and smile. But there’s even a legend about that as well: it’s been said that the original image was a selfie taken by a girl who later committed suicide — after which someone used Photoshop to transform her last known photo into a grotesque caricature. I’m hoping that part is false, because it’s a pretty shitty thing to do.
This eerie image — which became the basis for the story of a traveling photographer who disappeared after taking it — is actually one of a series entitled “Anomaly,” which has been traced to an anonymous author on Reddit’s /x/ board. The author posted it along with thirteen other photos, all of which allegedly belonged to a collector of similarly unexplained vintage images named “Rembetus,” who intended one day to publish ANOMALY as an art book.
That project apparently never came to pass, and the collector’s true identity remains a mystery as well, but it’s nevertheless become a rich resource for many image-based creepypastas, including tales such as “The Collinwood Fire,” “The Grand Caverns,” “The Disappearance of Mrs. Yurno,” “The Harlow Twins,” and many others. We’ll be going into greater detail about these in the near future… for example, be on the lookout for the story of “Lily Palmer’s Eyes,” which happens to be the leading image for this article.
Oh, and the “Anomaly” collection also contains a haunting image which formed the basis for our next entry…
This creepypasta is unique in that it is tied to a series of horrific real-life events – namely, the bloody and horrific killing spree of “The Axeman,” a brutal (and still unidentified) psychopath allegedly responsible for the deaths of half a dozen people between May 1918 and October 1919. The connection between the truth and the (alleged) fiction lies with the above photograph, which was posted to Reddit’s paranormal-themed /x/ board.
The image is claimed to be the work of Édouard Martel, a French photographer testing a timed camera with automatic exposure settings. While there does exist a man named “Édouard-Alfred Martel,” he was not a failed inventor or photographer, and the original photo’s owner is still unknown… though, as we mentioned in the entry above, the image eventually became part of the notorious “Anomaly” collection.
Much like Jeff the Killer, this creepypasta was spawned by an image-based meme, which began as a snapshot of someone’s pet Siberian Husky, upon which someone cleverly (if crudely) superimposed a cutout of grinning human teeth. A creative author then built an imaginary backstory for the image file, which is purported to cause madness in anyone who opens and views it.
The author of the meme usually includes an epilogue stating that the “real” Smile Dog image has never been posted on the internet, and what’s being circulated is only a recreation of the original — “to protect your sanity,” or something like that. That’s a common tactic for covering a retouched image’s “breadcrumb trail,” so to speak.
One of the most disturbing creepypastas in recent memory centers on a strange and horrific VHS tape dating back to the 1980s, on which the crimes of a Jeff the Killer-like character are allegedly documented. The camera operator is said to be the vengeful “Jimmy,” a school prankster who was horribly disfigured by bullies, and who videotapes his grisly revenge on his tormentors before finally revealing his ghastly features to the camera.
While the above image is claimed to be a frame-grab from Jimmy’s VHS snuff-tape, it’s actually the cover art from “We Fenced Other Gardens with the Bones of Our Own,” a single released in 2004 by the New York experimental band named… wait for it… LIARS.
The image is derived from the band’s totally surreal music video for the song (which is pretty disturbing on its own), which can be heard on their full-length 2003 album THEY WERE WRONG, SO WE DROWNED.
Based on a viral video which is itself nothing more than a crudely-animated still, this pasta remains a perennial favorite on many forums and blogs, despite being thoroughly debunked. The embellished story itself is extremely nightmarish, and similar to “Smile Dog” in that it describes the horrific fate befalling anyone who watched the unedited “full” version of the clip — which is said to have triggered hallucinations, madness, self-mutilation and death.
As we revealed, the man in the “Glesgorv” video was eventually identified as “Byron Cortez” — a digital marketing coordinator whose photo was used by the late filmmaker Hillman Curtis for a video project. Even if that’s not his actual name, the source image has been posted for all to see, and as far as we know, no one has gone insane or died after meeting him in person. I’m sure he’s a perfectly ordinary dude.
Not technically an image, but a murky excerpt from what looks like archival video footage, the Barbie tape is one of the most intriguing and unnerving creepypastas to revolve around a visual component. Like most of these viral tales, there was an extensive backstory built around it involving a video file found on a discarded computer, which led the man who discovered it to an abandoned rural house, where he experienced terrifying and unexplained phenomena.
But the interview’s real origins might actually be even creepier: at the very beginning of the video, the caption (BIID) briefly appears at the bottom of the screen. According to one theory, this stands for Body Integrity Identity Disorder, which is a legitimate condition in which those afflicted believe that certain parts of their body do not belong, and it can often lead to acts of severe self-mutilation. The reason this may be significant comes in the final seconds of the file: after a long period of black screen, the woman appears again, but this time we can see that her right arm seems to be missing.