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Slender Man: the disturbing true story that inspired Netflix’s controversial new horror film

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Kayleigh Dray
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Slender Man has already sparked outrage – but why?

Slender Man – now available to stream on Netflix – has already sparked outrage, but why?

Updated on 20 July 2020: Slender Man is now available to stream on Netflix.

The horror film, starring Joey King, Julia Goldani Telles, and Jaz Sinclair, was released in cinemas back in the pre-Covid days of 2018. And it sounds, on the surface, like your bog-standard spooky movie.

You know the story, even if you don’t know the story: four high school girls in a small, sleepy American town get a little too interested in the occult and carry out a questionable ritual. Just days afterwards, one of their group mysteriously disappears – leaving the remaining trio terrified for their lives.

Or, to quote the official synopsis: “Desperate to find their missing friend, a group of girls summons the entity they believe took her – the evil legend of Internet lore, Slender Man.”

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So far, so basic. However, this particular horror movie is based on the legend of the “creepypasta” Internet meme that is Slender Man. And that, when you recall the real-life attacks that have been carried out in service of the supernatural character, changes the narrative somewhat.

As reported on 24 April 2018: a thin, unnaturally tall humanoid with a featureless head and face and wearing a black suit, Slender Man first appeared in 2004 via a series of Photoshopped images created by Eric Knudsen in 2009. Since then, he has seeped into hundreds of pieces of online fiction, and become something of an influence on pop culture (he is even referenced in the popular videogame, Minecraft).

According to the various mythologies, the character abducts children (often in forested areas) and can cause paranoia and delusions. Proximity to the Slender Man is often said to trigger a “Slender sickness”; a rapid onset of paranoia, nightmares and delusions accompanied by nosebleeds – and he is said to have the ability to teleport. Because why not, eh?

For many years, the Slender Man narrative went largely unnoticed by mainstream culture. It wasn’t until 2014 that the digital legend made headlines, after readers of his fiction were connected to several violent acts – particularly the near-fatal stabbing of a 12-year-old girl in Waukesha, Wisconsin.

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As reported by local news outlets at the time, Anissa Weier and Morgan Geyser brought their classmate Payton Leutner into a wooded area of a Wisconsin suburb. With encouragement from Weier, Geyser stabbed Leutner 19 times.

The schoolgirl survived the attack after crawling out to a path where a cyclist found her. Weier and Geyser told detectives they had to kill Leutner to prove to Slender Man that they were worthy of being his servants as well as protect their families from him. 

All three girls were 12 years old at the time of the attack. Since then, Geyser (now 15) has since pleaded guilty to attempted first-degree intentional homicide, and has been sentenced to at least 40 years in a mental hospital – the maximum sentence allowed.

Weier (now 16) has been sentenced to 25 years in a mental institution after pleading guilty to attempted second-degree intentional homicide.

The Wisconsin stabbing was not the only crime linked to the Slender Man mythology: just a few weeks after the attack, a 13-year-old girl in Hamilton County, Ohio, slashed at her mother with a knife. The mother told WLWT-TV that she thought the girl was obsessed with Slender Man.

And, in September of that same year, a 14-year-old girl in Port Richey, Florida, set her house on fire. Sheriff’s deputies said she started the fire after reading an e-book called Soul Eater and reading about Slender Man.

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It is perhaps unsurprising, then, that Weier’s father has accused the makers of the Slender Man film of trying to capitalise on the tragedy.

“It’s absurd they want to make a movie like this,” Bill Weier told the press.

“It’s popularising a tragedy is what it’s doing. I’m not surprised, but in my opinion it’s extremely distasteful. All we’re doing is extending the pain all three of these families have gone through.”

It is worth noting that Slender Man – directed by Sylvain White, who also helmed 2007’s Stomp the Yard, and starring Javier Botet as Slender Man – was originally due to come out in May 2018, but it was bumped back to August. And, according to horror site Bloody Disgusting, the film that is being released in cinemas “is not a complete movie”.

“Several major scenes from the film were completely removed by the studio,” they say.

It is believed that Sony made the changes to the film and the marketing in light of Weier’s comments, and the subsequent backlash.

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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.

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