by Sergio Segura
“Across the internet, strange and obscure content’s out there that just may send a chill down your spine, or, at the very least, leave you feeling at least slightly unnerved. With that being said, I’d like welcome you all back to Disturbing Things from Around the Internet.” -Nightmare Expo, Disturbing Things from Around the Internet [Vol. 4]
It was in May of 2017 that TAMU geophysics student, Ryan Tanner, became Nightmare Expo, just hours before walking graduation at Reed Arena. Like most of us products of the late 90s, he grew up with nightmare fuel like Courage the Cowardly Dog, but Ryan, a longtime fan of horror expo channels like ScareTheater and Reignbot, decided to start writing and launch his own video essay channel just as his career as an undergrad was at its end. Now with 62 videos posted, he has garnered over 316,000 subscribers: from those curious about the dark side of the net to unapologetic fans of unleaded high-octane nightmare fuel. His current work includes everything from disturbing threads on Reddit, to horror web series, to ghost hunting, to the rich writing of ARGs or “alternate reality games”. Who else better to talk with during the “Spookiest Month of Year”?
S: What do you think makes something scary? What it is about certain media, certain stories, certain urban legends that you think really makes a thing disturbing?
NE: Ambiguity, I want to say. The idea that you might not know if it’s real or fake. That is the biggest thing that really freaks me out. I mean, of course, horror is relative. People have different tastes in what they find creepy, but for me, the unknown has always been the thing that freaks me out the most. Two examples, I would say, are- I don’t know if you remember, I made a video a year ago with ReignBot, The Dark Side of Reddit is what it was called.
S: I think that was the first video of yours that I ever saw.
NE: Really? Yeah, that Reddit story, man, the YAYVIDEOGAMES thing, the “Ubisoft goes Steamworks bye bye, always on DRM” thing?
NE: Where the guy was normal on Reddit and seemed to be a pretty normal user, had a pretty long post history of just…normality. Then out of nowhere, a switch flipped in him and then he just started posting 4,000-plus comments, including pictures and links, all the same “Ubisoft goes Steamworks bye bye always on DRM.” That’s the kind of stuff that freaks me out. It’s not knowing, to this day, what something is or how it happened.
NE: Another big one, I would say, is the Elisa Lam mystery.
In February 2013, guests at the Cecil Hotel in Los Angeles, California began reporting low pressure and strange-tasting water flowing out of their faucets. Maintenance was sent up to the roof to check the ten-foot tall water tank, only to notice that the hatch was open and inside, floating face down, Vietnamese-Canadian student Elisa Lam, who had been missing since January. Apart from the questions that arose on how Lam managed to climb into the water tank or even get onto the roof, one of the more disturbing aspects of her disappearance and death involves a four-minute video of her acting erratically in a hotel elevator. In the brief clip of surveillance footage, she runs into an elevator, presses buttons, hides in the corners, and then appears to converse with someone outside, waving her hands emphatically.
Lam’s death and the circumstances surrounding it have since become part of Los Angeles’ urban mythos. Amateurs on the internet have been spinning theories for over five years now, from more believable ones involving depression, poisoning, or a psychological breakdown, to more fringe theories involving travel to other dimensions, demonic activity, and even a connection with British occultist, Aleister Crowley.
NE: To this day that is the only video that I cannot watch without getting chills. The elevator video where she’s moving her hands? I know there are a lot of theories about her being off medication, but to this day, I still don’t have a definite answer to what happened to her and it just freaks me out. Like with her ending up in the water tank? The ambiguity surrounding it is what gets me and that’s ultimately what freaks me out the most.
NE: Doing this, I find a lot of things online. Like a lot. 85% of it I know is fake, but I cover ARGs and stuff as works of art and I try to present them to my audience as digital media exposition, just giving my theories on what these works of arts mean. But, really, the real stuff, the stuff that I don’t know is real or fake, is what scares me the most.
S: That is true, because I feel like those are the kind of things that are on the threshold between fiction and reality, and especially urban legends that use real locations, real names, real places, you know that it’s fiction, but at the same time there’s so much ambiguity that when you’re reading them you might go, “That’s fiction.” but at the same time you might be like, “But we don’t know what happened there.”
NE: Exactly. I’m not sure if you ever knew about bensplayhouse. Remember bensplayhouse? The ARG? It was about this guy who went to a mental asylum down the road from him. When he went in there, someone in a mask started stalking him, then running after him. He had this on YouTube, but on a Vine account, back when Vine was a thing. He seemed like a normal dude, doing like Vine blogs and stuff, but then his account went off the air after going in there. Like that kind of ambiguity man, is what really gets me- it was an ARG, but it seemed real at the time.
S: There are some of these that have wonderful storytelling. TheSunVanished is probably one of my favorites that have come out recently.
NE: Oh my gosh, yes TheSunVanished is awesome. It’s probably one of the best ones that’s going on right now. Straight out the gate: the newscast and stuff really set it.
S: Oh yeah. Now that really screams “alternate reality”, because when you look in, you’re looking at a whole world complete with all the footage of it being dark outside, of the lights going off, of the newscasts, of the noises.
NE: Hell yeah, it’s great.
TheSunVanished (the name of this Twitter account) is an ongoing story in which our yellow sun, without any explanation, has seemingly vanished, leaving the user stranded in a cold, dark, and increasingly maddening world. This is just one example of the expansive ARG, or alternate reality game genre, a interactive story like TheSunVanished or the seminal Wyoming Incident that use videos, forum posts, tweets and other media to progress, acting as if their content takes place within our own reality.
S: Would you say there’s a bit of a community between you and the other horror YouTubers? I know you’ve done stuff with ReignBot and…augh I’m trying to remember his name, I’m subscribed to him- he did the one about the cryptic Somali translations in Google Translate, he has the turtle with the bowler hat-
NE: Elder’s Vault!
S: That’s him!
NE: Yeah, there is a community between us. I’m good friends with Reign, Elder’s Vault, Night Mind… ScareTheater I’ve been in contact with. TheSunVanished, the creator of that, we’re friends.
S: That is cool.
NE: hiimmarymary also. I’m not sure if you know who that is. Awesomely done webseries. She’s really cool to talk to. There are a lot of us who do keep in contact and help each other out whenever we need it. I’m not sure if you’ve heard of a guy called Fantastic Daily, really cool channel. He dives into the more supernatural, like UFO-kind of stuff. We’re friends too. It’s really cool. That’s the beauty of this genre. We all band together and help each other out and bring each other up. Keep it going. It’s exciting. I like everyone I work with.
S: So, what have you got planned?
NE: Marathon. I’ve got four videos unlisted right now that are ready to roll. Got a few webseries, explorations, a Local ’58 video, another Reddit mystery. I’ve got a gaming video, kind of like the Silent Hill video I made back then but Majora’s Mask that’ll be out in two weeks. I really try to spread out my coverage. I don’t really like to just stay in ARGs, I try to do games, mysteries, ARGs, webseries, I’m not picky at all really when it comes to covering this stuff. Also, I’ve got another episode of Disturbing Things from Around the Internet coming out on Halloween.
S: Oh man, I am ready for that.
NE: I love that series. Fun to make. But yeah, other than that, that’s what I’ve got going on this month. For November, I really haven’t started planning yet, but I’m trying to do another video like my last Halloween video, where I went out and filmed my own sorta mini-self contained ARG for the video. I don’t know if you remember last Halloween, I went into a really dark basement area and filmed what looked like a video
game kind of video for a series I used to have called Unnerving YouTube Videos.
S: I remember that.
NE: So, I’m trying to do something like that when it gets cold back in College Station. I’ve got some friends that are there and we’ll be trying to go out and film around Bryan and see if we can get to a creepy spot when it gets dark and cold.
S: Well there’s no denying that Texas has a lot of strange things. I think they say that one of the most haunted cities in the state is Waxahachie, over by Dallas.
NE: Really? Wow. I did not know that. That’s exciting. There is one place near Dallas that I’d like to check out. I think it’s called Ranger, Texas. Apparently, it’s abandoned- totally abandoned- and the houses there look really, really creepy. On my computer I do have some footage I shot from Old Town Spring. I went out there to film with some friends and didn’t really find anything, which is why I didn’t put it up. It was creepy out there in the dark and I went to that restaurant that burned down. I don’t know exactly how that building caught fire. No one really caught the root cause of it because it happened overnight when people were gone. And I believe it’s happened multiple times, where it just caught fire for some reason. That’s freaky to me.
I know paranormal is a kind of controversial topic for some, because people are like “ghosts aren’t real” but it’s fun to believe sometimes and to have fun with it. Some of the things I cover, people take really seriously but it’s just entertainment more than anything. It’s entertainment, have some fun with it.
S: I mean, even if you never catch anything, there are so many different haunted places with rich histories behind them.
NE: Yeah, exactly.
S: And sometimes it’s just cool to see those places.
NE: It’s fun to get out and explore. I mean, doing Nightmare Expo, I do spend a lot of time in front of the computer. And I really want to do more, like I used to, like you mentioned, the ghost hunting stuff. I get to get out and explore. That’s always fun. And there’s nothing really like going out and filming your own footage.
With an internet that seems to disgorge new and uniquely disturbing content each day (some true, some fake, and some in that space in between), there never really has been a shortage of the dark and insomnia-inducing. From the polished, well-produced horror in videos like This House has People in It or Too Many Cooks, to the text stories that became the infamous Rake, Slender Man, and the Korean Elevator Game on the web’s message boards, the ability of people to scare themselves should never be underestimated.
Down below, I’ve linked Ryan’s channel, where he offers a well-written, well-portioned tour through some of the utterly bizarre stories the Net has to offer. In addition, I’ve also included links to other channels and accounts in that same vein. So for the time being, happy browsing, and a very, very early Happy Halloween. Get some sleep.
Nightmare Expo: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCpFFItkfZz1qz5PpHpqzYBw
- The Dark Side of Reddit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K1MU5ysyPiI&t=187s
- Disturbing Things from Around the Internet [Vol. 1]: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z03BX5IEoZI&t=209s
- Exploring KrainaGrzybowTV: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1HRiXT6-z3U&t=1146s
Fantastic Daily: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCy0ibnA70jw72zo3OxE3k6Q
Elder’s Vault: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCBMHV6UeJ-rkcvbvL8nBfcQ
This House Has People in It (Alan Resnick/Adult Swim): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x-pj8OtyO2I