What is Analog Horror?
Analog horror is a rather niche (but quickly growing!) horror genre that utilizes 90s-esque technology and media to evoke a sense of fear, paranoia, and/or dread. Described as “cryptic” or “vague,” analog horror clips are often presented out of order, appearing normal and somewhat mundane at first and getting progressively more sinister over time.
Existential dread is also fairly common in analog horror, grounding the piece in enough reality that it feels almost plausible and familiar—maybe even nostalgic in some way—but diverging in disturbing and often supernatural ways. This new world that seems so familiar actually exists in a deeply unpleasant alternate reality.
Children’s shows, 90s-era PSAs, government broadcasts, VHS tapes, and commercials are some of the commonly used framing devices that give the viewer that sense of familiarity. But it’s a warped, twisted version of these things that we recognize. In this video, YouTuber Markiplier describes how the best analog horror shows you the familiar, but starts to sprinkle in elements that make something feel…off. And this unsettling feeling persists, never outright hitting you with the source of the wrongness, but instead allowing the dread to grow and fester.
In addition to the callback to 90s-era technology that makes analog horror so familiar and uncomfortably nostalgic, I’m sure there’s also a whole article I could write on the uncanny valley and how the genre uses it to great effect. And it make senses. Both analog horror and the uncanny valley center around using the familiar and twisting it into something that’s a far cry from the comfort of familiarity—paranoia, fear of the unknown.
What is the Uncanny Valley?
The uncanny valley is the sense of discomfort one gets when looking at something that appears human, but is not. We see this most often with eerily human-looking robots and AI. If you’ve ever seen my (SHAMELESS PLUG, HERE IT COMES) post on writing generators that writers might find helpful, you might have also seen one particular generator I’d mentioned, This Person Does Not Exist.
As its name suggests, it’s a website that randomly generates an image of a person who…does not exist. If you get a slight sense of unease looking at someone who you know isn’t real, yet looks like someone you could see walking by on the street, you may be experiencing a bit of the uncanny valley.
Why Is The Uncanny Valley Relevant Here?
While this post isn’t entirely focused on the uncanny valley, I thought it was important to bring it up because of how effective it can be when merged with feelings of nostalgia—such as viewing an old children’s cartoon or a 90s-era commercial played with a damaged VHS tape.
If you find that kind of horror especially chilling, then you’ll love these analog horror series.
Please Note: I usually include other rankings and stuff for posts like these, just for funsies. So for these series, I’ll also be including Fear Factor (how scary it is), Series Rating, Survival Odds in each series’ respective universe, and the Existential Crisis Level—all according to my humble lil’ opinion, of course.
Please Also Note: There are many other great analog horror series out there. I would love to make more posts on analog horror, so I plan to continue going down the analog horror rabbit hole and see what other series might be fun to write about. So fear not if a favorite of yours does not appear (yet!).
The Tangi Virus
Fear Factor: 5/10
Survival Odds: 2/10
Existential Crisis Level: 2/10
The Tangi Virus is fairly simple and straightforward: a scientist documents her research of an unusual and rapidly mutating organism found in the water of several local lakes. She tries to sound the alarm, only to learn that her attempts to contact the CDC were thwarted, as the local government did not want to scare away potential tourists and lose out on that sweet, sweet lake money.
I know some might say this series is not quite as scary as some others, and I don’t disagree that it seems more tame than the others on this list. But hey, fear is subjective, and there’s just something about it that I found particularly disturbing; it’s bleak and nihilistic, yet entirely plausible in how it depicts the powerful and influential few sacrificing the many for the sake of profit.
We’ve seen how the public handled a worldwide pandemic these past few years. That is to say, we did not handle it at all, allowing the most vulnerable among us to die or suffer the long term effects of the virus (particularly essential workers, disproportionately low income people and people of color).
We collectively prioritized a return to normalcy over the health and safety of those around us, especially the elderly and/or immunocompromised. And the ultra wealthy profited massively from the crisis (some of whom happily claimed PPP loans ostensibly intended to aid small businesses), with billionaires racking up over $300 billion of that sweet, sweet plague money.
These past three years have shown us that the answer to the question, “How would humanity deal with a worldwide deadly epidemic?” is an emphatic, “Not very well.”
We would not survive an outbreak of The Tangi Virus. Barring a miracle in which we learn from our mistakes, we have seen the future, and it is not encouraging. It gives this series that eerie sense of familiarity that I believe makes analog horror so effective. It’s scary because it’s reality taken to the worst, most eldritch, most hellish extreme.
The Smile Tapes
Fear Factor: 7/10
Survival Odds: 4/10. This was tough. I ranked it lower originally, but the later volumes put this into question.
Existential Crisis Level: 1/10. This bizarre pathogen is terrifying, but I wouldn’t call it existentially dreadful.
Look, the faces scare me, okay?
Some might say that scary faces are overdone in analog horror. This is a fair assessment, especially when it comes to “ooo, spooky face” jumpscares. In fact, part of why I like analog horror so much is that the fear doesn’t necessarily follow the formula of building up tension and releasing it all in a jumpscare. Instead, the vagueness and inconclusiveness of the piece allows your mind to fill in the blanks and picture the events depicted in a way that is uniquely horrifying to you.
But while analog horror doesn’t need the spooky scary face or the jumpscare to be effective (I usually prefer videos where the threat is never visible at all), it can still often be used to great effect, and The Smile Tapes is a great example.
Beginning with an eerie PSA about a new drug that causes the afflicted to behave violently, the series features different cases starting with two young men who are observed at the hospital as the illness progresses. Needless to say, it’s not pretty. Imagine your flesh rapidly decaying, your facial muscles locked into a hideous grin. It hurts so much, but you can’t stop smiling, can’t stop laughing.
And if you aren’t unfortunate enough to be infected, you may still be unfortunate enough to encounter the infected, who demonstrate an insane amount of strength and a mindless bloodthirst. Think World War Z zombies, but stronger and grinning eerily at you while they rip you to pieces.
Patorikku, the creator of the series, seems to have moved on from The Smile Tapes. However, that hasn’t stopped them from uploading some delightfully disturbing analog clips, so if you love their style, you’ll be pleased to hear that they’re still around to give you the occasional nightmare or two.
The Mandela Catalogue
Fear Factor: 10/10
Survival Odds: -1/10. I don’t think I’d even want to survive in a world like this.
The series only focuses on the town of Mandela County, but the story behind the existence of Alternates has me thinking that this ain’t exactly confined to one county.
Existential Crisis Level: 10/10. I’d originally put it a little lower. But again, the creation of Alternates and the fact that they can’t be killed and will psychologically torture you until you off yourself so they can claim your form to lure your friends and loved ones to the same fate…yeah, nah.
My first foray into analog horror was actually thanks to a popular TikTok sound. If you’ve seen this series already, you’ll recognize this quote:
There’s a whole treasure trove of magnificent, absolutely horrifying TikToks using this sound, depicting someone going about their business only to come face to face with a creature staring at them with a freakish grin—a creature that looks eerily like them.
doppelgänger♬ original sound – Daze
At first, I looked into it and found a game, Maple County, in which you are tasked with choosing between two photos to determine which one is the duplicate (known as “Alternates”). But upon digging deeper, I found the inspiration for the game and the ultimate source of the sound: The Mandela Catalogue.
I don’t want to spoil, so I wont say much about the plot other than the fact that it features freakishly strong and terrifying “Alternates” that thrive off of inflicting as much psychological torment on their victim as possible. These Alternates have the ability to take on the appearance of anyone, though the quality of the copy varies, causing some types of Alternates to have unusual and/or biologically impossible features (extra long limbs, upside-down head, missing face, etc).
It takes the uncanny valley to new heights, and I can honestly say that I have lost sleep after watching this series.
Perhaps I am a bit biased considering this was my first taste of analog horror, but I really do highly recommend it for anyone looking for a good scare—one that doesn’t really have any jumpscares and relies more on creating a creeping sense of dread and paranoia instead.
It just so happens that as I’m writing this post, the creator of The Mandela Catalogue, Alex Kister, just released the remake to the first volume of the series.
That should keep me up a few days longer.
Rating: 10/10 (I really wish there were more…)
Fear Factor: 8.5/10
Survival Odds: 9.5/10; unclear, but from what we know so far, just don’t take the pills and you should be alright…
Existential Crisis Level: 6/10. The implication that there are emotions beyond what humans are naturally capable of is trippy to say the least. Add to that the fact that these “new emotions” can do this. Yikes.
It speaks to the quality of “Thalasin” that, despite only a few Blue Channel videos existing, it’s an analog horror series mentioned often by fans of the genre as one of the greats, all for this video alone.
I consider it to be the absolute perfect encapsulation of analog horror and its potential. Of course, this is entirely subjective, and there’s doubtless plenty of other analog horror videos out there that capture the spirit of the genre just as well. But “Thalasin” is my favorite video to show to anyone new to the wild and spooky world of analog horror—familiar in its execution yet unnerving from the very start.
Blue Channel is unfortunately not a series you can binge, as this short piece and two incredibly trippy songs are all that exist of it for now. But the creator, Gooseworx, has a ton of other cool songs and animations you should check out if you feel so inclined.
And hey, here’s to hoping that anyone out there feeling a bit of dorcelessness lately feels a little better soon.
Gemini Home Entertainment
Fear Factor: 9.5/10
Survival Odds: 1/10. If the nature of these “woodcrawlers” is true, it’s a wonder humanity has survived thus far.
Existential Crisis Level: 9/10. I went back and forth here because I wasn’t really sure how widespread the woodcrawlers are. But then I recalled other videos, most notably “Shifting Tendons,” and decided that monsters that kill you and mimic your appearance and screams, a living planet that sends monstrous creatures to warp other planets, and a disease that slowly mutates you into an eldritch abomination from which more monsters sprout, are all more than adequate levels of existential dread.
Gemini Horror Entertainment is something special. Videos are most frequently posted as helpful guides mixed with found footage—from wilderness survival guides, to storm safety tips, to guides on what to do during a home invasion. The videos typically start out about as light-hearted as you can get, usually with some light jazz or synthwave to vibe to. A lot of the tips given are genuinely helpful, demonstrating things like lighting a fire or what to do if you encounter a wild animal like a bear while camping.
But, as is typical with analog horror, something terrible lurks just beneath the surface. In this case, it’s the deadly, man-eating woodcrawlers, arachnid beasts the size of a human, which prefer to nest in the homes of large families. They are avid hunters, able to mimic the bodies and voices of those they kill (dubbed “Fake People”). The visual of a silhouetted man standing in the middle of an empty field, moving stiffly and robotically, and idly mimicking the chilling screams of its victim…it’ll stick with you, man.
This is a fantastic series for fans of cosmic/sci-fi horror. There’s a good few videos, all of which grow the impressively expansive lore, but leave just enough to the imagination. Extra props for some of the effects seen in this series, especially “Shifting Tendons,” which I found particularly disturbing to watch.
Fear Factor: 8/10
Survival Odds: ???/10. I thought it would actually be pretty high if not for “Skywatching,” which I feel puts everything into question.
Existential Crisis Level: 9/10 if you watch “Skywatching.”
Considered by many to be one of the most influential early analog horror YouTube series (and, considering it inspired Gemini Home Entertainment, I’m inclined to agree), Local 58 is a short but masterfully crafted series of (mostly) TV broadcast clips. Its most viewed video, “Contingency,” is a disturbing PSA that really captures the heart and soul of American patriotism.
I don’t want to spoil it because it’s a brilliant slow burn with a killer ending, but I consider it a masterpiece—not just in analog horror, but in horror in general. So many little details that make an already chilling video even more disturbing. The music, the effects, the perfect emulation of a government PSA. It’s so much, masterfully packed into a single three-minute video.
While “Contingency” is my personal favorite Local 58 video, there’s something to love in all of them. Their very first video, “You Are On the Fastest Available Route,” is a perfectly nice, pleasant drive home for the holidays, undertaken with the help of a handy GPS.
“Weather Service,” is, as implied, a very helpful local weather notice.
“Skywatching” is a normal recording of the full moon on a beautiful night.
“Real Sleep” is a handy sleep instructional video.
The latest video, “Digital Transition,” resumes broadcast after a long hiatus. And, good news, Local 58 is making the switch to digital broadcasting!
There’s no wrong answer and no linear order, so you can really just click on any one of these and you’ll get a good idea of why Local 58 is considered a true master class in analog horror.