Analog Horror: Analyzing an Eerily Nostalgic Genre
Analog horror is a broad, and sometimes confusing definition for a genre that has recently bloomed mainly on YouTube. But how do we define analog horror? Analog horror is defined by two halves that have to interlink for the story to be effective. The first half of the definition is the vessel for the story. The vessel where the story comes through is always on some sort of analog device, audio tapes, VHS recordings, handheld low quality cameras, etc. The quality of the video and audio is distorted to the style of these devices, and this affects the mood and the atmosphere of a lot of analog horror media.
The second half, however, is the crux of the horror. The power of analog horror, in my opinion, is the omnipresent corruption of one of human being’s most powerful emotions: nostalgia.
The horror genre revels in exploring things that disturb and terrify the universal human subconscious. One of the core tenants of this universal horror style is to twist the familiar and comfortable into the unsafe and horrifying. The most common iteration of this trope is the classic home invasion narrative. The home, and specifically the bedroom is a place of security, privacy, and familiarity. When someone invades this space, it provides a universal horror. Some examples include Friday the 13th, Psycho, and many many more. Nightmare on Elm Street takes this to the next level, invading the characters at their most vulnerable, their sleep.
Analog horror stories also work on this general level of horror. The Mandela Catalog is a YouTube analog horror series that became popular in 2021. It is an anthology series about several deaths and disappearances in the city of Mandela County. The series specifically deals with supernatural threats invading your home through your television, twisted replicas of family of friends luring victims to their deaths in their own house. Even the safety net of the police is undermined with an order for police to lie to callers; telling them help is on the way when no help is coming. The Mandela Catalog strips the safety net off all of its characters and the constant feeling of danger throughout the story is a testament to the efficacy of this tenant. However, this invasion isn’t the literal stripping of safety nets like in these other works. It is an invasion more insidious and much more personal. What happens then when a medium of horror specializes in invading your own sense of safety? Not the characters in the story, but you the watcher. Analog horror in its purest form Breaches the watchers mind.
A common analog horror trope that is extremely effective is what we will simply call the Turn. Analog horror is normally conveyed in short videos or audio clips and a common tactic with these short videos is to have a portion of the video be normal and at one point in the video the Turn will come and the element of horror for that video will be introduced. Popular analog horror video BLUE_CHANNEL: THALASIN is a commercial on the fictional and titular Blue Channel. The commercial is for a new drug that can reportedly helps you experience regular emotions for those that have gone through emotional degradation.
While the first two minutes of the video aren’t completely horror free, with just the idea of emotional degradation and a drug to substitute these lost emotions being pretty terrifying on its own. You sit there with nothing obviously wrong but you wait, helpless, and anxious for the dark reality of this commercial to reveal itself. The Turn comes around the two minute mark. The narrator switches to an enhanced version of the drug that can provide you with emotions that cannot normally be experienced by humans and at this moment where the narrator begins to explore the new emotions is when the turn happens.
Another example of the Turn is in the first video of the series Gemini Home Entertainment: WORLD’S WEIRDEST ANIMALS. In this video the first chunk is about real animals without a trace of horror to be found. The Turn then occurs, the music cuts out, and the video introduces the Woodcrawler, a horrifying creature that the video shows can be found everywhere. The purpose of the Turn is to take advantage of our own minds, implementing the Breach of safety in our own brains.
The Weapon of Nostalgia
So how does analog horror use these elements against us? Before the turn what is the video portraying? Why is this buildup of usually useless information still gripping to watch? Why is the subversion of the Turn so horrifying, even when no jump scares are involved? It all comes back to the weapon of nostalgia. Before the Turn we have the familiar. A commercial you might have watched as a kid. An educational video you might have seen at school on a television they rolled out. A radio broadcast you weren’t paying attention to in the background of your breakfast before you hopped on the bus. The Turn Breaches our nostalgia the same way Freddy Krueger breaches dreams. Our childhood and our nostalgia is a safe place, a place of comfort and familiarity. You might sink into this when watching analog horror. The same visual distortion as the videos of your childhood, the same kind of music in the background of the news broadcast your Dad watched every morning before work. These comfortable spaces are then invaded. Breached. The Turn always strips this familiarity away and replaces it with its own horrible tale or monster, and we are afraid.
Analog Horror vs. Found Footage
A genre similar to analog horror is the genre of found footage. The Blair Witch Project, the pioneer of the found footage genre of horror, is a movie with a handheld camera and has a lot of the hallmarks of an analog horror series. So what’s the difference between these genres? In short, time. The Blair Witch Project was set in the present day of the time, 1999, and used a camera from that time. This movie didn’t capitalize on the nostalgia emphasis of analog horror because at the time of production, there was no nostalgia for this time period. The Blair Witch Project viewed now, over 20 years later does have this nostalgic element, but it was not created originally with that intent. The Blair Witch Project and other found footage movies/web series like Paranormal Activity, Marble Hornets, or Cloverfield have a sense of familiarity that they invoke with their style, but that present familiarity is different from nostalgia. Cloverfield has obviously found footage elements that are filmed with more modern hand held devices such as modern news cameras and mobile phones. When Cloverfield ages, it will also gain this nostalgic element, but it will never be analog horror.
Nostalgia and Age
Building off of that, analog horror changes with the target audience. Analog horror media made by people who grew up in the late 90’s or early 2000’s will capitalize on visuals that are nostalgic to that time period. The current fascination online with liminal spaces, The Backrooms, and their nostalgic effect is a good example of this. Bowling alleys we might have visited, empty shopping malls with the popular architecture of that time, etc. Analog horror pieces that focus on an older 1980’s/1990’s look can be scary to someone who hasn’t experienced that period, but the horror is especially effective if the analog horror media twists the nostalgia of your childhood specifically. Analog horror is versatile in the way that it can adhere to any time period so as to twist its intended audience’s mind.
Dive into Gemini Home Entertainment
The popular YouTube series Gemini Home Entertainment is emblematic of these themes and tropes. The series spans over lots of different forms, including educational clips, commercials, public service announcements, home videos, and even a whole playable video game. They all fit in the style of the 1980s-1990s where the story of the analog horror series takes place. The entire story of Gemini Home Entertainment is invasion. Instead of going for a more specific invasion like Nightmare on Elm Street and sleep, Gemini expands it. In Gemini Home Entertainment, nothing is safe.
In Gemini Home Entertainment video: ADVANCED MINING VEHICLE, we see footage from a remote drone scouting through tight cave systems. After the video tells us all of the robot’s functions, we are left with the camera feed of the drone. On the drone’s screen we can see its depth gauge number rising as the drone crawls into the Earth. The cave system is strange, but we continue to progress further and further into the cave. What we see, hundreds of meters below the surface is terrifying.
The Earth itself has been burrowed into. The drone focuses on the cave around it and we see an unusual organic look around the cave. It stops feeling like we are inside a cave and starts feeling like we are inside another entity. Tendons and veins cover the walls and we see a creature start to emerge from the cave. The camera feed of the drone is knocked out and the depth gauge number rises at a terrifying pace. 300 meters, 400 meters, the drone’s screen displays a status of ‘low signal’, 500 meters, and we lose contact with the drone. The video displays an ending message of thanks before the video ends.
This video portrays all of the themes we have talked about so far. The video before the Turn could pass as an 80’s era technology demonstration and the music and visuals support that. The Turn and the Breach happen at once. Our nostalgia is subverted when the video focuses on this eldritch creature, we realize that in this series, nothing is safe, even our own planet is Breached. This is what makes analog horror terrifying to us watchers. The Turn of the narrative, the Breach of our nostalgia, and how these tropes work together with interesting stories to create horror that captivates millions.
What do you think? Leave a comment.