In a nutshell
- Analog horror is a booming subgenre of the found footage horror genre
- Though analog horror has only been around for a few years, it’s quite prevalent in online horror videos
- Despite its short-form approach and ease of entry, there are several key components to capturing the feel of the subgenre
The horror genre is constantly finding ways to reinvent itself and remain fresh for new audiences. Because of this, several niche subgenres within the typical horror tropes have popped up that manage to bring in new viewers while finding fresh ways to scare long-time watchers. Among those subgenres that have seen a big boom over recent years is analog horror.
Thanks to the era of social media and YouTube, analog horror has flourished among horror aficionados and creators alike. With whole channels dedicated to crafting analog horror tales and garnering millions of views online in the process, it’s certainly something any horror filmmaker would want to look at more closely.
Analog horror: a more recent phenomena
Analog horror is actually a subgenre of another subgenre: found footage. The found footage approach has been around for several decades but came to widespread prominence in the late 90s and early 00s thanks to films like “The Blair Witch Project” (1999), “The Poughkeepsie Tapes” (2007), “Rec” (2008), and “Paranormal Activity” (2007) to name a few.
The voyeuristic style inherent in found footage eventually gave birth to analog horror, which takes the concept even further. In analog horror, viewers aren’t merely witnessing characters dealing with things. They are targets of the horrors and thrills themselves.
The subgenre has become immensely popular, despite only being around for a little over a decade. YouTube is often credited for the subgenre’s booming success, having only been around since 2010. Its continued relevance, however, boils down to the “ease of access” to creating content for the genre.
A major hallmark of analog horror is its reliance on using existing footage and sound (often royalty-free or other stock footage) along with motion graphics templates twisted to fit a new purpose. There’s very little physical shooting required. As such, the barriers for video creators starting out in this subgenre are relatively low due to the many resources available to them these days.
Rooted to a time period
Analog horror derives its name from the overall style associated with it. It uses visual aesthetics from the “analog” days of media creation, anchored to the time period spanning the 1960s and 1990s. This includes everything from low-fidelity graphics, recreating static from antenna interference or even picture distortions made to look like you’re watching a battered, old VHS tape.
Emulating the analog technology used during those decades gives audiences the feeling of watching old-school television broadcasts. This aspect is important because a key element of analog horror is the idea of broadcast intrusion.
Most analog horror projects are characterized by the footage being somehow corrupted or outright hijacked. Whether this is in the form of something familiar, like the Emergency Broadcast System, or something more sinister, like an entity — real or paranormal — taking control. Imagine something along the lines of the Max Headroom incident back in 1987, a very real broadcast hijacking that has acquired its own urban legend status.
How analog horror sets itself apart
Analog horror is different from traditional horror projects in several ways. There are obvious things, such as having shorter runtimes — average analog horror videos are under 10 minutes — and screening primarily online only. Though, what really makes analog horror unique — what sets it apart from the found footage genre it sprang from — is the fact these projects feature few, if any, characters.
Rather than focusing on specific characters and their journey, the analog horror style essentially makes you — the viewer — into a character as the events you’re watching unfold. Analog horror makes it feel like you’re looking “behind the curtain,” so to speak. You might be witnessing things you’re not supposed to see. There’s a sense that, in watching, you might become part of the story and thus more susceptible to the horrors you’re seeing.
A great example of this is the YouTube channel, Local58, a series of videos from a fictional television station interrupted by random hijackings or notices from the Emergency Alert System (EAS). One of their earliest videos, “Weather Service,” plays out entirely as a series of different messages from the EAS teasing a strange meteorological event that turns into something horrifying.
Because of this approach, there’s a deeper level of immersion in the material. This makes the scares pop all the more while leaving a lingering sense of fear, tension and discomfort even after it’s over.
Common aspects of analog horror
Analog horror features several key components common to the genre. These go beyond dated visuals, an intrusion element and a lack of protagonists. If you’re looking to develop a horror project utilizing this style, these are some of the tropes you’ll want to consider including:
- Progressive horror: Analog horror projects typically all start off relatively tame/mundane and get steadily scarier as the video continues.
- Twisting the mundane: Analog horror frequently takes innocuous elements and warps them into something terrifying. Oftentimes this is accomplished via the use of contradictory imagery and sound. Music associated with easy listening (like on a “Technical Difficulties” broadcast slate) over images/videos of horrible things creates an unsettling contrast.
- Vague meanings: Analog horror projects are often purposefully vague. Audiences must interpret what they’ve watched for themselves. This ties into the idea viewers are seeing events that have already happened. It leaves them feeling helpless, with things far beyond their control. The desired result here is to get viewers talking, theorizing and sharing their thoughts with others in the horror community.
- Left to the imagination: What makes analog horror so frightening has nothing to do with the gore or jump scares. Viewers are left in the dark and forced to imagine the horrors unfolding. They’ll be dwelling on things long after they’ve finished watching.
- No soundtrack: Real life doesn’t include a soundtrack. In order to maintain the illusion of these videos being from the real world, analog horror won’t include musical scores unless it makes sense for what’s happening (e.g. music playing in a vehicle, theme songs part of the television broadcasts, etc).
- Beyond comprehension: A key factor in analog horror is the idea that what audiences are watching has no easy explanation. Whether it’s cryptids, Eldritch horrors or alternate dimensions, analog horror projects tap into that fear of the unknown.
- No happy endings: Much like the found footage genre it spawned from, there are virtually no happy endings in analog horror. As things grow more disturbing, viewers have no choice but to sit and observe. Videos often end when things are at their worst.
Impact and future
While it’s only been around for a relatively short time, analog horror has made a definite impression. There are several YouTube channels dedicated to the niche, and more pop up every day. Local58 and Channel 7 are staples of the subgenre, presenting themselves as local TV stations interrupted by strange events. The Mandela Catalogue is a series of faux informational videos spreading awareness of supernatural monsters. The Minerva Alliance presents itself as a non-profit that’s dedicated to shedding light on unexplained phenomena.
More recently, there’s The SMILE Tapes, a horror tale about a commercial drug gone wrong set in the 90s. There’s even “Sonic Limited Edition: The Lost Cartridge”, which serves as an adaptation (of sorts) of a popular video game Creepypasta. (Creepypastas are horror stories and legends that are born and shared on the internet.)
While analog horror remains largely within the online community, its popularity is expanding. For example, the feature film “Broadcast Signal Intrusion” (2021) utilizes many of the elements associated with analog horror (set in the ‘90s, focused on strange broadcast intrusions, etc). Netflix’s “Archive 81” (2022) similarly uses analog horror tropes to scare viewers. We can debate the success of these projects, but it shows analog horror is primed for mainstream audiences.