The Silliest Thing the Internet Insists is Scary
I’m sure this is going to seem like sour grapes since this story has enjoyed more success online than any of mine, but I still have reasonable criticisms.
The silly thing in question mistaken for a horrifying thing by the internet is the story The Smiling Man. It’s a short tale from Reddit’s /r/nosleep section that was declared the best story of April 2012 by the visitors of that page. I have no idea how that happened as better stories are posted on there every other day there probably was more than one superior story posted in April 2012. There are probably scarier stories posted to r/aww every once in a while.
The story is about a guy who used to go for walks at night. Then one night while walking he encountered a guy who was doing a bizarre dance where he looked up in the air with his head back. After the protagonist walks half a block past him, he turns around and sees the smiling man is now sneaking up on him in a cartoony manner. He stops “a car length” from our hero whom is now too freaked out to do anything, then the crazy man turns and dance walks away. That’s all.
I’m not trying to sound like a tough guy or anything, but this seems like maybe a quarter of an anecdote, never mind it being a scary story. I’m not saying the “villain” of the piece needs to be gun/knife-wielding or have some victim’s head tied to his belt, but, dammit, there should be some reason to believe he’s a threat. Instead we have a guy essentially being, at worst, a weird dick. He doesn’t even get close enough to the main character that most people would consider it a violation of the main character’s comfort zone, and it’s supposed to be scary? As a guy whom regularly goes for walks in the dead of night, running into a weird dick doesn’t scare me one bit and really, if it scares you, that should be cause for concern on your part.
What makes the story actively annoying/bad is the applied attributes. Our protagonist insists that seeing a guy who looks completely insane is “a very, very scary thing.” The protagonist is “completely unnerved” by a guy half a block away from him who has done nothing threatening, just weird. He insists that the fact a guy looked “completely and utterly insane, and that is a very scary thing” at the very end. That’s the epitome of telling when you should show. It’s the writer admitting “believe it or not, what you just read was terrifying!”
It’s hard to say if the fact people claim the spinoff video for 2AM: The Smiling Man made in July 2013 by Michael Evans is scary too is sillier than the general reaction to this.
Forget that the guy looks like Jim Carey during his insufferable wacky period: The twist at the end barely even qualifies. Seriously, it’s just
the crazy man catches up to the guy and is standing over him in a kind of menacing manner.
It doesn’t work because there’s no reason The Smiling Man wouldn’t have been able to catch up to him. Are we to be horrified that this crazy guy is in moderately good shape? What’s wrong with us?
And as my stick-in-the-mud way of awarding myself the moral high ground in this rant, this whole matter is based on an ignorant stereotype. Insane people such as schizophrenics are for the most part not violent in the least, and of that remaining section that is only 1% are violent enough that they’ve put someone in the hospital. Assuming The Smiling Man suffers from something similar (although really he suffers from generic “horror movie” craziness) the odds are overwhelming that he’ll just leave The Scared Man alone and walk away in a very overacted manner again. It’s not just ridiculously feeble horror, it’s a bit prejudiced.
As I said before, I didn’t need The Smiling Man to be gory or violent for it to be scary. He didn’t need to bite the kid’s head off or turn into a some monster for me to be creeped out. But for God’s sake, if you’re going to hold something up as exemplary horror, at least do something that’s kind of threatening! If you can’t manage that, let there be something mysterious about the individual instead of just insisting “hey, this guy’s insane!” and assuming that the job of being scary is done.