Cryptids and creeps which freaked us out long before the well-dressed eerie figure emerged.

With a new movie hitting this weekend and the inevitable “is Slenderman real or fake” question popping up again, we figured it was time to look once more at some of the many other urban legends that came before the Tall Guy — and which helped inspire his creation.

A dapper besuited fellow with a blank face and elongated limbs, the “creepypasta” Internet horror creation known as Slenderman was at first the work of one person — Eric Knudsen (“Victor Surge”) — writing on a forum called “Something Awful” in 2009. The eerie figure, inspired by everything from the works of H.P. Lovecraft, Stephen King, and the Silent Hill games, soon found his way into YouTube series and video games of his own, and, tragically, even influenced an infamous 2014 stabbing incident in which two young girls attacked a third girl in order to prove their loyalty to Slenderman.

But long before Slenderman slinkily infiltrated pop culture and the public consciousness, there were a number of other urban legends and cryptids (“hidden animals”) that laid the groundwork for the rise of the tall one. Here we take a look at a few of them, including one that was one of the direct inspirations for Slenderman’s creation…

Watch the full history of Slenderman in the video above!

Bloody Mary

Bloody Mary… from the 2005 slasher film Urban Legends: Bloody Mary

Location of Origin: Possibly England

Description: Just a girl really, although sometimes blood-soaked Carrie style.

The Tale: For all those familiar with conjuring creatures by repeating their names (Beetlejuice, Candyman, the Bye Bye Man), the grandmother of them all is Bloody Mary, whose ghost appears when you look in a mirror and say her name three times. Early versions said that Mary could tell a young girl whether she would marry or die (because of course those are the only two options). More modern variations attribute horrific acts of violence and even fatal attacks to the otherwise benign ghost, and some stories link her with the childless Queen Mary I. And like most of the other beings here, she’s all over pop culture; she even gets name-checked in Paranormal Activity 3.

Cousins: Japanese ghosts like “Hanako-san,” “Teke Teke,” and “Aka Manto,” and “Moaning Myrtle” from the Harry Potter books and films

Black-Eyed Children

Well, black-ish eyed anyway

Well, black-ish eyed anyway

Location of Origin: Abilene, Texas, and Portland, Oregon (just to name two)

Description: What do you want? They’re pale little kids, and they have black eyes.

The Tale: These creepy critters show up on your doorstep, asking to be let in for a variety of reasons — food, help, the consumption of your blood and/or soul (OK, they’re not up front about that part). Stories about these bone-chilling encounters began in 1998, and are part of the rise of the Internet-based “creepypasta” urban legends of which Slenderman is a member. Their presence inspires instant fear, and they’re persistent… but what are they? One interpretation is that they are “Grays” or alien agents attempting to abduct people by disguising themselves as humans, while others believe them to be a form of vampire or demonic entity.

Cousins: The alien “Grays,” The British Black Dog, that neighbor kid that never leaves you alone


The man himself, Bigfoot

The man himself, Bigfoot

Location of Origin: Pacific Northwest, United States

Description: A tall, hairy humanoid, often said to have a large Neanderthal-like brow and elongated, ape-like limbs.

The Tale: Surely you’ve heard of this one; after all, the Six Million Dollar Man fought him (well, not quite, but never mind)! A veritable library has been written about this star of the cryptid scene, even though some of the most famous “evidence” has long since been debunked. The shy, lumbering missing link has been one of the most popular tall tales in American folklore, with numerous scientific investigations and stories of “Sasquatch” (a name derived from a First Nations language) turning up on TV, in movies, comics, video games, and everywhere else in pop culture. Warning: Not all sightings involve a creature as benign as Harry, so don’t expect to take one home.

Cousins: The Himalayan “Yeti,” the Japanese “Hibagon,” the Australian “Yowie”


A movie with Richard Gere and a statue? Wow.

A movie with Richard Gere and a statue? Wow.

Location of Origin: Point Pleasant, West Virginia

Description: The name says it all; he’s a human figure with an insect-like head, reflective red glowing eyes, and seven- to ten-foot wings.

The Tale: One of the main inspirations for Slenderman, Mothman was first reported in 1966-1967. John Keel’s 1975 book, The Mothman Prophecies, credited the creature with giving locals visions of the future, including the 1967 collapse of a suspension bridge that killed nearly 50 people. Keel’s book later served as the basis for the 2002 Richard Gere film of the same name. The Mothman is sometimes regarded as alien or having some connection to alien abductions and the arrival of Men in Black (see that entry below for more). Point Pleasant embraces the history of the Mothman with an annual festival and a statue; might as well fleece the tourists, right?

Cousins: The “Flatwoods Monster,” the Cornish “Owlman,” Slenderman himself

Men in Black

(Not Will Smith)

(Not Will Smith)

Location of Origin: Across the United States

Description: Didn’t you read the header? OK, they’re usually wearing sunglasses too.

The Tale: Part of the vast tapestry of alien abduction and UFO lore that exploded post-Roswell in 1947, the Men in Black are apparently government operatives (who may or may not be disguised aliens) that turn up at sites of alien or flying saucer sightings and try to cover up the circumstances of those sightings through threats and intimidation. Among the many UFOlogists that claimed to have first-hand encounters with Men in Black is none other than John Keel (see our Mothman entry). Their most significant role in pop culture is as the basis for the Men in Black films starring Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, themselves based on a comic book by Lowell Cunningham. Now look at this light…

Cousins: The Alien “Grays,” G-Men, the Secret Service


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