MADISON, WI — Slender Man (2018), a new horror film based on a controversial Internet character that opens August 10, will not be playing in certain areas of the Midwest due to its connection to a real-life crime involving children.
The Marcus Corporation, which runs a popular theater chain in Wisconsin, has announced its decision to pull Slender Man from Milwaukee and Waukesha counties.
The company is citing the areas’ proximity to where two 12-year-old girls brutally stabbed a classmate in 2014 and said they were inspired by Slender Man. In an official statement, the Marcus Company decreed:
“Like many people across the United States, Marcus Theatres was deeply concerned and saddened when the Slender Man phenomenon touched Southeastern Wisconsin in such a profound way, changing the lives of many families forever. After careful consideration, and out of respect for those who were impacted, we have decided not to play the upcoming Slender Man movie in Milwaukee and Waukesha counties. We will show the film at select other Marcus Theatres locations.”
The movie is not based on the 2014 crime. Instead, it’s a fictional story about friends in Massachusetts who set out to prove Slender Man isn’t real — until one of them suddenly goes missing.
Regardless, controversy has followed the Slender Man film since it was announced two years ago. Since then, concerned and even outraged voices have grown louder.
Slender Man himself started out in 2009 as a Photoshop meme on the website Something Awful. The spooky character is depicted as a tall, faceless figure with tentacles on his back. He often hides in the woods and stalks children.
In short order, Slender Man took off online by way of fans creating and posting stories and images related to the character and his mythology. The result was a “creepypasta” — i.e., a horror-themed object that gets copy-and-pasted around social media.
In Waukesha, Wisconsin, two 12-year-old friends, Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier, got dangerously caught up in the creepy appeal of Slender Man. On May 31, 2014, the two girls dragged their classmate, Payton “Bella” Leutner, also 12, into a wooded area, and stabbed her 19 times.
Bella Leutner just barely survived the savagery. Geyser and Weier admitted to stabbing their friend and said that they had hoped to kill her in order to “impress” Slender Man so much that he’d make them his “proxies.”
After multiple legal negotiations, Anissa was sentenced to 25 years in a psychiatric facility last January. The following month, Morgan got 40 years in a mental institution.
While the Slender Man film, again, does not depict the 2014 Wisconsin crime, the trailer has been criticized for invoking associations with it. Among the points being raised against the trailer:
• Young girls are shown committing violence in connection to Slender Man.
• A young female whispers: “He gets in your head, like a virus.”
• A howling adolescent girl is shown strapped to a cot, appearing to be in a psychiatric hospital.
• Another girl wanders out of a wooded area covered in blood and she seems to be holding a knife.
After Sony Pictures released the Slender Man trailer in January, an online petition on the “progressive social advocacy platform” Care2 circulated that called for the movie to be withdrawn. Obviously, the campaign did not stop the release, but it’s unknown if the petition affected the local theater chain’s decision.
Bill Weier, Anissa’s father, supported the petition and told the press last winter that he hoped the movie at least wouldn’t play in areas near where the crime took place. He also added:
“It’s absurd they want to make a movie like this. It’s popularizing a tragedy is what it’s doing. I’m not surprised but in my opinion it’s extremely distasteful. All we’re doing is extending the pain all three of these families have gone through.”
In addition to the Wisconsin case, Slender Man has factored into other serious crimes. They include:
• Just days after the Wisconsin stabbing, a 13-year-old Ohio girl attacked her mother with a knife. The child was reportedly “obsessed” with Slender Man.
• In June 2014, an accused Las Vegas cop-killer was said to routinely dress up as Slender Man.
• In September 2014, a 14-year-old Florida girl set her house on fire, and said she was motivated by Soul Eater, an e-book about Slender Man.
Many observers note that Slender Man hardly holds the cachet now that he once did, and the movie is not expected to be a blockbuster.
Others wonder if pulling films related to real-life atrocities could become a trend, asking if movies like Psycho (1960) or Silence of the Lambs (1991), for example, would also be banned in Wisconsin due to their connections to serial killer Ed Gein?
Ultimately, the box office is expected to tell how the public actually feels — just not in two counties in Wisconsin.
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Main image: Slender Man movie poster/Sony Pictures [promotional image]