“Ghosts in the Machine” is a column by F Newsmagazine’s Entertainment Editor, Nestor Kok. Here we will take a deep dive into the past, present, and future of analog horror, spotlighting the creators who bring our worst nightmares to life, and unraveling just what makes analog horror’s unique brand of storytelling tick.
Today, we think of monuments as larger-than-life statues that loom over us; commemorations of heroes from ages past. However, the origin of the word “monument” belies the gilded, neoclassical images that it may bring to mind. Borne out of the Latin word “monere” (to remind), the word has twisted over the course of thousands of bloody Anglo-Saxon conquest battles into the Middle English word “monument” — a place for burial.
These dark origins certainly carry over into “The Monument Mythos,” an analog horror series created by film student Alex Casanas on his YouTube channel ALEXKANSAS. Much to the possible confusion of new viewers, the series initially starts as a series of seemingly unrelated compilations of found footage and declassified government documents on various national monuments. But those curious enough to stick with the series’s slow-burn worldbuilding are soon thrown headfirst into a convoluted web of mysteries that are very, very much related, and reach deep into the core of the gilded myths that America was founded on.
Despite being set in multiple alternate Americas (depending on which fan theory you prefer), “The Monument Mythos” cuts to the heart of the America that we live in today. Combining terrifying chthonic creatures with razor-sharp socio-cultural commentary on the country’s past and present, Casanas aims to tear down the creation myth behind America itself. In the worlds of the Mythos, Presidents are elected on the strength of two-second television broadcasts, immortal Egyptian swordsmen behead unsuspecting travelers in the Grand Canyon, and dispensable immigrants are fed to an unspeakable horror lurking within the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. Some of these scenarios feel like total fiction, but others are uncomfortably close to home. The true strength of “The Monument Mythos” lies beyond the scare factor — with each successive episode, we are left with not only Casanas’s masterfully written narrative mysteries, but also countless unspoken questions about our America and the way we live in it.
There is also something to be said about how “The Monument Mythos” transcends cut-and-dry analog horror genre tropes. Casanas is not afraid to introduce humor into his narratives, a decision that elevates the Mythos into an almost metafictional tragicomedy at times. Some of this humor lies in the more absurd episodes of the Mythos; notably “SUEZCANALCRAB,” in which alternate universe President Hillary Clinton nukes the Suez Canal to solve the Ever Given crisis, only to watch in horror as the Ever Given, well, gets up and walks away. Some of this humor also comes from Casanas’s versatility as a writer and filmmaker. He deftly and convincingly adopts multiple perspectives and aesthetics — from accurately imitating creepypasta YouTube video essayists to nailing the embarrassing stock music and text transitions of a Windows Movie Maker vlog made by a nine-year-old on holiday.
There is nary an analog horror series, let alone a YouTube web series of any genre, that comes close to matching the scope and ambition of “The Monument Mythos.” Now a year and a half after its initial release in September 2020, the Mythos is currently on its second season, boasting a small but steady cast of excellent voice actors and musicians. It spans over two hours in total, about the length of a feature film; making it possibly the longest analog horror series out there today. In anticipation of the Season 2 finale, F Newsmagazine interviewed Alex Casanas via email to find out about the process behind the Mythos, and what’s next in his filmmaking career.
What drew you to start creating analog horror?
I never went out of my way to intentionally create videos which would be classified as analog horror. The classification is the unintended result of my experiments in no-budget filmmaking. I’ve always been interested in filmmaking.
What inspired “The Monument Mythos?” What other media do you draw inspiration from generally?
Certain details released by the Trump administration inspired “The Monument Mythos.” I frequently take inspiration from documentaries about American history and culture. I was not aware of the analog horror genre until I was well into the Mythos.
How long did it take you to come up with the many mysterious threads of “The Monument Mythos?” Do you have a concrete ending in sight, or is the story of its universes still being written?
I can’t put a time frame to it, but every mysterious thread stems from an interest of mine. These interests have been with me for a very long time. At one point, the entirety of the series had already been written. However, due to the sudden passing of my dad in May of 2021, I felt the need to make major changes to the storyline. Since then, much of “The Monument Mythos” has been worked on more freely, and I use the episodes to express the personal thoughts and feelings I have at the time of their production. I have been told that, tonally, season two is radically different from the first. I suppose I haven’t quite made the realization myself, as it all feels like one cohesive work — its own stream of consciousness produced by my own.
“The Monument Mythos” is a masterclass in creating suspense and puzzling narratives. Viewers often have as many questions as they do answers from each successive episode, and even YouTubers like Wendigoon, known for their explanation videos, are stumped. Do you read the comments on your videos; if so, do you enjoy doing so? Has anyone come close to figuring out the truth behind the “Monument Mythos” mysteries?
I do read the comments. Not all of them of course, there’s far too many, but I very much enjoy the ones I do see. Several commenters have indeed solved some mysteries very thoroughly, though their comments typically do not catch the attention of other viewers.
“The Monument Mythos” stands out from most other analog horror series also due to its hefty inclusion of humorous moments, from the absurd alternate reality Ever Given scenario in “SUEZCANALCRAB” to the iconic Mr. Squirrel appearances in “CANYONCROWN” and “FALLENFATHER.” How do you decide when to include humor in your work and when to stick to more somber world-building?
“The Monument Mythos” is a comedy as much as it is a horror series. History itself has many humorous moments and I like to parallel them in the Mythos. Whenever I catch myself chuckling at something I’ve written, I keep it, and exaggerate it to its logical conclusion. I don’t find myself choosing between humor and “serious” world-building, it comes fairly naturally to me. If I see an opportunity to showcase Mr. Squirrel, then I will seize it.
“The Monument Mythos” has also been praised for its original music (composed by Andrew Wilson) and voice acting. How do you find collaborators for your work?
I’ve known Andrew since elementary school, and he has been making music for my short films since middle school. Initially, collaborators consisted strictly of my friends. However, I eventually created casting calls for voice actors. Recently, I’ve been receiving requests from strangers to feature them in my work, so the upcoming videos have been made possible through the work of kind volunteers.
Do you work with your composer and your voice actors in-person, or remotely? If in-person, has COVID-19 affected the production of “The Monument Mythos” at all? If remotely, is it difficult and/or more time-consuming to pass files and ideas back and forth across the Internet?
I work with all of my voice actors remotely. I work with Andrew remotely as well. Many illustrations from Virginia Arnoldson (drawn by Eliana Gallagher) were made in-person with me under my direction. In regards to voice actors, I find it much easier to direct them over a phone call. Working remotely hasn’t hindered me at all, nor has it been more time consuming than in-person work. That being said, I have traveled many times to record footage.
Besides “The Monument Mythos,” you also have another ongoing series called “Cornerfolklore,” which has a distinctively different look and feel from “The Monument Mythos.” Are the two related? How do you decide which series to produce episodes for at any one time?
At the moment, the two are not related. While “The Monument Mythos” is produced after an extensive pre-production period, the Cornerfolklore is produced more spontaneously with collaborators. An upload from the Cornerfolklore serves as a brief, refreshing break from the Mythos for both myself and the audience. However, there is an underlying narrative in the Cornerfolklore which I’ve been slowly rolling out. To the trained eye, it is evident in the three existing installments.
What software and/or hardware do you use to create your videos?
I’ve received this question more frequently than any other. Though unlike the other interviewers, you’ve included the term ‘hardware’ in your inquiry, and in that detail, you have already found yourself much closer to an answer.
Analog horror is a genre defined by its “low-budget look” and grainy, VHS-style editing. Do you like this stripped-back production style?
I’ve grown to enjoy it. In my case, the aesthetic was produced out of necessity. As mentioned before, it was the unintended result of my experiments in no-budget filmmaking.
Analog horror, and YouTube content in general, tends to be self-funded or fan-funded — you have a Ko-fi where fans can help support the series, and a new merch line. As a content creator, do you find these models of funding sustainable and/or helpful?
I do not find [my Ko-fi] to be a source of sustainable income. I am very fortunate that the merchandise has been so well-received. It serves as good moral support.
If given the chance to obtain a big budget for your content, would you take it? If so, what would you change? If not, why?
I would take it in a heartbeat. Everything would be live-action too, that’s for sure.
Is content and narrative creation a full-time job for you, or do you have another occupation? Do you ever see yourself creating analog horror and/or other original video content full-time?
I work part-time as an archivist at the Florida State University film school. I label and organize the physical assets of student productions from 1989 to the early 2000s. I make my videos whenever I want to; I don’t see it as a full-time job because it’s just so much fun. I suppose I prefer the term “hobby” since it sounds less serious.
What are your future plans and hopes for “The Monument Mythos,” and for content creation in general?
I would like to continue producing short films. I know that I will conclude the second season of the Mythos very soon, but I have not established any concrete plans for my YouTube channel after the season finale.
Does this mean that the Season 2 finale of “The Monument Mythos” will be the end of the series as a whole?
The final episode of Season 2 will not be the series finale. There’s a good chance that there will be a third season after I take a break. However, I have been developing the Cornerfolklore and a separate alternate history series far more consistently than this tentative third season. Regarding this separate series, all I can say is that it is … very American.
Last and certainly not least, will we ever see Mr. Squirrel again?
That’s up to him!
The Season 2 finale of “The Monument Mythos” is slated for release in March 2022. You can watch all existing episodes of the series on the ALEXKANSAS YouTube channel.