Behind the Filipino horror YouTube channels getting millions of views

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We look at the growing niche online community dedicated to preserving Philippine horror stories. In photo: a screenshot from "Call Center Horror Stories." Photo from SCREAMPH/YOUTUBE

When exactly did fear and anonymity begin fueling sensationalist internet ephemera? Was it over a decade ago, when horror content called creepypasta started gaining traction? It was appealing because it blurred the lines between fantasy and hoax; dubious backstories somehow made the whole thing more compelling and, paradoxically, lent it a sense of authenticity. In the last five years or so, however, aspiring content creators began to realize that some semblance of context was necessary. Filipino creators in particular negotiated the lack of a definite author with a clear sense of time and place. Characters had to somehow resemble people you’ve met; setting couldn’t be outlandish — it had to be places you’ve been before. For them, horror had to be familiar in order for it to work.

“I listened to a lot of creepypasta on YouTube, but since there were no Tagalog versions back then, it was hard to relate to horror stories that were set in the US. So I had the idea of creating our own version, with stories based on our culture,” shares Nebb Qerro, a Filipino YouTuber who, in 2018 created Pinoy Creepypasta, a channel featuring Filipino language horror stories told over eerie graphics, which, purely by virtue of that Philippines-specific marriage of setting and superstition, helped usher in a horror sub-genre on YouTube. Pinoy Creepypasta became more than just a Filipino version of a Western internet trend.

What qualifies as creepypasta — a term that’s become somewhat dated in the age of TikTok esoterica — has since changed, now allowing for longer, fleshed out and textured stories that go beyond jumpscares, appealing instead to nostalgia and realism and specific detail. Qerro’s videos are populated by albularyos and night shift workers and OFWs. His characters frequent convenience stores and cemeteries at night. There’s mythology and urban legend that recall figures from both pre-colonial folklore and pop culture, and more generally Filipino storytelling traditions and our collective appreciation for a well-told ghost story.

Pinoy Creepypasta

Like most horror content creators on YouTube, Nebb Qerro started out as a horror fan determined to share his own take on the genre. Inspired by channels such as CreepsMcPasta, Mr. Nightmare, and Corpse Husband, he set out to write his own stories and later on crowdsourced material from his growing list of subscribers. “I have a lot of true stories sent by my audience, so fortunately, I can just focus on reading and recording them.”

The process of creating an episode of Pinoy Creepypasta is straightforward: With material at hand, Qerro internalizes the story, and reads them to a BM800 microphone in his bedroom. He then “clean[s] the audio a bit, add[s] some creepy music, put[s] stock video, and then upload[s] it.” The self-taught content creator, who used to work in programming and 3D modeling, says that a regular upload usually takes him about three hours to complete, but a longer episode can take five to six hours.

The videos, which feature the same simple visual components, owe a lot of their appeal to his narrative style, which best sums up the kind of content you can expect from Filipino horror content creators. It’s familiar and casual, reminiscent of old radio dramas minus the theatrics.

For Qerro, who has no formal background in voice acting, developing this voice was a deliberate refinement process: “When I was starting out, I tried to make my voice deeper, scarier. But later on I decided to just speak more naturally, like trying to tell your friend a story.” Jumpscares are too easy; putting in ear-piercing sound effects is practically cheating. “You’ve scared them, yes, but what are the chances of them listening to you again when you have a new story? I want my audience to be entertained by the story, so I keep my episodes as simple as possible.”

A standard Pinoy Creepypasta video comprises a kind of visual static running across either a stock photo or an abstract, monochromatic image donning the video’s title. Photo from PINOY CREEPYPASTA/YOUTUBE

It’s true: there’s no gore or special effects; a standard Pinoy Creepypasta video comprises a kind of visual static running across either a stock photo or an abstract, monochromatic image donning the video’s title. The visuals are quite minimalist, perhaps as a way to turn the focus on Qerro’s emotive stories and storytelling. One of the channel’s most popular videos is a tragedy he penned himself called “Magtataho sa Gabi,” which is about a man who recalls the details of a school accident he witnessed 20 years ago, where a fire burnt his classmates alive. Set against a backdrop of bright red and yellow, along which runs the visual static that has become a signature of the channel, and with Qerro’s voice and minimal sound effects carrying the story and overall feel of the video, “Magtataho sa Gabi” centers around the aftermath of an accident and ponders over the question of whether or not it’s possible to ever fully process a tragedy.

The channel Araw na Itim features animated retellings of Pinoy Creepypasta stories, such as this one on horror stories from convenience store 7-Eleven. Photo from ARAW NA ITIM/YOUTUBE

Described by Qerro as “heartwarming and relatable,” the video has gained a dedicated following of returning viewers lauding his careful narration and a premise that walks a fine line between fantasy and reality by subtly subverting an iconic fixture of childhood memories. “For me, making sure that the story, even if it’s fiction, is still in touch with reality, makes for a good horror story. Listeners should feel that it’s something that could happen to them, that there is a possibility of this happening in real life. I think that adds a bit more eeriness to the story.”

As of writing, Pinoy Creepypasta has almost 400,000 subscribers and a total of over 58 million views. Qerro continues to regularly upload Pinoy Creepypasta videos while growing his other channels—there’s Gintong Pahina, which is dedicated to Pinoy fairytales, and Araw na Itim, which features animated retellings of his Pinoy Creepypasta stories. The latter is his personal favorite simply because of the work it takes to complete a single video (“It can take me one to two months.”) With a handful of channels to grow and plans to direct short horror clips soon, Qerro also hopes to keep doing collaborations with different channels in order to help grow the budding community of Filipino horror content creators on YouTube.

Kwentong Nakakakilabot

As a 17-year-old girl boarded a bus to Tacurong, Sultan Kudarat hoping to escape what was turning out to be the makings of a domestic tragedy, passengers made sure to stare. It could’ve been the dilapidated cardboard box she was carrying, the few things she owned hastily stuffed into the makeshift luggage which also covered her stomach. But it was only after an elderly woman from across her seat told her to take care of what she carried that she realized what the issue was: her unborn baby was bait. It was beginning to get dark when she finally set foot on the town infamous for aswangs that lurked and haunted the streets at night, perching atop roofs with their tongues piercing the wombs of unknowing women. Her killer came for her that same night, a black pig whose presence caused her fingernails to darken and her breathing to become a struggle.

This story, told through an animated video (titled "Dayuhan") by the YouTube channel Aswang Real Stories, has garnered over two million views since it was published in March this year. The channel has also gained a sizable following and continues to craft quality animated retellings of true-to-life encounters with Philippine mythical creatures and monsters. It’s one of the handful of channels making up the growing niche community of online creators dedicated specifically to preserving Philippine horror stories. As an animation channel, Aswang Real Stories goes to great lengths to create artful depictions of paranormal encounters, like visual retellings of PSICOM’s iconic “True Philippine Ghost Stories.”

“I make sure that the animations I create for these episodes have enough realistic and interesting visual effects to enhance the viewing experience,” says James Cortel, the creative director and animator behind the channel.

Like Pinoy Creepypasta, Aswang Real Stories crowdsources some of its material from its audience and relies on a strong narrative voice. For “Dayuhan,” Cortel collaborated with Nik, another self-taught Filipino horror content creator who has gained a bit of recognition among audiences for her skilled narration. A lifelong horror fan “addicted to audio narration,” Nik started her own YouTube horror channel called Kwentong Nakakakilabot after discovering the wealth of Filipino narrative horror content online.

The channel started out as a secret. “I didn’t tell anyone about it. I started my channel with just my phone and earphones for recording audio. I didn’t know anything about editing software,” she shares.

Like Qerro, it took a while for Nik to arrive at a narrative voice she could be proud of: too shy at first, she deepened her voice so that it resembled a man’s. The audio quality was also a problem at first — yet she was happy to see that about 10 people had watched and liked her videos. Eventually, with some helpful feedback from viewers and a “not-so expensive condenser microphone,” Kwentong Nakakakilabot gained a dedicated audience. And while recording continues to be a challenge (“I have to record in secret since my family doesn’t know that I do this stuff; I have to wait for when no one is home and there’s not much noise.”), the one-woman channel thrives on what seems to be a deep respect for stories and how you tell them. Nik either writes or crowdsources her stories, doing the necessary research and making sure that credit is given where it’s due, internalizes the plot to help her narrate effectively (“An effective narrator can put listeners on an emotional ride. They must know when to pause, slow down, or speed up their storytelling.”), and then goes on the intensive process of recording and editing.

With all the retakes, editing, and fine-tuning it requires, a 13-minute video would take almost a whole day to complete. For fictional stories, which she feels deserves more detail, the whole production process can take two days. As for the actual content, Nik’s videos have undoubtedly resonated with many people because they feature stories which, in some horror content communities, would be considered unconventional — that is, they don’t necessarily scare as much as they disturb; many of them are psychological thrillers free of paranormal elements that populate most horror channels. Nik’s videos lack the kind of world-building that audiences have come to expect in many horror narrations — instead, she focuses on the inner lives of her characters as a means to create a “scary” atmosphere.

The content creator personally favors heavier themes, ones that delve into the psychology of horror rather than its more literal aspects. “I like stories about trauma and grief because they’re real, human stories. Add supernatural elements to that and you get a haunting story.” Nik hopes for her channel and the Filipino horror content creator community on YouTube to continue growing, hopefully far from the state it was in two years ago, when there weren’t a lot of Filipina horror narrators on YouTube yet.

Scream Ph

Besides effective narration and well-crafted stories specific to Filipino horror traditions, setting seems to be one of the main elements that has resonated with Filipino horror fans. Scream Ph’s “Universities After Dark” is a video series that retells urban legends set in different universities in the Philippines. The series seems to have touched on something deep by banking on what is purely nostalgic. But that’s the point — and it works, if only because the person behind the videos understands the function of familiar places in horror stories and storytelling in general. Ken, whose parents hail from Siquijor and Negros Oriental, grew up with stories steeped in Philippine folklore and mythology. “I was immersed in stories about aswangs, mangkukulams, engkantos, and all those crazy myths my parents believed to be true.”

The 31-year-old content creator, who currently works in the clinical trials department of a pharmaceutical company, was so fascinated with these stories that he did his master’s degree on babaylans (ancient healers). He lived with them for 30 days, interviewing them and closely observing their healing practices. That kind of genuine fascination, which coincided with his night classes at UST after which he and his friends would share different urban legends with each other, inspired “Universities After Dark” as well as other setting-centric series such as “Buildings After Dark” and “Haunted Manila,” all of which shaped the kind of content viewers have come to expect from his channel.

“Horror equals familiarity. So setting scary stories in familiar places is very important. Everyone went to school at some point, so everyone can relate to campus horror stories, which is probably why [“Universities After Dark”] became so well-known,” says Ken.

Like other Filipino horror channels, Scream Ph started out as a horror fan trying their hand at creating their very own versions of content they enjoy. At work, Ken listened to many of these creators, including Pinoy CreepyPasta’s Qerro, and one day thought of starting his own channel, using stories from his friends and family, and eventually writing his own. Like Qerro and Nik, Ken narrates and edits his videos and follows the same general process when creating his videos: after editing the story on paper, he records his narration, edits the audio and video, and uploads it to YouTube.

More than the narration and visuals, though, Scream Ph videos have been recognized as unique auditory experiences, with Ken directing much attention to creating the perfect soundscape by painstakingly using the right combination of audio effects. The idea is to bring audiences to the actual scene of the encounter, in part to create a lasting mental memory which Ken believes is a huge part of what makes a good horror story. “I want listeners to be transported to another place, to make them feel that they are part of the story.” Such attention to detail means that the production of a single 20-minute episode can take a whole day; animated videos, meanwhile, can take two to three weeks.

“Creating content and running your own channel is pure hard work. I had to balance that with my day job. And the gains were not big then, since the audience in the Philippines was also very small at the time. It took me a year to build my following of 10,000 subscribers — that’s how small the community was,” Ken shares.

With a total of over three million views, and having trended on platforms like Spotify and Twitter, Ken hopes not to just grow his channel, but also to help carve out a space for himself and his fellow Filipino horror content creators in the Philippine YouTube space. He adds: “‘Horror content’ is not just about ghosts, aswangs, and engkantos. We need to expand how we see horror stories in general. This genre also encompasses thrillers and psychohorrors, which the Philippines hasn’t really seen much of yet.