In the days before September 14th, 2009, 16-year-old Emma Neiderbrock attended the Horrorcore concert Strictly For The Wicked, along with her estranged parents Mark Neiderbrock and Debra Kelly, her friend Melanie Wells, and her boyfriend, an aspiring Horrorcore rapper named Sam McCroskey, a.k.a. Syko Sam. On the 14th Sam killed the three women with a hammer in the middle of the night, and then killed Mark with a maul when he arrived at the house in Farmville, Virginia, on the 17th.
Sam, who is now serving a life sentence, is chubby with red hair. His YouTube account is LiLdEmOnDoG. One of his videos is titled, “Cute Boat.” Sam, recording with his cell phone, is on a ferry with two other friends, a heavyset boy and a tired-eyed girl. They shyly acknowledge him. When the ferry lumbers forward, the guy steps to the camera and says, “It’s moving!” Sam, in a lispy mock-fag voice favored by Horrorcore devotees, yelps “I’m sthoo scared!” Sam then turns his attention to the water, choppy micro-waves, a little red Dinghy coasting miles away.
“Aww, we got a little boat, isn’t that cute?” He zooms further, suffocating the space around the Dinghy. “It’s a cute boat, cute boat. I wanna pet the boat.” His friends don’t respond. The Dinghy slides off.
5 YouTube videos presented before you:
1: A shaken Horrorcore fan’s immediate vlog. He knew the victims peripherally. His face beams through, carrying enough pain to break it apart. “You really fucked us, Sam!” he says, because now the media and the culture will turn a further blind eye to Horrorcore and its followers. He says the music is therapy, because they all have fucked up lives. They all help each other. Because of Sam, the subculture will be further chastised and misunderstood. There are probably dozens of videos just like this, and I don’t think it represents the entire community response, but it's enough to convey the effect of these murders on the people who sailed the same dark ship as Emily, Melanie, and Sam.
2: The final video on Sam’s YouTube account, called "HD Testing." He doesn’t speak. We don’t even see his face. The crude cell phone takes us through his room, above his bed, to the walls overflowing with Horrorcore ephemera, flyers for shows by acts we don’t know, posters of the harmlessly goofy Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope. Breathing. His hand gives the image unruly swat. Still light out. This is months before.
3: A Horrorcore rapper named Mars appears on a CBS news show, wearing a Hannibal Lector muzzle, admitting that he knew Sam, who had contacted him on Myspace several times. He defends the music as entertainment. He wonders why Stephen King isn’t asked to take accountability for the gruesome content in “his movies.”
4: A tribute song/video for Emma and Melanie by rapper “Stitch Mouth.” Terry Reid’s somber To Be Treated Rite is sampled between Stitch Mouth’s verses. He sounds choked, humbled, deeply sincere, and we can hear him tremble when facing down real-life violence previously filtered through his music as cartoon carnage. “I really can’t believe that you’re gone/but my eyes are full of tears as I try to write this song…it was great to finally meet you, hanging out and having a good time/I never thought I’d be writing this kind of rhyme.” Over this song is a single graphic with the text “We will never forget you, you will always be missed” hanging over Emma and Melanie, young pale girls with dyed hair and eyebrows sunk in raven-black shadow. We’ve known these girls, the ones sitting in the back of the bus, a few grades below us, the ones huddled together at school assemblies, excluding us from their special nightworld. “Onstage seeing your faces in the front row/I’ll be looking for those faces every time I play a show.” The Reid sample, along with Stitch Mouth’s heartbroken sincerity, makes the rushed tribute track a genuine outreach for empathy and the humane treatment of others. It brings to mind the Drive By Truckers song “Two Daughters And A Beautiful Wife,” about the slaughter of musician Bryan Harvey and his entire family on New Year’s Day, 2006. Both songs address The Pale directly, asking it to return dear friends it has taken away. But The Pale doesn’t answer. Once you’re gone, you can’t come back, even if you never wanted to go.
5: An original composition by Syko Sam called My Dark Side. The beat is warped sludge. His rhyming is thoroughly substandard. “This is my dark side,” Sam howls in a nasally voice, “The place where you die!” From the EP I Kill People For Real, it is amateur Horrorcore, which speaks for itself. Except the title is fact, the lyrics are true, so it isn’t Horrorcore at all. This “song” is the abrasive declaration of a killer.
In 2007, Brian De Palma made Redacted, a now-forgotten movie about Iraq war crimes that generated political controversy upon its release, controversy that overlooked De Palma’s formal ambitions, as Fox News isn’t the most astute bunch of film critics. The narrative is constructed piecemeal from vlogs, video diaries, surveillance footage and clandestine terrorist bootlegs. A distressed widow addresses us from a video blog on a website she created to chronicle her life as the spouse of a man in uniform. A pierced, proto-Lisbeth Salander rants against The Man in an acidic YouTube clip. I find the film quite powerful (I truly think it brings the director full circle to his guerilla, off-grid roots, which may be why he hasn’t directed a feature since), but I recall it here because you can take every aforementioned YouTube clip and create your own Redacted, fulfilling the construction of cast-off materials that unite to form a movie.
The Farmville murders are the first true-crime event of the social networking age, the YouTube age, during a time when anybody can share anything in one Great Outlet. I read about these killings in late December of the year, just after I had dropped out of an NYU graduate program and was unloading all of my burdens into a short novel about upper class siblings engaged in S&M, incest, and role playing. When I wasn’t writing I found these videos. I watched them in a near endless rotation, changing the order, editing the movie as I went, making the story nonlinear, noting the subtle changes in feeling these shifts encouraged.
The first scene could be news footage of Sam’s arrest, where he tries to be provocative by quipping, “Jesus told me to do it.” This can easily be located from many different news channels. Let’s stay with 5 uploads in this armchair editing bay.
2, 1, 5, 3, 4: In Cold Blood, almost. Begins with an overture of the horror that Nancy Grace would take as proof of ICP’s direct involvement, though the enlightened understand the murderous instinct comes from the void behind the operating eyeball. Ends on the correct note of tragedy. Stitch Mouth’s tribute song was made to play over the unspooling of end credits that don’t actually exist. My Dark Side is presented post-mortem, as bagged evidence. There’s no meaning to it beyond the banality we give to evil to make it go away.
1, 4, 2, 5, 3: Starting with the vlog leaves stranded the uninitiated and drops the rest of us inside the hornet’s nest after it has been kicked. Continuing with the tribute shows us the community’s reaction before anything else, with Sam’s final upload as a counterpoint, offsetting the believable defense of the Horrorcore faithful with the taut, curling, but it did happen, I came from this and I did it. ("You really fucked us, Sam!") The casual of Sam’s room tour effectively terminates with the roar of My Dark Side, which must have been playing in Sam’s head as he bashed Melanie and Emily’s brains in. Finally, a way out of the insular, with Mars the less-than-dependable mouthpiece. We’ve journeyed from a distraught fan in his lair speaking at a fixed webcam to a rapper in a newsroom speaking to the skeptical press, one afraid of his community’s further denigration, the other pulled out like the Bearded Lady and doing them no favors.
In order, 1-5. The scariest edit, canceling the sadness with Syko Sam’s rabid warning. He overshadows those girls, draining their voices away. Late, hours before dawn, I wished his dark side could be redacted.
I listened to a few Mars tracks on his Myspace page, abysmally produced odes to rape and rapists. The cover of his LP Mars Attacks shows a 50-foot Mars reaching his giant hand towards a screaming woman, about to scoop her up. On morning walks when I’d had little sleep, I pictured that hand outstretched, zeroing in, except it wasn’t Mars but Sam rampaging through the streets of my gone mind.
I researched Horrorcore, got into it before getting myself out of it just as quickly. I haven’t written about the murders until now because my fascination with them, and my subsequent discovery of this singular film, reached white heat that January. It wasn’t over. I would become obsessed with another viral phantom before long.