In the spring and early summer of 2020, a horror phenomenon has been spreading through the darker corners of the internet. In countless videos, stories, games, and other media, a creature is stalking, drawing millions of clicks wherever it goes. Its name is Siren Head, and its viral popularity rivals that of Slenderman or The Rake, online sensations from years past. For the first time in a long while, the internet has a new favorite monster – and its arrival could not be more timely.
Created in 2018 by digital artist Trevor Henderson, Siren Head is a beautifully simple nightmare. Roughly 40 feet tall, it resembles a gigantic human skeleton, with long, spindly limbs that – like Slenderman’s – can easily camouflage themselves among the trees of a dark forest. Its skin is dried and ossified, the rust-brown color of old bloodstains. The real stroke of genius, though, is the head itself. On a grotesquely thin neck, two cone-shaped sirens sit where a normal creature’s skull would be, belching out emergency signals, human voices, and torrents of random noise. The whole thing strides across the landscape with huge, lurching footsteps, seeking human prey.
Almost immediately on its debut, Siren Head caught the imagination of creators around the world, and a wide range of different takes on the character emerged. In Modus Interactive’s freeware PC game, simply titled Siren Head, the protagonist is a forest ranger searching for a missing hiker. As the game’s single level progresses, the player finds the hiker’s corpse – or rather, what’s left of it – only to be chased by Siren Head, who appears out of nowhere, blaring a distorted NOAA weather alert. Videos featuring this game hit YouTube’s top trending tabs several times in May 2020, making it among the most popular independent games of the year. Meanwhile, Kyle Harrison’s recent audio story, “My Task Force Was Ordered to Track a Creature,” sees Siren Head demolish a squad of soldiers, mocking them with pseudo-military codewords like “PREVIOUS! SQUARE! DOGS! LINK! FATHER!” before moving in for the kill:
“I turned and saw the unspeakable – long bony fingers that seemed to come from the tops of the trees, reaching down and grabbing Taggart like a rag doll… A moment later his screams stopped, and then from the canopy his body fell with a resounding thud, broken in two by the giant that had ripped his head off with one single bite.”
For his part, Henderson prefers to keep things subtle and mysterious, calling his monster simply the “patron saint of going missing without a trace, of creeping dread, of bad things coming.”
Given the pulpy, ephemeral nature of digital horror, it would be easy to dismiss Siren Head as a passing trend, devoid of deeper cultural meaning. However, this would be a fatal mistake. In any of its manifestations, horror is effective precisely because it taps into real-world fears and anxieties – the nuclear age gave rise to Godzilla, zombie films flourish in times of mindless consumerism, and so on down the line. Monsters, above all, are creatures of the zeitgeist, and Siren Head is no exception. So if, in the early days of 2020, Trevor Henderson’s creation has captured the world’s attention, it’s not simply because it has a memorable name or design – although these things help – but because it expresses something deeper about the present moment.
One clue to this underlying significance comes in the dual use of the word “siren.” On a purely literal level, the sirens in question are hardware, the great acoustic speakers that Siren Head uses to issue its trademark squawks and wails. But on the symbolic level, they hearken back to Greek mythology, and the monstrous “sirens” that try to lure Odysseus’s ship onto the rocks with their songs. By employing the first type of siren, Siren Head often poses as some form of authority – the military, an emergency service or first responder – and in doing do acts as the second type, luring its victims to their death.
In this way, Siren Head embodies a very specific fear, and one that permeates the cultural landscape of 2020: the idea that established authorities, previously assumed to be trustworthy, could actually be malicious. One key example is America’s changing relationship with its police, sparked by the wanton murder of George Floyd and subsequent mass protests. For minorities and working-class people, the sound of sirens has always been a source of horror, warning that monstrous, uncaring forces are about to lurch over the horizon and destroy human lives.
In 2020, however, the realization of the cop-as-monster has begun to boil over into mainstream consciousness.. Online horror stories are just one context where this cultural shift is reflected – and by virtue of their marginal status, they can discuss the idea more freely than other media, where the siren song of the cop show and its positive portrayals is still strong. As a current trend in the genre, Siren Head plays a crucial role.
Another example comes in the changing role of broadcast propaganda and political messaging. With its identity so closely tied to speakers and voice announcements, Siren Head is the perfect vehicle for discussing these topics, and their relevance could not be more current. In the past, official channels at least made some pretense of serving the public good, with messages like FDR’s “Fireside Chats” and Churchill’s bunker speeches used to boost morale and unite a nation in dangerous times. In many ways, these broadcasts trained the public to trust the voice of “officialdom” when it surged from their radios and TVs. Tune into a government broadcast during the COVID-19 crisis, however, and Boris Johnson may be boasting how “I was at a hospital the other night where I think there were a few coronavirus patients and I shook hands with everybody, you will be pleased to know, and I continue to shake hands.” Across the ocean, Donald Trump may float the idea of injecting disinfectant into sick patients, promising it will “do a tremendous number on the lungs.” Like Siren Head’s, these broadcasts have the form and style of something meant to inspire confidence, but their content is pure malignity. The fictional horror mirrors one that is all too real – and in today’s world, the worst monsters can be recognized by their flawless PR.
Taken together, these social and political factors go a long way towards explaining Siren Head’s sudden surge in popularity. When the gangly, voracious creature appears, it touches a fear already present in the mind of its viewer, communicating almost on a subconscious level. It says something darkly potent
The voice of authority does not have your best interest at heart, and there is something inhuman about its cold, metallic squawk. Trust it too far, and it may be the death of you.
It’s a message that shows no sign of losing relevance, as the horror show of current events in 2020 marches on.
 Kyle Harrison, “My Task Force was Ordered to Track a Creature,” MrCreepyPasta’s Storytime, May 20 2020, https://soundcloud.com/mrcreepypasta/my-task-force-was-ordered-to.
 Trevor Henderson, “Siren Head,” Patreon, February 6 2020, https://www.patreon.com/posts/siren-head-33788439.
 Rowena Mason, “Boris Johnson Boasted of Shaking Hands on Day Sage Warned Not To,” The Guardian, May 5 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2020/may/05/boris-johnson-boasted-of-shaking-hands-on-day-sage-warned-not-to. Dartunorro Clark, “Trump Suggests ‘Injection’ of Disinfectant to Beat Coronavirus and ‘Clean’ the Lungs,” NBC News, April 24 2020, https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/donald-trump/trump-suggests-injection-disinfectant-beat-coronavirus-clean-lungs-n1191216.
Alex Skopic is a recent graduate in English Literature and Political Science from the dark corners of Pennsylvania. In his spare time, he writes various types of strange and unsettling stories and articles. His work has appeared in Rock and a Hard Place Magazine and The New Accelerator, among other places.