Monday, April 6, 2020

FRIGHTBYTES.COM | The Virtual Haunted House and Internet Horror Nostalgia

The Beginning

The early days of the internet are comparable to an expedition into some vast, uncharted territory.  This description should especially ring true for web developers who started in those long-gone days.  With the power of HTML, JavaScript, Gif images, Midi music, and Wav files, the more creative individuals could build elaborate worlds of their own.  This creativity resulted in countless personal websites, of which there were many types.  However, most notable of the early personal website is the "virtual haunted house".  From the very late 1990s to late 2000s, the virtual haunted house or "virtual haunt" dominated most horror content on the internet.

"The Virtual Haunted House" at Caverns of Blood

Long before the mostly predictable and unoriginal horror content that now saturates YouTube, the virtual haunted house was what beckoned the curiosity seekers online.  Once a user clicked on the "door," a world of dark secrets, scares, and overall fun would come to life.  Spooky Midi songs or unnerving Wav files might've played in the background as the trespasser explored further.  Sometimes hidden notes left by the deceased occupants could be discovered.  Other times a hideous ghoul waited inside a closet.

Entrance to the Chancery House

Virginia Varela Interactive Haunted House (Deceased)

Indeed, it is disheartening to realize that these experiences (ones that often brought families together on dark, cold October evenings) are increasingly rare.  Many of the popular sites have either since disappeared or are decaying on a neglected website filled with malicious ads.  The fall of Adobe Flash may also be somewhat responsible for the destruction of the virtual haunted house.

Even so, one immortal website continues to stand among its dead contemporaries:

Present Day Frightbytes Home Page

An Immortal Site

Frightbytes, the unrivaled champion of virtual haunts, perseveres through an age of uninspired and depressingly unoriginal horror content.  The Spooky Webmistress (a.k.a. Marilyn Buck) has worked hard on maintaining the website and releasing new content since 1998.  Originally an Angelfire site entitled "The Hauntings," Frightbytes eventually obtained its own domain name and has since then haunted the internet.  When visiting the fictional realm of Salems Marsh, one might expect to explore a haunted inn, an abandoned insane asylum, a decrepit boarding house, a dark carnival, a mad doctor's former abode, or even a damp crypt full of the remains of those brave enough to write an email to The Spooky Webmistress.  Sometimes, however, one might stumble through the gates of purgatory or have to survive a zombie invasion.

These are but a few of the many fun and entertaining attractions that Frightbytes offers.  Both morbid humor and genuinely disturbing stories can be found on the website.  One might dare say that Frightbytes is the internet's equivalency to the popular horror trilogy "Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark".  There is no doubt that many who grew up during the internet's early days can recall Ms. Buck's website and exploring the many cursed places of the domain.

Frightbytes Home Page 2012 (My personal favorite and the one I grew up with)

Throughout the past two decades, Frightbytes has evolved with the internet; this means Ms. Buck has done a great deal of reformatting her various attractions over and over again.  The first virtual haunts of the site entitled "The Hauntings Part I & II" and "Purgatory" rely mainly on images, roll-over graphics, occasional Wav files for sound, JavaScripts, and text (these stories used to use Midi music before web browsers stopped playing them).  But what really makes these older stories on her site so magical are two things: the power of choice and imagination.  The choose-your-own-adventure format allows the viewer to make choices.  Depending on how wise he or she is, one might either choose an option that leads to a horrific death or a whole different path in the story altogether.  Secondly, the text and descriptions of these older virtual haunts allow viewers to use their imagination.  This is incredibly important in a world where people of all ages look towards the more visual/hand-holding content in order to experience something fantastical.  Yet it is quite evident that in "The Hauntings" and "Purgatory," the eerie descriptions can conjure forth rather grotesque and phantasmagoric images in the reader's mind.  This is sometimes far more effective than seeing something on screen.

The welcome note at the Frightbytes Haunted Inn

Eventually came the next generation of virtual haunts on Frightbytes, as well as other sites.

The Age of Flash

Adobe Flash Logo

Adobe Flash (now nearly extinct) became a crucial tool that various creators utilized to build elaborate haunted houses during the early 2000s to early 2010s.  

"The Haunted Inn" (2008), "The Zombie Invasion" (2010), "Salems Marsh Asylum" (2011-2012), and "The Carnival of Terror" (2013) were the most flash-heavy pieces of content on Frightbytes.  With a software called Incrediflash, Ms. Buck took her stories a step further and built virtual haunts by compiling them into multi-media files.  While exploring these haunts, one might've experienced ghosts appearing out of nowhere, jump-scares, dripping blood, unsettling music, ambient sounds, and many other hair-raising things.  Yet what truly made the flash-based content so special was the fact that viewers could interact with the world.  This might have included clicking on diary entries, forbidden documents, drawers, or even secret doors.

Salems Marsh Asylum Introduction (Original Flash version)

Frightbytes Haunted Inn Introduction (Original Flash version)

"The Haunted Inn" was truly a game changer when it came to the world of virtual haunts.  

In this particular story, viewers get to explore the most haunted rooms of the Inn after their tour.  The unseen tour guide (presumably a ghost himself) is constantly making disturbing remarks about "accidents" and the staff, who "always seem to fall apart" when new visitors arrive.  However, once the viewer is left to explore the rest, the Inn becomes a much darker place.  He or she will get to uncover the many secrets regarding past owners, guests, staff, and the land upon which the Inn itself was built.  Once the pieces of history are stitched together, one will realize the Inn was a terrible place from the very beginning.

Frightbytes Haunted Inn Hallway (Current version)

Unfortunately, as the internet evolved and Adobe Flash became less and less favorable, Ms. Buck realized she would have to reformat her stories without using Incrediflash.  Even so, with her seemingly preternatural ingenuity, The Spooky Webmistress found a different way to present her stories without Adobe Flash; we shall be discussing this at length later in this article.

Salems Marsh Asylum "Cast of Characters" (Current version)

Although the "Haunted Inn" may be unsettling in many regards, "Salems Marsh Asylum" goes where no other virtual haunt has gone before.

There is little doubt that lunatic asylums hold a notorious reputation for abuse, murder, and unnameable tortures.  Thus, it is not surprising that "Salems Marsh Asylum" is the darkest and most brutal story on Frightbytes.  In this haunt, the viewer trespasses on the grounds of the decaying edifice to investigate.  Are the rumors true?  Indeed, this question is answered while the viewer plunges himself deeper into the unceasing madness.

In the beginning of the story, the reader is acquainted with the key characters by reading their files: The Cook, The Doctor, The Laughing Man, The Weeping Woman, The Child, and the elusive Administrator.

Throughout "Salems Marsh Asylum," the viewer explores the facility and learns more about the aforementioned characters (as well as their secrets).  Ultimately, their true purposes for being committed to the Asylum are revealed in the end.

Salems Marsh Asylum Map (Current version)

In addition to the entire story, "Salems Marsh Asylum" contains additional/more lighthearted content.  First, there is the "Inmates" page where the viewer can send in a picture of him or herself and have the picture placed in a cell.

Salems Marsh Asylum Inmates Page

Second is the "Certificate of Insanity," where a viewer may print it out and write his or her name upon the blank space.

"Certificate of Insanity"

Sadly, as was the case with "The Haunted Inn," the Asylum story also had to reformat to non-flash content.  Yet Ms. Buck did not let the story die (again, we will discuss this later).

Frightbytes Carnival of Terror

Although not as dark as "Salems Marsh Asylum," the "Carnival of Terror" still possesses its own tragic tales of forlorn souls.  In this haunt, the viewers get to spend one evening at the Carnival.  However, unbeknownst to them, the ticket is lost in the beginning, and without the ticket, they cannot leave the gates of the fairgrounds.  While exploring the "Carnival of Terror," a viewer will become acquainted with a "cast of characters" (similar to the Asylum story).

Frightbytes Carnival of Terror Characters

By clicking on each character's image, the viewer will get to learn of the character's dark past.  Inevitably, these souls were bound to the Carnival by either misfortune or some terrible vice they held.

Yet one of the more hopeful aspects of this haunt is that the viewer can search for "lost soul orbs" and save those trapped within the Carnival.  Thus, the viewer, in a way, gets to become a hero.  However, sometimes exploring different areas can lead to rather unpleasant outcomes.  

Once again, when Adobe Flash became less favorable, Ms. Buck had to reformat the story to make it more universally compatible with other browsers and devices.

Frightbytes Zombie Invasion Introduction (Current Version)

Interestingly enough, and unlike the Inn, Asylum, and Carnival, "The Zombie Invasion" is more of a hybrid story.  

On this page of "The Zombie Invasion," viewers must either reveal themselves to a family or stay hidden.  The choice could very well mean life or death.

This virtual haunt follows a format more similar to "The Hauntings Part I & II" and "Purgatory" with its descriptions and "choose-your-own-adventure" format.  Even so, some flash-based content was originally implemented, giving the story a unique sense of fun.

Within "The Zombie Invasion," the viewer must, as the title suggests, survive a zombie invasion.  However, sometimes in this story, zombies aren't nearly as horrifying as the different people one might encounter.  Making wise decisions is essential, as there are three main paths and countless sub-paths.  Often times, a path might lead the viewer to a situation in which he or she would not wish to be.  It is for this reason that the viewer needs to think logically and strategically before making a choice.  

Of course, sometimes one might be irredeemably doomed either way...

Restitching the Corpse

Virtually every browser will no longer support Adobe Flash by December 31st 2020.

Once again, like the other three stories, "The Zombie Invasion" was also reformatted and no longer uses its flash-based content.

Indeed, since the early 2010s, Adobe Flash became increasingly less popular.  Many claimed this was due to numerous security problems.  Thus, HTML5 was eventually favored more and browsers started the slow and painful process of Adobe Flash's demise.

With this change, Ms. Buck was rendered two choices: 

(1) Leave her flash-based stories alone and slowly watch them die.


(2) Salvage the flash-based stories by reformatting them.

And thankfully, instead of giving up all hope, Ms. Buck chose to reformat her stories.  Yet before she began the process to do so, she created a new story without flash: this new story would be the perfect formula for reformatting her older stories.

Frightbytes' "The House" (2016)

In September of 2016, a new adventure was published on Frightbytes: "The House".  This virtual haunt didn't use Adobe Flash, and instead, relied on a different method.

In "The House," viewers get to go back in time and explore the infamous Ms. Grul's Boarding House.  This is perhaps one of Ms. Buck's most character-heavy virtual haunts, as characters old and new play important roles.  In addition, the viewer gets the freedom to roam around in most of the rooms.  Diary entries and notes are also crucial (just as they are in the Asylum and Inn), as the history of the place becomes clearer after each piece of lore is read.

In addition to the wonderful story of this haunt, viewers also get to collect hidden "horror" snow globe collectibles. 

One of the many rooms inside Frightbytes' "The House" 

Yet what viewers must realize when they are exploring this newer haunt is that no flash-based content was used.  Indeed, "The House" is actually made up of sliced images and gifs (these help animate the virtual haunt) and audio files for music and sound.  Some of these sliced images contain links.  Although this my seem simple, it is truly quite effective, as with all of these elements combined, it creates one beautiful, seamless world to explore.

Thus, once this new format was established, Ms. Buck returned to her flash-based stories in 2017 and recreated them in a similar fashion.

The Future of Frightbytes and Its Fan(g)s

The Spooky Webmistress is still hard at work maintaining her site.  During an email exchange I had with her earlier this year, she explained to me that she was working on a new story for possibly 2020.  I will not give away too many details, but she did say that the haunt would be nightmare-themed.  It is certain that all the loyal boils and ghouls that have been following Frightbytes over the past decades will become eager to see this new haunt (I myself am one of them).

The most haunted rooms of the Inn. 

Speaking of fans, Frightbytes does have a very close cult following on the internet.  Here are a few of the messages displayed on the Fang Mail page--they really are quite heart-warming (well, I suppose for those of us ghouls that actually have hearts):

"First of all, I'm excited to see a new "Hauntings" in the works for next year :D Secondly, I wanted to say THANK YOU for creating a site that is so much fun to enjoy each Halloween. I've been a fan since the early 2000s and I rave about how awesome your site is (I get the joy of sharing this with my husband this year). Looking forward to another 20 years! Happy Halloween and Happy Hauntings!"

"Webmistress, I just have to say thank you for this website and everything you do with it. It is a pleasure for horror fans all across the world, and it probably is a pleasure for you. I just want to say thanks for everything. LONG LIVE FRIGHTBYTES!"

"Spooky Webmistress, it is All Hallow's Eve and I wanted to thank you for Frightbytes. I remember my mother and I going through Halloween websites when we came across Frightbytes and went through The Haunted Inn. Since then it has been a Halloween tradition. I have enjoyed seeing the site evolve over the years, the new stories and content. I love inspecting each image, either enthralled by the immersive details or looking for a trap door or snowglobe. The sense of Halloween spirit that the site has is enchanting and comforting in its own way, its truly amazing and something unique. I am grateful that I'm able to interact with you after these years. I appreciate your work, and I cannot thank you enough for all of the wonderful Halloween memories that I'll never forget and always hold dear. From my heart, thank you Spooky Webmistress."

There are many more of these messages you can read on the Fang Mail page.  Indeed, these emails stand as testament to the sheer joy found in the virtual haunted house, but specifically the happiness and fond memories Frightbytes has brought many.

Other Notable Content

While it is encouraging for us to know that Frightbytes is truly an immortal monster that cannot die, many other virtual haunts have not been so fortunate.

The Bone Garden Estate (Deceased)

The Bone Garden Estate is one of those classic virtual haunts that many Frightbytes fans may be able to recall.  Before the age of Adobe Flash, this haunt was created in a way more similar to the current stories on Frightbytes: sliced images, gifs, links, and embedded sound files.

The Bone Garden Estate Introduction

The Bone Garden Estate Second Story

Throughout The Bone Garden Estate, visitors were able to explore the many rooms of the house, as well as the cemetery and crypt.  The further one explored, the more secrets came to light.

Sadly, eventually the website fell into neglect and the virtual haunt was forsaken.  It wasn't long until the web address said "Bad Gateway".  Now, the address redirects to a web-hosting company.  

Even so, not all hope is lost.  Curiosity seekers can still explore The Bone Garden Estate on the Wayback Machine web archive HERE.  Just be sure to remember that some links may not work correctly.

The Cromwell Mansion (Deceased)

"Comwell Mansion" was another virtual haunt that is no longer with us.  I was unsuccessful at obtaining further screenshots, but this one was very similar in style to "The Bone Garden Estate".  Viewers could click through the many rooms and figure out what horrible tragedy befell the previous family.

The Chancery House (Alive)

"The Chancery House" has been scaring visitors since 2002 (its main page was shown earlier in this article).  This virtual haunt can still be accessed online from its web address.  However, it appears that the website was last updated in 2011.  One should enjoy this one while it lasts, because neglect is usually an indication that it is only a matter of time before the website expires or is permanently taken down.

The Chancery House Attic Stairway

In "The Chancery House," the viewer gets to spend the night in the dark abode of the mistress Lady Bastet, a witch.  Her two white cats, Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, are almost like tour guides throughout the haunt, as they follow the visitor while he or she explores the mansion further.  Many of the links on this site are dead or lead to expired websites, so be advised that this haunt is no longer as it once was.

Virginia Varela Haunted House - Outside The Mansion

Virginia Varela's "Virtual Haunted House" is perhaps one of the most infamous on this list.  Inspired by many of the other sites mentioned in this article, this interactive, flash-based attraction was truly unnerving back in the late 2000s.

Virginia Varela Haunted House  - First Hallway

In this ghostly adventure, viewers follow a mysterious wagon up to the front gates of the manor house, with only the glow of a flashlight to gain a sense of direction.

Virginia Varela Haunted House  - Master Bedroom

Virginia Varela Haunted House - Parlor

Within the unhallowed walls of the grim dwelling, sudden frights and scares are certain to terrify and delight the viewer.  Sometimes, however, things are not what they seem.

Virginia Varela Haunted House - Chapel

Unlike every other virtual haunt discussed in this article, Virginia Varela's Haunted House doesn't have a story--and this is not a bad thing.  On the contrary, it encourages oneself to imagine what might've gone on inside the old home.  The speculations are endless; nevertheless, the malevolent chapel in the end of the haunt might suggest the previous owners' religious beliefs were less than holy.

Halloween Is Here - Home Page (Archived Page)

"Halloween Is Here" is yet another classic virtual haunt website that is sadly no longer the same.  As they are with the other websites that are either dead or have changed entirely, the provided screenshots were taken from  The image above was once the homepage for Halloween Is Here.  Similar to Frightbytes, viewers could explore the various content offered on the site.  However, two of these attractions in particular are unforgettable: their "Haunted House" and "Ghoul School".

 Halloween Is Here - Haunted House Driveway (Note that the reason "2020" is in the copyright is because a script was used that automatically update's the last date to the current year - thus, the archived page shows "2020".  However, one should note that this is NOT accurate)

The Haunted House at Halloween Is Here was truly an amazing one; composed of images, Gifs, and Wav files for sound, this particular virtual haunt was actually rather expansive and contained multiple adventures.  Like "The Hauntings" on Frightbytes, these adventures solely depended on the reader's choices throughout the haunt.

Halloween Is Here - Haunted House Front Yard

In the beginning, the viewer is given the choice to either knock on the door or explore the graveyard.  These are two of the main paths throughout the adventure.  Although I was not able to obtain screenshots of the graveyard, I do recall that this particular story involved going into the underworld and joining an army of skeletons.

Halloween Is Here - Which Option Should You Choose?

Once the viewer clicks the option to enter the house, three entirely new options appear.  Indeed, the excitement of not knowing where one shall go is what made haunts like these so enthralling.

Halloween Is Here - A Spook in The Haunted House

 Halloween Is Here - A Mysterious Note Found In The Haunted House

As can be seen in the image above, finding notes such as this one add further to the overall impression of the adventure.

Halloween Is Here - Ghoul School Entrance

Halloween Is Here's "Ghoul School" was undoubtedly one of the most unique virtual haunts to have ever existed on the internet.  In this virtual "school", viewers could explore the massive campus and classrooms.  Furthermore, students could also meet the professors and choose to say something to them.  Unfortunately, as was the case for countless other websites, Halloween Is Here (although still present online) is not the same as it used to be.  Viewers can still click on the Haunted House and Ghoul School, but the links only lead to pages with some images left over and the incomplete text from the stories.

Caverns Of Blood - Cave Game Instructions

A much more early virtual haunt than the previous ones mentioned is the "Caverns of Blood".  The main attraction on this site is the "Cavern Game," which consists of various HTML pages with hidden links, traps, Midi files for music, and Wav files for sound; the viewer is referred to by the narrator as "spelunker" (someone who explores caves).  The ultimate goal in this haunt is to find the Cave of Jewels.  However, in order to reach this legendary destination, one must endure the horrors of the many caverns that lead to it.

Caverns Of Blood - "Cave of Carnage" - Disturbing wallpapers are often used in this game to cause great unease upon the trespasser.

"Caverns of Blood" still exists, but the site is not owned by the original creator.  Although the most recent activity was late 2015, the original stories and games are still available.  And while the Cavern Game might not seem as impressive to a younger generation, it must be understood that this was quite ambitious for the late 1990s as far as entertainment on the internet went.

Carrying The Torch Into The Present

Sue's Haunted Mansion - Entrance

While the websites previously mentioned are either poorly maintained or dead, there are a few websites that are actively kept up by the owners.  Sometimes, new content is even added.  

"Sue's Haunted Mansion" is one virtual haunt that is still closely cared for by the owner.  Like many others, Sue's virtual haunted attraction used to consist of Adobe Flash files for displaying content, yet eventually she reformatted the site to using sliced images, Gifs, and embedded audio files for music or sound.

Sue's Haunted Mansion - Stairway

Throughout Sue's Haunted Mansion, guests are given a tour through the various rooms of the dwelling.  Startling sounds and unnerving music scare visitors as they become immersed in the world.

Sue's Haunted Mansion - Drawing Room

Everything about this haunt is aesthetically pleasing and the blending of different images and graphics creates the very classic feeling of some of the earlier virtual haunts.  Sue's magic of invoking this nostalgia is apparent throughout every gloomy apartment of her dominion.

Trespauze Manor - Home Page

Trespauze Manor is another virtual haunt that is thoughtfully maintained by the owner.  Like Frightbytes, there are other attractions featured on the website as well.  "Trespauze Manor" is, of course, the main attraction; however, other places of interest to explore include an abandoned mine and pirate treasure hunt.

Trespauze Manor - Parlor

In "Trespauze Manor," the viewer gets to freely explore the entire house and its grounds.  Different links and surprises await the visitors on the inside.  The attention to detail in this haunt is both impressing and inspiring.  Furniture and other items of antiquity truly conjure forth a sense that one is stepping back through the veil of time.

Trespauze Manor - Nursery

Trespauze Manor - Loss Mine Entrance

"Loss Mine" is yet another fascinating location at Trespauze Manor.  Within this haunt, visitors brave enough can explore the forsaken mine and behold the many horrifying things that linger within the subterranean shadows.

Trespauze Manor - Loss Mine (Inside The Mine)

Similar to Virginia Varela's Interactive Haunted House, only the light of a flashlight can help the viewer see where he or she is going.  Sometimes, however, the flashlight will reveal disturbing things that one may wish to forget seeing altogether.

Trespauze Manor - Treasure of the Crimson Dread Entrance

"Treasure Of The Crimson Dread" is an interactive game on Trespauze Manor.  It is quite reminiscent of the early "hidden object" games.

Trespauze Manor - Trespauze Manor - Treasure of the Crimson Dread (Inside The Ship's Cabin)

Other pages on Trespauze Manor include "Twisted Tombstone (horror stories), Witch's Kitchen (hidden object game), and several other virtual attractions.

Last Rites

Although most virtual haunts have died entirely, there are still a few that live on.  The remnants of ones that may not exist within the next few years can also be accessed by those curious enough.  Fortunately, some immortal "ghosts" of the deceased virtual haunts can also be viewed on websites such as's Wayback Machine.  

Regrettably, the virtual haunted house is a form of online entertainment that has been mostly forgotten.  Perhaps children who are now adults may fondly recall the times they spent with their parents or by themselves visiting these places.  Yet these sites do not have to remain old memories from times long past; new memories can be created if the word is spread about the websites that remain on the internet.

Perhaps the stories of these haunts were not always the most original, and some content is undeniably cheesy.  But these qualities are what added to the charm.  Now, in the year 2020, personal websites have been replaced by atomized social media platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and other sites.  While people may have their pages or profiles, the magic of personal websites and specifically virtual haunted houses is a dying art form.

Now, to those of you who are interested in exploring these places at your own risk, I will provide some links down below:

Sue's Haunted Mansion

Trespauze Manor

Caverns of Blood

The Chancery House


In addition, I do have a copy of the original SWF (the Adobe Flash file) of the "Virginia Varela Interactive Haunted House".  If anyone is interested in viewing this haunt, I can send you it through email; just contact me using this address: spookinitevalley(at)gmail(dot)com.

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