This Halloween’s Scariest Horror Movie Is ‘The Mandela Catalogue’ YouTube Series, By a Wisconsin 18 Year-Old

Songbird, the Michael Bay-produced dud that imagined a future Los Angeles overrun by COVID mutations, was a compelling example of how not to handle the pandemic on screen. How do you do it right?

Alex Kister, an 18 year-old student from Hubertus, Wisconsin (45 minutes outside Milwaukee), might have the answer with The Mandela Catalogue, a series of short videos he began creating during summer college. They’ve since exploded in popularity — his channel is approaching 3 million views. A few million more have encountered him through the extremely-spooked reaction videos his series spawned, or via critical analysis essays from his new fans.

The Mandela Catalogue doesn’t use the word “pandemic,” “COVID-19,” or “virus.” In fact, it’s set nearly two decades pre-Corona. But Kister is clear that his project is both inspired by, and a result of, the pandemic.

“Quarantine and isolation affected me a ton,” he said, speaking from his bedroom on Zoom. Cooped up in the house where he grew up, “I wanted to focus on losing that sense of security.”

Each Mandela installment is presented as an instructional video for the citizens of the namesake Mandela County, who are being menaced by a supernatural threat. Viewers gradually piece together the plot for themselves. Details start to add up: children are disappearing, the cause seems to be “alternates” or “doppelgangers.” These creatures look just like you, or a loved one. They can’t hurt you directly. But they know exactly what to say to get you to hurt yourself. Oh, and they can manipulate TV and radio — so how do you know this video isn’t one trying to talk to you?

Kister discussed these themes — fear of an intruder, fear of the dark, fear of yourself — as universal childhood phobias resurfaced by the pandemic. “When I was young, I felt like the thing that would scare me the most was not a typical, bogeyman-style monster,” he said. “But just coming home, coming to your room, and seeing yourself there instead.”

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