Children of Nightmare

Children of Nightmare is a complex project, part novel part social experiment. Inspired by works such as Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves, and cinematic critique.

The book was inspired by my experiences as a case-worker for troubled youths.

The project makes numerous references to fictitious as well as real-world media and academic works creating a satirical and hypertextual narrative.

The story is told through extracts of pseudo-medical papers, police reports, journalist interviews, and all-out creepiness.

The plot focuses on the deaths surrounding the development of an aborted Polish tv-series, bringing to life monstrous archetypes in the depths of the human psyche. Meet the burning woman holding a giant moth, and the man made of maggots.

Children of Nightmare: a case study in the contemporary parapyscho-political turn in post-modern hybrid media.

By ROSS DOWNING & {redacted} (forthcoming publication through University of Angria Press).

Extract 1

The relationship between mental illness and horror narratives is not only a staple in contemporary media, it is a basic human fundamental.

This article uses the case study of the unreleased Polish TV production Dzieci Koszmarów to illustrate the current complexities in the hybridity of mental illness and media. Our hope is that this paper will be of use both to the field of media studies and the increasing role of socio-cultural effects in psychiatry.

Given the circumstances of the events and the considerable media hysteria and internet craze regarding the abortion of the production of Dzieci Koszmarów we were forced to carry out our own primary research rather than rely on the press releases and police reports which have been the source of much of the misinformation and subsequent mythology surrounding the series of deaths and disappearances in conjunction with the unreleased production.

We conducted our own extensive interviews with the surviving crew and cast members of the Dzieci Koszmarów production, and related media network partners, the families of the cast and crew and effected parties (in lieu of the as yet unproven claimed “victims”), as well as investigators in the case who were given authorization by the Polish and Swedish legal authorities Policja Śledcza, Central Technical Authority KSI, Generalny Inspektor Ochrony Danych Osobowych, Polismyndigheten, and Datainspektionen in conjunction with the EU’s Article 29 Working Party. In cooperation with the authorities and in the interests of privacy concerning the crew, cast, and families thereof who are already under extensive public scrutiny: identities are protected where relevant.

Theory & research context:
With the proliferation of contemporary media and technology, mental illness can also be harnessed, expressed, amplified, or even instigated through the medium of horror narratives. The experience of the supernatural or depiction of the undoing of the order of reality is horrific to the human mind. For this reason many religions relate portrayals of even benign forces such as angels with terrifying apparitions, for example the Irish saint Scoithniamh who appears as a burning woman holding a death’s-head hawk-moth (

The evolution of media, horror genre and mental illness is a brave new -if foreboding- horizon and one in which postmodernity has surprisingly yet to coin a term or turn of phrase. Examples of the phenomenon combine elements of cult, hoax, urban myth, superstition, and sensationalism with other hard to define elements which are perhaps extensions of the psychosis and subtle complexities of various disturbances of perceived reality, social disorder and deviant behaviour. Examples include the cursed “wpkepkw”, “nana825763”, the alleged message in a bottle from a post apocalyptic future “Agamemnon Counterpart”, and the “Poradnik Uśmiechu” series. Mental illness and crime entwined with horror of arguable performance or entertainment character can be seen in the disturbing videos of sex offender Edward Muscare singing songs such as Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman”, the anonymous bloody “Girl goes psycho during make-up tutorial”, and various bizarre public meltdowns during news channel coverage in “Mk Ultra glitches and strange behavior” which although fraught with sensationalism and performance art (see Lady Gaga) probably represent actual epileptic episodes, or bipolar episodes, in several cases.

Most notably in the case of dzieci koszmarów is its prelude in the Swedish-Polish connection of the so-called aetbx puzzles, beginning with 11B-X-1371 filmed in former Zofiówka Sanatorium outside Otwock, Poland and specifically its links with the Pre- and Post-Apocalyptic TV show 12 Monkeys. The aetbx footage has undergone extensive forensic testing which led to investigations of terrorist threats by US, Swedish and Polish authorities. Another interesting and relevant case are the reality games of Cicada 3301, in particular is its adoption by the US Navy’s intelligence service recruitment office as Project Architeuthis. The act of which has spawned conspiracy theories and more serious political speculation that the Cicada 3301 channel was actually linked to the US intelligence services, this has in turn led to concern regarding the possibilities of deeper cyberwarfare or rather cyber-psych ops in the unresolved (and arguably unresolvable) case of aetbx. These particular cases have not been gathered into a single academic overview, and as such is too large to consider here, however we have resolved to place these new phenomenon within the theoretical framework of the Heylighen Cybernetica Superorganism (henceforth: HCS). Heylighen’s functional structure is applicable in all these cases regardless of the true nature, origin or aim of the videos themselves or the real or imagined circumstances surrounding them. The phenomenological categorization of these new emerging social forces will henceforth by referred to as HCS instances, or simply “superorganism”.

The character of these online horror narratives on which this study is based have not yet been categorized. However, media studies have dealt with psychological experiences in the past and although no serious mental health repercussions were cited in those studies; research has led to certain theoretical proposals as to the nature of these experiences. In the work of Hardcastle (2009) and Hardcastle & Proyn (2013, 2015) the experience of horror through visual media has identified the subject of the distortion of order, and fundamental assumptions about reality. These feelings or sensations of horror are therefore responses to “dark unreality”. Hardcastle (2011) proposed that this experience had widespread effect which testing (2009) replicated in (2013, 2015) as well as Chang, Itumuto & Cash (2014) and Wilson & Wilson (2017) has shown to not be dependent on
cultural factors but more likely underlying hardwired human psychology. Hardcastle coined the term Underverse, or Underversal for “dark unreality”, which he argued was the “horrific realisation (or induced sensation) that the audio-visual stimuli represents the Underversal Truth.” (Hardcastle 2009, 54)

Just as a single suicide can trigger micro-culture epidemic of identities, suicidal and self-harming behaviors, horror depictions of mental illness, and/or unreality can have real life broadcast effects. Media such as books, film, and specifically TV (
have long been used as tool of propaganda or cultural influence. In today’s age of ease of access to broadcasting technology and platforms such as social media, Instagram and YouTube- rogue agents with destructive intentions have free rein to implement “art” that can trigger real world psychotic or unhealthy behaviors. The Koestler Parapsychology Unit at the University of Edinburgh, the Division of Perceptual Studies (DOPS) in the Department of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences at the University of Virginia School of Medicine, and the Harvard University School of Meta-Social Psychology research projects have consistently shown ways in which Underversal depictions can trigger human actions on the basis of negative emotional experiences stimulated by horror narratives. Not only that, but these trigger response mechanics have also been shown to directly correspond to the way in which specific ‘video’ (used here to mean predominantly visually deployed media) has purposefully inspired terrorist, religious and political fundamentalist, cultist, and criminal acts. The experience of art or entertainment is basically a reception of inspiration, therefore the horror narrative of mental illness, depiction of- or simulation of- Underversal Truth can be reasonably expected to reproduce similar psycho-social and socio-cultural responses at least on the micro and subcultural level. (See movie Into the Mouth of Madness, and Event Horizon) Our conclusion is that this dangerous aspect within the viral agency of HCS must be contained and policed by international health laws (WHO) in the same way as the sale of proscribed substances, child pornography, or instruction on weapon construction such as IEDs. However, we must take into account that there currently exists no national or universal legislature on cyberwarfare, and whilst the aspect of the HCS as seen in the Dzieci Koszmarów case is clearly not an act of warfare or terrorism, we should perhaps consider it a potential horizon of national security in regard to preventing serious harm to psychological health on the meta-social level (

The incidents surrounding the Dzieci Koszmarów case were naturally unprecedented in European television history, and the ensuing legal ramifications are still being dealt with on both the national and EU levels. Although such a case has not yet occurred in US broadcasting, it is inherent to the nature of social media, technology and the difficulties involved in diagnosing and treating mental illness that it is arguably a matter of time before similar challenges emerge in US legislature. It is the hope of the authors that this article highlights the need for extensive reviews of said legislature and encourages bilateral agreements which streamline future investigations and media transparency to avoid the exact hysterical and copycat social behaviors that have developed as a result of the HCS instances.

Dzieci Koszmarów was a proposed TV production created by the controversial Polish director known as “SS” (Seweryn Szczebrzeszyn). Having grown up in Sweden, his career was mainly centered around music videos for breakthrough Nordic artists such as iamamiwhoami, Karin Dreijer, The Fjords and Sólstafir.

In an interview at the 2016 Saturn Awards Gala he expressed an interest in developing an ambitious production in his homeland of Poland, featuring some of the long time artists and crew members he was known for working with. The idea of seeing singer Karin Dreijer and potential cameo appearances of Lady Gaga (who has previously starred in American Horror Story to wide acclaim) in a fantasy thriller series gained significant media attention even in the US, to the point at which even the announcement provoked four separate protests by religious groups leading to the Florida Student and School Personnel Religious Liberties Act ( The surprising weight of US reactions to a potential tv/net-based series points to the sensational reputation of SS within the rising commercial powerhouse of Polish productions (

The series project was to be a joint funding by SS’s own production company Holofractal, and a sizeable grant from the Centre for the Prevention of Psycho-manipulation, Lublin and the European Radicalisation Awareness Network. It was clear this was going to be a project with profound political and cultural content, which enhanced the seriousness of media attention and the parallel outspoken concerns of religious groups.

The planned series (also referred to herein as ‘footage’; although defining the extant video material as such is problematic) revolves around the goddess known as the Red Queen (Czerwona Królowa), who acts as a symbol for Darwinist theory of the coevolution of species.

Alternate reality games, immersive escapist media and mental illness are all aspects of the same cube: the unreality matrix. These unreality disturbances (horror depictions or narratives) typically revolve around a single specter who usually acts as messenger or has a particular mission or aim. The spectral agent or wraith (harbinger) is often the central protagonist and like a black mercury acts as psychopomp for an individual hero to undergo a shamanic journey through madness or a living underworld alternate parallel or mutated from this reality.
For example the film series Insidious  (2010) is based around a demonic nun with whom the original protagonist (Patrick Wilson as Josh Lambert) must be regressed to confront and save his son from a similar inherited psychological threat. The therapy-like regression or hypnosis is also relevant to “insidious” in schizophrenia studies as the “insidious onset” ( The films depict this unreality of horrific parapsychology as “the Further” (not unlike Hardcastle’s Underverse). Here horror is possible as the laws of reality can be subsumed which creates a fear of the unnatural, or rather a fear of insanity. Many figures in horror films that are veterans of the supernatural appear as asylum patients: The Ring, Nightmare on Elm Street, Woman in White etc.

Additionally, these reality and order challenging horrors are not limited to a ghost as such or even a demon, but rather a semantic shock of religious proportions, as can be seen in Patrick Wilson as Ed Warren in The Conjuring (2013-) series and the dark nun or “Valak”. Warren, and moreover his wife, have similar abilities as the heroes in Insidious in that we see an ability to talk with spirits or the other world. (It is noteworthy that all four major figures in both movie series are female; a gifted human woman battling an otherworldly matriarch with inter dimensional ambitions). The haunted house of The Conjuring was originally lived in by the witch Bathsheba who committed suicide and inspires numerous suicides over the ensuing years, again echoing inherited mental illness and suicide as virus (

Other symbolic aspects of mental health can be seen in the haunted house motif as representative of the psyche where the attic or cellar are the domains of evil ghosts and ghosts of past generations, inherited psychological disorders can be seen as peripheral to the ego either lying beneath the surface or in the very top of the higher self. For example, Insidious’ Dalton (Ty Simpkins) first meets the wraith of the Lipstick Face Demon in the attic. Black Mercury objects or keys that unlock the madness of the psyche and release disorder can be seen in haunted mirrors, Ouija board, a puzzle box etc typically found in an attic, never in a garage, cupboard or under the bed.

In Poltergeist (1982) through which a child develops schizophrenic symptoms of hearing voices through the tv, also a motif seen in the first series of Channel Zero (2016-) where an adult is trying to cope with a disturbance in childhood and a recent mental breakdown. The tv series Outcast (2016-) deals with a mother’s mental illness “possession” and its potential inheritance in her son who then confronts and exposes a shadow world of demonic parasites. This revelation that the insane impossible world of the horrific supernatural is the true world is typical for narratives about what mental illness psychoses are like. Medical cases of paranoia, hallucinations and delusions are not usually so entertaining or conducive to the horror genre, however fascinating they may appear for the healthy observer.

The social element in mental health is a documented factor, suicide spreads for example, depression in the workplace is infectious, epidemic proportions of self-diagnosed bipolar disorder occurs in the wake of fashionable films that glorify tortured artists in similar ways to copycat murders, serial killers, or mass shootings seem to follow certain patterns based on the details shared in mass media.

In the horror genre there is a subtext of group hysteria and hallucinations, disbelief and lack of empathy from health workers and law enforcement.

SS seemed to be thoroughly aware of these interrelated patterns and themes in his burgeoning work. Conscious events of engendering mass experience CSN* be seen progressively in some of his more prominent and other more experimental music videos. The culmination therefore we must assume was the Dzieci Koszmarów series project.

Model of the internet as Heylighen Cybernetica Superorganism
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