's 2019 Horror Write-off:


Submitted by Hisham Hasan

The Axolotl Videos are an unusual series of clips that were uploaded to YouTube, then deleted shortly afterwards.

The videos are not widely known; their presence online was so brief that few have watched them, let alone downloaded or saved them in any way. No other copies were ever uploaded elsewhere.

The videos were notable for their somewhat disturbing content and heavily degraded, utterly unintelligible (or even completely absent) audio, which only added to the ambiguity.

The exact nature of the clips is unknown. They are most commonly believed to a failed attempt at either a viral marketing campaign for an unknown piece of media, or an experimental webseries.

In any any case, interest in the unusual videos was brief and limited, and they soon faded from the Internet's collective memory.

This essay attempts to chronicle and reconstruct the actual content based on the recollections of the few people who have actually seen the videos.

Of course, I make no claim that this is the definitive synopsis of the Axolotl Videos, for I have not seen the clips myself.

Rather, this is an attempt at presenting a reasonably accurate account, from the somewhat patchy and often conflicting testimony of firsthand viewers, which I have attempted to reconcile to the best of my ability. What confounded the issue further is the lack of any dates, or usable audio accompanying the videos.

The videos were uploaded over a span of three days to Youtube by a user named MetamorphYusion, from Tuesday, November 19th 2019, to Thursday, November 2019. On Friday, the entire account was deleted, and the videos were never reuploaded.

The total number of videos is unknown, with counts varying from 15 to even 30. Each video was 25-30 minutes long and composed of multiple clips and segments, with the exception of three videos: the first, the last, and the second-to-last, all of which were considerably shorter.

The first video was also the shortest, being only a few minutes long, in which a young man in his late teens/early twenties addresses the audience. He seems slightly excited but attempts to maintain an air of cool professionalism, and presumably introduces himself and the series. What language he speaks is unknown, although one viewer believes he speaks English, inferred via lip-reading. His surroundings appear to be a regular bedroom.

The second video is more interesting. It starts with the young man filming himself and greeting us before switching to a first-person view. Due to the fact both his hands are visible, and the way the camera bobs and weaves jerkily, it can be inferred he now has the camera (something like a Go-Pro) strapped to his head. Most of the following videos are presumably shot with this setup.

The video cuts to him sitting down at a table, holding an unusual statue or figure.

The statue seems idol-like, and carved out of grey-brown stone, with a glossy, polished surface. It appears to be around a foot or so in height (based on the man's handspan).

The idol seems to be a stocky, compact, flabby, lizard-like figure, but curled up in a fetal position. The whole statue give off the impression of a fetus, with an overlarge head, stubby limbs and overall compact figure. However, the head is reminiscent of a frog, with large, bulging eyes, almost sphere-like. A pair of curled horns or pointed ears arise from the head; these may be depictions of external gills.

Our host gestures at the statue for about 10 minutes, presumably talking about it. He then shines a flashlight at it, and points at the eyes. The idol's two eyes are highly polished, and show a reflective property; when a light is shined on them, they exhibit a gleam or luster that resembles pupils, which shifts as the light source moves, giving the impression of the idol looking around.

The man demonstrates this optical illusion a few times in a comical manner, making the idol seem to roll its eyes. He speaks for a few more minutes, then ends the clip.

Now here is where the narrative gets muddled. Most viewers lost interest and stopped watching, or simply started clicking on videos at random. Few viewers watched the clips in the entirety, so the exact order of the following events is unclear, as is their number. The exact timeline can only be approximated.

At any rate, in the following days or weeks our host then acquired a number of axolotls. Most were leucistic, some golden-albino, some wild-type, a few were melanistic. He housed them in both glass tanks and plastic tubs, and overcrowded them badly.

A number of videos are dedicated to the care and upkeep of axolotls, with close-ups of them swimming or fighting in their enclosures. He also sometimes lifts them out of the water to weigh and measure them, and examine them more closely.

There are also several scenes of his basement undergoing renovations, showing a large indoor pool being installed, plus shelves full of of even more tanks and tubs, presumably to house ever growing numbers of axolotls.

There are several disturbing scenes of axolotls cannibalizing one another and ripping each other apart. He makes no attempt to dissuade this behavior, and in fact seems to be actively encouraging it.

Some scenes are of axolotls laying eggs, and of larvae being raised in tubs.

There are scenes were the stone idol in placed on a concrete floor (assumed to be the basement) and surrounded by tubs full of axolotls. In one scene he walks slowly in a wide circle around the figurine.

He continues to add more axolotls to his collection, feeding the smaller ones to the others. Many individuals are now of an exceptional and truly unusual size; some appear to be at least two feet long.

There is a graphic scene where he dissects a huge, gold-colored axolotl. Using a tape measure he reveals that specimen is over 25 inches long, an impossible length for an axolotl. He conducts the necropsy clumsily, and pulls out several organs that appear to of interest to him.

Proceedings are interrupted when the specimen seemingly springs to life and lunges at him. He leaps backwards. The camera is shaking visibly as he stares at the dissected axolotl, which continues to gape at him for a few seconds before slumping and lying inert once more.

One clip shows multiple axolotls out of water, wriggling sluggishly on wet concrete. The camera pans over multiple individuals before settling on the stone idol, which lies in a puddle of water.

Another scene is at night, from his bedroom window. We see for the first time that house is located in the countryside, and the treeline is about a hundred feet away. He scans the treeline with a powerful light. He pans back and forth a few times, then gets up and turns off his bedroom lights. He then sits in the dark, and after a few minutes two glowing orbs become visible beyond the treeline.

He stays still in the dark, while the two points of light remain stationary. He suddenly shines a flashlight at the two orbs, but they disappear as soon as the light is switched on. The source of the two glowing orbs is unknown. He scans the treeline once more with the flashlight, revealing nothing out of the ordinary. He lingers over the previous location of the two glowing orbs, then turns off the light. The orbs reappear, but in a different location, which seems to disturb him greatly, as he recoils from the window, then draw the curtains.

There is at least one whole video solely dedicated to filming the completed basement pool, full of abnormally large axolotls, with the idol elevated clear of the water on a central pedestal. He circles slowly around the idol. This scene is completely without audio, so it is unclear whether he is speaking, or completely silent.

Another graphic clip shows him dissecting a completely black axolotl. He amputates the limbs and drops them into a container of water. He draws attention to the fact that limbs still move. Indeed, the limbs do not appear to display simple reflexes, but appear to be actively trying to propel themselves.

One segment seems to have been shot on a phone camera, as the quality is noticeably different. He appears to be highly agitated. The scene is a carpeted hallway, evidently in his house. Down the entire length of the hallway is a damp trail. He follows the sodden trail to a set of stairs that leads downwards to a door (presumably the basement shown previously). He reach towards the door, but stops short of opening it.

The next segment shows him speaking to the camera, visibly shaken. He talks for a few minutes, then cuts to the idol on its pedestal. The scene then changes to the idol sitting on his desk. He appears to be talking about or perhaps examining it, then the clip ends.

Another clip has him in his basement, panning over his tanks of axolotls, all of which are aligned together in same the same direction and pointing towards the front of the tank or tub. When he reaches the pool with the idol, the axolotls are all gathered at the outer margin of the pool, pointing their snouts outwards.

There is a 10-minute uninterrupted shot of the idol on a wooden table under dim illumination. Based on the movement of shadows, it appears that one or more individuals are moving around in the room, but they never move into view.

One disturbing segment is again located in the bedroom and shot on a phone camera. He appears to have barricaded his door with a plastic tub full of axolotls. He seems to to be agitated, as the view constantly switches from the door to the window (which shows that it is night). Under the window is a glass tank with four axolotls, positioned on a desk.

He approaches the door several times only to back off repeatedly. Eventually he gets close enough to pull the tub away to reveal dampness seeping from beneath the door. He quickly pushes the tub back and retreats.

Another segment is possibly related to the previous clip (although it is unclear whether it comes before or after it, chronologically speaking). It is once again situated in bedroom, but during the day. The man appears highly agitated and constantly gestures at his messy, unmade bed.

He gives us a closer look,revealing that the bed and pillow are damp, with a moist, glistening sheen. He then looks at the window, then at the door, with the tub of axolotls still pressed against it.

Several clips are of various axolotls performing bizarre behaviors. One large leucistic individual constantly spins in circles, snapping at its own tail. A gold-albino appears to chew off its own forelimbs. Another leucistic axolotl constantly walks backwards, seemingly backing away from some unseen threat. A wild-type individual constantly swims at the surface upside-down.

One segment again depicts the interior of the house. We see that the bedroom is connected to the carpeted hallway seen earlier. Once again, a wet trail spans the entire length of the hallway, but this time, several axolotls lie scattered as well. All seem to be alive and wriggling. He walks slowly down the hallway, following the damp trail, as it leads once again to the stairs.

Another clip is the only one taken outdoors. It shows the exterior of a house. He approaches a damp patch of grass below one of the windows, and examines it more closely. The patch of grass seems to covered in a glistening, jelly-like substance, and there appear to to tiny pale orbs interspersed throughout.

The penultimate video is also the most enigmatic. It opens on a scene of chaos, with the young man sloshing through his flooded basement, the water up to his knees. He makes his way towards shelves and hastily empties the tanks and tubs into the water, dumping out all the axolotls within.

He does this several times, and eventually loses his patience and knocks the rest of the shelves over, releasing all the axolotls into the flooded basement.

The lights flicker. Water streams down from the ceiling and spurts from the pipes all around. He makes his way towards the indoor pool, the central pedestal now underwater.

The idol is missing.

Something catches his attention and he jerks to his left. The lights at the end of basement fail, and he stares into the darkness.

He whirls around, and something huge and dark surges through the water, exploding through the surface. He is knocked down into the water.

The camera spins wildly, showing only bubbles.

The a flash of two glowing orbs pass by, very close.

The video then ends.

The very last video features a different young man, heavily freckled and wearing thick glasses. It appears that he is recording on his webcam, in a new, different location. He speaks slowly and composedly, but there is an overall air of sorrow or remorse. He speaks for nearly 5 minutes, his monologue interspersed with pictures of the first young man, the original video-taker. A picture of the idol is also shown, on a table surrounded by open books and various clutter.

A house in the countryside is shown briefly, possibly the location of all the previous videos.

Near the video's end, the bespectacled man seems to be reading from a book. Several images of axolotls appear, then a highlighted passage from the book is shown on the screen. It reads:

"Years of captive breeding means the genome of captive axolotls may now differ greatly from that of the original wild-type; in essence, they are now a domesticated species. In addition, early on many axolotls were crossed with the tiger salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum), diluting the genetic stock. It's possible that many lineages of captive axolotls still carry the genes from those hybridizations, and are thus genetically 'impure', and unsuitable for the preservation or supplementation of wild populations."