I’ll warn you in advance, this one’s a doozy.
Seriously, if you’re sensitive to graphic content, as abstract as it may be, I’d suggest skipping this week’s subject and sticking to something more pleasant. There’s got to be some videos out there of unlikely animal friendships, perhaps a three-legged dog making friends with a blind gerbil. Something soothing to the senses and tugging at the pathos. I almost avoided writing about this at all, but if we’re talking about internet oddities it’d be a crime not to mention a certain series that has haunted the web since 2005.
So, friends, let me introduce you to Salad Fingers.
Salad Fingers is a work of flash animation by British animator David Firth. It started on Newgrounds, a website dedicated to animated shorts and games, but as time went on it eventually made its way onto Youtube. As I write this, there are eleven episodes spanning fifteen years, with years between the later episodes. It’s surreal to observe the work as a whole. I grew up watching Salad Fingers, and I know for a fact that I have fragmented sense memories of Firth’s work buried deep in my subconscious. But it had been a while since I really took a deep dive into the series, so with little else to do in quarantine I did what made the most sense to me – …and binged every episode. And boy howdy do I regret it.
But what is Salad Fingers about, you ask? That’s a tricky question. The first episode, a two-minute sort of pilot, introduces us to the titular character. He’s a man with inhumanly long fingers living in an unnamed desolate wasteland, and he likes to use his spidery appendages to touch anything sharp or rusty – especially rusty spoons. That’s as much as we’re given, and the other ten episodes are dedicated to exploring the world around him, but even more so exploring the world inside his head.
Firth has a knack of implementing just enough detail as to create a mood, and he’s chosen to use that skill to create a truly disturbing atmosphere. Even given the limitations of Flash in 2005, when Salad Fingers pierces his finger on an exposed nail, it doesn’t matter that it looks like the drawing of some demented child. I cringed then and I cringe now.
That same episode – Episode 2, called “Friends” – has an ending that has stuck with me for fourteen years. I must’ve been ten at the most when I first saw it, and every so often I’ll suddenly remember that final shot and I’ll feel my stomach drop as if I’m a child again, frightened without being able to explain why. Watching it again over a decade later I found it just as simple and shocking. Because David Firth makes a practice in ending Salad Fingers without an ending. Things just stop without any real thematic closure. We’re given a brief peek into the life of Mr. Fingers, and however long or short it may be, it never ends well.
The most fascinating part of Salad Fingers for me is how it serves as a model for the growth of Firth, both in his storytelling and animation quality. Compare the plot of the first episode to the eleventh. In “Spoons”, the first episode, Salad Fingers looks for a rusty spoon and doesn’t find one. That’s it. Then in the latest episode 11, “Glass Brother”, Salad Fingers covers his finger puppet in flesh to turn him into a “real boy”, and then has to rescue him from the mirror world after he gets taken by his reflection. There’s a definite refinement in plot structure, and with it a huge leap in visual quality. You see it from Episode 8 on, when the flat colors and simple animation suddenly turn much more dynamic, more detailed, with even simple touches like the movement of the pupils adding so much to an already-uneasy mood.
But it’s gross. Salad Fingers is gross and dark, and I’ve definitely let out a mild but sustained scream while watching some of the later episodes, when things turn from short fever dreams to a seemingly endless nightmare. But should you watch it? I wish I could meet myself at age ten and ask that question – should you be watching this?
The answer, at least I’d like to think so, is yes. As terrified as Salad Fingers made me, it presented a sort of imagination that to this day is incomparable to anything I’ve seen. And something shocking strengthens your creative immune system in a way. Without Firth’s work I’m not saying that I’d be completely bereft of artistic merit, but he definitely gave me a few tricks up my sleeve for my own practice. Not to mention, the classic reactions of the friends that I’ve made watch his stuff.
So, if you like horror, watch Salad Fingers. Watch it if you tend towards the dark, or if you like feeling uncomfortable as hard and strange as it may be. If none of that is for you, look up a video by The Dodo on Youtube called “This Pittie Loves Bringing His Stuffed Animals to His Parents”. You can thank me later.
But send this to your horror buff friend. Give ‘em something fun to distract them.