We’ve all heard folklore and urban legends meant to shake us to the very bone. We’ve heard them as children, around a campfire or by an older sibling taunting us. But even if we’ve never been camping, or have no older siblings – we still somehow manage to get these terrifying stories drilled into our consciousness. They become like common knowledge, and then the media gets a hold of them. The horror genre has long thrived off of these stories which are so well-known that they often get categorized as true (“it happened to a friend of a friend of mine” the saying goes). Often we don’t know where they come from, but we know where they end up: the BIG screen. Here are ten well-known urban legends we fear, that the film industry has turned into the premises of some of their most popular work.
10. The Boogeyman
Dating as far back as the 16th century, the Boogeyman has long existed as a source of fear for children. Legends of the boogeyman exist all around the world but typically, it is described as a ghost-like monster that hides in a child’s room, waiting to strike. It has been figured in many horror films, the most obvious of which is the 2005 movie titled Boogeyman. Building off of the idea that the Boogeyman is an irrational fear only acceptable in children, the film follows Barry, who reluctantly returns to his childhood home where he is haunted by gruesome memories of nightmarish attacks in his own room. Finally, he must face his fears and learn the truth about the Boogeyman.
Almost three decades earlier, John Carpenter’s film, Halloween largely borrowed from the Boogeyman urban legend by figuring Michael Meyers as a faceless ghost-like monster, attacking teens in a quiet neighborhood. Famously, Laurie Strode’s final words were, “That was the boogeyman, wasn’t it?” To which her hero Dr. Sam Loomis replies, “Yes. I believe it was.”
9. Bloody Mary
This legend has its roots in folklore. The legend claimed to young girls that the calling out of Bloody Mary in the mirror three times, would bring to you the face of your future husband. The horror element was in the chance that rather than a handsome face, you would see a Grimm Reaper, predicting a fate of death rather than marriage. Mary was a ghost or spirit of the future and in popular culture, she has been figured as far more dangerous, however. When the director of Pet Semetary, Mary Lambert got a hold of the story in 2005, she created a very creepy straight-to-video/DVD horror film aptly titled, Urban Legends: Bloody Mary. When a discussion of urban legends at a slumber party leads three teen girls to chant Bloody Mary in their mirror, they get more than they bargained for. When a string of freak-accidents leaves dead bodies around every corner, they can’t help but wonder if Bloody Mary is responsible.
More recently, the legend has been featured in the third installment of Paranormal Activity, when the young girls dare each other to chant it in the mirror – only to find they really are being haunted.
8. The Kidney Heist
Legend has it, if you find yourself alone with a stranger and drugged, there is a good chance you will wake up in a tub of ice. Oh, and your kidney will be gone. It all started in the 1990s. While New Orleans was in preparation for Mardis Gras a rumor began to circulate, geared towards tourists and other travelers. They were warned that New Orleans was the site of a crime ring that involved the stealing of organs to be sold on the black market. Police, however, found no substantial evidence that this was anything other than a sick prank and yet, the fears were not assuaged. In the 2006 sequel to Bloody Mary, Urban Legends: Final Cut was released. This time, the legends were even more plentiful. At one point, poor Lisa is drugged at a bar and eventually awakes in a tub to find her kidney has been swiped.
The lore also figures prominently in the 2002 drama directed by Stephen Frears. In it, two migrant workers team up to take down a crime organization when they learn their Hotel owner is using a room for black-market organ harvests.
7. The Caller is in the House
This legend emerged in the 1960s and features a teenage girl who, while babysitting late at night, begins to be taunted by a mysterious caller. Eventually she learns the call is coming from inside the house. The tale has been used in a number of horror films. In the 1974 Canadian slasher, Black Christmas, there is no babysitter per se, but the film is still clearly founded on the tale. When a sorority house begins receiving perverted calls during the Christmas holidays, they try not to let it get to them. But once the murders begin, it becomes difficult to ignore. By the end, a police phone tap finally reveals the caller to be inside the house and although Jess was told to leave the house immediately, she can’t help but go upstairs to check on her sleeping sorority sisters. Not surprisingly, she soon finds herself trapped in the house, being hunted by the madman.
Other horror films featuring babysitters in peril and callers in the house include, When a Stranger Calls (1979) and its 2006 remake by the same name.
Bloody Mary is not the only ghost that is haunting you mirrors. Candyman is another legend in which, should you say his name in the mirror five times, you’re asking for trouble. The tale holds that Candyman is the ghost of a slave who can be released this way to seek his revenge. It is centered around fears about race, racism, retribution and voodoo. When Daniel Robitaille was tortured and killed for his romance with the white daughter of his owner, he made a point to curse his murderers and vow his revenge. The legend of the man with a hook for a hand, also factors in as it is said to have been Daniel as well. In 1992, a horror film was made by the very title, Candyman which tells this very story. It is highly regarded as one of the scariest movies of all time.
5. The Vanishing Hitchhiker
In this urban legend, a driver will see or pick up a hitchhiker only to discover he or she is a ghost. There are many variations, but the most common are either seeing a man on the side of the road who suddenly vanishes, or picking up the man (or girl) who gives the driver an address. Upon arriving, the driver will somehow learn the hitchhiker has been dead for some time and he will be no where in sight. The legend is obviously rooted in fears that came with the modern invention of the car, but it has found its way into much of pop culture. It has been featured in a number of supernatural-themed T.V. shows like, Twilight Zone and Supernatural.
More dangerous fears about hitchhikers have had major success on the big screen. In 1986 the film, The Hitcher followed a man who made the mistake of picking up a hitchhiker who subsequently stalks him and has the innocent man framed for his own murderous crimes. A 2007 remake took a slightly different approach, having the hitcher hunt the main characters. In Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), a group of teens pick up a young woman who looks in need of serious medical attention but things take a turn for the worse when she commits suicide in their car.
4. The Hook
The most common version of this story has it that a young couple, while getting cozy at Lover’s Lane, overhear a radio report of a psycho-killer escaping a nearby mental facility. The description will mention that he has a hook for a hand. For different reasons, the kids will leave the car in a hurry but when they return, they see a hook hanging from the handle. Knowing they are in danger, they will try to escape but a series of unfortunate events will lead to their demises. The legend is featured in the 1998 slasher, Urban Legend in a scenario very similar to this one. When a couple has an argument, the girl is left alone in the car but she becomes panicked by scratching noises on the roof. When she finally exists the car, she finds her friend has been hung above her.
The story is also told by characters in, I Know What You Did Last Summer and the 1979 comedy, Meatballs.
3. Spider Eggs
The legend that a spider can crawl under your skin, lay eggs and leave you bursting (literally) with spiders has been around since the 1970s. It plays on the common fear of spiders, as do many films. Notably, the scene of one film in particular plays the legend out exactly. In Urban Legends: Bloody Mary, a young girl awakes one morning to find she has a large blemish on her cheek. In the mirror, she attempts to pop it but is shocked when a spider crawls out. What’s worse, the spiders just keep coming out until she is covered in them. Arachnophobia (1990) also plays on the fears that underline this creepy legend.
2. Killer in the Backseat
The story often goes, that a woman is driving home late at night and stops at a gas station, where the attendant forces her inside and tells her he sees a man with a meat cleaver (or other weapon) in her backseat. In many of the variations, the woman is saved by a by-standing man but it doesn’t make it any less scary. Although the story has been featured in episodes of The Simpsons and Millenium, in the movies, more often the driver will catch a glimpse of the killer in their rear-view mirror, rather than having someone else see him.
The scenario can be seen in 2006’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning and in the 1998 film, Urban Legends. Also, in the film, Let Me In, a killer has this go terribly wrong for him when his idea of hiding in a backseat backfires when a passenger makes for twice the work.
1. Buried Alive
What makes this legend particularly scary? That it has been documented to have happened. The story goes that after the burial of a loved one, scratches are one day found on the inside of the coffin. Unfortunately, medical science is an ongoing process but this means at one point it wasn’t very good. In fact, there was a time when declaring someone dead was not so easy, especially since loss of consciousness and shallow breathing can be caused by many ailments. About 150 cases of people being buried alive have been documented. In the movies, this legend manifests itself many ways. There are psychotic murderers who bury people alive for sport or vengeance and there is the rise of the living dead – zombies. Being buried alive by the fact that they were dead and buried, only to return. Some films featuring the always-terrifying buried alive scenario include, Kill Bill Vol. 2, Creepshow, The Vanishing and more recently, Buried featuring Ryan Reynolds.