This summer when you’re gathered around the campfire, with the glowing embers throwing sinister shadows on your fellow campers’ faces, some of you will most likely share the most horrifying urban legends you know. Some are downright silly, but some are really serious. Those are stories that make you dread the dark night ahead, with a guaranteed sleepless night in store prompted by those spine-chilling ‘true stories’ being shared around the campfire.
The scariest tales have been passed down chains of people, becoming well-known urban myths, the genus of which nobody is quite sure. They’re often believed to be a social tool, which serve as a warning against foolish behaviour. While adding a personal but unverifiable ‘friend of a friend’ angle to these stories adds to the terror, some of the most popular urban legends actually do have a basis in truth. Some brutal murder stories have inspired the tales that stole your precious sleep and encouraged you to obsessively check your closets. Others are simply a conflation of lots of scary ideas, terrifying characters and a wide range of human phobias. But whether or not the following bizarre urban myths are actually true, these ten are some of the most memorable horror stories you’ll ever hear.
10. Bloody Mary
As the clock ticks towards 12, step in front of the mirror and chant ‘Blood Mary’ 3 times. What happens next? Well that’s what retellings of the legend disagrees on…
The first version stated that an unmarried woman would see her future husband’s face, but as time has gone on several more gory and horrifying adaptations have been made. For example, some novels based on this story see bleeding spirits or a witch called Mary, all based on the queen of course.
This urban legend that has been passed down through generations is the inspiration for countless horror stories and plays a huge part in stories involving mirrors or reflections. But is it true? Likely, this one comes from a superstitious distrust of mirrors that can be traced back as far as the tales of Narcissus.
9. The Licked Hand
This story is guaranteed to give the creeps to anyone who ever hears it. One night, a young girl is in bed alone, and she hears a repetitive dripping sound from the other side of the house.
Meanwhile, her faithful dog joins her side below her bed, comforting her by licking her hand which hangs over the side of her mattress.
Her curiosity finally overcomes her and she gets up to try to find the source of the noise. She turns on the light to find her dog slaughtered – his neck dripping blood – and a message scrawled in blood on the wall spelling out ‘humans can lick hands too’. Creepy.
This popular urban legend was originally taken from a novel by MR James, but it doesn’t seem that there’s any definitively true basis to the spine-chilling tale.
8. Chain Letters
One time there was this gurl who didnt pass on this message me and she got killed by an evil clown at 12:05 that night becos she didnt pass on this message!!!! the same will happen to you too!!!!
Not quite. Scare-factor chain messages have become a thing of the past, but there’s always the odd superstitious character on your Facebook newsfeed sharing one of these cursed or blessed messages. What most millennials won’t realise, however, is that viral marketing and chain messages have been around since the days of snail mail; the idea was even explored in the horror novel ‘Chain Letter’.
The urban legends vary from one chain mail to another, usually involving a gory death with an unfortunate consequence if you fail to pass on the message.
7. Organ Harvesting
This tale begins with a young gentleman who is seduced by a beautiful woman, and goes home with her that night. The next time he’s conscious he’s in a bath crammed with ice but he seems to be missing an organ, good job it’s a kidney I guess, the only thing I can say is that it could have been worse. I guess it’s annoying that someone else gets to make a profit off his organs on the black market.
Organ harvesting is a popular topic among horror writers, with the likes of ‘Unwind’ being a popular horror story about getting your internal organs nicked, it can create some pretty scary reading.
6. Spider Bites
Absolutely disgusting at best, this story will literally make your skin crawl. It begins with a young traveller who takes a trip to a faraway land which is home to a huge variety of tropical wildlife. A strange spider bites the young man’s arm, which seems like nothing at first.
When the traveller returns home, hundreds of baby spiders hatch underneath his skin and begin tunnelling their way to freedom. Countless tiny spiders burst free from their temporary home and scatter over his body.
This short story was obviously designed to particularly terrify any arachnophobes out there, but the message is relevant; travellers must be aware of the dangers in bringing unusual diseases and foreign bodies back to their home countries and their native ecosystems.
5. The Hook
In this well-known classic, two teenagers are out on a country lane making out in the boy’s car. The mood music is abruptly cut off to allow for a newsflash warning of a mental asylum patient who escaped in the area.
When the music resumes, the girl in the car is left spooked by the warning and asks the boy to drive her home. He reluctantly agrees. After a quiet and dark journey home they arrive at her house, safe. As the couple get out of the car to say goodbye, a headlight illuminates the roof of the boy’s car, revealing a hook embedded in the roof…
There have been murders on lovers lanes in the past – notably the Texarkana Moonlight Murders in the 1940s – and it’s likely this story is inspired by such cases. It’s also, of course, a useful parable to warn teens against getting cosy in darkened park areas.
4. The Babysitter and The Man Upstairs
In this classic tale that dates back to the 1960s, a babysitter is left to look after a married couple’s kids. The children are asleep upstairs whilst the young female babysitter awaits a call from her boyfriend downstairs. The phone begins to ring loudly and the girl picks it up – but no voice comes from the other end of the line. She decides to ignore it, assuming the call simply got cut off. Minutes later, the phone begins to ring again, and she picks it up. A voice screeches into her ear – ‘have you checked the children?’ and abruptly goes dead. She doesn’t get too worried, assuming it was the couple checking up on the children whilst they were away.
But then, the phone rings again… ‘Have you checked the children?’ the chilling voice repeats. ‘Mr Murphy?’ she asks, but the line quickly goes cold. She begins to get spooked and rings the restaurant where the couple are dining for the evening, but she is told that they left 45 minutes earlier.
Worried, she quickly calls the police and tells them of the prank caller who keeps calling and hanging up, but she is told that nothing can be done if they have not threatened her. They inform her that they can trace the call if she keeps them on the line for long enough.
A few minutes pass and the phone begins to make that dull ring. ‘Have you checked the children?’ she replies, ‘who are you? what do you want?’ to which he pauses and says, ‘your blood. All over me.’ She slams the phone down but it instantly rings again and she screams ‘leave me alone!’ but the calming voice of the dispatcher comes down the phone ‘We’ve traced the call, and it seems to be coming from the inside of the house.’ She drops the phone and sprints to the front door; as she unlocks the door she sees the shadow of a figure outside the children’s bedroom. She opens the door to find a police officer with his gun drawn and aimed at the house. Officers storm the house and drag out the intruder soaked in the children’s blood.
This one is actually based on a true crime that occurred in the 1950s, when a 13 year old babysitter was attacked and killed in Columbia, Missouri.
3. The Killer In The Back-seat
A girl leaves a bar late at night and begins driving down a deserted highway with nobody apart from one car behind her. The woman began to notice the driver of the car behind her began to speed up and approach her car at a worrying pace but she tried her best to ignore them. The car blinked it’s lights frantically at her but she continued to ignore it and slightly increased her speed. The car followed her for miles before speeding up so much that it went into the back of her car. She quickly increased her speed and pulled into her driveway. The driver of the car screamed ‘get inside, lock the doors, call 911!’. She turned around to see a shadowy figure in her car wielding a butchers knife sitting in the back seat.
This story could actually be based of a 1964 real life story of an escaped murderer hiding in the back seat of a cop’s car or even as recently as 2007 when a woman at university was threatened by a gun-wielding lunatic who appeared in the back seat of her SUV.
2. The Fatal Hairdo
This one’s a bit silly, and it was created to stop teenagers spending so much time on their hair, especially on more ‘extravagant’ hairstyles. There are loads of different versions of it but all have roughly the same ending. A stylish high school girl gets bored of styling her ‘beehive’ hairdo every day to get the tall look, so she decides to soak it in sugar water to harden it overnight. She gets the look she wants and no longer has to wash and style her hair everyday, but she soon begins to experience killer headaches which she ignores and assumes will go away.
One morning she fails to come downstairs for breakfast and her parents go up to her bedroom to find her corpse. Her unwashed and permanent hair created a nest for a spider to lay eggs in, and the newborn spiders burrow into her scalp for food and eventually into her skull. Nasty.
1. The Choking Doberman
One night a couple return from a night out together. As they enter through the front door and into the living room they find their dog choking. The husband, who was particularly drunk after the night out, fainted at the shock of the dog, but the wife quickly rang her friend who was a veterinarian. The vet helps the dog and brings it to surgery, but she decides she should go home once she’s dropped the dog off to check on her drunk husband. She begins to put her husband to bed after he regains consciousness, but the phone soon rings.
The vet screams down the line ‘Get out of the house now! No time to explain!’ The intoxicated husband and his wife sprint out of the house to find the police storming in, as the vet’s car pulls up. She explains ‘I found what your dog was choking on… It was a human finger’.
The police soon drag out a dirty, dodgy looking man who is bleeding heavily from his right hand as the policeman shouts ‘We found him, he was in the bedroom!’