All fiction is, on some level, inspired by the truth, and sometimes the truth is just as weird–and creepy. Despite all the crazy things that people can come up with to make a horror move, sometimes you don’t need to make up all that much. Do a little digging, and there’s usually a trove of eerie stories involving deranged killers, supernatural beasts and the unquiet dead, along with lots of people who will swear up and down that it’s all 100% true. All places have their share of myths and legends, and the more modern ones are usually called “urban legends,” although they can take place in rural areas, too.
Urban legends usually reflect a society’s fears. They usually involve revenge, insanity and violence, and often serve as warnings to stay safe and be on your guard. Like, don’t go home with a hot stranger because you might end up in a bathtub full of ice with a kidney missing.
So we’re taking a look at movies that are inspired by urban legends. And just like the movies are based on the legends, the legends are often based on reality–or some version of it anyway. Take a look and creep yourself out. You might want to read this under the covers, though.
1.) The Hook Hand of Woodland Heights (1990)
We all know the urban legend about the hook hand guy: A young couple is making out in a car at night, despite warnings of a crazed, hook-handed killer on the loose. They hear something at the door and get scared, but laugh it off on the way home as just an animal. When they get home, they find a sharp hook caught in the door handle. This horror short leaves out the bit about the car, but hits all the other notes with slaughtered teens and pointy prosthetics.
2.) I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)
Also using the hook hand legend is this 90s thriller about a group of teens who recklessly hit a pedestrian, try to cover it up, and pay the price. The storyline is kind of convoluted; it seems they used the hook legend as a jumping-off point (the killer in this also wields a hook hand), but developed an original story.
3.) When a Stranger Calls (1979 and 2006)
The legend is that someone, typically a teenage girl, is babysitting alone. The kids are asleep and the phone rings. She answers to hear a creepy voice asking if she’s checked on the children. Some versions feature multiple calls, getting more and more threatening as they progress. She finally calls the cops and has them trace the call, only to learn that the call is coming from inside the house, presumably from a second line. (This legend made its debut well before cell phones.) The legend was made into a film in 1979 and a remake in 2006.
4.) Black Christmas (1974)
This Canadian slasher flick was inspired by both the babysitter-and-caller legend (the heroine receives ominous phone calls) as well as a string of actual murders that took place in Quebec around the Christmas season.
5.) Bloody Mary (2006)
The myth of Bloody Mary is that if you stand in front of a mirror with the lights out and chant “Bloody Mary” three times, her spirit will appear. While modern interpretations almost always cast her as malevolent, she isn’t always. Historically, young women would invoke Mary at night, and she would show them their future husband, or, if they were fated to die before marriage, a skull. More recently, Bloody Mary is said to be a ghoulish creature appearing in the mirror, who can sometimes physically attack the people who summoned her.
6.) Candyman (1992)
Similar to the Bloody Mary myth, this film features a malevolent spirit who can be summoned by repeating his name in front of a mirror. He also kills people with a hook that serves as a prosthetic. Sound familiar? In fact, this movie takes a meta turn and deals with urban legends as part of its story, exploring how they arise and how they shape communities.
7.) Carved (2007)
This film centers on the Japanese legend of Kuchisake-Onna, the “Slit-Mouthed Woman,” whose face was mutilated by her husband. Wearing a surgical mask (which is not uncommon in Japan), she approaches children and asks them if they think she’s pretty, then removes the mask revealing a mouth cut from ear to ear. Needless to say, things don’t end well for the child. The legend started sometime in the late 1970s.
8.) The Exorcist (1973)
This film, which features lots of swearing, head swiveling and green vomit, was based on a novel. The novel, in turn, was based on an actual case that involved the supposed demonic possession of a Maryland boy (not a girl, as in the novel and film) in the 1940s. The case of “Roland Doe,” as the boy was called to protect his identity, is regarded as one of the most convincing cases of possession in recent history, but of course, there’s no proof.
9.) The Entity (1982)
This film follows a woman whose life is being torn apart by demonic entities and poltergeist that assault her on a regular basis. The movie makes it so that the demonic being is the real culprit, but the real-life story behind this is probably much sadder. The film’s writer (who also wrote the novel on which it’s based) created the story around the claims of a woman who said she’d been raped by an invisible entity that was haunting her. The woman, however, was found to have a turbulent past, involving an abusive childhood as well as abusive relationships, and likely had a severe mental illness.
10.) The Amityville Horror (1979)
This story came about when the Lutz family described eerie events in their new Long Island home. It turns out that the house they moved into was the site of a mass murder by Ronald DeFeo, Jr. The DeFeos lived in the same house and one night in 1974, Ronald, Jr. murdered his mother, father, two sisters and two brothers. There have been many theories as to what exactly happened that night and why, but it is completely true that the DeFeo family died in that house. The Lutzes maintained that this horrific act left the house haunted, but inconsistencies and errors in their accounts make for many skeptics.
11.) Bunnyman (2011)
The Bunny Man is an urban legend from the Washington, DC, area, and involves a deranged man in a bunny suit who chases people with an axe. Two creepy incidents, verified by the police, involve a man in a rabbit suit wielding an axe and talking about “trespassers.” One couple had their car window smashed and later discovered a hatchet on the floor of their car, and a security guard encountered a young man chopping at the porch of an unfinished house with a longer-handled axe. However, nothing ever came of these, and it was never determined who the Bunny Man was, or if it was the same person at both incidents. We hope it was, because a forest full of Bunny Men is way scarier. The legend grew in the area to involve half-eaten rabbit carcasses dangling from trees and an escaped psychopath who murdered his family on Easter Sunday.
12.) The Burning (1981)
This film is similar to Friday the 13 in that it involves a camp and a lot of killing, and is based on one of the iterations of the New York State legend of “Cropsey,” a disfigured man out for revenge, who alternately shows up as a camp caretaker or a farmer (I personally learned about him as a farmer), although the term “Cropsey” is used to describe any violent, boogeyman-like figure.
13.) Boogeyman (2005)
Speaking of Boogeymen, here’s a movie about him. Almost every culture across the globe has a figure like this. The appearances might change and the figure might stem from a variety of traditions, but typically, the Boogeyman is used to get kids to behave–if you don’t clean your room, the Boogeyman will get you. That kind of thing. Interestingly, the term “boogey” or “bogey” has cognates in many European languages.
14.) The Mothman Prophecies (2002)
The Mothman is a cryptid, or mythical creature, that several people claimed to have seen in the 60s in the Point Pleasant area of West Virginia. He’s described as a winged man with glowing red eyes, and due to the fact that the creature was sighted shortly before the Silver Bridge collapsed in 1967, killing 46 people, he’s become associated with ill omens. Skeptics say the Mothman people saw was actually a sandhill crane, whose wingspans can reach 7 feet. Today, the town of Point Pleasant holds an annual Mothman Festival and boasts a 12-foot statue of the creature.
15.) 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
The legend behind this one is less a spooky campfire story and more a conspiracy theory. It states that on seeing the stunning visuals in this film (and it is a gorgeous movie), the US government approached Stanley Kubrick and asked him to create footage of a lunar landing. Thus, the conspiracy is that the 1969 Apollo 11 landing was actually created in a studio by Kubrick, and that this was the movie that got him involved. Some conspiracy enthusiasts even bring Kubrick’s other well-known film The Shining into all this, saying it’s his veiled confession to the whole thing, but as you can imagine, it’s quite a stretch.
Now that you know the “real” tales behind these films, it might be time to look at some cute cat pictures. And make sure your doors are locked. (Not that it matters…)
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