Throughout the centuries myths and folktales have enjoyed immense popularity in society and although the phrase “urban legend” is synonymous in most people’s minds with “false belief,” the term actually indicates a more complex social phenomenon related to the production and transmission of folk narratives—narratives which are indeed usually false, but which can also, on rare occasions, prove to be true.
So what is an urban legend after all? A fictional story of a sick and sneaky mind, or the exception that proves the rule? Some directors have tried to answer these questions for us, sometimes with great success, but unfortunately in most cases they only succeeded to contribute more “B movies” to the film industry. See what we mean with these films that are based on creepy urban legends.
The Bunny Man is an urban legend that most likely originated from two incidents in Fairfax County, Virginia, in the early seventies and since then has spread all over the United States. There are as many variations to this urban legend as there types of coffee but each one of them involve a crazed big man wearing a bunny suit who attacks people with an axe. The exact same legend is known in the United Kingdom as “The Bunnyman Massacre,” where there have been similar variations of the story in England and Scotland. I guess you’ve probably noticed by now that I haven’t mentioned anything about the film yet, right? Yep, it was THAT bad!
This film was so bad it was good after all and trust us, it doesn’t include one or two but a bunch of all-time classic urban legends. A group of teenagers end up being in the darkest, scariest woods you could ever imagine after a car accident and they decide to have some fun by telling the creepiest, scariest urban legends they had ever heard during their lifetimes. However, when you talk about monsters, psychopaths, and ghosts, you end up getting chased by them or at least that was the trend back in the nineties when it came to such films.
Dead Man on Campus
Dead Man on Campus is a comedy film from the nineties that was based on one of the most popular and ridiculous urban legends that went around in many American college campuses during that time, which suggested that when something truly horrible (such as a death or suicide) happened close to the end of the semester, every student that was involved in the event would automatically pass all their classes… Bull crap of the highest degree, both the film and the urban legend.
When a Stranger Calls
Let’s say that if this urban legend were a book, it would be somewhat equivalent to the Bible since this legend exists in so many countries (slightly different versions in some cases) and it should be translated into 150 different languages. As for the story? A mother, grandmother, or babysitter, depending on the version or country of origin, is home alone at night after she puts the kids to sleep. Then all of a sudden the phone starts ringing and when she picks up, an unknown and creepy voice urges her to check on the children. The terrorized woman eventually calls the police for help who tell her that they traced the call and they found out that it’s coming from inside the house. As for what happens next? Just watch the movie!
The only reason this film is on this list is the plain fact that its plot is based on one of the most famous urban legends in the world: Bloody Mary. This creepy story haunted so many kids (including me) at some point in our childhood and made us wonder (in absolute terror) what would really happen if we dared to look into a mirror in a dark room and chant “Bloody Mary” three times. According to legend, the ghost of a dead girl will appear to you and it won’t be pleasant. Is it true? Probably not but I never tried or was willing to try when I was younger or even now. As for the film? If you ever get a chance to watch it you will probably agree that such an epic and popular urban legend deserves something better than this crap.
I Know What You Did Last Summer
This film became a box-office hit and a nineties classic, especially among teenagers and college freshmen. The plot was based on one of the most popular urban legends that moves around from country to country, in slightly different versions, and tells the story of a young couple making out in their car (where else are they gonna do it in these “romantic” scenes, right?) when they hear on the radio about a maniac killer on the loose with a hook for a hand. Then they hear frightening noises outside their car and drive off faster than Michael Schumacher. Eventually when they reach home sweet home, they find the killer’s hook hanging from one of the door handles, and realize that they just escaped with their lives, but the crazed killer is after them now!
The Clinton Chronicles
Believe or not, there’s a film or, to be more accurate, a really bizarre documentary inspired by guess what? urban legends and conspiracy theories surrounding former president Bill Clinton. This “film” was produced in 1994 during Clinton’s presidency and accuses him of a series of crimes including killing several of his associates. The New York Times reported that it was a poorly documented “hodgepodge of sometimes-crazed charges” while the Washington Post called it a “bizarre and unsubstantiated documentary.”
Also, one should keep in mind that this “film’s” director is a fanatical conservative activist named Patrick Matrisciana, and it wouldn’t surprise us at all if these days he’s working on another “film,” this time about conspiracies surrounding president Obama.
The Hitcher is an epic horror film from the eighties, starring the one and only Rutger Hauer as the maniac hitcher and the eighties movie star, C. Thomas Howell. The plot of the movie is very simple and based on a global urban legend that has been recycled for decades and now is in pretty much every corner of the globe where there are cars. A bloodthirsty killer puts his “good guy” mask on and goes hitchhiking, hoping the next fool who will stop to give him a ride will be tough enough to present him with a challenge so it won’t all be over too soon. The moral lesson of this urban legend? Don’t give a ride to people you don’t know.
Even though no one can prove or disprove the credibility of the following statement, the urban legend of the alligator jumping out of your toilet must be the most illogical and irrational terror in every corner of the planet where people use toilets. There are also some more variations of the legend including pythons instead of alligators, but the film’s director followed the original tale and delivered a horror film in which some dude had the brilliant idea of flushing a baby alligator down his family’s toilet, sending it straight to the city’s sewers from where, some years later, it would begin its bloody reign of terror and death.
The Hook of Woodland Heights
From the fifties to today the story of Woodland Heights has been told over and over to the point that the story eventually evolved into the urban legend we all know today. It’s the kind of story we all know; it’s as fictional as Superman but for some reason people love to pretend that they believe, especially during Halloween. There have been several films that have brought this story to the screen, with the cheesiest but at the same time most epic of them all being The Hook of Woodland Heights.
This film was Jared Leto’s first leading role in a blockbuster and in our opinion one of the most enjoyable horror films of the nineties. The story was based on the worldwide urban legend of a woman driving alone at night when a car comes up behind her and starts tailgating, honking, and flashing its high beams to the point where he makes her rush back to the safety of her home where she thinks it’s safe.
However, soon after she finds out that what the “crazy” driver was trying to really do was save her from the intimidating passenger sitting in the backseat, holding an axe (which she somehow amazingly never noticed). Let’s be honest, this urban legend was probably created by an eye doctor who tried to attract new clients, right?
The legend of Bigfoot is without a doubt one of the most popular urban legend in North America and it has become the theme for not one, not two but numerous films. The mysterious creature resembles a gigantic gorilla and many people believe it lives in the northwestern forests of the United States, despite the fact that the vast majority of scientists consider the existence of Bigfoot as plausible as the existence of Zeus. Although there are over thirty films with Bigfoot as their theme, none of them comes even close in terms of popularity to the “Roger Patterson Bigfoot Footage” available on YouTube.
The Blair Witch Project
By now we all know that the story of the three students who disappeared in the Maryland woods was nothing but a lie though it made millions for the directors of the “film” (if you can call it that). But what many might not know is that the movie was indeed based on an eighteenth century urban legend, specifically the legend of Elly Kedward. In the winter of 1875, Kedward was banished from the town of Blair after people accused her of witchcraft. She was presumed dead from exposure, but the next year, all of her accusers either died or mysteriously vanished, which forced the remaining Blair residents to abandon the cursed town. Of course, the film has nothing in common with this story, but it was apparently an inspiration for the filmmakers.
This is a rare case where the film was really good and managed to scare and excite us as much as when we were still naïve kids who believed any tale older members of our family would tell to frighten us only so they could get a good laugh. Case in point? Will any of you dare to turn off the lights, preferably in an isolated attic, then face the mirror, and say “Candyman” five times? I know I won’t.
House of 1000 Corpses
Rob Zombie’s debut as a film director and probably one of the best horror films of the past decade, House of 1000 Corpses is definitely the kind of film you want to watch if you’re a dedicated fan of horror films and thrillers. Rob Zombie never hidd his love for this genre and for his debut he made sure to mix and deliver a film that was a cocktail of many urban legends and the influence of all-time classic American horror films such as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes, which the director classified as main inspirations while making the movie.
As for the film’s theme? Two teenage couples (what else?) traveling across the backwoods of Texas searching for urban legends end up as prisoners of an insane, strange, and sadistic family of serial killers that practices cannibalism, witchcraft, and other crazy, evil rituals.
After the release of Friday the 13th there was insane horror-mania all over Hollywood for the next few years. Numerous low-budget horror films followed, trying to make it as big as Jason Voorhees did but without any significant success. One such case was The Burning, a film that was based on the old urban legend of a summer camp caretaker who had the bad luck to burn from a prank that went horribly wrong. After a couple of years he supposedly returned to the same summer camp in New York but this time with bad intentions and a pair of hedge clippers with which he tortured and killed some of the teenagers who were responsible for his disfigurement.
This creepy film is based on one of the most popular and scary urban legends of Japanese folklore: the slit-mouthed woman. Kuchisake-Onna, as she’s better known in Japan, was a samurai’s wife who cheated on her husband, who in return slit her mouth ear-to-ear with his sword in revenge. According to legend, she committed suicide out of shame or because she couldn’t stand her new look, and her spirit returned to seek its own revenge and kill everyone in its path. When rumors of alleged sightings began spreading in a Japanese town in the late 1970s, many people were terrorized to the point that some schools didn’t allow children to go home alone and there have also been reports of Japanese police increasing their patrols because of “the slit-mouthed woman.” Scary, right?
The Amityville Horror
The original film, which in our opinion was the best, is based on a supposedly true story as claimed by writer Jay Anson, who wrote and published the book of the same name in September 1977. The story is about the “real-life” paranormal experiences of George and Kathleen Lutz and their three children at 112 Ocean Avenue, a large Dutch colonial house in Amityville, New York. Thirteen months before the family moved in, Ronald DeFeo, Jr. had shot six members of his family in the house, and for that reason nobody wanted to rent it after that except the very brave Lutz family. After living for twenty-eight days in the house and after a series of daily paranormal phenomena caused, according to the Lutz family, by an evil spirit that possessed the house, they left the place and never looked back.
True or not, the urban legend made the family enough money via the book’s and movie’s success to live the rest of their lives comfortably.
The Exorcist is considered by most experts to be the scariest movie of all time and is adapted from the novel of the same name by William Peter Blatty, which was based on the exorcism of an anonymous American boy that occurred in the late 1940s. This is how the urban legend of “Roland Doe” was born, named after the pseudonym assigned to the boy by the Catholic Church. Later, author Thomas B. Allen changed the pseudonym to “Robbie Mannheim,” even though no one ever cared to verify the existence of the boy that was supposed to be possessed by evil spirits, as the diary kept by Fr. Raymond Bishop (a priest in attendance at the exorcism) claimed. Ironically, the film gave birth to even more urban legends surrounding a number of violent incidents on the set.
Crank: High Voltage
This was one of the most outrageous urban legends of the nineties, particularly popular in nightclubs where people used to party hard and drink even harder back then. Apparently after a night of wild partying and heavy drinking, you wake up in a bathtub (in a random hotel) full of ice cubes with lots of pain and one less kidney. The good thing about the people who benefited from all this is that they were really kind to their benefactor and usually left him a written message saying, “Thanks for the kidney.” Man, the things we believed back then.
One way or another, Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, the film’s directors, got inspired by the relatively modern urban legend, hired the ultimate badass, Jason Statham, and that’s how we got one of the craziest and most awesome action films of the past few years. Keep in mind that the directors wanted to make the film more intense and as such, the hero is lacking not just a kidney but his heart too, but then again these are just mere details, aren’t they?
John Carpenter is probably the greatest American sci-fi film director ever and possibly a genius who doesn’t get all the credit he deserves, but then again I am one of his most dedicated fans so I can’t be that neutral when it comes to his movies. Christine is a film that shocked movie fans and critics alike and pioneered a couple of visual effects when it first came out, but most of all Carpenter’s masterful direction helped to deliver the best film adaption (at the time) since the movie was based on the homonymous novel written by Stephen King. The most amazing part of this film (and book), however, is something that has been mostly ignored to this day: the story was based on an urban legend that rose to fame back in the fifties in America and talked about a sentient car named Christine that became a serial killer and at some point even developed a platonic relationship with her teenage owner and went after any girl who dared to go out on a date with him.
Despite the fact that this list is full of popular urban legends I strongly believe that if we conducted a poll, the urban legend of the Boogeyman would get the top spot and quite easily, too. The mythical creature that has as many names as there are countries in the world is without a doubt the most famous fictional figure older people “invented’’ so they could frighten naughty children who won’t behave, eat their food, or go to bed. As for the film? Even though it’s considered to be the best portrayal of the Boogeyman by many movie fans, we weren’t that impressed.
Black Christmas was a Canadian independent horror film that is considered to be one of the first slasher films in history. The plot is heavily based on the urban legend of “The Babysitter and the Man Upstairs,” mixed with other local lesser-known Canadian urban legends and, more interestingly, was also inspired by a series of murders that took place in Quebec around Christmastime. The film gave birth to a totally new tale about a perverted serial killer who goes after a group of sorority sisters; first by stalking them, then repeatedly calling them and freaking them out by making death threats, and finally by murdering a few of them but not all, at least that’s how the movie makes it look. The reason? He appears to be lonely and probably took it the wrong way that the girls had a Christmas party and didn’t invite him. A remake of the film with the same name was released almost 32 years later but wasn’t nearly as good.
What happens when a supposedly true story can’t be proved by logical or scientific evidence? An urban legend, of course. The story of Doris Bither takes us back to the mid-seventies when a woman who lived with her four children in Culver City, California, reported that their house was haunted by abusive, evil spirits and that she was constantly physically abused, raped, and sexually molested by the poltergeists. Nobody really took her seriously, however, mainly because the experts thought she had mental problems since she had suffered a really abusive childhood and later on was involved in several abusive relationships with men, so she was seen as someone with mental issues.
Unfortunately, we will never know what really happened with the curious case of Doris Bither, whose life inspired Frank De Felitta to write a book by which director Sidney J. Furie was inspired to make one of the best movies of this kind, which the mighty Martin Scorsese placed high on his list of the 11 scariest horror films of all time.
2001: A Space Odyssey
Okay, some of you might wonder what the heck this film is doing on such a list but you have to trust us: this film is surrounded by more urban legends and conspiracy theories than you could ever imagine. Moon landing conspiracy theorists include this film as their evidence and claim that NASA officials approached Kubrick while he was filming this epic sci-fi masterpiece and asked him to film “footage” depicting a shuttle landing on the moon and an astronaut (that would be Neil Armstrong) walking on the moon. Truth or myth? We will never know for sure but to be quite honest, after learning about this urban legend I love this film even more now.
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