Possessed dolls, monsters, haunted forests, and #zombies have all done a stand-up job of scaring the crap out of audiences in theaters recently. The Boy, 10 Cloverfield Lane, The Forest, and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies left us a little more scared of the dark. Those movies are great, but most of the normal, everyday population probably won't have any of the experiences depicted in those movies in real life, and we go into the theater with that in mind.
But what about those horror movies that are based on true stories, or at the very least, folklore that may or may not be true? There are so many stories passed down from one generation to the next, meant to scare the imagination of children to keep their butts in line. Don't yawn with your mouth open, or a ghost will invite itself in and set up camp. Stay in bed, or the monster under it will eat you. Eat your veggies, or Donald Trump will get elected president.
Here's a list of 11 movies based on actual folklore from around the word, from werewolves and mermaids to witches and Satan himself.
1. Blood on Satan's Claw (1971)
We should start this list off with a quality film, but Blood on Satan's Claw will have to do. And that's not just me being a jerk. Listen to the director describe his own film in an interview from 2003:
Mind you, it never made much money. It wasn’t a hit. From the very beginning it had minority appeal. A few people absolutely loved it but the audiences didn’t turn out for it.
The film centers around a mysterious skull found in a field by a man while he was plowing, and the resulting supernatural effect it has on the townspeople; especially the children.
- Piers Haggard, the director, revealed the film went through several names: The Devil's Touch, Satan's Skin, and then Blood on Satan's Claw. All equally creepy.
- Jonathan Demme, director of The Silence of the Lambs, once told Piers he remembered his movie.
- It starred Patrick Wymark in his last English-speaking film. He also had just a small part in Witchfinder General, the next entry on this list.
2. Witchfinder General (1968)
While Blood on Satan's Claw was more about a demonic supernatural force than it was about witch hunts, Witchfinder General is all about the latter. It follows Matthew Hopkins and his assistant John Stearne, who really didn't care if the witches they were hunting were witches at all. They were in it for the money and the power, which they got plenty of, thanks to the rampant fear of witches in their day.
- Witchfinder General is (very) loosely based on the the witch-hunting career of the real Matthew Hopkins, and his colleague John Stearne.
- The film, renamed The Conqueror Worm for its U.S. release, was directed by Michael Reeves. It started becoming a cult classic after Reeves died of an alcohol and drug overdose at the age of 25.
- The movie was set in 1645, which was in a period of massive witch hunts, resulting in many arrests and executions. In England, the last execution of a witch, Temperance Lloyd, was in 1682, and The Enlightenment helped usher in a new age in England. In 1692, the Salem Witch Trials occurred, so the insanity just jumped across the ocean.
3. The Wicker Man (1973)
We'll stick to the '70s with this one, and leave Nicolas Cage's remake alone. Starring the late and great Christopher Lee, the original #TheWickerMan is a tale of human sacrifice, pagan worship, and Sergeant Howie, a devout Christian, who has been tricked into coming to the island to investigate the disappearance of a young girl.
- Christopher Lee considered The Wicker Man to be his best film. Tell that to the vast armies of LotR fanboys.
- Screenwriter Anthony Shaffer drew his inspiration for the film's title from Julius Caesar's Commentarii de Bello Gallico (Commentary on the Gallic War), where the emperor described a scene he had witnessed involving human sacrifice inside a large statue of twigs.
- Cases of human sacrifice have surface in recent years in India and London, as recent as 2012.
4. Mermaid Chronicles Part 1: She Creature (2001)
Otherwise known simply as She Creature, this is not something you want to watch with the family, especially the kiddos. Sometime around the turn of the century, two carnies find and kidnap (mer-nap?) a mermaid to showcase her in their carnival freakshow. But the sea beast reveals her true, monstrous and murderous nature. She would make Ursula very, very proud, basically.
- She Creature starred Rufus Sewell as the husband carnie, but fans would know him better from movies like Dwayne Johnson's Hercules, and with Gerard Butler in Gods of Egypt. He was also the villainous Count Adhemar in A Knight's Tale, so there's that.
- The mermaid/merman legend has been around for thousands of years, appearing in everything from Greek mythology to Disney movies. Their cousins, Sirens, appeared in Homer's Odyssey, and more recently, The Vampire Diaries.
- In the original #LittleMermaid fairy tale, the sea witch doesn't take the mermaid's voice in the form of a little glowing throat ball; she cuts her damn tongue out.
5. Wake Wood (2009)
Necromancy is fun too, something that goes back past biblical times, to the time of Homer and his Odyssey. Well before, actually.
Wake Wood sounds like it's a must-see for any fan of Pet Sematary. Dogs, resurrected kids, and one helluva twist at the end...
- There are actual necromancers and experts in the field, if you can call it that; S. Connolly, Leilah Wendell, and Sorceress Cagliastro have necromancy podcasts.
- Wake Wood was based on W.W. Jacobs' classic short story "The Monkey's Paw," which is a great read for anyone that likes a good, creepy little read from 1902 that shows you fate will absolutely screw with you if you screw with it.
- Hammer Films produced the film. Check out its IMDb page, and tell me this horror movie producing company doesn't like gore. Almost 250 movies on its list...impressive!
6. The Company Of Wolves (1984)
“The worst kind of wolves are hairy on the inside.” Angela Lansbury's advice to the young protagonist is definitely something we should heed. But if you're watching this movie in hopes of seem some sweet human-turning-to-wolf and wolf-to-human special effects, you've come to the wrong place, my friend.
- With a budge of $2 million, the movie just broke even after its U.S. opening weekend, making a little over $2.2 million, and almost $4.4 million total domestically.
- A bloody rendition of Little Red Riding Hood, the movie was based on the short story of the same name in the book The Bloody Chamber, a collection of stories. Author Angela Carter has described as such:
My intention was not to do 'versions' or, as the American edition of the book said, horribly, 'adult' fairy tales, but to extract the latent content from the traditional stories and to use it as the beginnings of new stories.
- There's a huntsman, a Red Riding Hood-esque girl and her grandmother, wolves, and portals to another world — sounds like something out of #OnceUponATime.
7. Soul Catcher (2011)
You can't get much more folksy and full of lore than you can with a good #ghost story. Ghost hunting brothers Christopher Saint and Philip Adrian Booth bring us this documentary about ghosts of Native Americans haunting abandoned boarding schools. The description claims the movie uncovers “ghosts, shape shifters and shadow people.” Take a gander at Christopher Booth and his bro, and tell me they don't mean business!
Here's the trailer:
- The Booth brothers are serious about their ghosts. Their film credits include a documentary about Waverly Hills Sanatorium, an abandoned mental hospital that should be on anyone's ghost hunting bucket list.
- This isn't the only time the name "Soul Catcher" has popped up in paranormal history. The Soul Catcher was a ghost in the Ghostbusters comics that fed off the fear of the souls of dead children. Soul Catchers is an anime comic about a boy who could see other people's hearts, and the good or bad in them. And of course, a soulcatcher is an amulet used by the tribe of the Pacific Northwest Coast of British Columbia and Alaska to help fix the souls of sick patients.
- The Booths also dabble in exorcism documentaries, making The Exorcist File in 2014 and The Haunted Boy: The Secret Diary of the Exorcist in 2010. Both movies concentrated on a secret diary a priest kept during an exorcism in 1949, which would become the inspiration for The Exorcist.
8. Bells From The Deep: Faith And Superstition In Russia (1993)
Another documentary, this time filmmaker Werner Herzog takes us to Russia to discuss religious, folk, and shamanic beliefs. If that's a big yawner to you, then stick around after this clip from the movie for a few facts about Mr. Herzog and his movie. This guy is a piece of work!
- Herzog openly admits his documentaries are what he calls “ecstatic truth.” They're a blend of fact and fiction, but at times, pure lies:
“I wanted to get shots of pilgrims crawling around on the ice trying to catch a glimpse of the lost city, but as there were no pilgrims around I hired two drunks from the next town and put them on the ice. One of them has his face right on the ice and looks like he is in very deep meditation. The accountant’s truth: he was completely drunk and fell asleep, and we had to wake him at the end of the take.”
- The lost city referenced in the title of the documentary is an actual legend in Russia, however. In the 13th century, the citizens of Kitezh prayed to God for protection from a coming Mongol invasion, so he put their city at the bottom of the lake, turning it in to the Russian Atlantis, basically. The folklore in the towns around Lake Svetloyar says the bells of the city still toll today, and the residents still live in bliss.
- In the final shot of the film, Herzog almost tells the viewers not to take him so seriously, because instead of pilgrims venturing around on the frozen lake trying to catch a glimpse of the lost city, there are kids ice skating and ice fishers fishing.
9. Leprechaun: Origins (2014)
If you love Leprechauns and #horror movies, but can't bring yourself to watch Leprechaun 1, Leprechaun 2, Leprechaun 3, Leprechaun 4: Leprechaun In Space, or Leprechaun in the Hood, Leprechaun 2: Back to tha Hood, you might want to give Leprechaun: Origins a try. It's a little more frightening than the guy on your box of Lucky Charms, but if it's folklore you want, this Irish legend is what you need to find...if you can find him.
- Chances are, if you lived in a world where Leprechauns are really for real, you wouldn't find him. But if you did, the Irish stories say you'd get three wishes instead of a pot o' gold at the end of the rainbow.
- You've heard of Leprechauns; how about Clurichauns? These are the wicked cousins of Leprechauns; they're always drunk, ill-tempered, and apparently, they'll ride on the backs of your sheep and dogs at night.
- #WarwickDavis played the Leprechaun in every single one of the movies in the series, except for this one.
10. Kilometer 31 (2006)
A tale of malevolent spirits and the connection between twins (no, it's not Constantine, unfortunately), Kilometer 31 is a Mexican horror film about a woman who is in a coma following an accident. Her twin sister has a connection to her that allows her to feel the fright and pain her comatose sister is feeling in her subconscious.
- KM 31 was based on the crying woman legend, or La Llorona, and all those ghost stories you head about spirits that haunt highways. One example of a legend of La Llorona in the United States is in Valley Center, Kansas, with the legend of Theorosa, who searches for her lost child along a creek just off of highway I-135, and can be summoned by yelling to her that you have her baby.
- Haunted highways are extremely common urban legends in the U.S., as well as Mexico and around the world. From phantom hitchhikers to little old ladies who appear in front of your car only to vanish into thin air, the tales are aplenty.
- The film was pretty successful in Mexico, making back over six times its approximately $2 million budget, with almost $11 million of that in Mexico alone.
11. The White Reindeer (1952)
What better way to end this than on a #Santa-related note this holiday season? The White Reindeer was based on an authentic Finnish folktale. It's about a woman named Pirita, the daughter of a witch, who ends up with her mother's powers. And of course, she can turn herself into a huge white reindeer. The hunters in Finland see the great white reindeer as a prize, but she ends up killing them before they can kill her. There is one hell of a Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer joke in here somewhere. Watch this trailer while I try to find it.
- Erik Blomberg directed the movie, and entered it in the 1953 Cannes Film Festival, winning a award for Best Fairy Tale Film. It also won the Golden Globe award in 1957 for Best Foreign Language Film.
- In the film, Pirita was wed to, you guessed it, a reindeer herder.
- Unlike the 2013 film of the same name, which only received a score of 90% on Rotten Tomatoes, the 1952 film has a score of 100%.
Read on for some more recent horror from this year: