ByAllanah Faherty, writer at
Senior staff writer | Twitter: @allanahfaherty | Email: [email protected]
Allanah Faherty

Everyone's told scary stories around a campfire or at a slumber party. Scaring yourself and your friends so much with just a simple story is almost a right of passage for a middle schooler, but did you know many of those famous urban legends have also inspired some pretty terrifying horror films?

Scare yourself silly with these films that were inspired by some famous urban legends:

1. I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)

Is based on: The legend of the hookman. One of the all-time favorite campfire stories is about the young couple in the car making out who hear a news bulletin about an escaped serial killer who has a hook for a hand. The couple quickly drive home and when they get out of the car they find the killer's hook hanging from the door handle.

How the film interpreted the legend: This urban legend was used as a jumping off point in I Know What You Did Last Summer. The main characters actually tell the tale in the film and it comes full circle as the killer in the film also uses a hook hand as a weapon.


2. When a Stranger Calls (1979 and 2006)

Is based on: The Babysitter and the Man Upstairs. A classic urban legend which dates back to the 1960s. A teen girl is babysitting children and receives phone calls repeatedly telling her to "check the children." After ringing the police they trace the call to a second line in the house and the babysitter sees a man with a bloody ax, having killed the children and waiting for the babysitter to come upstairs.

How the film interpreted the legend: This legend has been turned into film several times but most famously in the When a Stranger Calls films. The original film follows the legend quite closely (including murdered children!) but then continues the story of the killer who later escapes from an asylum to continue stalking the babysitter, Jill Johnson. The 2006 remake more closely follows the urban legend, however the children survive and it is a housekeeper and friend who die.


3. Candyman (1992)

Is based on: The legend of the Candyman. If you look into a mirror and chant the name 'Candyman' five times, he will appear behind you and kill you with his hookhand. Some say it comes from a story of a slave named Candyman, who was murdered after his arm was cut off and then covered in honey and thrown into a beehive. Candyman died from his injuries, but before he did he cursed the men who killed him and vowed his revenge.

How the film interpreted the legend: The legend is used as both an urban legend AND a true story in this film. Student Helen Lyle is investigating urban legends and learns of the local legend, Candyman. She summons the Candyman and eventually he reveals himself and tells her his plan to prove that he's a real killer, not just the urban legend. By the end of the film Candyman is sealed in urban legend folklore forever.


4. The Exorcist (1973)

Is based on: The case of 'Roland Doe'. This is allegedly a true story which took place in the late 40s. Most of the information of his possession comes from a diary kept by the priest who attended his exorcisms. Apparently after his aunt's death the family noticed supernatural activity and Roland was thought to be possessed. Priests performed 30 exorcisms on the boy and afterward Roland Doe then went on to have a normal life.

How the film interpreted the legend: While a lot of the legend is used in the film, Roland was changed for Regan, a young girl, and instead of being possessed after the death of her aunt, she was possessed by an evil spirit hiding in an amulet. In the end, like Roland, the evil spirit leaves Regan, but along the way kills people and finally leaves Regan to inhabit the body of Damien Karras, who immediately kills himself to end the evil spirits reign.


5. Boogeyman (2005)

Is based on: The Boogeyman! I think most of our parents scared us with the terrifying threat that if we didn't behave the mythical boogeyman would get us. The boogeyman has no specific appearances and is fully open to interpretation. There are different versions of the boogeyman in cultures all over the world: Namahage in Japan, Butzemann in Germany and Sack Man in many Latin countries.

How the film interpreted the legend: The film presents the Boogeyman much the same as the urban legend does - an evil creature who lives in closets worldwide. After seeing his father taken by the boogeyman as a child the main character must confront his fear as an adult when the boogeyman starts harming people he loves. The film takes a bizarre twist with the wardrobe aspect (apparently they're portals through time and space?) but the premise of a boogeyman living in the closet is still pretty close to the boogeyman origin story.


6. The Mothman Prophecies (2002)

Is based on: The Mothman legend. The Mothman is a cryptid, or mythical creature, that people claimed to have seen in the 60s in Point Pleasant, West Virginia. He's described as a winged man with glowing red eyes, who was sighted shortly before a bridge collapsed which killed 46 people. He is associated with ill omens.

How the film interpreted the legend: The film largely bases itself on the events in Point Pleasant surrounding the Mothman legend, and uses the bridge collapse as a climactic point. It also builds on the story and turns the Mothman into a supernatural entity named Indrid Cold who prophesizes morbid events which are relayed to the main character, John Klein through Gordon Smallwood, whom the Mothman is inhabiting.


7. Bunnyman (2011)

Is based on: The Bunny Man - an urban legend from the Washington DC, area. According to legend a deranged man in a bunny suit chases people with an ax. Police verify two incidents involving a man in a rabbit suit wielding an ax and talking about 'trespassers.' Despite the incidents, nothing ever came of these and it was never determined who the Bunny Man was, or even if it was the same man at both incidents.

How the film interpreted the legend: The film took the legend and made it even more gruesome! In the movie the Bunny Man is a brutal murderer. He stalks down a group of six friends in a car and kills most of the group but luckily the last two escape. At the end the Bunny Man is left wounded but not dead, leaving a bit of mystery as to his whereabouts- much like the original Bunny Man.



Which has the scariest urban legend origin?

Source: Viral Nova


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