Haunted locations and demonic happenings provide the basis for most horror movies — Cabin in the Woods, Village of the Damned, The Evil Dead — the list is endless, yet the fictional world in which these fearful events occur makes the horror stomach-able for the faint-hearted among us.
The following six real towns and villages all carry curses, brimming with tales of spooks, and for those looking to inject a little fear into their lives, would make splendid holiday destinations.
1. Flesh-eating Fairies
Where: Al Jazirah Al Hamra, United Arab Emirates
Existing in a different lifetime to Abu Dhabi and Dubai's shiny skyscrapers, former pearl-diving island Al Jazirah Al Hamra shows zero traces of modernity within its untouched facades. When the pearl industry became dominated by the Japanese during the '20s & '30s, and oil was discovered in the Gulf in the '50s, the town's inhabitants left en masse — fully abandoning the town in 1968.
Although the official line for the residents leaving is the quality of life offered by surrounding cities, many believe that the village is in fact terrorized by powerful, flesh-eating, shape-shifting fairies named Djinns, and they are the ones responsible for driving inhabitants away.
Haunting tales of Djinn-based terror are now synonymous with the village — with local filmmaker Faisal Hashmi sharing one of the spookiest stories of all:
"Immediately, it felt a lot more isolated and I could tell that something didn't feel quite right. I was keen to show the area to my friends, who hadn't been there before, so we pressed on, further into the village. We parked our car with the lights on near a building pillar and walked inside, exploring the abandoned structures. The silence was deafening and all of us felt like leaving because it just felt like a place we shouldn't linger too long in.
But this couldn't have been clearer than when we came back to my car. As we approached my car, I noticed something very different about the pillar I had parked it next to. Something terrifyingly different. There was a handprint on the pillar. And not just a handprint — it was a handprint etched into the cement itself, like a deep impression. I asked both my friends and we could swear it wasn't there when we arrived because, the way we parked, that would have been the first thing we would have seen."
The takeover is so renowned by now, the story of the village even has its own dedicated horror movie, Djinn:
2. The Capital of Black Magic
Where: Bahla, Oman
Another city said to be teaming with Djinns, Oman's Bahla is home to countless myths and legends of magic. Known as the county's capital of black magic, this ancient walled town contains a mysterious aura, steeped in superstition and far-fetched tales of bewitching, transformations and slavery.
In Bahla it's not uncommon to find professional fortune-tellers, occultists and other such witchcraft practices deemed verboten by Islamic culture.
3. City of Witches
Where: Cinco Saltos, Argentina
"La muerte se siente en el aire y se escucha en el estrepitoso chillido de los pájaros, que conocen los secretos de sus oscuros habitantes.”
The above sentence, uttered by the writer Jose Sepulveda, translates as: "You feel death in the air and you hear it in the screeching of the birds, who know the secrets of its shadowy inhabitants," and sets the scene for this pervasively gloomy town described by many as the 'City of Witches.' Its dim light and black reputation is said to hide necromancers and witches from the outside world.
One story speaks of a 12-year-old girl, whose body was found while renovating the town cemetery. Although she had died around 70 years ago, her body had barely decomposed. The site Elixir of Knowledge explained:
Strangely still, the workers had also noticed that body of the girl had been chained to her coffin. On learning about the discovery, the superstitious inhabitants of Cinco Saltos claimed that the girl’s body had been used in some kind of occult ritual by the town’s several covens. Soon thereafter, some began seeing the ghost of the girl near the cemetery. Regarding the supernatural activity in Cinco Saltos, another disturbing story concerns a crossing which spans Pellegrini Lake that runs through the town.
Witches had once perfumed child sacrifices on the lake and so visitors who tend to cross at night, at times have reported of hearing the ghostly screams of children. Whenever someone made attempts to locate the source of these screams, they would return back without any clue.
4. City of the Dead
Where: Dargavs, Russia
As legend has it, anyone that visits the ancient necropolis that is Dargavs is doomed to die, and thus explains why locals almost never visit this haunted place. The mountainside settlement was once home to Ossetian tribesmen who buried their kin within the 99 tombs and crypts which sprawl across the landscape.
The site, which now goes by the name 'City of the Dead,' perhaps appears innocent at first, but a closer inspection shows that scattering the floor of these cute, misshapen white houses are countless human bones. Combine that with the narrow roads and pervasive fog that envelopes the site and it's hardly surprising this 'village' remains desolate.
5. Village of Ghostly Voices
Where: Bara-Hack a.k.a. Pomfret, Connecticut
Nicknamed the 'Village of Ghostly Voices,' the cemetery is the only part of Pomfret left standing following the town's abandonment back in 1890. Those who visit the ruins speak of paranormal activity: disembodied voices, children playing, ghostly horse-drawn buggies, and sightings of bright orbs and streaks of light over the site. And, disturbingly, in 1971, paranormal researcher Paul Eno reported seeing a bearded head "hovering over the cemetery for several minutes."
Clearly when the settlers disbanded over a century ago, they forgot to take some spirits with them.
Bara-Hack is on private property, so one must have permission from the land-owner before visiting.
6. The Pervasive Popobawa
Where: Pemba Island, Zanzibar
The origins of the Popobawa, an evil, shape-shifting spirit, has caused mass hysteria throughout the East African coast since its apparent first sighting in 1965 on the Tanzanian island of Pemba. In Swahili the name translates as 'bat-wing,' which is just one of the forms this spirit has been assumed to take. Striking at night, the beast's attacks can comprise of physical assaults, poltergeist-like behavior and — most feared of all — sodomizing adult men and women.
The last wide-spread panic occurred in 2007 after a spate of attacks were reported and often result in entire families spending their nights awake, huddling together around open fires to ward the spirit away.