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La Mala Hora – Urban Legend Explored

Mexico has enough folklore and urban legends to make HP Lovecraft cancel his flight, though none are as menacing and confrontational as the dreaded La Mala Hora.

The Legend

La Mala Hora relates to The Devil’s Hour, a time many know as 3am, a time at which they would wake suddenly with no perceptible reason with an acute sense of dread wallowing in their stomach. The dreaded hour has been associated with practice of witchcraft, imbued with great satanic significance and even held accountable for the true story of The Amityville Horror, though residents of Mexico know it as something rather more tangible, and far more horrifying. 

In 1910 the phenomenon was described by Aurelio Espinosa as a malicious entity that stalked crossroads around Mexico at night. It would hunt, torment and even kill anyone brave enough to ignore the tales and travel home alone at such an hour. If these individuals were unfortunate enough to come across the dreaded La Mala Hora, and gaze headlong into it, they would be driven hideously and irreversibly insane. Sounds like Mexico has been reading a little of Lovecraft’s work after all.

And because of this, this particular spirit is said to be more feared than the devil himself. Most of Mexico flat-out refuses to talk about it, changing the subject or simply referring to it as “an evil thing”.  

La Mala Hora takes great pleasure in driving its victims mad. Not only this, but it will often attack helpless travellers, paralyzing them in their tracks and brutalising their weakened forms. When suffocated by the fiend their bodies are left at the side of the road.

La Mala Hora Lady in White

In Chiapas, the southernmost state of Mexico, the insidious entity is told to take the form of a beautiful woman, sometimes dressed in white, sometimes in black. This incarnation and its diversely gruesome behaviours come across like some demented video game enemy gone rogue. When dressed in white La Mala Hora is said to be gentler, more graceful. She hypnotises weary travellers who, if they don’t notice the space between her feet and the ground, or the fact that her toes are backwards, or the fact that their lanterns have stopped working and all sense of direction seems lost, will follow her obediently into wherever peril she chooses. Perhaps this will be off the edge of a ravine, perhaps in front of the next passing car. 

When dressed in black, La Mala Hora is more aggressive. She will stop a traveller by any means and attack directly with her pointed nails. The strong willed should hope to meet her on a ‘white night’, while no one should hope to see her in black. 

One such story has been circling the internet for quite some time, earning La Mala Hora its creepypasta certification along the way. In this story a woman goes to stay with her friend who is experiencing marital troubles. On the way she almost hits a woman in the road who, when the car stops, begins scratching fiercely at the windows in an attempt to get in. After driving away as quickly as possible our protagonist reaches her friend who tells her frantically that she has seen La Mala Hora, the spirit who only appears when death is close. The woman then calls her husband, who she finds has been mugged and shot to death in another area. 

New Mexico Legend

On the southern border of the United States, New Mexico, La Mala Hora seems to appear much closer to Espinosa’s original description. Seen as a black abstract form, like a fleece of wool which expands and contracts, changing size and shape and seemingly floating along the roadside. A widely feared omen, this incarnation is only told to be seen when death is soon to befall a loved one. I would imagine a lot of concerned yet apologetic phone calls taking place around 3am in Mexico. 

One thing is for sure; if I lived near any of the places that La Mala Hora is said to appear, I would doubtfully ever go out after midnight. 

References

10 Fascinating Facts About The Devil’s Hour, 3AM – Listverse

Mexican Monstresses: La Mala Hora – Multo (Ghost) (wordpress.com)

La Mala Hora: From Scary stories at Americanfolklore.net

Urban Legends And Ghost Stories: La Mala Hora (urbanlegends66.blogspot.com)

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Featured Horror Mystery and Lore

Curse of The River Serpent – Urban Legend

Technically speaking, we as a species have explored more of the cosmos than of the extensive oceans that make up the majority of our planet. Earth’s history is riddled with sightings and encounters of subaqueous creatures large and small, beautiful and dangerous, real and imaginary. Whole skeletons have been discovered to prove the existence of immense antediluvian monsters the globe over, though while these creatures are in fact proven to have roamed the earth’s waters at some prehistoric juncture, many more fantastical types have managed to bleed over into a myriad of weird and wonderful superstitions. The Curse of The River serpent is no exception.

Urban legends are positively rampant in the United States, largely in sparse areas of vast deserts, rivers and woodland where superstition is given true space to run wild. One long-persevering tale, originating from the rivers of Tennessee and Alabama, sounds more like something from HP Lovecraft’s most aqueous nightmare than a backwater fantasy. This is the curse of the river serpent. 

 The Coosa River

Coosa River Map home of the river serpent urban legend
By Original: Pfly, using a base map template made with US Federal public domain GIS data;Version 3: John Lambert – This is a modification of File:MobileAlabamaCoosa2.png, which is in Wikimedia under GFDL license., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2065758

The Coosa River, once claimed by the French and considered the “key to the country”, is one of the main areas this particular thalassic oddity has been sighted. A 280 mile tributary of the Alabama River, Coosa River has been a place of rich history since long before the first Europeans visited it in 1540. Coosa basin contains 147 fish species, along with the oddity of the painted rocksnail, and plenty of alligator sightings, though at around 1822 an altogether new phenomenon was observed. A great snakelike creature with large fins was spotted first slithering near the banks at Ball Play Creek. 

The Curse of The River Serpent Legend

Columnist E. Randall Floyd described several incidents in a 1993 article in the Spartanburg Herald-Journal. According to the article, Buck Sutton was fishing in Van’s Hole when he saw the creature writhing in the swampy shallows. He described the horrible sighting to his friends, only to turn up mysteriously dead a few days later. Since this mysterious occurrence, other victims have fallen prey to the serpent’s curse, Billy Burns dying in 1827; Jim Windom in 1829. No records exist as to the actual cause of these perplexing departures, though the stories are evidence enough for many to avoid the basin at all costs.

So is it just backwoods imagination gone wild, or is there something to be said for the curse of the Alabama river serpent? While most tales of sea creatures have been dismissed as sightings of extremely large river fish, fossils discovered in 1834 show a prehistoric whale once swam in waters in what is now Alabama. According to the Alabama Department of Archives and History, the creature was later found by scientists to be Basilosaurus cetoides, or zeuglodon, a prehistoric meat-eating whale found once in the Eocene epoch that grew as long as 70 feet, and grew to have skulls as long as five feet.

Conclusion

Humans are not meant to be underwater, and it is this fact that drives our inescapable thalassic fears. Films like Underwater (2020) and Leviathan (1989) exploit this to great effect, and the possible existence of seventy-foot sea serpents doesn’t help matters much. From the early to mid-1800s, sea serpent sightings occurred with the regularity of UFO sightings today, according to the Geological Survey of Alabama, and it is within the public’s fascination with the uninhabitable that the truth will grow ever closer.

References

Underwater (2020) – IMDb
Leviathan (1989) – IMDb
Car-sized catfish? Supernatural serpents? ‘Monster Fish’ host Zeb Hogan discusses Alabama’s legendary river creatures (Odd Travels w/video, photos) – al.com
Herald-Journal – Google News Archive Search

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Let’s Talk About Survival Horror

The differences between some horror games are like the differences between a haunted house ghost ride and being chased by an actual deranged killer. Being startled is one thing, but the feeling of being pursued by a genuine threat is as hellishly exhilarating as it is difficult to simulate. Horror video games such as Resident Evil (1996) and Silent Hill (1999) laid foundations for the concept of ‘Survival Horror’ as much as later titles like Amnesia: The Dark Descent (2010) and The Forest (2014) branched out and developed what it meant, finding new ways to milk the formidable dread of being stalked. The feeling could arguably translate to many mediums of art and entertainment, none however finding it nearly as easy to achieve as video games. When a player can digitally embody a character’s perspective, or further still, make a character to look just like them, then immersing the common individual shouldn’t be all that hard.

Friday the 13th movie poster

Films, on the other hand, must rely on a variety of tricks to achieve the fight-or-flight-tickling survival horror sensation. This can include stylistic choices, core concepts and often exploitation of the setting and the themes buried within it. Slasher flicks like Friday 13th (1980) commonly include a group of people desperately trying to escape a killer with their lives which, when done well, forces the viewer to consider their own mortality over and over. Apocalyptic horror films like I Am Legend (2007) can portray a single individual as the last surviving human, posing questions of society and seclusion to its audience while basking in the heavy dread of pure isolation. 

It is within this isolation that many horror films thrive, and setting is one of the more common tools to make it work. Of course the true requirement for audience immersion is quality acting, though setting can often act as a character itself, becoming in some cases the ultimate source of terror. Many horror films such as Backcountry (2015)Willow Creek (2014) and arguably The Revenant (2016) (the latter featuring one of the most savage bear attacks in film history) take place within vast wildernesses for this very reason. When things go wrong, there aren’t many places to go, and chances of survival decrease drastically. One of the most effective of these films, especially for the general British public, is Eden Lake (2004). When a couple retreat to the idyllic titular spot in the woods for a quiet weekend, their worst nightmares manifest in the form of a group of troubled youths. Armed with a capable cast and a believable plot, this violent thriller consistently raises question after horrible question of morality and group mentality, right up until its hair-raising finale. Not a lot of us will have come across bigfoot or even a grizzly bear in our lives, though trouble at the hands of ‘hoodies’ is something many are accustomed to. 

Of course isolation does not necessarily depend upon setting, and the plot of a film can have just as much bearing on this effect. Many stories tell of an apocalyptic age, one taking place after much of humanity has been wiped out, and focus on the exploits of a few survivors. Within films such as The Crazies (1973/2010), Doomsday (2008)I am Legend (2007) and Mad Max (1979) are insights into the psychology of people forced to outlive their species, along with a lot of wacky violence. When characters are thrown into a lawless world of gangs and deadly viruses, new and often brutal measures of survival are employed. Frank Darabont’s The Mist (2007) centres around a small town overrun with, you guessed it, an insidious mist. Within this mist, however, are terrors beyond which they have ever known, and the only hope for a modest group is to lock themselves into the local supermarket. As the story progresses, antagonists become more numerous in the form of other survivors, and what follows is a potent and nightmarish surmise into what religion and mob mentality could achieve in such a situation. The story is told through the eyes of David Drayton as he tries to protect his son Billy from the gospel-preaching insanity of Mrs Carmody, and poses a harrowing choice between a world of monsters and the company of his neighbors as they slowly become monsters themselves. 

One must not necessarily wait for the apocalypse to explore the volatile chaos of a group of isolated people. This idea provides the base concept for many horror films from the prolific Saw series to smaller flicks like Await Further Instructions (2018) and Would You Rather (2012) wherein a congregation are held by some sinister means and forced to endure some psychological or physical torture. These films are an excellent vehicle for exploring the psychology of different groups when faced with a life or death situation. While a common trope is to bring a group of (supposed) strangers together for some hellish game, Await Further Instructions pits a British family at Christmas against some unseen, unknown threat that has contained them within their house. It is a brilliantly executed exercise into paranoia, xenophobia and the true meaning of family values when said family is pushed to the brink by an otherworldly threat. 

Alien horror movie poster 1979 showing an alien egg in space

Things not-of-this-earth have been a source of terror for centuries. Being lost in wooded wilderness is one thing, however space is arguably the ultimate setting for claustrophobia and pure hopelessness. Alien (1979) teased us with the idea that an extraterrestrial threat could reach earth while gleefully exhibiting the effects of just one of these organisms on a spaceship’s crew. Where it thrives is within the tight, winding corridors and vents of The Nostromo, where the crew are mercilessly picked off by the ultimate killing machine. Coupled with this internal threat is the vastness of space only sheet-metal’s width away. When properly considered, the extinction of the human race wouldn’t be all that hard (look at how we handle a virus outbreak) and the horror writers and directors who know this will always hit harder at our baser survival instincts. Stay safe, and stay alive.