5 Great Horror Movies Based On Urban Legends

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Best Of Best of Movies Featured Horror Mystery and Lore

Horror movies are always more effective when reminiscent of, or straight up depicting, real world fears. What better way to terrify the masses than by visually portraying urban legends, some of the most widespread of superstitions and irrational paranoias? Many of these folk horror films are tackled by smaller directors looking to kickstart, though some bigger budget gems have been known to shine through. 

Triangle 2009

Triangle Folk Horror movie poster with girl holding axe on a boat with a bloody reflection

Triangle is a twisting, turning, chilling British horror/thriller from Christopher Smith, director of Severance (2006) and Black Death (2010). A potent hybrid of old school slasher à la Friday 13th (1980) and mind-bending science fiction in the vein of Predestination (2014) and Coherence (2013), this unsettling nautical romp is certain to please fans of both. When Jess, a single mother, embarks on a boating trip with her friends, a storm forces them to abandon their vessel for a seemingly deserted cruise liner. Once aboard, the group are faced with a deranged killer, along with waves of psychological mayhem and headache-inducing time loops. 

As the name may suggest, Triangle is centred around the infamous Bermuda Triangle, a region in the western part of the North Atlantic Ocean. The region is said to have played setting to, and been the culprit of, a great number of obscure sightings and disappearances leading back to 1492. It was then that Christopher Columbus and the crew of the Santa Maria sailed through the triangle to arrive at Guanahani, though not before reportedly seeing a strange and unknown light in the sea fog. Since then a great deal of boats and aeroplanes have disappeared in the sinister sea-region, from the USS Wasp in 1814 to Turkish Airlines flight TK183 in 2017, some carrying upwards of a hundred passengers at the time of disappearance. 

Triangle does great justice to the eerie and unexplainable legend of the Bermuda Triangle, it’s warping story leaving viewers guessing and re-guessing until its bleak and poignant closing scene. Weight is added through Smith’s use of bloody violence and tense horror, creating a soft hybrid of a film which remains as entertaining and thought provoking now as it ever was. 

Bermuda is not the only area that has a mysterious triangle. The Alaska Triangle has similar tales albeit over land.

The Blair Witch Project 1999

Blair Witch Project 1999 Movie poster with scared face and text

This pioneer of the found-footage subgenre shocked audiences in 1999 with a claustrophobic and wholly believable portrayal of young adults falling victim to the legend of the mysterious Blair Witch. After setting off into rural Maryland to document and hopefully capture some evidence of the insidious figure, including interviewing locals and camping in some questionable spots, Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard and Michael C. Williams (playing themselves) soon become lost in the vast wilderness. Seemingly stalked and tormented by the very myth they sought to invoke, the three encounter dread and distress enough to make any viewer think twice about their next camping trip.

Of course, the legend of the Blair Witch is just that, a legend. That being said, it had more of an interesting start than most. Writer-directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez fabricated an entire urban legend regarding the town of Burkittsville, Maryland, plastering missing-person posters around the 1999 Sundance Film Festival and claiming their footage was real. Sundance legally had to confirm the film as a work of fiction, though this did not lessen the impact the marketing ploy had. The rise of a $60,000 indie flick to $248,000,000 blockbuster is staggering, as is the influence the film has had on the horror scene long after its release. 

The Blair Witch Project relied on a strong cast utilising a lot of improvisation to help its desired effect come to life. Not just for the claims of authenticity (though it did help those) but for the raw and genuine atmosphere running through the flick. The actors camped for ten days in the Maryland wilderness while cremembers posed as their antagonist, leaving stick figures and bloody packages at camp, shaking their tents in the early hours. Only Heather, of the three, was given any information about the witch to ensure the others gave authentic reactions and asked plenty of questions. 

While this type of filmmaking can come with complications, such as the actors’ parents being sent sympathy cards over their children’s fictional deaths to this day, it shows a complete commitment from cast and crew. To make something with this impact, small sacrifices must sometimes be made, though we’ll leave it up to the creators to decide whether it was worth it.

Willow Creek 2013

Willow Creek Folk Horror Movie poster with a big foot imprint and red background

When Kelly (Alexie Gilmore) and Jim (Bryce Johnson) travel into Humboldt County, California on a camping trip to find the famous wildman, Bigfoot, their faith and will to survive are tested in equal measure. 

If Willow Creek isn’t a tribute to The Blair Witch Project then it’s at least a loving nod. Effectively sparse and utilising tireless and detailed acting from what is effectively a cast of two, prolific writer/director/comedian Bobcat Goldthwait’s directorial foray into tense horror is a potent one. It shares Blair Witch’s theme and structure almost to a tee, other than replacing Myrick and Sánchez’ fictitious urban legend with one very much known in the real world.

Bigfoot, also referred to as Sasquatch in Canadian and American folklore, is an ape-like wildman of worldwide legend and innumerable alleged sightings. While all accounts of the Bigfoot are anecdotal, or highly disputable video footage or photographs, it manages to retain one of the highest cult followings of any urban legend, with followers deeply entrenched in the culture of searching out and worshipping the elusive ape-man. 

Bigfoot has been a figurehead in popular culture for years, appearing on television, in films and countless pieces of merchandise. A few horror films such as Exists (2014) and Evidence (2012) have included the towering hair-covered phenomenon as an antagonist, though none quite so efficaciously as this one.

Ringu 1998 / The Ring 2002

The Ring Horror Movie poster showing a glowing supernatural ring

This Japanese frightfest and its American counterpart are a perfect example of a western adaptation done right. Japan has always had a distinct and dynamic take on horror as a genre, favouring dark spaces, pale ghosts with jet black hair and some truly unsettling signature sounds. One may think that a western attempt would completely miss the mark (or, as they tend to, miss the point completely) on such an unmistakable style, though Ringu’s remake The Ring proved to be as good if not a more accessible way to deliver its story to a wider audience. 

When journalist Rachael (Naomi Watts) comes across a videotape that allegedly kills people seven days after watching, she must act quickly to decipher the meaning behind the object before it claims her own life. Featuring a solid performance from Naomi Watts along with a morbidly bleak atmosphere and some horrendously chilling imagery, The Ring managed to take an age-old Japanese urban legend and present it in a way certain to scare the worldwide masses. As if Ringu wasn’t unnerving enough.

The story itself is, as you may have guessed, based on an old Japanese legend dating as far back as the 12th century. Somewhere between 1333 and 1346 a fort now known as Himeji Castle was erected on Himeyama hill in western Japan. A samurai named Tessan Aoyama was said to have taken a particular fancy to a young servant of his named Okiku, so much of a fancy in fact that he vowed to take her away and marry her. When she refused his advances, the samurai hid one of the ten priceless golden plates Okiku was charged with looking after. He told her that if she did not agree to marry him he would openly blame her for the plate’s disappearance, an accusation that would undoubtedly lead to her being tortured and executed. In full knowledge of her predicament, Okiku was said to have committed suicide by throwing herself into a well in the castle grounds. Each night, so the tale goes, she would crawl back out of the well, appearing to Aoyama on a nightly basis until he went mad from her haunts. She was regularly heard counting the plates she had sworn to protect, throwing a destructive tantrum whenever she realised that number ten was still missing. 

Ringu proves that a terrifying story does not have to be wholly original; sometimes a rework of an ancient tale will do just nicely. 

Candyman 1992

Candyman Urban Legend Horror Movie Poster with a bee in an eye

Candyman is the quintessential urban legend brought to life. Based on a 1985 Clive Barker short story entitled The Forbidden, the film shares a few similarities. The infamous Candyman, with his aura of bees and hook for a hand, will appear to anyone who either uses his name in vain or flat out refuses to believe in him. Say his name five times in a mirror (yep, that’s where that came from) and he’ll appear behind you, ready to drive his deadly hook into your tender form. That’s if you’re brave or stupid enough to even bother.

A graduate student named Helen comes across the Candyman legend while researching her thesis paper. Her examination into the insidious entity brings his attention right back on her, and soon she finds herself fighting for her life against an age-old evil that apparently only she didn’t know not to mess with.

Candyman has taken his share of inspiration from several sources, most notable of which being the Hookman legend. In the story, a young couple are getting steamy in a parked car when an emergency radio bulletin says that a mental patient with a hook for a hand has escaped the nearby asylum. The girl becomes terrified when she hears something scraping along the car, convincing the boy to drive off. When he does, neither of them notice the metal hook hanging from the door handle. While the similarities here are purely aesthetic, the Hookman appearance is unmistakable in any form.

The other clear inspiration for this 1992 classic is one of the many manifestations of the ‘say their name five times in a mirror’ dare, Bloody Mary. One of the most widely known tales to date, Bloody Mary is said to have been a witch who was burned for practicing black magic, though more modern retellings say that she was a young woman who died in a car crash. Every kid’s first sleepover isn’t complete without a game of Bloody Mary, making her one of the first spirits many of us will have encountered.

Links

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Bermuda_Triangle_incidents

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1187064/

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0185937/?ref_=nv_sr_srsg_0

https://www.thrillist.com/entertainment/nation/blair-witch-project-true-story-burkittsville-maryland

https://www.mirror.co.uk/film/blair-witch-real-truth-behind-8844017

https://www.vice.com/en/article/8xzy4p/blair-witch-project-oral-history-20th-anniversary

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Himeji_Castle

https://screenrant.com/candyman-movie-real-urban-legends-inspiration-tony-todd/

https://www.popsugar.co.uk/entertainment/where-does-candyman-legend-come-from-47313482

5 Scariest Episodes from the LORE Podcast

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Best Horror Podcasts Best Of Reviews Scary Movies and Series

When technology meets the terrifying truths of the past, you get one of our favorite podcasts: Lore. Hosted by Aaron Mahnke since 2015, each episode explores various myths, urban legends and folklore that show the dark side of human nature. While there’s plenty of ghost stories for the classic horror fans, you’ll also be exposed to chupacabras, clairvoyants, captivating creatures and more to put a little spook into your morning commute. These are the scariest episodes of lore we have found to date.

Ready to add Lore to your podcast list? There are over 100 episodes – and below are 5 of the scariest episodes.

“A Devil On the Roof” 

lorepodcast.com/episodes/9

Before there was Bigfoot, there was the Jersey Devil. Said to have the body of a kangaroo, head of a goat and dragon-like wings, there have been hundreds of documented sightings of the creature around New Jersey for nearly three centuries.

This episode discusses its origins and spookiest sightings. The scariest part? For plenty of Jersey natives, the existence of the Jersey Devil is less folklore, and more fact.

“Half-Hanged” 

lorepodcast.com/episodes/12

“Half-Hanged” tells the story of Mary Webster – a woman in the era of the Salem witch trials. She became the scapegoat after the town hero blames her for his worsening health and accuses her of witchcraft – simply for being a little different. She goes through (not to!) hell, but doesn’t go down without a fight.

While the story took place in the 1600’s, it’s a twisted tale that would not be out of place today. Fun fact: Mary Webster is an ancestor of The Handmaid’s Tale author Margaret Atwood – who dedicated the book and television series to her. 

“Black Stockings”

lorepodcast.com/episodes/11

While exorcisms are extremely common in the horror genre, you’re usually trying to rid your loved ones of demons – not evil fairies. In “Black Stocking,” Manke discusses the folklore surrounding fairy changelings, and the desperate measures people went through to get rid of them.

“Rope and Railing”

lorepodcast.com/episodes/23

What’s more frightening than the depths of the sea? The lighthouse that stands beside it. This episode holds back on ghosts, monsters, or even villains – and tackles one of society’s greatest fears…ending up all alone. 

“Echoes”

lorepodcast.com/episodes/6

“All monsters are human.” Jessica Lange says it to Evan Peters in American Horror Story: Asylum, and this iconic line comes to life in one of Lore’s most disturbing episodes. Manke takes a terrifying trip into the asylum as he discusses the events at Danvers State Hospital, the first icepick lobotomy, and the horrifying ways in which the mentally ill were treated in asylums. It’s a tough, but necessary, look at human psyche and the progress we’ve made today. 

5 Spooky Stories to Get You in the Halloween Mood

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Best Horror Books Best Of Featured

For many of us, the Halloween countdown starts as soon as fall rolls around. When the leaves turn orange and the darkness creeps in, it’s the perfect time to cozy up with a scary story or a nail-biting horror movie. Now, with All Hallows’ Eve just around the corner, I’ve put together this list of five bone-chilling stories to prepare you for the spookiest day of the year!

1. Pet Sematery by Stephen King

Stephen King Pet Sematary book cover with cat and graveyard

Stephen King has become one of the modern world’s most celebrated authors, publishing over 60 novels in his lifetime. He can terrify even the hardiest of horror readers with his hauntingly vivid settings, convincing characters, and unexpected twists — and the 1983 novel Pet Sematary is hailed by fans as one of his best.

It begins innocently enough, with the Creed family moving to a quiet town in Maine. Little do they know, their new house sits near an ancient animal burial ground — where the bite is much worse than the bark. When the family cat gets run over, only to return the next day acting strangely, the Creed family and the reader know that things are about to get very freaky.

2. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus
Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus

One of the most famous horror books of all time, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is the source of many a bolt-necked costume — but how many know the original tale? When Shelley wrote this novel, her goal was to “speak to the mysterious fears of our nature… to make the reader dread to look round, to curdle the blood, and quicken the beatings of the heart.”

Two centuries later, she’s clearly succeeded: just about everyone recognizes the name Frankenstein. While it’s commonly associated with the half-dead, half-alive humanoid monster, Frankenstein carries the name of the scientist behind the creation, Dr. Victor Frankenstein — who must choose between his life’s work and the safety of humanity. That said, to really appreciate the nuanced terrors of this classic Gothic novel, one simply has to read it.

3. 30 Days of Night by Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith

30 days of night book cover with man screaming

30 Days of Night is a three-issue horror comic by Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith that’s guaranteed to keep you awake… and petrified. When the small town of Barrow, Alaska is plunged into a midwinter month of darkness, the area becomes a hunting ground for a group of bloodthirsty vampires — and its residents must fight like hell to survive.

Templesmith’s illustrations bring Niles’ words to visceral life, a no-holds-barred portrayal of the graphic violence and gore throughout the story. Though none of the stories on this list are exactly easy reading, take heed that 30 Days of Night is not for the faint of heart.

4. Fledgling by Octavia E. Butler

Fledgling scary novel cover with legs coming out of a white wall

Though best known as a sci-fi author, Octavia Butler has also conjured up many multi-layered horror stories to make your skin crawl. Fledgling is a perfect example — this thrilling novel tackles issues of race and identity under the guise of a sinister vampire plot.

The story kicks off with immediate suspense, as a young girl named Shori wakes up with no knowledge of who or where she is. It only gets more disturbing as she discovers that she’s actually a 53-year-old vampire, wanted dead by an unknown figure. Though aware it could lead to her own demise, Shori is desperate to find out more about her past and identity — and as she goes from fledgling to full-on vamp, she finds that the only one she can trust is herself.

5. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark book cover with a skeleton head over a graveyard

For anyone who loved sitting ’round a campfire as a kid and sharing urban legends passed down through generations, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is just the chill-inducing companion you’ll need for Halloween. Compiled by editor Alvin Schwartz, this book includes some of the most harrowing short stories ever told.

Many have questioned its classification as a children’s book — and rightly so. From haunted houses to people getting eaten by worms, the descriptions and illustrations may leave you a little queasy. However, if you’re looking for a bit of nostalgia with your Halloween reading, then this is the book for you.

Whether you’re planning to spend your night trick-or-treating or under the blankets with hot cocoa and a scary movie, I hope that these spooky stories have gotten you into the Halloween spirit. Have a hauntingly good one!

Guest post by Savannah Cordova from Reedsy – Twitter / Instagram