6 Horror Legends That Inspired Feature Films

Whether you like your men Wicker or Slender, these terrifying tall tales and urban legends have made the leap into Hollywood pop culture.

by | April 18, 2019 | Comments

The Curse of La Llorona hits theaters this week, giving us our first major studio adaptation of the eponymous Mexican folktale also known as “the weeping woman.” Horror master Guillermo del Toro borrowed heavily from the Mexican legend for his 2013 film Mama, but this James Wan-produced scare-fest centers solely on the spirit who, it is said, tragically killed her children, committed suicide, and vowed to terrorize mothers as her eternal retribution.

The movie joins a long list of horror films based on legends (among them, one literally called Urban Legends… don’t pretend you don’t remember it). If you like your horror based on a kinda-maybe-sort-coulda-been true story – or at least the story your buddies and grandma used to scare you with – look no further than these wicked legend-based horror movies that came before La Llorona. 


The Wicker Man

Origin: Pagan Mythology

Adaptations: The Wicker Man (1973), The Wicker Man (2006)

Which Wicker Man should you watch? The original 1973 film starring the late Christopher Lee – that treasure trove of haunting imagery with its dagger-to-your-heart ending? Or the Nicolas Cage “not the bees!” version? Either or, depending on whether you’ve got a hunger for shivers or… for munchies. Both films relied heavily on the Druid (Celtic Pagan) practice of burning a Wicker statue in effigy – which might not have actually been a practice at all. The idea of making a sacrifice by burning a giant effigy was first documented in a single sentence by Julius Caesar circa 50 BC, but modern scholars have become increasingly skeptical. Still, the image remains scary AF.

Origin: Irish Folklore

Memorable Adaptations: The Leprechaun Franchise

The 20th-century leprechaun, as seen on a box of Lucky Charms, is a far cry from the devilish and sometimes benevolent creature you will find in Irish folklore. Tricksters and hoarders of jewels, leprechauns are the supposed offspring of demon (evil spirit) and fairy (angelic spirit) couplings. Because of their equal capacity for good and evil, Celtic mythology is littered with examples of both just and wicked deeds committed by the magical creatures. Warwick Davis originated the role in the legendary B-movie Leprechaun series and continued with it until the franchise rebooted in 2014. According to Davis, the In the Hood installments were the most successful of the direct-to-video efforts. If you’ve witnessed Davis rapping in the finale of Leprechaun in the Hood, you will understand why.

La Llorona (The Weeping Woman)

Origin: Mexican Folklore

Memorable Adaptations: Mama, The Curse of La Llorona

At some point in every mythology, there’s a tale of female, particularly maternal, vengeance — think Dionysus or Medea (the Greek myth, not the Tyler Perry version). Even the original Friday the 13th can be traced back to a mother scorned. In The Curse of La Llorona, a mother drowns her children in a jealous rage to seek revenge on her cheating husband. Reckoning with what she did, she commits suicide, only to be denied entry to the afterlife, cursed to roam the earth weeping, drowning children, and tormenting mothers for all her days. It’s a true word-of-mouth legend, unable to be traced back to any known story or event, and director Michael Chaves told us, “It can be difficult to manage the nuances of it being an oral tradition. It’s hard to pin down what is the right version. So you [go] through all of it to find [the] core experience that so many people grew up on, [what was] told to them as kids. That’s what we wanted to bring on screen.”

The Bell Witch

Origin: Southern American Folklore

Memorable Adaptations: The Blair Witch Project, Book of Shadows – Blair Witch 2Blair Witch

As the legend goes, the Bell family was visited by a spirit in early 1817, bringing reports of spooky black dogs and shadowy figures. If the strangeness stopped there, we might not have included it on our list, but after the first Bell Witch hauntings, there have been countless reported reappearances with similar details often coming from unrelated parties miles apart. What to do with such a creepy story? Make a movie, of course – and cheaply. The makers of The Blair Witch Project used the spooky lore, low-budget scares, and perhaps the savviest early internet marketing campaign to create one of the most lucrative movies ever.

The Amityville Horror

Origin: American folklore 

Memorable Adaptations: The Amityville Horror Franchise

Amityville lies somewhere between folklore and urban legend, but the inexplicable twists and turns surrounding the early ’70s supernatural events that inspired the Amityville movies have cemented them as the granddaddy of lore-based horror cinema. Spanning 23 films over 40 years, The Amityville Horror series chronicles the 1974 haunting first investigated by famed paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, though many debate the accuracy of the Warrens’ story. As the original story goes, Ronald DeFeo Jr. shot and killed six members of his family at home in Amityville, New York, and since then, strange occurrences – mostly focused around the Lutz family that hired the Warrens – have plagued the house where it all went down.

Slender man

Origin: Creepy-pasta/American folklore

Memorable Adaptations: Beware the Slenderman, Slender Man

This one might be a stretch (forgive us), but Slender Man has morphed into modern-day folklore. The Slender Man is a work of pure fiction about a tall and, well, slender spirit that calls others to murder in his name. One of the first documented instances of digital folklore, originating in online message boards, the Slender Man was blamed for directing teenagers to commit suicide, murder, and commit assault on each other indiscriminately. The most notorious incident was the Waukesha, Wisconsin stabbing, in which a pair of 12-year-olds meticulously planned the murder of a friend by stabbing; the victim did thankfully survive, but the incident made national headlines. Of all the tales on our list, the legend of Slender Man is the only one accused in court of turning pre-teens into murderers.

The Curse of La Llorona is in theaters April 22.

Tag Cloud

2018 YouTube Premium dogs Disney Sci-Fi rt archives japanese VICE golden globes scary movies comedies First Look toronto laika halloween superhero new york Broadway science fiction A24 Countdown Avengers Thanksgiving Awards Tour Awards chucky dceu HBO Emmys rom-coms nature Peacock Comic Book true crime Rocketman USA Network animated Freeform Polls and Games Endgame Disney+ Disney Plus razzies cartoon First Reviews screenings adenture Teen comics satire ViacomCBS 2017 elevated horror kaiju Comics on TV Western Nickelodeon Mystery versus Discovery Channel what to watch pirates of the caribbean TCA 2017 psychological thriller Summer disaster Election hidden camera theme song police drama Paramount Plus Pop TV stoner Legendary Red Carpet Star Wars kids documentary blockbusters cancelled TV shows Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Adult Swim Nominations award winner golden globe awards Heroines Calendar concert dramedy Netflix sequels Apple TV Plus Grammys HBO Max Exclusive Video book adaptation justice league Walt Disney Pictures crime thriller Vudu Photos teaser suspense zombies CMT MTV criterion critics international Holidays transformers PlayStation Sundance Now women Winners mockumentary 007 Syfy TNT Pacific Islander 21st Century Fox SundanceTV tv talk WarnerMedia 20th Century Fox Film Tumblr streaming child's play romance Chernobyl aliens The Arrangement Acorn TV marvel cinematic universe Sundance new zealand AMC Superheroe Baby Yoda lord of the rings Amazon Stephen King facebook unscripted worst 99% hist ABC Signature cults Disney Channel spy thriller worst movies Opinion 2021 thriller die hard Tarantino all-time crime drama Superheroes new star wars movies Pet Sematary ghosts indie Set visit Anna Paquin french serial killer Tokyo Olympics witnail Certified Fresh independent The Walt Disney Company Lucasfilm Rom-Com Writers Guild of America batman Country composers christmas movies blaxploitation crossover foreign Super Bowl 24 frames parents PaleyFest FX on Hulu a nightmare on elm street Cartoon Network Rocky Masterpiece Pride Month ABC historical drama The Academy Amazon Prime Video Esquire halloween tv anthology movies Trailer aapi reviews The Witch Epix adaptation Britbox ABC Family Quiz green book DirecTV Action PBS telelvision trailers venice revenge 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards HBO Go History Universal godzilla Star Trek reboot screen actors guild ESPN Cannes Schedule San Diego Comic-Con Arrowverse franchise Showtime CBS All Access Fantasy Warner Bros. anime DGA binge olympics sports vampires zombie Trophy Talk cancelled Pop medical drama Extras slashers Lionsgate target archives Marvel Wes Anderson miniseries Brie Larson fast and furious cancelled TV series FXX Apple Valentine's Day cancelled television south america superman Chilling Adventures of Sabrina films Television Academy Family period drama TCM USA rotten movies we love breaking bad YA Classic Film spain Toys CBS Fox News free movies Alien renewed TV shows quibi BAFTA social media spanish language Lifetime Christmas movies Spectrum Originals A&E travel Amazon Prime NBC stop motion children's TV TV One Biopics TV movies Mudbound natural history hollywood VOD Reality Mary Tyler Moore TCA Awards video on demand Crunchyroll canceled prank TV renewals Travel Channel docuseries crime discovery Dark Horse Comics 4/20 Food Network series hispanic 93rd Oscars diversity spider-man Lifetime Ghostbusters kong Infographic Binge Guide TCA Winter 2020 Turner Classic Movies directors festival cars 90s adventure television Ellie Kemper Paramount Network Tubi Spike Comedy Kids & Family name the review Hallmark Best and Worst Paramount Trivia basketball Crackle richard e. Grant indiana jones heist movie LGBT dragons cats Film Festival The Walking Dead australia Shudder Cosplay football BBC ID game of thrones Marathons documentaries Fox Searchlight docudrama Amazon Studios robots spinoff Musicals SDCC TV deadpool festivals Christmas zero dark thirty toy story E3 video FOX DC Comics Hulu Video Games LGBTQ 71st Emmy Awards Funimation Hear Us Out dc movie book 72 Emmy Awards See It Skip It doctor who latino 2019 jamie lee curtis cops X-Men fresh SXSW emmy awards psycho CNN Holiday game show Starz strong female leads war ratings TV Land President joker VH1 scorecard TBS Song of Ice and Fire Turner comiccon Bravo casting The Purge GoT monster movies Netflix Christmas movies comic books streaming movies cooking comic spanish MSNBC jurassic park twilight Creative Arts Emmys boxing classics Pixar Sneak Peek best RT History Elton John GLAAD ITV 2015 Sundance TV Tomatazos Television Critics Association 1990s political drama singing competition Academy Awards werewolf news TLC New York Comic Con OneApp IFC YouTube boxoffice Columbia Pictures Mindy Kaling Martial Arts king kong Comedy Central TCA Sony Pictures Fall TV biography based on movie Podcast RT21 Box Office TruTV remakes YouTube Red Comic-Con@Home 2021 popular Marvel Television BBC One FX El Rey Apple TV+ Ovation American Society of Cinematographers 2020 Pirates talk show WGN Spring TV Premiere Dates Nat Geo space Winter TV IFC Films BBC America BET Awards National Geographic dark stand-up comedy nfl Hallmark Christmas movies Captain marvel asian-american saw GIFs Animation Oscars The CW Interview Black Mirror james bond harry potter E! rotten supernatural universal monsters wonder woman blockbuster Mary poppins Shondaland Marvel Studios live action NYCC black Emmy Nominations OWN Logo Disney Plus TIFF technology Mary Poppins Returns japan italian BET obituary 45 mutant Black History Month MCU CW Seed sag awards Reality Competition DC Universe know your critic Rock Year in Review high school nbcuniversal cinemax Watching Series Horror sequel Disney streaming service DC streaming service legend politics NBA Image Comics romantic comedy scene in color mission: impossible Women's History Month sitcom 2016 Character Guide Musical finale Music Drama APB canceled TV shows