News

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

Comics on TV ABC Spectrum Originals Reality Competition Adult Swim Awards Dark Horse Comics cinemax Rocky natural history Trophy Talk Character Guide Netflix TIFF TV unscripted LGBT Cannes VICE adventure Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Tomatazos Podcast Superheroes Winter TV DC streaming service Calendar APB Comic Book Awards Tour travel what to watch Pop toy story golden globes crossover disaster Esquire vampires FX CBS elevated horror LGBTQ police drama spider-man Lucasfilm President WarnerMedia richard e. Grant Kids & Family theme song Mystery award winner Masterpiece Pride Month medical drama television Ghostbusters thriller social media Hulu Comedy Warner Bros. Music Lionsgate Countdown Fall TV History period drama Writers Guild of America 20th Century Fox PaleyFest composers Crackle Black Mirror technology Star Trek Brie Larson Starz DC Universe Disney 45 GIFs anime Nat Geo ratings 2015 casting Oscars Nickelodeon docudrama doctor who WGN Shudder comiccon Chernobyl Grammys ESPN Paramount political drama MCU strong female leads Cosplay harry potter Superheroe dc dragons Mudbound comic Food Network Valentine's Day Columbia Pictures Mindy Kaling BBC America The Witch YouTube Red war Spring TV Walt Disney Pictures sequel Vudu IFC Films DC Comics based on movie Summer YA PBS Election Ellie Kemper Mary Tyler Moore historical drama adaptation TV Land American Society of Cinematographers Apple Super Bowl Reality Action Anna Paquin Trailer Sony Pictures TBS sports Horror TCA 2017 HBO Max El Rey jamie lee curtis diversity DGA nature Epix Pet Sematary crime drama spy thriller X-Men National Geographic MSNBC Ovation Paramount Network witnail E3 binge Emmy Nominations Martial Arts Britbox blaxploitation streaming GoT HBO hist Rom-Com Showtime Watching Series Amazon Prime NYCC aliens boxoffice VH1 Sneak Peek cats Sundance BBC cops CW Seed Captain marvel Stephen King cults Country Western science fiction Rocketman Women's History Month romance biography 007 Nominations First Look AMC Infographic San Diego Comic-Con Sci-Fi MTV dceu Schedule zero dark thirty Best and Worst Quiz Mary Poppins Returns 2019 TCA spinoff Star Wars SDCC space Pixar finale YouTube Premium Universal Winners crime thriller Heroines discovery anthology Marathons teaser psychological thriller Freeform Acorn TV miniseries DirecTV A&E Rock Musical supernatural Tumblr Pirates Song of Ice and Fire Teen zombies Christmas 21st Century Fox CNN politics crime robots Bravo New York Comic Con GLAAD Sundance Now Film Festival Animation Elton John Cartoon Network Extras green book E! Set visit See It Skip It festivals 2017 Amazon SXSW Video Games Photos USA true crime Syfy Biopics RT21 RT History FOX Logo Comedy Central Certified Fresh Creative Arts Emmys Trivia facebook Marvel ABC Family Holidays USA Network Fox News Mary poppins game show IFC Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt dramedy Fantasy Shondaland CMT justice league FXX Spike Musicals The Arrangement 2018 CBS All Access Disney Channel transformers Thanksgiving Toys Drama TCM OWN Box Office Interview Year in Review serial killer Tarantino ITV psycho Opinion sitcom cooking TNT Emmys zombie Red Carpet Lifetime singing competition mockumentary talk show animated 2016 Polls and Games Premiere Dates The CW 24 frames NBC TruTV SundanceTV mutant TLC BET