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

robots blockbuster miniseries talk show ghosts Shudder Holidays Esquire TV renewals toy story Valentine's Day 2017 adventure latino Pop Sci-Fi Mudbound video Hallmark Christmas movies unscripted true crime Logo zombies Columbia Pictures anthology kids Anna Paquin book Superheroes comics Comedy Central TV composers Walt Disney Pictures CBS All Access thriller versus renewed TV shows Marathons Watching Series joker SundanceTV RT21 binge zombie Television Academy Emmys Ghostbusters dc Marvel Television Nickelodeon medical drama Opinion NYCC elevated horror Cartoon Network Heroines Marvel Studios crossover Disney Plus 71st Emmy Awards AMC CBS slashers YA boxoffice Country TBS Fox News revenge quibi game show dramedy canceled TV shows Writers Guild of America Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Schedule Disney streaming service Shondaland Sony Pictures Film Festival theme song YouTube spanish language TCM ESPN Countdown The Witch spider-man Fantasy discovery Toys Quiz Super Bowl dragons Musicals TCA 2017 USA Network Holiday Hulu CNN Captain marvel Binge Guide DC Comics BBC America television Apple TV+ Animation ABC YouTube Premium Polls and Games Interview anime FXX aliens cars festivals Showtime Sneak Peek TV Land Cosplay nature sequel hist Hallmark Bravo Netflix war Trophy Talk Lifetime Christmas movies Mary Poppins Returns green book DGA San Diego Comic-Con Arrowverse HBO Box Office Nominations Disney+ Disney Plus VICE IFC ABC Family MTV WarnerMedia New York Comic Con diversity Adult Swim adaptation Apple TV Plus Extras Amazon Black Mirror Brie Larson Peacock transformers Ovation 20th Century Fox Netflix Christmas movies vampires period drama technology Women's History Month TIFF tv talk IFC Films Pet Sematary ratings X-Men werewolf what to watch stand-up comedy Set visit WGN Rocketman Film Disney cooking Premiere Dates natural history spinoff Martial Arts Freeform romance PBS mutant APB justice league harry potter BBC The CW halloween movies E3 Drama animated TCA Comedy Musical Music History MCU Paramount social media doctor who Rock Certified Fresh crime thriller Reality spain docudrama police drama cancelled TV series Horror Mindy Kaling President Summer cops Lucasfilm cancelled Spike Infographic Mystery breaking bad Pirates PaleyFest Turner Classic Movies BET OWN The Arrangement cinemax based on movie canceled 24 frames Superheroe Reality Competition hispanic streaming Vudu Lionsgate Mary poppins Acorn TV indie 2016 Election A&E Rocky Winter TV Tomatazos travel Star Trek Trailer The Purge free movies ITV Apple psychological thriller Ellie Kemper Nat Geo TNT Amazon Prime NBC MSNBC Epix cancelled television Calendar Tumblr cats 2018 Britbox USA Lifetime Crackle zero dark thirty teaser VH1 Biopics Masterpiece LGBT LGBTQ psycho Character Guide political drama jamie lee curtis Disney Channel romantic comedy science fiction Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt singing competition Tarantino supernatural 21st Century Fox Spring TV Video Games comic Winners 2019 SDCC GoT Teen RT History cults HBO Max Thanksgiving space Podcast Creative Arts Emmys Starz American Society of Cinematographers DC Universe Emmy Nominations GIFs Red Carpet CW Seed screenings politics 007 National Geographic Food Network finale crime drama Oscars spy thriller comiccon golden globes crime TLC historical drama Photos Family A24 foreign disaster Comics on TV Sundance serial killer witnail Warner Bros. Fall TV facebook Awards Syfy Sundance Now Grammys christmas movies richard e. Grant GLAAD casting Awards Tour First Look DirecTV Spectrum Originals Elton John 45 See It Skip It FX blaxploitation Best and Worst Rom-Com Year in Review series cartoon sports El Rey Pride Month Marvel CMT dceu 2015 mockumentary Kids & Family Classic Film game of thrones Trivia batman sitcom award winner Cannes Turner Stephen King independent TruTV Pixar rotten movies we love Star Wars First Reviews The Walking Dead Crunchyroll Paramount Network YouTube Red Song of Ice and Fire Christmas Comic Book Amazon Prime Video SXSW Universal Western Dark Horse Comics cancelled TV shows strong female leads biography Chernobyl children's TV south america FOX Action DC streaming service E! Mary Tyler Moore