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

Pet Sematary Black History Month Premiere Dates CNN true crime romantic comedy Lifetime Film Festival jamie lee curtis WGN boxoffice Amazon Prime Video Lifetime Christmas movies Emmys sag awards biography Biopics Walt Disney Pictures nature Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Britbox 21st Century Fox Awards Family VH1 Shudder Paramount Network politics DC Universe batman Television Academy NYCC Apple USA NBC ghosts BET PaleyFest Best and Worst Song of Ice and Fire diversity latino spinoff OWN anime cancelled TV shows Horror Cannes Superheroes toy story Captain marvel Adult Swim screen actors guild cults BBC TLC Women's History Month cartoon doctor who robots kids casting independent A24 television 2020 animated The CW movie video USA Network Red Carpet movies Watching Series Box Office Fox News San Diego Comic-Con Musical scary movies Marvel Studios Pirates spain CMT versus Interview Opinion name the review vampires TCA Winter 2020 Columbia Pictures APB south america Universal Spectrum Originals Warner Bros. Binge Guide Set visit political drama cancelled television joker Infographic ABC The Purge Mary Poppins Returns singing competition Logo Mudbound Animation E3 cooking Video Games blockbuster revenge crossover Food Network Pop TV dogs Stephen King Super Bowl social media President TV renewals Disney streaming service Tumblr X-Men Sneak Peek thriller AMC Heroines TV science fiction Tarantino Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Amazon Prime WarnerMedia Emmy Nominations Ghostbusters 2018 First Look free movies Thanksgiving First Reviews strong female leads disaster green book CBS All Access based on movie Fantasy FXX indie transformers YouTube Red Election Pixar Christmas Disney Channel Spike crime thriller OneApp Toys Showtime GoT TIFF docudrama 20th Century Fox Crunchyroll blaxploitation BBC America adaptation finale Countdown discovery children's TV Trivia cops Photos 2015 HBO Max talk show serial killer TCA 2017 comics cinemax miniseries Comics on TV Brie Larson book Hallmark Sundance Now Comic Book stand-up comedy crime drama Calendar DirecTV Film what to watch Holidays Star Trek GIFs Bravo Sundance TV IFC Films GLAAD Grammys police drama Syfy Academy Awards Martial Arts A&E aliens anthology Hulu The Arrangement rotten movies we love SXSW Mystery Acorn TV spy thriller christmas movies psychological thriller Action tv talk award winner Star Wars Schedule Marvel Television renewed TV shows sequel Turner Classic Movies CBS Travel Channel reboot foreign theme song screenings Kids & Family Tomatazos Pop spanish language Winter TV RT21 war Winners SundanceTV YouTube breaking bad hispanic Classic Film mutant Esquire 007 streaming Netflix witnail directors facebook ABC Family natural history Cosplay romance DC Comics American Society of Cinematographers psycho Cartoon Network composers Quiz Shondaland Valentine's Day Extras game show Awards Tour Avengers ITV DGA FX Baby Yoda harry potter festivals 2019 binge Rocketman Apple TV+ FOX comic Hallmark Christmas movies Pride Month PBS IFC canceled TV shows Sony Pictures FX on Hulu TCM National Geographic zero dark thirty comiccon Country historical drama Anna Paquin Superheroe History Marvel Epix Podcast reviews Freeform DC streaming service adventure Disney Plus Tubi Disney mockumentary cancelled TCA Fall TV 45 ESPN CW Seed dc YA richard e. Grant E! 2016 LGBT Western ratings Rock halloween Black Mirror series teaser Disney+ Disney Plus Lucasfilm Nominations TruTV Netflix Christmas movies Drama Musicals golden globes documentary Nickelodeon quibi game of thrones Mary poppins cats 2017 universal monsters Endgame Dark Horse Comics Funimation unscripted Vudu Teen Amazon Studios technology supernatural Peacock Chernobyl crime YouTube Premium Comedy VICE period drama slashers Sci-Fi El Rey medical drama Marathons franchise sitcom cars Lionsgate New York Comic Con 24 frames zombie Spring TV Apple TV Plus dramedy zombies Creative Arts Emmys Character Guide Year in Review Amazon Starz Mindy Kaling canceled Writers Guild of America MCU Elton John See It Skip It TNT Rom-Com werewolf Rocky Oscars hist Nat Geo TBS Ovation Reality Competition Mary Tyler Moore sports SDCC dceu The Walking Dead LGBTQ Trailer Masterpiece MTV Turner Trophy Talk Arrowverse RT History elevated horror Sundance cancelled TV series Ellie Kemper Summer dragons space justice league Crackle Reality Certified Fresh 71st Emmy Awards Paramount HBO Polls and Games spider-man TV Land Holiday travel MSNBC The Witch Comedy Central Discovery Channel Music