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

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