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

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