To celebrate our midnight screening of Candyman (Tickets), the story of a local legend coming to life and ripping holes in people with a mean-looking hook hand, Caryn and Kris tackle their favorite Urban Legend films, movies that riff on established modern myths or create new ones all their own.
Starring: Jared Leto, Rebecca Gayheart, Tara Reid
The definitive urban legend film has to be the one that uses ALL of the urban legends in the most self-reflexive period of horror history (the last half of the 1990s), Urban Legend from 1998. In this post-slasher pic set in a New England college town, the killer culls from a professor’s lecture urban legend and folklore class. The kills seem to come directly from one of those books that scared the hell out of you as a kid. You know the one where there’s someone in the back-seat of your car (the flashing headlights are a warning!), the scraping on the top of your car (it’s your boyfriend, baby!), and a pet in the microwave (poor pooch!). As with most of these kinds of films, there’s plot twists-and-turns-and-tricks undercovering the real identity of the “urband legend slayer.” I made that last part up. — Caryn Coleman
Starring: Robert Englund, Johnny Depp, Heather Langenkamp, John Saxon
Like The Candyman, Freddy Kruger started his supernatural murdering career in the Nightmare on Elm Street series as a specter whispered about by children, a bad bedtime story come to life when you’re at your most vulnerable. Many of our modern American horror icons are presented as urban legends, beings that are laughed off by adults until their kids wind up in a puddle on the ceiling. Kruger is the best example of this kind of monster. A pedophile done away with by a vigilante mob, Freddy grew into a monster whose power feeds off of the fear that he wreaks, a creature whose influence spreads the more that he’s talked about. It convinced me enough as a kid where I didn’t even want rented copies of the movies in the house. After all, he could peel off of the cover and dream-kill me — oh, how my mother laughed. — Kris King
Starring: Robert Forster, Robin Riker, Michael V. Gazzo
Ah man, who doesn’t love the alligator in the sewer urban legend? Oh, I guess these people in early 1980s Chicago who get devoured by the sewage-nurtured beast. Alligator shows the little story about a baby alligator flushed down the toilet who not only survives but thrives eating discarded lab rats who have been injected with growth hormones. Delicious! Once above ground, America’s version of Godzilla goes on a rampage eating everything in sight. Moral of the story: don’t flush your pets (or your experiments) down the toilet. — Caryn Coleman
Starring: No one in particular
What made the marketing campaign for the first Blair Witch Project such a modern marvel was how it exploited nascent internet culture to create a seemingly real urban legend. The legend of the Blair Witch was meant to seem real, and the movie itself was presented as proof. Of course, nobody actually believed what they saw in The Blair Witch Project, but, hey, you never know.
Blair Witch’s terrible, but crafty sequel, Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, attempts to capitalize on this kind of jaded mythmaking. Taking place during that couple week long period where the entire world was obsessed with The Blair Witch Project, the film follows a group of obsessive Blair Witch fans into the woods around Burkittsville, Maryland and unleashes all kinds of ookie-spooky shit on them. Book of Shadows is undoubtedly a dumb movie, one that was clearly fiddled with by producers who didn’t entirely understand the appeal of the first film; however, its core idea, that a film could create a myth potent enough to become dangerous, is and intriguing one, even if the movie keeps tripping over its own feet. — Kris King
Starring: Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea, Margot Kidder, and John Saxon
Bob Clark’s Black Christmas is a favorite around here, but did you know that it’s based off the urban legend “when a stranger calls?” In fact, it’s U.S. television title was There’s a Stranger in the House. Set in a sorority house at Christmastime, the profane and threatening phone calls along with the mysterious disappearance of fellow sisters and the den mother prompt a police investigation. So they tap the phone line only to discover that the killer is using an internal phone line…he’s in the house! I mean, what’s more terrifying than not only having someone offing your friends but to know you’ve been co-existing with them in the same space. Home invasion! — Caryn Coleman
Starring: Naomi Watts, Daveigh Chase, Martin Henderson, David Dorfman
The story of the killer tape in Gore Verbinski’s version of The Ring is one passed from kid to kid, the kind of school-yard yarn that’s just believable enough to scare your sleep-addled friends at 3-in-the-morning. We’ve been trained our whole lives not to believe in these little suburban nightmares we make up, which makes us vulnerable when one comes around that’s actually true. That’s the threat in The Ring. It would be easy just to not hit the ‘play’ button, but our inherent skepticism towards all things supernatural makes something silly like watching a “killer tape” seem harmless—at least until the phone rings. — Kris King