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10 Best Horror Movies About Urban Legends

From stories about babysitter killers to killers with hooks, ghost kids and poisoned candy, these urban legends will make you shiver.
Urban Legend Horror Movies
By  · Published on October 27th, 2020

5. Ring (1998)

Ring urban legends

Hideo Nakata’s 1998 horror classic introduced the world to one of the scariest on-screen images of all time: a girl, dripping wet as she crawls from a well, her hair cascading down in black sheets that completely cover her face. She emerges from her watery tomb and comes straight through the TV, literally scaring her unsuspecting viewer to death. There’s a reason this sequence — and its many other forms across sequels and remakes — puts our hearts in our throats. The idea that the barrier between reality and one’s TV screen could be broken in an instant is terrifying on both a primal and an existential level.

The urban legend on which Ring is based, though, is as tragic as it is frightening. Sadako (and her American counterpart, Samara) is based on the folk legend of Okiku, a character who first appeared in traditional Japanese plays as early as 1741. The original story involves a servant girl whose samurai employer tries to pressure her into a relationship through trickery, convincing her she’s lost one of ten plates that are family heirlooms. When she refuses his advances, he throws her down a well, to her death.

Some versions of the story are more romantic than disturbing, but all of them involve Okiku rising from her grave to terrify those around her, usually by counting to nine. As film fans, we can’t blame author Koji Suzuki for nixing the nine plates and replacing them with a killer videotape and a seven-day death countdown. (Valerie Ettenhofer)

4. Alligator (1980)


The other nine films on this list share one thing in common — well, two things if you count the whole “urban legend” angle — and that’s a penchant for human killers, both alive and dead. Director Lewis Teague and writer John Sayles took a different route with their highly entertaining Alligator and instead chose to focus on a legend with a non-human victim. That’s right, I’m saying the man-eating reptile at the heart of this creature feature is the one audiences should be sympathizing with.

The urban legend covered here starts with the ignorant and ill-advised practice of buying non-pet pets, usually for ungrateful little kids, and then panicking when they outgrow their welcome. Newborn alligators, in particular, were purchased as cute little snappers only to be flushed down the toilet when kids grew bored or the scaly beasts threatened to grow too big — but rather than die in the john the tiny gators reportedly grew into full-sized ones in the city sewers as they fed off the excess amount of human waste.

Sayles’ script takes this kernel of a legend and tweaks it to include a gator feasting on lab animals being injected with growth hormones. It grows to an enormous size and is brought to life with both optical and practical effects. Add in Robert Forster as the cop on the scaly beast’s trail and Henry Silva as the big-game hunter hoping to beat him to the kill, and you have a blend of urban legend and animal attack horror that delivers with thrills, spills, and even some laughs. (Rob Hunter)

3. Urban Legend (1998)

Urban Legend

Between I Know What You Did Last Summer, Candyman, and this movie, the ’90s was a great decade for slasher movies inspired by creepy stories that have been told throughout the ages. Urban Legend, however, scores extra points for paying homage to more of these tales than its counterparts.

The story revolves around a killer with a penchant for re-enacting these legendary scenarios in the form of grisly murders, leading everyone to believe that they might not be tall tales after all. The film merges multiple legends together seamlessly, all the while being an extremely entertaining teen slasher with a decent body count. (Kieran Fisher)

2. Black Christmas (1974)

Olivia Hussey urban legends

“The call is coming from inside the house!” The legend of The Babysitter and the Man Upstairs first started to circulate in the 1960s and may have its origins in an unsolved Missouri murder case from 1950. Its first cinematic adaptation was the 1971 short horror film Foster’s Revenge, but its big coming-out party was definitely Bob Clark‘s Black Christmas. Not compelled to detail the worries and fears of a teenage babysitter, screenwriter A. Roy Moore transplanted the tale into a college sorority house.

The slasher feels rooted in a reality. Thanks to incredibly evocative and inviting performances from Olivia Hussey, Margot Kidder, and others, Black Christmas operates like the legend itself. The film seeps into your memory. Years pass, and when you recall its details, you have to remind yourself that it’s fiction, and did not happen to you or a friend of a friend of a friend.

Other films would tackle a variation of this urban legend years later (most notably When a Stranger Calls, as well as the two Black Christmas remakes), but none could replicate Clark’s sincerity. Black Christmas is a scary story, but it’s more a tragedy than a jump-scare jolter. The loss experienced forever lingers. (Brad Gullickson)

1. Candyman (1992)

Candyman Bees urban legends

Candyman is one hell of a film. So it’s fitting that it’s based on not one, but two especially hellish legends. He’s a part cheeky ritual, part serial murderer, and all bees. Like many a terrifying visage before him, one summons Candyman (Tony Todd) by gazing purposefully into a mirror (a practice that is known as catoptromancy) and repeating his name five times. Historically, mirror-related divination has been associated with everything from catching a glimpse of your lover’s face to calling forth a malevolent spirit.

So really, in the case of Candyman protagonist/sweater enthusiast Helen Lyle, that assessment is doubly true. (We can only assume Candyman’s threatening demand adorably transcribes to “bee my victim.” The second urban legend at the heart of Candyman’s ridiculously enigmatic deal is that of The Hookman: an urban legend about a serial killer who preys on young couples via, you guessed it, a hook hand. And boy oh boy does Candyman have a hook hand: jutting with nails, smeared with viscera, and a telling outward clue to the horrors that lie beneath his otherwise charming outer appearance. And by horrors, I do mean bees.

While Candyman more than earns its spot on this list for incorporating and transforming elements of urban legend, what puts it at the front of the pack is its fundamental interest and concern with the power of a modern myth. At their core, most legends, gossip, and local tales contain a kernel of truth more horrifying and human than any boogeyman. (Meg Shields)

Ever hear the story of the two Canadian sisters from different misters who left a trail of quips and carnage across the Great White North? Read all about it with more entries in our 31 Days of Horror Lists!

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Kieran is a Contributor to the website you're currently reading. He also loves the movie Varsity Blues.