Urban legends are modern society’s version of folklore, passed along by word-of-mouth (and, these days, the Internet). Although many of them begin with a kernel of truth, they evolve organically as they travel, being expanded upon and slightly modified, often to suit the region in which they are being retold. These legends are rife with horrific imagery, playing on the fears of our culture, which makes them perfect fodder for horror films. Although some of these may have been briefly touched upon in other horror pictures, the following selections represent ten urban legends that deserve a proper and full-length cinematic adaptation.
Spider Eggs in Bubble Yum
When Bubble Yum first hit the candy shelves, it was the only gum on the market that actually started off soft, right out of the package. This lead to a lot of speculation regarding what the secret ingredient could be, and one of the rumors was, inexplicably, spider eggs. Were this legend to be mined for a genre film, I picture it as a body horror movie, with our young hero racing against the clock to find a cure for his ‘tainted gum’ ailments, as more and more unspeakable things begin to happen to his body. It starts as a mysterious rash; he feels (and eventually sees) the freshly-hatched spiders moving beneath his skin; later a sole arachnid crawls from his mouth while he sleeps; and it all leads to a jaw-dropping finale as hundreds of spiders burst out of his stomach. Pure gorehound gold.
The Scream Nobody Heard
According to the legend, certain college campuses advocated a specific sort of primal scream therapy to relieve stress on the student body during finals week. At a designated hour—say 10 PM—everyone on campus would put down their books and scream as loud as they could. Once done, they would return to their studies refreshed. This practice was put to rest when a student was murdered at the designated hour, and her cries for help were lost amongst all the other screaming. It’s not a far jump from here to land in slasher territory, where a vengeful masked maniac times his murders perfectly to cover up his crimes.
This urban legend preys on parental fear, warning adults about a stranger danger sort passing out temporary tattoos to children in schoolyards. What the children don’t realize is that these tattoos are laced with acid, and when they’re applied, the drug is absorbed into the bloodstream. I distinctly remember being warned against the dangers of Mickey Mouse tattoos when I was a child. Although there have been no recorded incidents of this happening, it does seem all too feasible. A horror film could easily amp up the impact by having the tattoos laced with a particularly potent strain, turning school kids across the city into hallucinating, blood thirsty zombies.
Proctor & Gamble Worship Satan
This myth has circulated long and wide and is based on little more than some esoteric yet innocuous symbols found on their brand. Today, one would likely read that they were the Illuminati, but back in the day, it was all about the dark lord. A cunning filmmaker could craft a script (changing the name of the corporation, obviously) that takes devil worship out of the backwoods and country roads and places it on an epic, even global, scale.
Chako Paul City
This is a strange one: In 2009, reports began to mysteriously appear in Chinese news outlets about a hidden city in Sweden named Chako Paul, whose population is comprised entirely of women. Reportedly founded by a rich, bitter widow in 1820, it had since become a haven for beautiful, Amazon-like lesbians. Despite the fact that men who attempted to enter the city were supposedly beaten half to death by sentries posted at the gate, Swedish travel agencies were flooded with Chinese men looking for more information on—and possibly a vacation to—the mythical city. With sex, violence and isolation built right into this legend, it should make for an easy horror film. Imagine women paying back the men of the world for the treatment that they received in Hostel 2.
According to the story, a group of circus dwarfs grew tired of the exploitation and abuse at the hands of the ringmaster. They launched a rebellion, killed their leader, chopped off his arms and legs, and then hung the corpse from a tree. They then retired into the woods of Waukesha County, WI and developed their own society, building a city to their scale. A young albino boy stumbled upon their city of Haunchyville, but treated them with kindness. They did the same and took him in, raising him as one of their own. Now, he is an old man and defends Haunchyville from outsiders with a shotgun and an itchy trigger finger. If you happened to make it past the albino, the dwarfs would cut your legs off at the knees, forcing you to experience life with their stature. It might not be politically correct, but just think about it for a moment. The story pretty much writes itself.
Mapimi Silent Zone
In 1970, a US Air Force rocket being used for training exercises lost control and came crashing down near Bolson de Mapimi in Mexico. As the rocket contained the radioactive element cobalt 57, special care in its recovery had to be taken. A road was built specially to transport the wreckage, and it is somewhere along this road where the Silent Zone presumably exists. Within this area, not only are radio waves supposedly unable to transmit, but visitors are intermittently unable to hear the voice of the person standing right next to them. There are also reports of exceedingly tall men in tight-fitting silver body suits wandering the land, and the expected UFO sightings. If this location were utilized for a horror film, it would immediately answer the question, “Why don’t they just call the police!?” I picture it as a cross between Friday the 13th and The Hills Have Eyes, where a clan of madmen in radiation suits pick off tourists, knowing that in the Silent Zone, no one can hear you scream.
The Well to Hell
This legend states that geologists had drilled a hole in Siberia that reached a depth of roughly nine miles before striking a hollow area. Using the scientific instruments at their disposal, they determined that interior temperatures reached 2000 degrees, and they recorded the sounds of hoards of people screaming in anguish. This was not just some underground cavern that they had stumbled upon…this was hell itself! Imagine a film where not only could deceased love ones return to Earth, but also serial killers, evil dictators, demonic forces, and the one true Satan. (Now that I think about it, this could be the sequel to the Proctor & Gamble movie).
The Devil’s School
An abandoned school in Jacksonville, FL has so many legends surrounding it that it’s nearly impossible to place them all into any sort of logical chronology. In the 1960s, a furnace exploded, killing half of the student body and some of the staff, resulting in a mass haunting that scared away all of the surviving teachers. The school’s principal was a cannibal who had a hidden meat locker where he kept the corpses of chronic misbehavers. At another time, the principal went on a killing spree and slaughtered dozens of kids. Alternately, it is said that the janitor did the same. And that’s to say nothing of the Satanism, or the ghostly tree that grows in the center of the school. With the kitchen sink style legends surrounding the place, it may not make for an easy horror film, but would certainly fit as a season of American Horror Story.
In 1919, eight year old Raymond Robinson of Beaver County, PA, came into contact with a live electrical line. He was so horribly disfigured as a result of the accident—he lost both of his eyes, his nose, one ear, and an arm—that in his adult years, he refused to be seen in public during the day, fearful of causing a panic. Instead, he would take long walks at night, blindly feeling his way along Route 351. All of this so far is true. Legend eventually takes over, though, and Raymond became depicted as a power company worker who was struck with electricity and killed—but apparently he returned from the dead (with the added accoutrement of glowing green skin) to wander the highway at night. In the legends, he is called alternately the Green Man or Charlie No-Face. Raymond passed away in 1985, but the legends about him continue to this day. Reportedly, he was an unerringly kind man, so an exploitative horror film would not do the man justice. Instead, I vote for an in-depth documentary from Joshua Zemen and Rachel Mills, the team behind the fabulous Cropsey.