**Second Anniversary Review** Part One: Urban Legends in Films & Television
**WARNING: CONTAINS DISTURBING IMAGERY AND SOME SPOILERS**
For my second anniversary review I’ve decided to look into a topic that has fascinated me since a young age. This review is going to explore the subject from two angles, firstly films that are based on urban legends and secondly the myths that have been created surrounding film production. Please be aware that I can’t cover everything, therefore I will only focus on the films and television shows that I’ve enjoyed. I’m aware the majority of these legends are pretty well known, so I’m just re-capping on the ones that are associated with horror and horrific incidents that still send chills down the spine!
Urban Legends are on-going forms of folklore that are told and passed on through communities over numbers of years. The stories aren’t necessarily true and are often tailored to provide significance to the place and time they’re told in. The ideas and ambiguity surrounding these myths create intrigue; therefore its no surprise that the horror genre has incorporated and developed them to ramp up the scare factor. The strange occurrences associated with certain films are equally as interesting in a sinister way, for example capturing a ghost on film! However many of these stories have been dismissed. I hope you enjoy this review as I delve into some bizarre and twisted stories. So, keep away from chanting into mirrors and don’t go into the woods to make out with your other half! Here are the Urban Legends that have impacted on me.
Firstly, using Snopes.com and ScaryForKids.com as key sources I will discuss some of the more famous legends that have influenced the films I’m going to talk about.
Allegedly if you repeat her name thirteen times into the mirror, she will be unleashed and scratch your eyes out. She goes by other names including Hell Mary, Mar-Lou, and Mary Worthington. She is not to be confused with the Monarch, Mary, Queen of England who also had the nickname. The legend is commonly used among young girls at sleepovers as dares. For more information I highly recommend visiting: http://www.snopes.com/horrors/ghosts/bloodymary.asp
A young couple are making out in a car, a report emerges on the radio about a killer on the loose. They hear a noise and one of them gets out of the car to investigate (usually the boyfriend!). The girl waits alone and suddenly hears a scratching sound or a dripping noise. Her boyfriend is hung from a tree with his feet scratching the top of the car and blood dripping onto it. A bloody hook is then seen on the passenger side! This legend has been around since the 1950’s. Its a fable warning teenagers against sex and has clearly been an inspiration to many slasher films such as the Friday 13th franchise. Source: http://www.snopes.com/horrors/madmen/hook.asp
“I’m on the first step…”
As a child I hated dolls, there was always something unnerving about them. Didn’t help that family members bought me a baby doll and some china ones…*shudders*. This legend escalated my fear of dolls, however I have heard the same tale where the doll is replaced by a baby, which is equally as creepy. A young girl reluctantly receives a doll as a birthday present. There is something uneasy about it but her mother ignores her protests! One night as the girl goes to sleep, she hears a voice “Lucy, I’m on the first step…” and well you can read the rest of it here: http://www.scaryforkids.com/antique-doll/. The X Files featured an episode abour an evil doll in its fifth season. Chinga written by horror master Stephen King had the doll murder and attempt to murder the girl’s parents. More famously The Twilight Zone had Talky Tina in the episode Living Doll which the The X Files episode clearly took influence from.
Candyman (1992) and Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh (1995)
Candyman…Candyman…Candyman…Candyman *I better stop there!*
Candyman is an acclaimed horror film that brought Clive Barker’s short story The Forbidden to life. The concept is based on the well-known Bloody Mary legend which will be looked at later on. Its perfectly paced and keeps up the tension throughout. Cleverly, Candyman (Tony Todd) doesn’t appear a great deal during the film, leaving the focus on the notion of myth and the idea that if you believe something enough it can consume you! Helen (Virginia Marsden), a graduate student is conducting a thesis on the subject of urban legends. Along with a friend she begins to research the local tale which eventually takes a dark turn as she encounters the Candyman! As well as being a suspenseful horror film, Candyman brought in something different to the genre through its commentary on Urban, African-American society, poverty and racism. As well as taking influence from Bloody Mary, Candyman has a hook for a hand to slash his victims, similar to the classic hook man legend which has been portrayed on screen numerous times. The film concludes with Helen’s death at the hands of Candyman, leading her to become a vengeful spirit in the same vein, it demonstrates how legends can evolve over periods of time and become modified, basing one legend on another.
The sequel Farewell to the Flesh further explores Candyman’s backstory. Set in New Orleans, a young woman named Annie (Kelly Rowan) becomes embroiled in the mystery surrounding the legend. More is uncovered about the character, developing what was set up in the first film. Candyman’s real name was Daniel Robitaille who was tortured by a lynch mob for falling in love with a young white woman. Daniel’s hand was cut off accounting for the hook and he was also stung by a swarm of bees. He was an accomplished artist, which explains the links between the art work seen in both films, and illustrates how he was a creative person. The only issue with revealing this information complicates the urban legend as it removes the mystery and humanizes the character, similarly to how Urban Legends: Bloody Mary (2005) turned the title character into a tragic prom Queen and demanded empathy from the audience, that film was however less good.
Urban Legend (1998) and Urban Legends: Final Cut (2000) and I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)
In the same vein Scream critiqued the codes and conventions of the slasher film, the Urban Legend trilogy used the teenage, self-awareness approach as a commentary for folklore. The films featured a hooded killer murdering victims in inventive ways, replicating urban legends and portraying several of them. Its worth noting that the other Scream-esque teen slasher of the 90’s era I Know What you did Last Summer” also based its narrative on myth, featuring a scene of the core group discussing the hook man tale and them disagreeing on which was the legitimate version. Staying true to the notion of urban legends, the characters are stalked by the menacing Ben Willis, a man they accidentally run over and then dump the body, the film modernized the hook man concept to fit into the 90’s teen slasher sub-genre.
The Urban Legend films used the fables in the same vein and included Bloody Mary. They however contradicted themselves by the third film as the first had two female characters, Natalie (Alicia Witt) and Brenda (Rebecca Gayheart) saying her name in the mirror three times and nothing happening apart from a fun jump scare for the audience, suggesting the legend is untrue. Others that featured include the kidney heist, the licked hand, the hitchhiker, the dog in the microwave and the dead lover hanging from a tree. Urban Legend also played with stories that have emerged from the media, such as eating pop rocks and drinking a carbonated soft drink which allegedly killed the actor who played Little Mikey in the Life Cereal commercials from the 70’s! The rumor is dispelled as Joshua Jackson’s character plays a prank on his course mates by testing the legend out for real and Robert Englund (AKA. Freddy Kruger) plays the lecturer! These films blur the lines a lot between pop culture and folklore as well as incorporating actor allusions. If you enjoy slasher films, they are fun and entertaining.
Urban Legends within Television
The premise of children’s show Are You Afraid of the Dark? (1990-1996) was centered on a group of pre-teens called The Midnight Society. They would recite scary stories to each other while sat around a camp fire, a classic trope for urban legends. Even though aimed at young people, the show incorporated a very eerie tone but was the perfect introduction to horror for kids. Each episode included the title “The Tale Of….” for example The Tale of the Twisted Claw, emphasizing its folklore angle. The kids used the stories as fables and warnings, promoting good behavior. The show allows kids imaginations to run wild however implies that they are only stories!
Much of Season One of Supernatural (2005-present) based its episodes on urban legends when the show was first establishing itself. The pilot featured The Woman in White, a spirit who would target unfaithful men at the side of the highway. Many female victims within the show, often wear white night gowns before meeting their demise, using the legend as a sort of symbol and suggests the character is more of a victim than actual evil. Bloody Mary and Hook Man also made appearances to maim unsuspecting victims. Supernatural played the legends as if they existed in the real world having Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean (Jensen Ackles) saving the day through vanquishing the malevolent spirits! One of the best horror television shows out there, Supernatural went all out on the horror and gore when adapting the legends.
Urban legends told by a friend of a friend of a friend and so on remain interesting to this day. This is because they provide a good scare and give you chills. But the most fascinating aspect is deciphering what could be real and what isn’t within the legends and witnessing elements of them change as time goes on.
COMING NEXT: Part Two: Movie Mayhem: The Shocks Behind The Scenes
Hayley Alice Roberts