Halloween, the most famous urban horror legends

Halloween, the most famous urban horror legends

We celebrate October 31st by remembering some of the best known horror legends. This is how they were born and why they are so successful

(photo: Jasmin Merdan via Getty images) Every day we celebrate something, from pasta to translation. There is not yet a day to dedicate to urban legends, but if it existed it would certainly be October 31st. Halloween is in fact the perfect setting for these unlikely stories told as true, according to the concise definition of the folklorist Jan Harold Brunvand.

In fact, there are many urban legends surrounding the party. From the non-existent mass panic caused by Orson Welles, to the true psychosis of poisoned candy, to its alleged satanic roots. Not to mention the tradition of horror films that we will watch, which often and willingly draw heavily from folklore.

Many urban legends, in fact, play with our fears. They spread as much to warn others, as for the pleasure of the thrill they arouse. So, on the occasion of Halloween, the unofficial party of legends, here are some of the most famous.

The hook, or the dangers of sex

A couple goes away in a car, night, in his car. The atmosphere soon spoils, however: the news reports said that a killer, who has a hook instead of a hand, has just escaped from the nearby penitentiary. The girl is not calm, every noise startles her, and in the end the boy whizzes away and takes her home. They will discover a hook attached to the door.

According to Brunvand, the story, which is really unlikely, is close to that family of urban legends where the boyfriend, in similar circumstances, gets out of the car for some reason and then comes to a bad end. For example, he is found in the morning with a cut throat hanging from a tree branch above the car. All night the girl had felt her nails crawling on the roof (or blood dripping).

Before becoming known horror stories, they were told as legends starting in the 1950s . The man with the hook has never existed, but some speculate that some criminal events that actually happened could have contributed to their birth, or strengthened their spread. Their success is also due to their moralizing subtext: teenagers who want to have sex, do so at their own risk. The black man is always on the prowl.

Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary, Bloody Ma ...

Summoning a witch is easy: just be young, have a mirror, and a candle. In the dark, repeating three times (or 13, in some traditions) "Bloody Mary", the witch with that name will appear. Its tragic story changes over time and space. In the state of Indiana it is often Mary Whales, a little girl killed by her perfidious father for causing the death of her beloved mother. Sometimes it is Mary Worth, one of the victims of the Salem trial.

Evocation, it is said, is very dangerous, and that is why boys and girls, especially Americans, like it so much. The custom could date back to the 1950s, but it would have evolved from a more dated ritual, typical of Halloween, in which girls interrogated the mirror to get a peek at their future husband. The historical figure of Maria Tudor, nicknamed Bloody Mary (Mary the Bloodthirsty), has nothing to do with the birth of the legend, but some have invented new backstories to incorporate it.

We are facing, in fact, to a form of legend tripping, the phenomenon that, for example, leads some people to visit places with supernatural fame. In this case, however, there is no need to move: it is Bloody Mary who arrives wherever there is a mirror and a bunch of screaming kids. But perhaps auto-suggestion is not enough to evoke the witch. According to the experiments of the psychologist Giovanni Caputo, staring at a mirror in a dimly lit environment creates several optical illusions, including that of seeing another face.

This Halloween the legend of Bloody Mary was instead exploited by Burger King in Sweden and Denmark. By repeating "canceled clown" three times in front of the mirror in the toilets of some restaurants of the chain, the lights go out and with a special effect the clown Ronald MacDonald appears in the mirror.

Babysitter against the forces of bad

A babysitter has just put the children to bed and the phone rings. It is the father who calls to find out if all is well. Of course, of course he is allowed to watch tv in their room until they arrive. But when the girl asks if she can cover up their clown statue, because it intimidates her, the father tells her to take the kids and run away while they call the police: they didn't own clown statues. The maniac will be arrested shortly after.

According to Snopes this legend has been circulating since 2004, but the killer clown is a variation on an older theme. In fact, since the 1960s, the legend of the babysitter and the man upstairs has been circulating. The babysitter has just put the babies to bed when the phone starts ringing. He is an unknown man, who does his best to terrify her, even telling her to go up and see the children. The girl gets tired of the stalker and calls the police, who try to trace the calls: it turns out that the man is inside the house, upstairs. The girl will be saved, while there is nothing for the children to do.

If Halloween, John Carpenter's slasher masterpiece, had babysitters as protagonists, it was certainly no coincidence, and the elements of this legend in particular they have been staged in many other films since the 1970s. Also in this case it cannot be excluded that real crimes contributed to build or spread the legend. However, the terrible murder of 13-year-old babysitter Janett Christman, which took place in 1950 and never solved, is often cited as a precursor. But in this case the only person to use the phone was Christman, to call for help, the child he was watching was not touched and probably the killer was known to the victim.

Buried alive

The writer Edgar Allan Poe was the most famous human being suffering from capophobia, that is the fear of being buried alive. Perhaps it is to exorcise his terror that he has repeatedly inserted this scenario in his stories, which also returns in modern fiction. It is difficult to separate capophobia from urban legends. Irrational as it is, this fear is fueled by a series of unlikely stories told as true that make it more sense than it appears.

It is not physically impossible for a person to be wrongly declared dead, and therefore buried. Not even with today's medical knowledge can we venture to rule out the possibility entirely. Just as it is not physically impossible for someone to distribute poisoned candy on Halloween today. The question is whether the data justify the concern.

The documented cases of people actually buried alive are there, they can be counted on the fingers of one hand and concentrated before the 20th century, but they are there. This was more than enough to trigger their legendary versions, which made the phenomenon seem more widespread and epidemic than it was. Incredibly, but not for folklorists, these stories have withstood scientific progress. Last May, for example, the video of a man coming out of a pit spread on WhatsApp. He was rumored to have been presumed dead after Covid-19 disease. In reality, the man had entered his father's grave as soon as he was buried in desperation, unable to get out he had been rescued. The video dates back to January 2019.

Intruders in the car

22 years ago Urban legend was released, a typical Halloween film that may soon have a reboot. In the slasher, set on a university campus, someone kills inspired by famous urban legends. The film therefore does not just steal horror stories from folklore, but explicitly declares it, also hinting at their academic study.

In the memorable opening scene a girl stops at night, in the rain, in a station of service. The attendant who makes gasoline seems the classic creep, and has trouble communicating. When he tries to stop her from getting back into the car, she manages to free herself and whizzes away. But in the rain the attendant yells at her, now in vain, that there is a man with an ax in the back seat.

This is one of the countless versions of the killer in the back seat, and this legend is also probably emerged in the 1960s. The general plot predicts that the victim, almost always a woman, cannot understand the signals of someone else who has seen the killer and wants to warn her. For the rest, the details, such as the woman's back story, vary at will.

To date, no real case has perfectly traced the legend, but obviously there are several cases of people attacked (although not necessarily killed) by someone hiding in the back seat. As Brunvand said, of whom we see some books in an Urban legend scene: "However, both the news and the legends deliver a solid warning: check the back seat of your car!".

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