Urban legends are all around us, playing a part in our everyday lives and becoming ingrained in our culture. Most people are familiar with the more common legends like The Killer in the Back Seat, Bloody Mary, or Bigfoot, but there are others that you might not be as familiar with. Here at Nightmare on Film Street, each month I’ll be taking a look at a different urban legend and revisiting movies that play off that particular myth. This month I’m taking a look at several films that echo some of the urban legends found within the pages of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.
The film adaptation of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is based on the popular (and controversial) kids book series by Alvin Schwartz. The first book in the trilogy was originally published in 1981, followed by More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark in 1984 and Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones in 1991. The stories within each of the three books draw inspiration from folklore and urban legends. A handful of the more well-known tales crept into the new film adaptation, but, obviously, a lot didn’t. Those like Harold, The Red Spot, The Dream, and The Big Toe have been featured heavily in the marketing of the movie. Being that those are a few fan favorites, it makes sense for them to be a focal point. But what about some of the other stories? Those that didn’t wind up on the big screen? Here, I’m pairing a few of them with movies that fit the bill. Read on.
The Hook / Lovers Lane (1999)
There are many variations of The Hook legend, most of them likely stemming from stories that began in the 1950s about a love-struck teenage couple who were attacked by a man with a hook on his hand. Lover’s Lane features an escaped mental patient who goes after teenagers who are, you guessed it, hanging out (and making out) at the appropriately named Lovers Lane. Even though the legend has been brought up in many horror movies over the years, Lover’s Lane is a fun and mostly forgotten late 90s slasher that tackles the infamous legend head-on.
Wonderful Sausage / Motel Hell (1980)
Wonderful Sausage, a retelling of The Ghost Who Walked the Sausage Factory, tells the story of a man who grinds people into sausage. The urban legend has gained notoriety over the years and has likely inspired many horror movies, most of which feature rural characters and locales, from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986) to the recently released The Farm (2018). Similar to those movies, Motel Hell is along those same lines, but it does more than simply draw from the legend. The movie features a brother and sister, Vincent and Ida, who run an old motel. Together, the two of them are killing their guests and then turning them into sausage.
The White Satin Evening Gown / In Fabric (2019)
In Fabric is one of two yet to be released movies that I’ve included on this list, but, judging from the trailer, it needs to be here. While The White Satin Evening Gown features a dress that poisons its wearer, I’m not 100% sure what the “killer” dress being featured in In Fabric does, or why, but whatever the answer turns out to be it is obviously something bad. Based on the “Poison Dress” urban legend, tales of intentionally contaminated clothes that have been sent to kill the wearer date all the way back to Greek mythology.
The Bride / Ready or Not (2019)
Both The Bride and Ready or Not feature a bride in her wedding gown playing a game of Hide and Seek. Coincidence? Maybe not. When I read The Bride from Scary Stories To Tell in The Dark, Ready or Not (the second upcoming movie on my list) immediately came to mind. Like other urban legends, there have been many retellings and variations of the story over the years, but one thing remains constant through each of them: the ending–at the end of the game of Hide and Seek, all wedding party guests are found, except for the bride, who is discovered much later, dead, locked in a trunk. The whole thing has me wondering–if it is in fact based on the legend, will Ready or Not end on the same note? Or will the main character find a way to break free from those expectations?
The Babysitter / When a Stranger Calls (1979)
Like The Hook, The Babysitter is based on an extremely well-known urban legend. In the tale, which has been circulating since the 1960s, a babysitter is getting creepy phone calls and eventually comes to the horrifying realization that the person on the other end of the line is in the same house as her. This is one that has become so well known that a lot of people think that it is actually a true story, but my research points to the contrary–it is not based on any real incident. When a Stranger Calls is a prime retelling of the legend in cinematic form and has done its part in keeping the story alive for decades. The movie was followed by a sequel, When a Stranger Calls Back (1993), and a remake in 2006.
The Wendigo / Wendigo (2001)
In Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, The Wendigo title is briefly glimpsed within the pages of Sarah Bellows’ book. The story is not explored any further in the movie, but it deserves being mentioned here. According to folklore, a wendigo is a man-eating creature that is often portrayed as a human/animal hybrid with antlers. Instead of being a derivative retelling of the legend, Larry Fessenden’s simply titled 2001 film, Wendigo, acknowledges the mythology by making it (the legend itself) a focal point of the story. Fitting with some of the themes of the Scary Stories To Tell in The Dark movie, Wendigo examines the influence that stories have on people. Is the wendigo real? Or is the creature part of the character’s wild imagination?
The Wreck / Soul Survivors (2001)
Warning! Spoilers ahead! The Wreck takes inspiration from the “ghostly hitchhiker” legend in which someone picks up a young woman who is hitchhiking. In the story, the woman turns out to be a ghost. It’s not the hitchhiking aspect that grabbed my attention, but the fact the girl in the story happened to die in a car wreck. Stories of ghosts realizing their demise via car crash have been played out countless times before, but Soul Survivors is an overlooked and underappreciated piece of teen horror that is strikingly reminiscent (and pretty much serves as an updated remake) to the classic Carnival of Souls (1962) in which the main character comes to the realization that she might not have survived the accident after all. End Spoilers.
Of course this is only a brief sampling of what could be a much longer list. What are some of your favorite tales from the Scary Stories To Tell in The Dark series? What movies would you pair them with? Let us know your thoughts on Twitter, in the official NOFS Subreddit, and in the Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook!