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You can never underestimate the power of hearsay. Sometimes, something sounding like it could be true is enough to convince people that it must be. And while this phenomenon can have disastrous real-world consequences when applied to science and politics, it’s also responsible for some memorable instances of collective storytelling.

From hook-handed murderers to gerbils becoming stuck inside famous actors, urban legends are the modern equivalent to ancient campfire stories about werewolves and vampires – which is why it makes sense that they’ve inspired some of most beloved genre films. And with so many of these allegedly “true” stories to choose from, we’ve decided to come up with a list highlighting six of the most underrated movies based on urban legends.

Naturally, we’ll be shying away from more popular films like Candyman and Jamie Blanks’ Urban Legend, but don’t forget to comment below with your own spooky favorites if you think we missed a particularly good one.

Now, onto the list of underrated urban legend horrors…

6. Amusement (2009)

I’ve always loved horror anthologies, but I’m a real sucker for anthologies with interconnected stories all told by the same filmmaker. This is just one reason why I enjoy John Simpson’s criminally underseen Amusement, a direct-to-video slasher inspired by classic urban legends tied together by a vengeful killer tracking down the girls who once made fun of him.

Taking advantage of (and often subverting) familiar yarns like “the baby-sitter and the clown statue” and “the killer in the backseat,” Amusement is a must-watch for fans of low-budget thrills and eerie situations that feel just real enough that they could have happened to a friend of a friend of yours.

5. The Last Broadcast (1998)


Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez’s The Blair Witch Project may have taken over the spotlight as the inciting incident for the modern found footage movement, but hardcore horror fans know that the 1999 classic was preceded by another meta production allegedly based on a “true” story. Naturally, I’m referring to Stefan Avalos and Lance Weiler’s highly underrated mockumentary, The Last Broadcast.

Inspired by the infamous New Jersey legend about the demonic thirteenth child of “Mother Leeds,” Avalos and Weiler’s film is actually a grounded murder mystery about a duo of filmmakers that entered the treacherous Pine Barrens in search of the elusive Jersey Devil and were brutally murdered during their investigation.

4. Alligator (1980)

urban legend horror alligator

From inspiring an iconic Batman villain to serving as the basis for my favorite episode of Archie’s Weird Mysteries, the “Alligator in the sewers” story has got to be one of the most widely circulated urban legends out there. That’s why it was only a matter of time before genre filmmakers would attempt to bring this irrational fear to the big screen. Case in point, Lewis Teague’s 1980 B-movie classic, Alligator.

A blatant riff on the Jaws formula, it’s the absurd set-pieces and peculiar special effects (they actually used a real juvenile alligator stomping around miniature sets to achieve many of the “action” scenes) that set this on apart from similar movies like Piranha and Grizzly. That being said, I wouldn’t mind a modern retelling of this timeless story…

3. Carved: The Slit-Mouthed Woman (2007)

It would have been easy to fill this list up exclusively with Japanese horror movies and the legends that inspired them, but among popular flicks like Ju-On, there is one particular J-horror movie that I think deserves more love. Directed by Noroi’s Koji Shiraishi, Carved: The Slit-Mouthed Woman is a serious retelling of one of Japan’s most notorious legends, Kuchisake-onna.

Following a troubled schoolteacher as she investigates the kidnapping of one of her students by the titular Slit-Mouthed Woman, this unexpectedly dark parable about motherhood and child abuse will leave even western audiences afraid of receiving a visit from a masked stranger wielding an oversized pair of scissors.

And if you like this one, don’t forget to check out its 2008 sequel.

2. Dumplings (2004)

urban legend horror Dumplings

One of the darkest legends on this list, false claims of fetal cannibalism were often used as a thinly veiled attack on the “barbaric practices” of foreign cultures, so it stands to reason that a film based on this concept would be a trashy exploitation flick with little redeeming value. However, celebrated Hong Kong filmmaker Fruit Chan somehow managed to turn this absurd setup into the basis for an extremely poignant yarn about the horrors of aging.

Telling the story of a former actress who resorts to eating dumplings made out of the flesh of aborted fetuses in order to maintain her youth, this grisly parable takes viewers down a disturbing rabbit hole of desperate people willing to do anything to stop the ravages of time. Fascinating and disturbing in equal measure, I’d recommend this one to horror fans with a strong stomach.

1. The Burning (1981)

urban legend horror burning

Inspired by the New York legend of a bogeyman-like figure that kidnaps and murders children, Tony Maylam’s 1981 classic The Burning isn’t just a stellar example of daylight horror done right – it’s also a fascinating case study for how genre cinema can affect the legends that inspire it.

Following a group of teenage campers and counselors as they find themselves being hunted by a deformed maniac wielding a lethally sharp pair of shears, this surprisingly well-crafted B-movie was so memorable that it actually ended up originating much of what people now associate with the “real” story of behind one of New York’s darkest legends.

However, if you’re interested in learning the truth behind Cropsey, I’d also recommend checking out Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio’s 2009 documentary about the origins of this undying myth.

[Related] The Scariest Urban Legends and the Horror Movies That Brought Them to Life

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