Top Five Urban Legends In Sci-fi

Tax bills, drinking from the milk bottle, rogue toe-nail clippings… when it comes to horror there’s no better inspiration than the real world. It’s no surprise then that film and TV should crib off sort-of real life so often by putting famous urban legends on the big and small screen.

To celebrate the release of Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir on 3DS in the UK on 29 June we’ve teamed up with Nintendo to count down the top five urban legends on screen, and offer one lucky reader the chance to win a 3DS and a copy of Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir to scare themselves silly with.

You can enter and find out about the game here , but for now read on to find out our top five urban legends on screen.

5. Killer In The Back Seat

The Legend: It begins with a woman driving on her own at night. Suddenly another vehicle appears behind her and starts flashing its beams and ramming her. When the woman finally makes it away from the apparent maniac and comes to a stop, she realises the person in the other vehicle was trying to warn her about the actual maniac on the back seat of her car, but by then it’s too late…

On Screen: The “character hiding on the back seat” has been used countless times for everything from cheap scares to quick laughs. Non-SF horror Urban Legend is the best example, with the pre-credit sequence a re-telling of this legend, but it also features in 1998 Millennium episode “The Pest House” where Frank chases a doctor from a mental hospital after one of the patients escapes.

Read on to find out the top four urban legends in sci-fi...

4. Kidney Bathtub

The Legend: A man, typically a tourist or businessman, goes for a drink in a hotel bar and meets a mysterious, beautiful woman. It’s too good to be true, of course, and the man is drugged, waking up in the morning minus a kidney and in a bathtub of ice. The organ gets sold to the highest bidder on the black market. Grim.

On Screen: In Crank 2 Chev Chelios has his heart removed and replaced with a battery that requires constant juice, against his will. It’s not SF, but Park Chan Wook’s brilliant Sympathy For Mr Vengeance also features a group of organ thieves, while Minority Report captures the sense of waking up in a bathtub of ice in a grotty hotel after amateur surgery perfectly. At least that’s what we imagine it’s like. Hang on, where did that scar come from?

3. The Hook Man

The Legend: A young couple drive up to lovers’ lane in their car for a bit of hanky panky. They turn on the radio, but the tunes are interrupted for a breaking news report – a man has escaped the insane asylum and been spotted with a hook in his hand. The girl panics and asks to be taken home. When the pair arrive at their destination they discover the hook hanging off the door handle…

On Screen: Although it doesn’t cover the story exactly (variations on lovers’ lane have been used endlessly) Candyman is the best example of a hook hand appearing on film. And he puts it to good use, filleting dozens of victims – typically starting with the guts. Candyman himself is an amalgamation of several urban legends (one of which we’ll touch on later). The hook also appears in I Know What You Did Last Summer and of course Captain Hook also has a notorious pointy appendage.

Read on to discover the top two urban legends in sci-fi...

2. The Vengeful Spirit

The Legend: Vengeful spirits are a huge part of Japanese urban legend. There’s the Red Cape – a spirit that haunts bathrooms; the slit-mouthed woman who asks her victims “Am I beautiful?” and Teke Teke – a young woman who fell on a railway line only to be cut in half… As a rule of thumb, if you die in Japan you’re probably coming back all evil and murderous.

On Screen: Ringu , The Grudge , Dark Water , Pulse and many more J-Horrors are full of examples. Ringu is the high point (or The Ring for subtitle-phobes). Sadako is a vengeful spirit who spreads her curse via a videotape. Watch it and seven days later she’ll come crawling out the TV to scare you to death, quite literally. Many believe Sadako is based on an actual urban legend, but it’s become something of a chicken and egg scenario – the book Ringu is adapted from is allegedly based on a real urban legend, but who really knows? And of course Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir has it's own vengeful spirit to scare you silly.

1. Bloody Mary

The Legend: Say Bloody Mary’s name three times in the mirror and she will appear to murder you on the spot, or curse you for the rest of your life. Peer pressure has a lot to answer for. The name refers to Queen Mary I, also known as “Bloody Mary” who suffered a number of miscarriages and false pregnancies during her life.

The fiction: The Supernatural episode “Bloody Mary” is a straight retelling of this urban legend, but with a Ringu twist. Bloody Mary can not only climb out of any reflective surface but has nasty greasy hair, just like Sadako! She also makes people bleed from their eyes. Nasty. There’s also a (rubbish) 2006 horror film called Bloody Mary ; Candyman plays on a variation of the Bloody Mary legend, with Tony Todd’s hooked horror appearing behind his foolish victims; and in South Park it’s possible to summon Biggie Smalls by saying his name three times in the mirror, but watch out or you’ll get a cap in yo’ ass.

Are there any urban legends you'd put on your list? Let us know in the comments below.

Jordan Farley

I'm the News Editor at Total Film magazine, running the opening pages of every issue where you can read exclusive interviews and see first-look images from the biggest films. I was previously the Community Editor at sci-fi, fantasy and horror movie bible SFX. You'll find my name on news, reviews, and interviews covering every type of movie, from the latest French arthouse release to the biggest Hollywood blockbuster. My work has also featured in Official PlayStation Magazine and Edge. Outside of my day job, I'm a FromSoft fanatic (proudest achievement: beating Malenia solo) and a TV connoisseur (translation: I'll watch anything).