A documentary team looks at the true origins of common urban legends in America.
If you grew up losing sleep over episodes of UNSOLVED MYSTERIES—and, strangely, remember the experience fondly (I did), then KILLER LEGENDS is the movie for you. It is wonderfully sensationalist, replete with eerie piano music and gritty stock footage.
The real events, which, in turn, urban legends grow out of are way scarier than the myths themselves. That, anyway, is what this film has adopted as its main theme. It makes a good case for it, too, looking at the disturbing origins of four different American urban legends. It also has lots of grim philosophizing to offer on the nature of collective fear. What are we REALLY afraid of? it asks over and over, and almost comes to a plausible answer, but leaves you with the resources to take stabs (no pun intended) at one yourself.
The film starts with an examination of the origins of the hook man. Everybody knows that one. A teenage couple is making out at some type of lover’s lane when a monstrous individual with a hook for a hand comes lurking out of the darkness and slays the teenagers. I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER got some mileage out of this one.
The hook man myth leads Josh Zeman and Rachel Mills, the film’s writers, directors, and investigating stars to Texarcana, Texas. There they uncover the unsolved murder of a young woman who died in that very situation. We also learn THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN actually was based on a true story. KILLER LEGENDS, by the way, does a great job showing the connections these urban legends have to horror movies.
The team then goes to Pasadena, Texas to study the candyman, the sick freak out there who poisons Halloween candy. Mills and Zeman turn up Ronald O’Bryan . . . who did this to his own son, and, eventually, was sentenced to death. The team postulates thusly the origins of that urban legend, although, they explain, the candyman could go back much further.
They next go to Columbia, Missouri to study the murder of a young woman killed—strangled to death with an ironing cord, in fact—while babysitting. This accounts, they argue, for the seeds that grew into the babysitter and the man upstairs myth, one of, if not the most, used urban legends in horror movies.
Lastly, they go to Chicago—and a few other places—to look at the legend of the killer clown, out there driving around in a windowless van, snatching up children. This segment turns into an all-out history lesson on clowns, what they used to be, what they’ve become, and how their past has affected the many evil ones out there.
Of course, they talk about John Wayne Gacy, but less than you’d expect . . . and, indeed, nothing in the world is creepier than a clown.
KILLER LEGENDS is the result of much well done research. You continue, from start to finish, learning things you would rather not know. And the interviews are eclectic and relevant—and always interesting. Mills and Zeman interview old-timers who were there, unofficial and official historians of the various crimes discussed, college professors, friends of the victims, retired cops who investigated the cases . . . you name it.
If true crime is your bag, then KILLER LEGENDS shouldn’t be missed. It’s like a sequel to CROPSEY, also written and directed by Josh Zeman, but much more expansive.
As far as the theme, the true origins of the urban legends are more horrifying than the myths themselves, goes, you believe it.
Of course the true origins are scarier! You wonder how Mills and Zeman slept while making this. It’s totally disturbing. But it raises some great points and begs some interesting questions about the nature of fear. It’s freaky, melodramatic, and thought-provoking. It is—without a doubt—worth checking out, not just for horror fans, either. Most people, those with a strong enough stomach, at least, should see KILLER LEGENDS.