The Hook Handed killer. The Babysitter and the man upstairs . The Candyman. Evil clowns. These archetypal terrors have seeped into our collective subconscious in urban legends and horror films. But what inspired these dark tales in the first place?
That's the focus of the 2014 documentary 'Killer Legends', directed by Joshua Zeman (who also directed"Cropsey" another documentary that explored where folktale ends and true-life horror begins).
In "Killer Legends" Zeman and researcher Rachel Mills visit towns like Texarkana TX, home of the brutal 1940 Phantom Killer murders, a possible ground zero for the hook handed killer myth. The residents remain both frightened and enraptured by this true life tragedy, going so far as to annually screen "The Town That Dreaded Sundown", a 1976 horror film based on the killings.
Other findings include a murdered babysitter, which inspired "The Babysitter And The Man Upstairs" urban legend, explored in horror films such as "When A Stranger Calls".
The investigations of our fear of clowns is perhaps the most predictable explored myth. But it's a dark incident in Deer Park, TX that's the most disquieting, which sparked the Candyman myth and soured Halloween traditions.
Zeman and Mills interview many local experts and bystanders of said cases, and you can see how these tragic incidents still enthrall and disturb those most affected by their real life outcomes.
It certainly hit a chord with this reviewer: my father grew up in Texarkana during the Phantom Murders, and I was a small child living in Deer Park TX during the Candyman Halloween panic. Those tales fascinated and frightened me as a small child, and seeing these cases reexamined as source material for urban legends was particularly enlightening.
Some might find the framework of the duo as on-screen investigators distracting. But it makes more sense given "Killer Legends" was filmed for the Chiller Network as a pilot for a television series.
"Killer Legends" is currently available on DVD which has a host of extra featurettes expanding on all the cases highlighted in the film. No word on whether Chiller has picked up the concept as a series, but I think it could certainly be a compelling docu-series going forward.
"Killer Legends" runs 86 minutes and is unrated. Certain viewers may be troubled by actual photos of murder victims.