Why do urban legends and horror stories intrigue us? Probably because they have warnings for us that speak to morality and stupidity. They are timeless. Each new generation wonders if the story has any potential truth in it. Many of these legends are told in different variations, however, so aside from the stories being ridiculous, they can’t possibly be true.
This blog is different in that there aren’t any actual murders. What I focused on for this one were the messages that are meant to warn people about something…anything. Many ghost stories, urban legends and horror films that were produced from the 1950s onward fixated on the consequences of premarital sex, and especially about “easy” girls with a (gasp) reputation. Others just seemed to victimize young people because they are gullible and scream a lot at movies. Of course these stories are all real. I swear they happened to a friend of a friend of mine.
The Man with the Hook (and possibly a bad leg)
Did you grow up hearing this story at sleepovers? This one has been around for decades. Like all urban legends, there are different variations on the story, but the theme is always the same. Two young lovers are parked in a car on (of course) Lover’s Lane, passionately engaged in a sweaty embrace. Inevitably they hear a creepy thump-drag, thump-drag and when the young man investigates by stepping outside of the car, he is killed by an old man with a hook who must also have had a wooden leg or a clubbed foot to walk along like that.
Sometimes the man leaves his hook dangling off one of the car’s handles as a calling card. I wonder what he did for a hand after that. I guess he went back to WalMart and found a spare body parts section. Anyhoo. The implication of this story was that teenage sex wasn’t just a bad idea in case of accidental pregnancy but look at that – you might get butchered by a man with a hook for a hand. The story was meant to dissuade young lovers from parking in daddy’s car. Something tells me it didn’t.
Moral: Don’t go parking to have sex. Instead rent a hotel room.
The Babysitter and the Man Upstairs
At the beginning of Scream, a pretty blonde is on the phone with an anonymous man who is calling her from God-knows-where. It gets a little flirty, lightly sexy if you will, when the psycho on the other end of the line suddenly flicks on the lights and we see her terrified boyfriend held captive outside of the house as the man is talking to her on his cell. Of course this scene has a vaguely sexual message. It’s always about the pretty teenager and the creepy man. This movie scene is based on the 1974 film Black Christmas, about a man living undetected inside a sorority.
In 1979 a movie entitled “When a Stranger Calls?” about a pretty teenager (Jill) who is (naturally) babysitting two children in a neighbour’s house when a man calls and asks if she has checked the children, more than once. Man, is he annoying. At first, Jill dismisses the telephone calls as a practical joke, however, as the calls become more threatening, Jill calls the police, who promise to trace the caller if Jill keeps him on the telephone line long enough. Those were the days of archaic technology. Of course Jill finally learns the calls are coming from inside the house and checking the children was pointless; they’d been dead for several hours. Nasty. The opening scene of the film has been deemed as one of the “scariest openings in horror movie history.”
A silly 1993 television sequel entitled When a Stranger Calls Back and, in 2006, a totally pointless remake of the latter. The film Urban Legend also refers to a young woman and the caller upstairs. The defunct television series, Urban Legends, also features the babysitter story as an episode.
Moral: Don’t answer the phone when you’re babysitting, idiot.
Urban Legend – Roommate Having Sex
This film channeled several urban legends, many of them quite amusing, which you’d think would do quite well but actually wasn’t well-received at the box office. This is one of the legends involving communication but not on the phone. In reality a murderer kills her roomie while she ignores her muffled cries. Being a 21st century production, the killer and victim communicate via computer instead of on the phone. You know, modern gore today’s youngsters can appreciate.
Moral: Don’t have sex if you have a roommate. Unless you are having sex with your roommate, then have all the sex you want.
Finally, an urban legend that doesn’t target sex. This one is meant to scare stupid people who pick up hitchhikers. The legend is as follows: A man is driving home on a dark, usually rainy night when he sees a young woman hitchhiking. He picks her up, she tells him her address and as he drives her home he lectures her on the dangers of hitchhiking. When he gets to her house, he discovers she isn’t in the car anymore. Still, he proceeds to knock on the door and the girl’s father opens it. He informs the man that his daughter is dead (usually she was killed in an accident while hitchhiking) and has been trying to hike her way home for years. The irony of course is in the friendly, well-meant driver lecturing the girl about the dangers of hitchhiking. Didn’t he have egg on his face.
A variation of that story was presented on The Ghost Hitchhiker – Mostly (not) True Stories. Of course the dangers of hitchhiking for a young woman has been common knowledge since the invention of cars. There’s a double entendre in this one, especially since the video clip I included stars Dominique Dunne, one of the female actresses in the movie Poltergeist, about a family plagued by evil spirits. Dunne was killed by her boyfriend some years after appearing in the movie.
Moral: Don’t pick up hitchhikers unless they’re alive. In which case, you’re the one who will probably end up dead.
Kentucky Fried Rat
Ever heard this one when you were eating KFC? There used to be a silly little story about how a rat fell into a bin of grease at a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant and the cook, not noticing, went ahead and cooked it. Odd she didn’t notice it didn’t have any batter on it. The unfortunate animal was then sold to an unsuspecting customer who bit into it and must have found a tail or teeth or something unpleasant. I think that one is hilarious. It speaks to finding something nasty in your food that just has no business being there such as a hair or a hairpin or a human hand (don’t you hate it when that happens)? Okay, the last one was a joke. KFC didn’t suffer from low sales after that one went around. Interestingly, in some parts of Asia rat meat is available for human consumption. Several years ago, the Chinese government declared that rats should be eaten due to a rat infestation. No one died. Except the rats, of course. I guess there was also a shortage of cats.
A variation on that story is that of a couple who travels to Japan bringing their dog into a restaurant with them. Of course they ask the waiter if he will take care of it for them while they dine. Instead, due to the language barrier the waiter misunderstands and has the cook make a meal for the couple using the dog. The cultural bias in this one is threefold: the language barrier is one; it is illegal in Japan to eat dog (it’s okay in Korea, so keep an eye on your terrier); and no one in their right mind is going to cook someone’s pet. Even in Korea that’s not okay. The dogs are bred for human consumption and are different from breeds raised as domestic pets. Koreans have been eating dog meat for thousands of years. PETA can just butt out and mind its business. You can’t argue with ancient history.
Moral: Eat healthy and stay out of KFC.
Hair Turning White Overnight
Is that possible? That myth has been going around for about 100 years. The idea that we can scare our hair has been ongoing longer than Clairol. The short answer is don’t be stupid. Stories suggest that when a person has been terribly frightened she or he wakes up to a full head of grey or white hair. Of course that’s nonsense. We don’t lose colour in our hair. Once it leaves the scalp it is dead and can’t change in colour. However a person with alopecia areata, an autoimmune condition that attacks hair follicles can go grey in just days. That’s bizarre but still not as fast as overnight.
Moral: Invest in good hair colour and stop your whining. At least you have hair.
Rod Stewart and the Stomach Pump
This rumour started in the 1970s and was still making the rounds in the 1980s. Many rock stars have been victimized by this one. For whatever reason, Stewart was the singer of choice when the rumour circulated that he had to visit the ER to get his stomach pumped. Why? Supposedly it was full of semen and apparently enough to fill a whole glass. Ick. Other celebs who have been targeted with this story include David Bowie, Mick Jagger, Elton John and Lil Kim. Okay maybe it was true in Kim’s case. The origin of the story dates back to the early ’70s, when many high school and college campuses could claim a “Promiscuous Cheerleader” (wow – does such a person exist?) was rushed to the emergency room to have her stomach pumped after servicing the entire football team at a party. That’s one busy cheerleader. I can imagine her cheer on the field the next day would be something like “give me a d…”
Moral: I’m sure you can figure that one out yourself.
Richard Gere and the Gerbil
This one coincides nicely with Kentucky Fried Rat. It was rumoured in the 1980s that Gere was admitted to the ER of a hospital with a gerbil stuck in his lower orifice (the one at the back). The reality is that there isn’t a shred of evidence (or anything else probably) to verify the story. In fact National Inquirer reporter Mike Walker stated “I’ve never worked harder on a story in my life,” meaning there is no merit to it at all. Nothing to back it up. The animal’s moniker of course is Tibet, giving Free Tibet a whole new meaning.
Moral: If you sex, don’t gerbil.
This legend is a variation on the true-life story of Typhoid Mary. Typhoid fever is a serious, very contagious disease that originates from salmonella poisoning, contracted through food. A typhoid vaccine can reduce anywhere from 30 to 70% of cases (weird odds). Mary Mallon, who became known as Typhoid Mary, showed signs of the infection beginning around 1900 when she worked as a cook in different people’s homes. This was during an era when sewage sanitation was a relatively new concept in the States. Within two weeks of Mary’s employment, people in these households became very sick. One servant and one family’s daughter died. It was difficult to locate Mary because she left her employment every time family members became ill. Mary was outraged by the suggestion she might be carrying the typhoid bacteria and she refused to give urine and stool samples when requested by a physician, even though he insisted her gallbladder was infected. The idea that a person could “carry” a disease yet not have it was revolutionary. She herself finally became infected with typhoid fever. In 1908 the Journal of the American Medical Association dubbed her Typhoid Mary.
Mary admitted she didn’t wash her hands when she cooked (or used the washroom) because she didn’t understand the importance of good personal hygiene. That was quite normal for that era. Mary was held in isolation for three years at a clinic on North Brother Island. She was freed when she promised not to cook to make a living. Naturally Mary went right back to cooking. It was her only sustenance. For five years she continued to infect people. She started a major outbreak 1915 at Sicane Hospital for Women in New York City. Two people died. As a result, Mary spent the rest of her life quarantined on North Bay Island. Had she allowed the state to remove her gallbladder as requested, she might never have become Typhoid Mary.
AIDS Mary is a take on this weird story. In this legend a woman (not necessarily named Mary) becomes infected with HIV and in revenge, she has sex with as many men as she can without protection. Naturally the story has a sexual warning about not having unprotected sex with strangers. Unlike Typhoid Mary, there is no truth to this story although there is such a story that really occurred in Toronto, Canada. An African man was charged with infecting several women with HIV in the early 1980s, when HIV was newly discovered in North America. By the time he was due in court, he was dead of AIDS as was one of his victims. You hear about this type of behaviour quite often now, (hello Charlie Sheen – perhaps that’s what he meant by Tiger Blood), but in the 1980s, the terrible scare brought on by HIV and AIDS made this account particularly heinous.
Moral: Don’t be gross. Wash your hands. I don’t care what you’ve been doing.
Now that you’re completely paranoid about everything, do come back for another visit and read my next blog. I’ll be sure the next blog is much more decent, involving true-life gore and guts.