Killer Legends is a crowd-pleasing documentary (if you’re part of our crowd that is), exploring real-life murders similar in varying degrees to urban legends we’ve all come to know and love.
This is an especially fun one for fans of horror, as the very earnest Joshua Zeman and research partner Rachel Mills, dig into cases brought to the horror public’s consciousness through such films as The Town that Dreaded Sundown, Candyman and When a Stranger Calls.
Zeman is the guy who brought us Cropsey, the boogeyman figure, and associated tale of Staten Islander scumbag Andre Rand, a child kidnapper eligible for parole at 93.
The first legend explored in this film though, is of course, The Man with a Hook for a Hand!
In Killer Legends, our hosts claim that the MO of the Phantom Killer rapist/murderer in the Texarkana Moonlight Murders case of 1946 (which inspired The Town that Dreaded Sundown) morphed into what we now know as the infamous cautionary tale of teen promiscuity, The Hook.
The hook story really began making the rounds in the 50s as teens developed more autonomy, in conjunction with the proliferation of the automobile. But as folklorist Jan Harold Brunvand (The Encyclopedia or Urban Legends and Too Good to Be True) notes, it’s merely a variant of much older tales about brigands robbing men on horseback and leaving the hook behind. While the duo’s hypothesis doesn’t seem to hold much weight, it’s still a neat, if gruesome, idea that the Texarkana murders sparked an urban legend. (Residents of the town themselves, are frequently unable to separate fact from fiction with many thinking one of the victims was actually killed with a trombone, as depicted in The Town That Dreaded Sundown.)
The documentarians delve into Halloween candy tampering cases, focusing on Ronald Clark O’Bryan, aka The Candy Man or The Man Who Killed Halloween (we could be snarky here re: the latter and say Rob Zombie also did his part) who laced candy with cyanide, killing his young son.
They also look at The Call is Coming from Inside the House!, the random babysitter attack legend explored on film in When a Stranger Calls and the Canadian classic, Black Christmas. This is a weird one. Babysitters are much more likely to murder children than be victims of random assaults themselves. Because really, how the heck would a killer know anyone is babysitting, and that the parents are out? That’s dedication folks!
Killer Legends features non-stop creepy music and there are some genuine scares when Zemen and Mills are wandering about (trespassing, the actual term for it) near the Phantom Killer’s haunts in Texas.
If you were to close your eyes, this has the feel of Sword and Scale, Criminal or one of the other uber-creepy true-crime podcasts out there. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
For insights into what inspired some of your fave horrors, Killer Legends is good Saturday afternoon filler.
*** (out of 5)
[If you’re interested in hearing us chat with Candyman Tony Todd, please listen to the Shock Stock episode of the Really Awful Movies Podcast]