USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘horror’
Legends
Narrative

The Jersey Devil

Informant is from a suburb in the center of New Jersey, in Monmouth County. She went to a boarding high school in rural Northern New Jersey however, in a very isolated area.

“We had this thing called a Freshman Retreat in my 9th grade year, which was at a campground called Camp No-Be-Bo-Sco, which was literally the same camp where they filmed Friday the 13th. Because of this, one of the nights we decided to watch Friday the 13th, and began telling each other scary stories to scare each other before bed. One of these stories was the Jersey Devil, which was a local legend. This is a story that basically anybody who is from New Jersey has heard of, and people tell it all the time.

So the Jersey Devil was like, this winged goat-like creature with hooves and horns that lives in the forests of New Jersey. Some lady a long time ago had a bunch of children, and when she had her 13th child, a devil popped out instead and flew away, which is now the Jersey Devil. Some of the campers said that it was near Trenton, but others said that it was near Blairstown, where we were. Either way, that had me really really scared. So the Jersey Devil would steal away young children from their parents. Uhh… It would either eat you, or raise you as its own child, but I can’t really remember. One thing I can remember though is that someone was saying that if it came into our cabins, it would take people who slept on the top bunk. I was also sleeping on the top bunk, right by the window, so I was thinking about it the whole night and was so scared.”

Why do you think people told this story?

“Now looking back at it, probably mostly to scare people, especially little kids. Like, the cabin we were at was a perfect place to tell it because it was so close to the woods. I even told my little brother the story once when he was being a brat, so he would shut up. But yeah, I guess it was mainly just to give people in New Jersey a fright.”

 

Collector’s Comments:

This is a pretty famous story that even I have heard of all the way in California, through a TV program about supernatural creatures. However, the informant, being in the woods in New Jersey, probably got the full experience and the most impact from hearing it. This local legend has become widespread across all of New Jersey, making it a piece of folklore that is shared through state identity, and I would say that it has become a part of New Jersey’s culture. It was very interesting to hear about it from a person who is actually from New Jersey, making the story seem more authentic than it was when I had seen it on television.

 

Legends
Narrative

Bloody Mary

Tell me who Bloody Mary is.

“Bloody Mary is a story that was really really popular among my schoolmates back when I was in elementary school. Basically uhh…, she was like a ghost or phantom or something that was the Virgin Mary with bloody eyes. And you could conjure her in a mirror through a ritual, and she would kill you. I don’t know why it was so popular looking back on it, cause it was basically asking for a death sentence if you did the ritual. But yeah, we used to tell it to each other and dare each other to do it, especially if there was someone who said they didn’t believe in ghosts. It’s especially fun to do at sleepovers, which is what my friends and I used to do.”

How is the ritual performed?

“You go into a room alone with all the lights off, and there has to be a mirror inside obviously. You stand in front of the mirror and you chant ‘Bloody Mary’ three times. After the third time, Bloody Mary is supposed to appear in the mirror, where she will slit your throat and you will die. I actually have tried it before, but nothing really happened which is good cause I really didn’t want to die. It was super scary though, and sometimes you even feel like something might happen, especially when you’re in the dark standing in front of the mirror and have said it twice already.”

 

Collector’s Comments:

This is perhaps one of the most famous ghost stories out there, and one that I have heard multiple times before. One very interesting thing that I noticed is that the informant describes the ghost as a bloodied Virgin Mary. In the versions that I have heard, Bloody Mary is another woman entirely, with no relation to the Catholic Mary, so this makes me wonder if the fact that the informant heard this story at Catholic school had affected the telling. Another point that is interesting is that the informant had actually performed the ritual, and while nothing happened, the fear that he felt was very real, making the context and the setting a large factor in his belief.

 

For another version of this story, see the horror film Paranormal Activity III (2011), which has a scene where the characters recreate the Bloody Mary ritual.

Legends
Narrative

The Weeping River Lady

Informant was told of the legend by her mother, who was born in Laos, whose parents had passed it down to her when she was a young child. Informant’s grandparents were a poor family living in the capitol of Laos (Pakse).

Okay, tell me what you remember.

“I think I was like a freshman in high school when I heard this one. My mom told it to me and my sisters when we were camping once. She, uh, spoke of a very small village in Laos that all of the farmers had to pass through in order to reach the market to sell their crops. According to the story, if anyone tries through the village between midnight to 3 AM, a crying woman wearing rags will walk out of a nearby river and stand to block the path. The woman chants something… like gibberish or some random language maybe?  If the person passing through doesn’t run away and still tries to pass, they become possessed and lose consciousness, and once they wake up, they find themselves in a spirit realm, and are gone from the real world forever. My mom said this is why people said never to pass through the village at this time.”

How did you react to the story?

“I was really scared. I think my mom was just telling it to us to scare us, but I had a really hard time sleeping afterward. So my sisters and I just stayed up together.”

Conclusion of Collector:

Laos, a country in Southeast Asia, is primarily a rural economy, and many rice farmers live and work in the countryside. This legend was passed mostly through the farming communities, explaining why it is related to the market path. This story seems very similar to legends such as La Llorona, which also involve crying, ghostly women, which makes me wonder if the tales are related, or if they formed through polygenesis. However, the legend also seems like a warning to those who would try to make the journey at night, perhaps to prevent people from getting robbed or passing through the village so late. One could say that this legend might even have been used to warn children from staying out too late or leaving the house at night.

Legends
Narrative

Lady Idyllwild

Informant recalls a story that he heard when he was in 7th grade, during a three-day school camping trip in the Idyllwild Mountains of the San Bernadino forest.

“I was in my cabin with a bunch of other classmates, and my friend’s brother, who was in 8th grade, began telling us a scary story. We were all huddled around when he started. So, it was basically a young married couple driving through the Idyllwild Mountains on a snowy day, when their car got stalled on the road. The husband is sitting in the passenger seat, and he gets out of the car to try and fix it, while his pregnant wife sits inside to wait for him. He opens the hood of the car to look inside, so now the wife can’t see him anymore because her view is blocked by the hood. After 20 minutes, the car has still not been fixed, and the wife realizes that she hasn’t seen or heard her husband at all. She gets out of the car into the snow, and realizes that her husband is nowhere to be found, even though the hood is still wide open. She looks around for a bit, and notices a perfectly straight red line in the snow, and wonders, “How did a straight line like that get there?” Then, she looks up and notices that her husband’s severed head is above her, attached to a tree by a rope, shooting blood and swinging like a pendulum, which is why the red line was there. I don’t really remember how, but the story goes that Lady Idyllwild appears suddenly, looking very pale white with white hair and a white dress, but with blood-red eyes. She kills the the woman somehow, and then after, for some reason, she warns the dead couple that tourists are not allowed on Mt. Idyllwild, although they’re already dead so I guess it’s a little too late. I think maybe Lady Idyllwild took the unborn baby. But yeah.”

Do you remember your reaction to the story?

“I literally could not sleep. I remember that the guy in the bunk above me couldn’t sleep either, so we sorta talked the whole night about how scared we were. My friend’s older brother, the guy telling the story, was sort of an asshole, so it totally made sense that he would try and scare us so bad right before bed. Also, it didn’t help that it was actually snowing outside of our cabin, and I had the bed right next to the window, so I couldn’t sleep at all.”

 

Collector’s Conclusions:

This sounds like a classic campfire/cabin story to scare younger children, especially in the informant’s situation at a sleepaway camp. Like many other ghost stories, this is one involving a ghostly woman, who is tied to a specific location, in this case, Mt. Idyllwild. The contrast between the white snow and the red blood is significant, perhaps indicating some symbolism related to females or motherhood, and the fact that Lady Idyllwild takes the woman’s baby hints towards some connection to motherhood. Parallels can be drawn between this story and the La Llorona legend, and others like it. For the informant, this folklore was probably more impactful because he was actually in he was in the location in which the story allegedly occurred, which is an example of context affecting belief.

general

Three friends at a cemetery

my informant MK is my brother and he told me this story this past summer while exchanging horror stories one night. He heard this story from his friends at school. MK is 18 and a senior I high school. He was born in the States but has been living in Croatia for the past 15 years

 

There were three friends and one day like every other they were competing with each other who among them was the bravest and more manly. In order to settle this discussion once and for all, one of them suggested that if they are really fearless tonight as the clock strikes midnight they will dig out a grave and hammer a nail into it. All three of them were scared at first, but after one of them said that he is a the bravest one and he will do it and since the other two didn’t want to be seen as cowards they said they were going to do it as well. That same night they dig out a grave and when the clock hit twelve the first one went down and hammered the first nail. When he came out the second one went down and hammers his nail. After the second friend climbed out the third one went down to hammer his nail. He hits once, twice and after the third time it was nailed in. As he was going back up something pulled him back in and the two friends that were watching ran back home without even looking back. Tomorrow morning not hearing from the third friend they went back to the graveyard looking for him. When they came to the spot they left him, they found him dead. While he was hammering the nail in the coffin he got his jacket sleeve to, so when he tried to go back up that was what pulled him back. Thinking it was a dead man that pulled him he got a heart attack and died.”

 

I heard a slightly different version of this story from my friends back in elementary school. I thing that the story has a message (children not to mess around late at night especially at cemeteries), but it is used more for entertainment around kids to scare each other, rather than educational purposes.

general
Humor

Lights off on Elm Street

Folk Piece

“The movie nightmare on Elm Street was filmed in my town, on Elm Street. One of the things that’s been a legend on elm street is that cars would be driving on Elm Street, like at night, and there would be a car behind them and they could see it and they could see it, and then all of a sudden it would just disappear. And suddenly someone would appear in front of their car. It was just like super freaky, and I don’t know, that’s just one of the stories that I’ve heard. So my friend tried to like fuck with people at night because he had an all black car that was really quiet. So he could like drive up right behind people and when there was nowhere to turn or anything he would turn off his lights and just roll on behind them and people would like pull over and freak out that he was like gone, but he was actually there the whole time”

 

Background information

The informant began by saying “Well, my town is boring, I don’t think we really have many cool stories or anything… Well, we did have Elm Street from that movie.” She had said that she’d never seen the movie, but that it had an impact on the way that people thought about the street. Especially kids her age, that weren’t born for another decade after the movies’ premiere, would tell stories of Elm Street, but not necessarily ones that originated from the movie.

 

Context

“No, it wasn’t just my friend, a lot more people did it. But, like, he just drove down it a lot and yeah, he did a few times.” She said that the prank itself was done by a lot of people, mostly older high schoolers, though. She had never witnessed it herself, but only heard about it.

 

Analysis

Pranks, or practical jokes, are performed for a variety of different reasons. In this circumstance, the prank is driven by a legend about a mysterious figure that would appear in front of people’s cars on the street where A Nightmare on Elm Street takes place. The legend is so widely known, that the exploitation of a plot point in the story can lead to drivers becoming very scared. It is interesting to note that A Nightmare on Elm Street doesn’t have a scene where there are cars driving down the road and the lights turn off. The original authored story transformed the street itself into somewhat of a legend, which in turn was exploited as a prank. This transition from authored material, to legend, to prank could be explored further with more data from other town members.

Also interesting is that older high schoolers are the one performing this prank. Presumably, these are drivers that had just acquired their license and are given some autonomy. That they take this new found freedom and also exploit it for humor and rebellion shows why this might be such a popular prank in this town.

Legends
Narrative

Man With the Hook

The informant (my grandmother), loves Halloween and all things spooky. I remember that as a child, I could always expect to hear a horrific legend or other form of narrative when visiting her house. I asked the informant if she would be able to hold a video call with me over FaceTime, and during the call I asked her which of these narratives was her favorite to tell. She said it was a legend almost everyone had heard in some fashion, called “The Man With the Hook.”

“We would always tell this story on the way to Clear Lake. We’d stop the car and park on the side of the road when we got close to Napa State Hospital, then start to tell the story to whichever kids were in the car. It goes that some teenagers were parked near the hospital the night before doing something they were not supposed to be doing, listening to music and making out. Suddenly, the music stops and an announcement comes on the radio that a mental patient who had a history of murdering young girls just escaped from Napa State Hospital. We chose this hospital because in those days, it was the closest place where crazy people were put, and there was a prison part to it. He was distinctive because he had lost one hand and had a hook. The girl got scared and said she heard something outside, but the boy dismissed her saying that she was just paranoid. She yelled at him, and he got mad so he peeled out from where they were parked and sped away. Right when the car started moving she asked if he heard something, and he said no. When they got back home and stepped out of the car, there was a bloody hook on the door. They never found the man, though, and rumor has it he is still out searching for his next victim.”

This is a classic scary narrative that most Americans will say they have heard in some form. This particular version was adapted to a particular location that was convenient to the informant, so that the fear of the children who heard it was amplified by the supposed proximity of the man with the hook. The legend functions not only as a way to playfully elicit paranoia in children, but also to warn them against misbehaving. It is implied that the teenagers in the narrative are doing something that they shouldn’t be by kissing in the car at a remote location so as to not get caught by their parents, and as a result of this behavior the man with the hook almost gets them. No part of this narrative must take place in a specific geographic location, so it can easily be told by those who know it wherever they happen to be.

Digital
Narrative
Tales /märchen

Scary Story: The Message

Context:

The informant and I had recently gone on a retreat together to a wooded area. At the retreat, we participated in a nighttime ghost story telling session with some friends, and my informant was talented at performing ghost stories. I later asked her to share some ghost stories with me again, and I recorded the interview for collection purposes.

Interview Transcript:

Informant: Once upon a time… there was, um… You know, I don’t know if, in the story… I don’t know if it ever tells you who it is, ’cause it’s written from… When I read it, on like, Creepypasta, although the first time I heard this story, it was not on Creepypasta. It was, someone told me in my highschool art class. That was when we were sharing scary stories one time. In my highschool art class. When I was like, “You guys, let’s tell scary stories.” I think it was Halloween.

Me: I feel like… I feel like you’ve had too many instances, where you were like, stuck somewhere, and were just like, “Let’s tell scary stories.”

Informant: Yeah… I think it was Halloween. That’s the first time I heard about Creepypasta. It’s because, we were telling scary stories, and then I was like, “Where do you guys get this stuff?” And some guys were like, “Creepypasta.” Um, but yeah. The first time I heard this it was socially. Um, so, okay. Anyway. Once upon a time… There was, let’s mix it up and say, a teenage… boy this time, who was home alone. Um, his parents were gone for the weekend, and he was alone and he heard something in his house when he was up in his bed. And he got nervous, and he thought, “Okay. It was probably something.” But then he heard the sound of something heavy, like, coming up the stairs. Like this like sound of something, like a really heavy person, thumping up the stairs. And he was like, “Okay, maybe they think it’s an empty house. I’ll just lie in my bead, and I’ll like pretend, and I won’t do anything, and maybe they’ll leave and maybe they won’t notice.” And he heard it creep closer to his door, and closer to his door. And he like lay himself flat against the bed under the covers and he thought, “Maybe, it’s like a thief. And maybe if I act like I’m sleeping, like they’ll just, they won’t harm me and they’ll leave.” And then, under the covers, he looked through the door, and saw this… huge caveman looking like… like this caveman, this big bulky, hairy caveman, with like this prehistoric face. And he was like, “What?” And he was like, “Maybe, okay, like it’s a caveman. He’s probably not that intelligent.” And he was like, getting really nervous and scared. And he was like… sweating. And he was like, “I’ll stay under the covers, and maybe he won’t notice me, and he’ll leave…” And so, and he heard the caveman walk to the wall, and like, make some scratching sounds, and then the caveman sat down on the other side of his room in a chair. And he was like, “Okay… Maybe he’ll leave…” And like an hour passed. And then like another hour passed, and he stayed under the covers, and like, he was just peeking just barely under the covers, and the caveman wasn’t leaving. And he, like, was waiting, and waiting, and at some point he decided to just look under the covers just a little, and then he realized the scratching noise, was the sound of the caveman writing something on the wall. And he looked up at the wall, and it said, “I know you’re not asleep.” The end!

Analysis:

This story plays off of the listener’s fears concerning violation of privacy within one’s home, the unknown, and being watched. Its ability to invoke shock from an audience in such a short span of time makes it appropriate to tell both verbally and digitally, as shown by its being shared through multiple platforms. The informant’s explanation as to how she became exposed to the story suggests that it is usually performed at night, the time of day scary stories are usually associated with. The story itself also takes place at night while the main character lies in bed trying to sleep.

Narrative
Tales /märchen

Scary Story: The Sound in the Night

Context:

The informant and I had recently gone on a retreat together to a wooded area. At the retreat, we participated in a nighttime ghost story telling session with some friends, and my informant was talented at performing ghost stories. I later asked her to share some ghost stories with me again, and I recorded the interview for collection purposes.

Interview Transcript:

Informant: I’ll tell another one! Here,  I’ll tell one that I did not tell at the retreat. I think I told most of these at the retreat… But ok. This one. It’s very short. Once upon a time, there was a teenage girl… *laughs* She was, not babysitting, she was home alone and, um, and her parents were gone. They were… doing something. I don’t know. They were gone for the weekend. Okay. That’s the story. They were gone for the weekend. She was home alone, and suddenly she heard a sound. And she couldn’t like, she heard a sound and she was like, “That’s weird… What is that sound?” And she was trying to figure out what was making it. It was kind of like this thump thump thump sound. And she was like, “Weird…” And she would just go back on Tumblr, and then she would hear it again a few times. Like thump thump, thump thump. And then she like walked around the house, and was like, “Huh…” She was like, “Is it like a tree? Like a branch banging against the house? But that’s not what it would sound like…” And it was like, late at night. It couldn’t have been like, kids bouncing a ball anywhere or anything. So she just like, let it go. And she like, heard it again. Thump thump thump thump. Thump thump thump thump. And she was like, “That’s strange…” But she let it go. She just turned on her music. And she went to sleep. She did not die. She was fine. The next day, um, her parents came home. Um, oh, it’s not as scary as I imagined it would be. But anyway, her parents came home, and everything was fine. And she kept wondering what that sound was. She even like experimented. She like, moved some things around. Smacked a branch against the house to figure out like, what it was, but nothing was making that same sound. And she was like, “Huh… I guess I’ll never know what it was.” And then, her dad went to go open the window, and the window was locked. And as he tried to open it a few times, it made that thump thump thump sound. And that’s when she realized that the sound was someone trying to like, break into her house. The end. That’s like, a more real fear, I guess.

Me: Yeah, but like a lot of, um, a lot of horror stories are based off of, like, real life fears. So yeah, that makes sense.

*pause*

Me: And I guess part of the, like, horror of it is that she doesn’t know who it was.

Informant: Yeah… Or that she didn’t even realize until like, later.

Analysis: 

This story feeds off of the listener’s fears concerning plausible situations, such as the possibility of being a victim of crime. The main character does not even figure out the source of the unknown sound until after the situation she was in danger during passes. The story takes place at night, playing off of people’s fear of the dark and of the unknown. The story’s nighttime setting is also appropriate considering that ghost stories are often told at night.

Narrative
Tales /märchen

Scary Story: The Car Had Lights

Context:

The informant and I had recently gone on a retreat together to a wooded area. At the retreat, we participated in a nighttime ghost story telling session with some friends, and my informant was talented at performing ghost stories. I later asked her to share some ghost stories with me again, and I recorded the interview for collection purposes.

Interview Transcript:

Informant: Once upon a time… I think I told this one too, but anyway, there was a woman, driving in her car. She was just driving home on her way from work, it was like a thirty minute drive, and as she was driving, home, she started to notice something weird. She noticed that at every turn she took, the truck behind her would like, would keep taking the same turns, and go on like onto the same freeway as her. And she started to get suspicious because she started thinking that this truck driver was probably following her. So, she even started to like, she like took some random turns and even went in a loop, and she realized that it kept following her. And then, it started flashing its headlights at her. It would, like, flash its headlights a few times and then stop. And then she started getting freaked out, so she started speeding a little bit, and it started speeding after her. And she took like a sharp turn, and it took a sharp turn after her. And it kept flashing its, um, headlights at her. And so she started getting freaked out. So she decided she would call the police before, like, she drove home, and tell them to come to her house so that they would be there when she came so they could, like, arrest the truck driver right there are then. So, dangerously, she dialed… No, you know what, not dangerously. She used wireless… Like, um, speakerphone. Wait… yeah, okay. It doesn’t change the story. Anyways. She called the police and told them, “There’s a truck driver following me, following my car. Like, come to my address, it’s something something something street. And the police replied, like ‘Okay. We’re on our way.'” And so she got home. She got out of the car, and the police were there. And the truck driver… And the truck driver drove up behind her, and she pointed at the truck driver. And she was like, “There! That’s the man who’s been following me. Like see! I told you he was following me. He followed me all the way home.” And the police were like, “Sir, what’s going on?” And he was like, “There was someone in the car, in the backseat, and he was trying to kill you. And every time I saw him coming up with his knife, I would flash my headlights at him so that it would like, blind his eyes so he’d get back down.” And then they opened the back door, and there was a man with a knife. And they arrested him, and everyone was safe. The end.

Me: I like that.

Informant: Real fear.

Me: Yeah…

Informant: That’s why you should always check the back seats of the car…

Context:

This story derives its horror from a scary situation that a listener could realistically encounter in real life. It also has a plot twist, in that the figure originally made out to be scary ended up saving the woman by following her, and the woman’s car, which she had thought to be safe, turned out to be dangerous due to its housing an attempted murderer.

[geolocation]