Director – Joshua Zeman
Cast – Joshua Zeman, Rachel Mills, Stephen Winick
Release Year – 2014
Reviewed by John of the Dead
Roughly five years after his 2009 film Cropsey, documentary filmmaker Joshua Zeman returns with another effort involving urban legends, titled Killer Legends. This time, instead of focusing on one legend like he did with Cropsey, he and researcher Rachel Mills explore the origins behind four semi-popular urban legends from around the USA. I enjoyed seeing him delve into legends that aren’t widely known, as we all should already know about the Mothman, the Jersey Devil, Bigfoot, etc. Blending stock footage with his investigation of the townsfolk aware of the legends, this is an engaging effort for those who enjoy horror documentaries.
They first take is “The Hookman”, where a man with a hook for a hand tries to murder teenagers parked on a lover’s lane. When they get home, they find the man’s hook stuck in the door, showing just how narrowly they escaped. They barely tap into this, and instead it focuses on what I believe to be an even more awesome lover’s lane tale, the Texarkana Moonlight Murders. These famous killings from the spring of 1946 inspired the 1976 classic film, The Town That Dreaded Sundown, and its 2014 sequel. The filmmakers delve into the mystique behind the murders, as they still remain unsolved as of 2015. There are several theories as to what happened to the Phantom Killer, and they rely on the local townsfolk / law enforcement for their opinions and first-hand knowledge on the matter. While I already knew about this case, I felt this was the most engaging of the legends they investigated.
In the next entry, “The Candyman” they focus on the tales of poisoned / tainted Halloween candy killing children or sending them to the hospital. They head to Deer Park, Texas to investigate the case of Ronald Clark O’Bryan, who used poisoned Halloween candy to kill his son for insurance money. Ronald tried to use the urban legend of strangers handing out poisoned candy as a means to keep police looking in the wrong direction. It is believed that this case helped further the hysteria behind the legend.
Next up is “The Babysitter and the Man Upstairs”, where a babysitter is harassed by phone calls from a strange man, only to learn that he is actually inside the house with her. The film When A Stranger Calls popularized this legend, but Zeman and Mills investigate the case of Janett Christman, who was murdered under similar circumstances.
Lastly is “The Killer Clown”, where they investigate the origin of the evil clown. They mention cases where children have reported mysterious clowns trying to entice them into unmarked vans. In this entry the filmmakers believe that no such legend really exists, and that this belief is a manifestation of coulrophobia – the fear of clowns. They tap into John Wayne Gacy a bit, but that is about it.
I enjoyed seeing four different legends told in an anthology format, but I must say that it came at a cost. With Cropsey, there were lots of details provided to enforce the comparisons between the criminal and the legend. Here, each legend isn’t investigated as thoroughly, as they must share screentime. Also, it is possible that some of these legends, which aren’t that popular, simply did not have enough material to support spending more time on them. Despite all of this, though, Zeman knows how to make Killer Legends an engaging watch. The pacing is good, the documentary aspect (interviews and commentary) are solid, and his overall direction is favorable. The only thing you really need to worry about is if the legends he explores will interest you. If they do, then it’s a no brainer – check it out.
Overall, Killer Legends is another enjoyable documentary in the vein of Cropsey. While it did not delve into the legends as much as I wanted it to, it is still a good watch if you need that horror documentary fix.