Chiller_720x440_55Killer Legends is a tweener, a horror documentary that may not be quite creepy enough for those seeking a scare and not rigorous enough in its fact-finding to satisy those seeking validation of historical facts. Still, there is a sense of perverse fun that runs throughout the film, a guilty pleasure at examining the lurid stories that have been the grist for campfire tales and scary movies for more than 50 years.

Joshua Zeman, who also directed the film, and Rachel Mills, one of the producers, serve as the on-screen hosts that look at four urban legends and search for the true stories that may have given rise to the legends. The two exhibit a nice dynamic together. Zeman is at ease in front of the camera, and the leggy Mills offers a little bit of off-beat eye candy for the fanboys. The chapeau that introduces and concludes the film is unecessarily breathy and overstates the aims and outcomes of the entire effort, but the work through the four sections is well-paced and absorbing.

Zeman chose wisely in selecting the urban legends that the film explores: the killer with the hook hand who terrorizes couples on Lovers Lane, the Candyman who poisons trick-or-treating children on Halloween, the babysitter who is terrorized by a stranger in the house, and the clown who lures young children to their death. Linking the legend to a specific incident proves tricky in a couple of cases, and the underlying phobias and/or societal taboos that explain the staying power of some stories is given short shrift unfortunately. They are most successful with the Candyman story as Zeman and Mills explain where the idea of tainted Halloween treats originated and how the holiday was changed forever.

The babysitter who is terrorized by phone calls from a threatening stranger is wonderfully introduced through a series of clips from a slew of movies that have used the scenario, but it turns out that there is no factual basis for the fear. Killer Legends spends a great deal of time examining a case of two young women who were killed in Missouri more than 50 years, one of whom was babysitting at the time, but an expert interviewed says it was most likely that the killer was someone known to the victims. More interesting is how often babysitters kill or are somehow responsible for the deaths of the children in their charge, and whether that could be the psychological explanation for the enduring power of the myth.

The killer with the hook hand is linked to the murders in Texarkana in 1946 that were immortalized in the cult classic The Town That Dreaded Sundown. Killer Legends does an excellent job in separating the fact of the actual murders from the fiction of that film, but fails to pick up on how widespread the Lovers Lane murderer is as both a phenomena and a fact, ranging from the Bunny Man story in the Washington, DC area to the all-too-real attacks on young couples in cars by Son of Sam. The film also seems to purposefully play down the most obvious connection between the “killer clown” sightings that crop up in Chicago periodically and John Wayne Gacy, the serial killer who dressed as Pogo the Clown, but did not use the clown costume to lure his victims, contrary to popular belief.

At times, Killer Legends seems like four of the better episodes of In Search Of…  strung together, minus Leonard Nimoy as the host. But then Nimoy was never so twisted as to dress up as a clown and wave to children while driving through the streets of Chicago.

Two and a half stars.

 

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