8 Creepy Urban Legends and Folktales That Inspired Foreign Horror Films

Horror films are scary enough as it is, but there’s something even creepier about those hailing from foreign countries - especially when they’re inspired by disturbing ghost stories and folklore. When films take inspiration from urban legends that are deeply rooted in a particular culture, it adds an extra layer of authenticity, heightening the horror.

Settle in and take a trip through some of the most terrifying foreign films inspired by urban legends. While some are based on horrors that don a different mask depending on location, like the Vanishing Hitchhiker, others, like the legend of the Tyanak, serve as a unique taste of the region they call home. There is even one urban legend that's made an appearance in scientific research. The one thing they have in common? Each and every one of the myths is absolutely nightmare-inducing. Dig in!

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  • To this day, one of the most frightening urban legends in Japan is the story of Kuchisake-onna (a.k.a. Slit-Mouthed Woman). While there are many interpretations of the myth, the most popular belief is that some time during the Edo period, a Samurai used a sword to slice his wife's face from ear to ear after he found out she was cheating on him. 

    Since that time, there continue to be alleged sightings of a malicious female spirit walking the streets with her face covered by a surgical mask, stopping victims to ask whether she is pretty. If they reply no, she kills them with a pair of scissors. If they reply yes, she removes her mask and asks “How about now?” If the victim answers yes again, she slices their face from ear to ear, just like her. If they answer no, she cuts them in half.

    The disturbing legend has been adapted several times to manga, anime, television, and film. The most popular version is the 2007 film Carved: The Slit Mouthed Woman. While similar to the original myth, the Kuchisake-Onna in this version is capable of possessing female hosts in order to terrorize the town.

  • In South Korean urban legend, bunshinsaba is a ritual used for communicating with ghosts. The rite functions similar to Ouija. Instead of purchasing an elaborate board, however, bunshinsaba involves a single piece of paper and a pen. After drawing  symbols on the page (usually an “X” and “O”), participants ask yes or no questions, and hold on to the pen to see which way it moves. In other versions, the names of your enemies can be written on the page as a way to mark them for death.

    Witch Board (Bunshinsaba) tells the story of three friends who are bullied in school. To exact revenge, the trio play bunshinsaba, listing  names of several enemies. As the bully body count rises, one of the characters realizes she's been possessed by a dead girl, who is responsible for all of the murders.

  • In Thailand, the story of Mae Nak is well known. It concerns a young woman named Nak, and her devotion to her husband. While she was pregnant, her husband was sent to war, where he was wounded. Nak and her child died during birth, while her husband was healing. When he returned home, he founds the ghosts of his wife and child waiting for him, unaware they were ghosts. He lived with them until realizing they were dead.

    The Thai film Nang Nak follows the legend closely, and is set in a rural village west of Bangkok.

  • This well-known urban legend hails from Hong Kong. According to the myth, aborted fetuses are believed to restore beauty and youth, as well as increase fertility. In one notable case, performance artist Zhu Yu allegedly consumed fetuses for a conceptual art display entitled “Eating People” at the Shanghai arts festival in 2000. The “shock art” sparked controversy, and provoked federal investigations.

    In the Chinese film Dumplings, a fading actress reaches out to a local chef named Aunt Mei. After the actress explains her problem, the chef prescribes her famous youth-rejuvenating dumplings. The main ingredient? Fetuses. After realizing the secret recipe worked, the plot spiraled out of control and reached violent heights.

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  • Where there are cars, there is probably some version of the Vanishing Hitchhiker urban legend. Though different depending on the region, the premise remains the same: people are accompanied by a mysterious hitchhiker who disappears without explanation. In several versions, the driver makes contact with the family of the ghost at some point and learns that the person they picked up matched the description of their dead relative.

    In the 1951 Irish film Return to Glennascaul (a.k.a. Orson Welles’ Ghost Story), Welles (as himself) encounters and picks up a man with car trouble. As the two drive through the countryside, the mysterious man recounted a story he experienced in the area. According to his tale, he once picked up two female hitchhikers. When he brought them to their manor, they invited him in for a drink. After he left, he realized he’d forgotten his cigarette case and went back retrieve it. When he arrived, he found the estate in ruins. After he inquired about it, he learned that the two women who lived there had died several years prior.

  • According to Filipino legend, a Tiyanak is a vampire-like creature that assumes the form of a child to lure and attack travelers in the jungle. The malevolent beings are also known to abduct children. Although beliefs vary, most stories feature the Tiyanak’s ability to mimic the appearance on an infant. Also known as impakto, the creatures believed to be the spirits of children whose mother died before given birth, or infants who died before being baptized.

    In the Filipino film Tiyanaks, a group of students and their professor get lost during a Holy Week retreat. When the group stops to rest at an abandoned, Tiyanak-infested house, their worst nightmares come true.