In HBO's mind-bending new supernatural drama The Outsider, small-town sheriff Ralph Anderson (Ben Mendelsohn) arrests little league coach Terry Maitland (Jason Bateman) for the slaying of a local boy. Fingerprints and witness testimony seem to indict Maitland, yet he has an airtight alibi and irrefutable evidence of his innocence. The incident sparks a spiral of devastation that rips several families in the small town apart. And, as the madness plays out, a hooded figure with a misshapen face watches from the distance.
Based on the 2018 novel by Stephen King, The Outsider tells the story of madness sparked by what may be a supernatural force. As Anderson investigates the subsequent chaos, a private detective named Holly Gibney (Cynthia Erivo) joins the case, and discovers that something is taking children across the country and implicating suspects who couldn't possibly do the things they're accused of. Gibney starts to investigate the possibility that something supernatural is at work, and to this end, she's introduced to the legends of El Coco - a Latin American bogeyman figure - and Black Annis - a European witch monster, both of which prey on and devour children while spreading fear.
These creatures aren't just baddies invented by King's fearsome imagination. Both El Coco and Black Annis have been staples of nightmarish folklore for hundreds of years, and are even more frightening than The Outsider suggests.
Black Annis Is Referred To By Many Names
The mythological Black Annis is one of many different types of folkloric entities who feast on children. However, Black Annis alone has been known by a multitude of different monikers as her fearsome reputation has developed and spread over the years.
She's been known as Black Agnes, but also Cat Anna - likely due to the legend of her sharp claws - and Black Anne or Black Anna. In fact, historical records of land ownership in Leicestershire, England, point to an area known as Black Anny's Bower.
While this is now thought to be where the frightening creature dwelled, it's possible the monster's most famous name evolved from said area, with "Black Anny's" becoming "Black Annis."
Black Annis Dwells In A Cave She Clawed Out Of The Side Of The Dane Hills
As the legend of Black Annis grew, so did the stories about her fearsome appearance and terrifying powers. In 1874, historian and folklorist William Kelly gave a detailed description of Black Annis, as well as her legendary bower - which was a cave she'd supposedly clawed out of the stone in the Dane Hills, on the outskirts of Leicestershire, England.
Kelly further claimed to have snuck into the famed bower as a child, and provided the only known description of where Black Annis is thought to have dwelled:
The cave she was traditionally said to have dug out of the solid rock with her finger-nails... At that time, and long previously, the mouth of the cave was closed, but in my school days it was open, and, with two or three companions, I recollect on one occasion "snatching a fearful joy" by crawling on our hands and knees into the interior, which, as far my recollection serves me at this distance of time, was some seven or eight feet long by about four or five feet wide, and having a ledge of rock, for a seat, running along each side.
According to the collective lore on Black Annis and her bower, the mouth of her cave was filled in and closed permanently by rain-washed soil and mudslides in the 1770s.
The First Mention Of El Coco Dates Back To The 17th Century
El Coco, also known as El Cuco, is a Latin American bogeyman figure that has instilled fear in the hearts of children and adults for hundreds of years. The first known reference to El Coco dates back to the 17th century with a Spanish lullaby that sings of El Coco's penchant for eating children who are awake past their bedtimes.
The tune also asks El Coco to return to his rooftop perch and to not prey on the children to whom the lullaby is being sung.
Juan Caxés's poetic work Auto de los Desposorios de la Virgen features the earliest known rhyming verse about El Coco, and it has developed over the years as the lullaby has been sung over and over through generations. However, the general thrust of the lyrics has remained the same:
A la ruru, mi hijito, (Lullaby, my little son)
Duérmase ya, (Sleep now)
Que viene el coco (For the bogeyman might come)
Y se lo comera! (To eat you up!)
El Coco Roams The Streets At Night Looking For Children To Snack On
A lot of the El Coco myth seems to mirror various bogeymen legends from across the globe. And, like so many other frightening creatures, El Coco has a taste for chowing down on naughty children.
In some versions of the myth, the shapeshifting, vaguely human El Coco wanders the streets at night, picking up children who are out and about and putting them in a sack he carries over his shoulder. This mirrors the famous Christmastime figure known as Krampus and the Dutch legend of Black Peter - one of Santa Claus's helpers who would punish or even kidnap naughty children on Christmas Eve.
Unlike Black Annis - and so many other bogeymen figures - El Coco doesn't just find sustenance in the flesh of the young. In some stories, El Coco will whisk the children away to a land of no return (where he may or may not eat them), but then finds his true meal by soaking up and consuming the sorrow of the child's family in the wake of their loss.
This may be why the creature in The Outsider is also referred to as the "Grief-Eater" or the "Tear-Drinker."