The Spookiest TV and Movie Urban Legends


*Adopts old-timey prospector voice* Back in my day, we got to believe all sorts of fun nonsense. A friend of a friend would claim to have seen Bigfoot at a Sears. A friend of a friend of a friend would report the existence of a ghost train. A friend of a friend of a friend, twice removed, would send a chain email convinced that if they didn’t their soul would be harvested by a demon. We called this phenomena “urban legends” – silly little folkloric tales that made the world a touch more whimsical.

And then the World Wide Web came along with its “fact-checkers,” “journalists,” and “people who have a base level grasp of reality” to tear it all away. We used to have it so good before the internet, I swear to God. Pull the plug already.

Still, even in the era of mass media, some spooky urban legends continue to live on in the form of TV shows and movies. These two popular mediums are a font of potential misinformation that, when sifted through a game of pop cultural “Telephone,” eventually create some compellingly creepy urban legends. Ever hear the one about the ghost caught on film? Or the cursed production? What about all those missing haunted episodes of television? Well you’re about to now. Of course, (almost) all of them have already been debunked. But don’t let the nerds ruin your good time.


Ok, let’s just get this one out of the way right off the bat. One of the most pervasive urban legends regarding pop culture is that certain TV or film (but usually film) productions were cursed in some way. The urban legend is so popular that it even led to the creation of a TV series following the supposed phenomenon – Cursed Films, which has thus far run for two seasons and 10 episodes on Shudder.

Some of the most frequent targets for the “cursed film” urban legend are The Exorcist, The Crow, and Rosemary’s Baby. For our money, however, the biggest one is Tobe Hooper’s 1982 horror film Poltergeist. The so-called Poltergeist curse is believed to have led to the untimely deaths of several members of the film’s cast, most notably the tragic passing of young actress Heather O’Rourke. Of course, there is no such thing as a cursed movie so that’s why we’re combining them all into one entry. Or is there…

Barney the Dinosaur Was an Unhinged Drug Addict

Barney the Dinosaur, titular star of PBS children’s series Barney & Friends is a wholesome force for good in this sad, dismal world. All the rotund purple T-Rex wants to do is teach your kids some life lessons and dole out some big hugs. Naturally, he is therefore almost universally hated.

Barney is a target for urban legends and conspiracy theories and they almost always revolve around something nefarious going on in that immense purple costume. One urban legend became so popular that Snopes even had to weigh in. It involves the actor who portrayed Barney hiding some cocaine in Barney’s tail, you know – the best place to hide illicit drugs. Obviously that’s not true but Snopes notes that there have been some instances of drug traffickers hiding cocaine and painkillers inside Barney dolls. Somewhere along the way the story likely grew into the urban legend the still haunts Barney.

There’s a Terrifying Missing Episode of SpongeBob SquarePants

Here we graduate from the usual pre-Internet era of urban legends into the digital age of the creepypasta. Named after the practice of re-sharing spooky stories from web forum to web forum (copy + paste = copypasta; creepy + paste = creepypasta), creepypastas are urban legends that sound reasonably plausible to terminally online audiences. One such early creepypasta involves a “lost episode” of children’s cartoon SpongeBob SquarePants.

As you’ll come to find out perusing this list, the myth of a “lost episode” is as common an urban legend for television as “cursed productions” are for film. The supposed haunted lost episode of SpongeBob is called “Squidward’s Suicide.” The legend finds an ex-Nickelodeon intern recounting the time they screened an episode called “Squidward’s Suicide.” Said episode was deeply disturbing and include Squidward being bullied into despair and clawing at his face while the footage is intercut with images of actual dead children. It’s uh…probably not real.

Babe Was Sent Straight to the Slaughterhouse 

Remember that movie Babe? The one about the sweet talking pig and his farmer buddy James Cromwell? Yeah anyway, they ate the pig. Sorry!

Thankfully, the reality is that no one ate Babe. In fact, no one ate any of the 48 White Yorkshire female piglets that ultimately portrayed Babe. That none of the pigs would end up as pork was an actual condition of the contract signed by the filmmakers and animal training company Animal Action. Additionally, given the fact that Babe led James Cromwell to becoming vegan, this might be one of the least true urban legends ever created.

Doctor Who Condemns Two Goons to Agonizing Deaths

As one of the longest running TV series ever, Doctor Who is a rich source of urban legends. In fact, we’ve covered a lot of them already. But the nature of this list to find only the spookiest urban legends and when it comes to the heavily analyzed sci-fi world of the TARDIS, spookiness can be hard to come by. Still, one misremembered bit of a classic Doctor Who episode has led to some believing that Doctor #6 played by Colin Baker (1984-1986) is a violent psychopath.

The episode in question is season 22 episode 2’s “Vengeance on Varos.” This is already a particularly violent episode to begin with as it takes on Varos, a world where political prisoners are subjected to sadistic torture and execution for the amusement of the public. The urban legend states that at one point Baker’s Doctor deliberately pushes two goons into an acid bath, condemning them to unimaginably agonizing deaths. In reality, the goons merely accidentally fall into the acid, saving the Doctor Who canon from having one freakishly evil Doctor in its history.

The Wizard of Oz Captures a Suicide On Film

The Wizard of Oz‘s status as a legendary Hollywood film along with its surreal technicolor imagery make it a natural target for myths and urban legends. And indeed there are many urban legends surrounding The Wizard of Oz, some of which are even true. These include the belief that the movie syncs up perfectly to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon (Pink Floyd says it doesn’t…they might be wrong), the fact that the falling snow onscreen was actually toxic asbestos (it was), and the knowledge that star Judy Garland was psychologically tortured through much of the production (she was). But the darkest Wizard of Oz urban legend involves the supposed suicide of an actor onset.

Around 45 minutes into the film, what appears to be a floating shadow can be seen among the trees in the distance as Dorothy and friend make their way down the Yellowbrick road. Some conspiracists claim that this is the hanged body of an actor portraying a munchkin having committed suicide after being rejected by his love. As you may already know, however, that hanging silhouette is just the shadow cast by a large bird, likely one of the many cranes the studio brought to set to invoke a whimsical atmosphere.

Carmen Sandiego Breaks Some Poor Kid’s Arm 

The ’90s were filled with child-centric gameshows that basically let kids run amok on cavernous Hollywood soundstages. The whole scene was so chaotic that it’s a miracle no one got hurt. Well, according to one urban legend regarding the game show Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?, somebody did.

Based on the educational computer game of the same name, this PBS series invited three young “gumshoes” on to answer geography-related trivia questions to determine the location of the titular villainess. As far as competitions involving energetic middle schoolers, it was a pretty safe enterprise. For years, however, some fans believed there was a lost episode of the show out there called “Auld Lang Gone,” in which several accidents occurred culminating in the winning contestant breaking her arm in a bonus round. It wasn’t until 2020 that game show historian Christian Carrion extensively looked into the topic and concluded that the episode never existed.

You Can See a Ghost in Three Men and a Baby

Aside from perhaps only the cursed production of Poltergeist and the many myths of The Wizard of Oz, there may not be a more prominent pop culture urban legend than that of the “Three Men and a Baby ghost.” Near the end of the 1987 comedy, Ted Danson’s character walks his mother through an apartment to meet the baby that he and his two roommates have been raising (It’s a whole thing). In the background of the scene, near the window, you can first see what appears to be a rifle standing upright and then a mysterious boy. This naturally led to a rumor that “the ghost boy” haunted the set and was caught on film along with the gun that he used to commit suicide.

One of the reasons why this urban legend has persisted so long is because of how strikingly clear the images are (at least for a low-fi ’80s movie). Oftentimes movie urban legends require you to lean into the screen, squint, and concede “Ok I guess I can see how that looks like a human shadow.” With this one there is clearly just a guy hanging out by the window. There’s a good reason for that is the ghost boy really is just a guy – more accurately the cardboard cutout of Ted Danson that had been used as a “standee” of the actor and accidentally left onscreen. The rifle in question is the 2D profile view of that same cutout. Massive production errors are really an urban legend’s best friend.

Someone Died Looking for the Fargo Treasure

As anyone who has spent time online could tell you, the average person’s media literacy is … less than ideal. People confuse the fiction they consume with the reality they live in all the time. So is it any surprise then that someone took the events of the Coen Brother’s 1996 crime drama Fargo literally? Hell, the movie even (facetiously) claims at the top that it’s based on a true story.

So when a Japanese woman named Takako Konishi flew from Tokyo to Minneapolis only to freeze to death near Fargo, North Dakota, it was only natural that people would make assumptions. A popular urban legend arose that claimed that she was seeking the briefcase of cash that Steve Buscemi’s Fargo character hastily buried in a snow drift on the side of a country road. Sadly, Takako’s death wasn’t a case of media illiteracy but a deliberate suicide. The national media ran wild with a joke made by a local cop leading to the Fargo misunderstanding. In reality, Takako was familiar with the area and decided to die by suicide by laying down in the snow.

Slender Man is in Gravity Falls

Slender Man is one of the best boogeymen ever devised by the internet. Himself an urban legend (of the creepypasta variety), Slender Man is a tall, faceless ghoul who exists seemingly only to lurk in the background of photos and haunt dreams. As such, there are all sorts of ancillary tall tales that have grown out of the Slender Man myth.

One such urban legend comes from beloved Disney Channel series Gravity Falls. Already spookier than your typical kids’ series, Gravity Falls decided to embrace its full horror and feature Slender Man menacingly lurking in the background of its second episode. But actually it didn’t. That was a hoax image created by some mischievous fans. What isn’t a hoax, however, is that Slender Man would eventually become canon in Gravity Falls when the spooky boi cameoed in the graphic novel Gravity Falls: Lost Legend.

That Gold Lady Was Really Killed By Gold in Goldfinger

Sometimes urban legends are created because a movie is simply too good at playing make believe. Case in point is 1964’s Goldfinger, the third installment in the James Bond franchise. One of the most striking images in Bond history occurs early in the film when the titular British spy discovers that his friend Jill Masterson has been covered in liquid gold and killed via skin suffocation.

Now, wait a minute, many people wondered – if people can die from skin suffocation then how did they cover actress Shirley Eaton with gold without killing her? Oh God, Shirley Eaton is dead! And thus an urban legend was born. But worry not – skin suffocation isn’t a real thing and Shirley Eaton was very much ok. In fact, she’s still alive and kicking as of the writing of this article.

Basically Every Frame of The Shining

Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between an urban legend and a conspiracy theory. An urban legend seems to apply to fanciful yet ultimately harmless ideas like “there’s Slender Man in Gravity Falls,” while conspiracy theories address more urgent, frightening concerns like “the government is putting mind control chemicals in our drinking water.” The many, many myths surrounding Stanley Kubrick’s legendary 1980 horror film The Shining appear to be some combination of both.

Simply put: The Shining is one of the most picked-apart movies of all time. Any possible urban legend or conspiracy theory that can be applied to The Shining probably already has. The excellent documentary Room 237 even tries to catalog many of the more fanciful interpretations of the film, including: it’s about Native American genocide, it’s a metaphor for the Holocaust, and it’s an admission from Kubrick that he helped fake the moon landing. Another urban legend states that Kubrick’s cruel, exacting directing style irreparably harmed actress Shelley Duvall’s psyche. Though Duvall has experienced mental health challenges in recent years and Kubrick is far from a warm, helpful collaborator, that’s too big of a leap to make and Duvall has stated she bears Kubrick no ill will.

An Episode of Pokémon Caused Widespread Seizures

And now, after dutifully slogging through 12 mostly debunked urban legends, you get a treat: an urban legend that is actually (mostly) true! You may recall reading at some point that an episode of the Pokémon anime had to be pulled from the airwaves because it caused many children to experience seizures. Despite sounding like pure urban legend gibberish, this more or less happened.

The episode in question is season 1 episode 38 “Dennō Senshi Porygon,” in which Ash and friends encounter the cyberspace Pokémon called Porygon. Around the twenty minute mark of the episode, Ash’s Pikachu deflects missiles with his Thunderbolt attack, leading to an explosion that flashes alternating red and blue light. Despite being onscreen for only six seconds, this moment trigged seizure-like symptoms in thousands of young viewers – with 150 kids ultimately being admitted to hospitals.

So yeah, that really happened. But there are some qualifications to note. As the tremendously helpful and exhaustively researched Wikipedia entry documents, some of the symptoms exhibited by some of the children (many of whom watched the episode after news of the incident had already broken) resembled a mass hysteria event moreso than seizures. Additionally, only 1 in 4,000 people are susceptible to seizure-inducing light sensitivity making the number of people affected by the episode unusually high. Regardless, “Dennō Senshi Porygon” has never been aired again in any capacity, which is probably for the best.

The post The Spookiest TV and Movie Urban Legends appeared first on Den of Geek.

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