Saturday, October 6, 2012

Favorite Urban Legends: "The Hook"

Mike C. over at the Skull and Pumpkin blog is one of my favorite bloggers. We're of the same generation and "get" some of the pop culture references of the day, we love Hallowe'en and Ray Bradbury. If he lived closer, I'd probably know a bunch more about building animatronics, that's for sure!

Mike contributed this well-known urban legend to us. It happens to be one of my favorites, too!

October greetings, friends! 
I feel so honored to have been asked to contribute a post to the Nest by the awesomely talented (and cute!) ShellHawk herself. See, over at my little Hallowe'en pub, the Skull & Pumpkin, we are big-time ShellHawk fans, and proudly display our Mini-Boo and Raku Jack O'Lantern to prove it!
 As soon as I read the theme she had chosen for this year -- favorite scary urban legends -- the subject of my contribution came to me almost immediately. The first time I heard this legend, it chilled my blood and I've never forgotten that feeling.
I hope I can do it justice, but if you want the honest truth, I'm mostly just hoping Ape will like me. I want to make a good impression!
 So, are we ready? Good.
Tonight, we're going to take a little drive, you and I.
Where? Oh, just up the hill, to a quiet little spot all the kids go to get away from prying grown-ups; to get away, to get it on, and sometimes get lost. I mean, if we're going to start exploring our favorite scary urban myths and legends, there's really only one place to go tonight.
We're heading to Lovers Lane.
A young couple park at Lovers Lane and start making out. Things get hot enough to fog up all the windows, but then the romantic music on their radio is interrupted by a panicked voice reporting that a hook-armed maniacal killer has escaped a local prison and was last seen in the vicinity nearby, and everyone needs to be on the look out.
 The mood blown for the moment, the young man tries to continue their makeout session, but growing anxious and fearing for their lives, the young lady refuses his advances and finally, in tears, begs him to drive her home. Frustrated, he peels out of Lovers Lane as fast as he can go, angry and sullen over his ruined love-making.
When they get to their destination, he gets out of the car and walks around to open her door, and suddenly freezes, his hand over his mouth, his eyes huge. The young lady, puzzled, opens her own door and looks back as she closes it.
A bloody hook is dangling from the door handle.
 Now, we've all seen, heard and read a thousand variations on the tale, but this is about the most basic version -- and the basics are what's most important when exploring the cultural impact of this old legend.
How old is it? It's hard to say. Folklorists can find direct tellings of early variants in the '50s, when cars and teens became the big social scene for generations. But there were stories of serial killings at popular make-out spots in Texas and Arkansas in the '40s, and some of these are based on true crimes which may go back even further. It is possible, to some extent, that this tale and the related myth-tales about Lovers Lane (Scraping Toenails, Hanging Boyfriend and others) have their origins in a real event or combination of events.
However, the story's basis in reality (or lack thereof) is the least important part of it.
 See, at its core this is a cautionary tale of teen sex, of chastity and self-control. Implied in even the most basic telling is the warning that experimenting with youthful sexual feelings is inherently fraught with risk. It also tells us that it is up to the young lady to put a stop to the proceedings, since (unspoken but very present in the end of the tale) it was her denial of sex and demand to leave right away that saved them -- not just from a killer but from the dreaded '4th Base' of the teen sexual field.
This leads to an element crucial to the logic of the story: the young man's reaction to his own sexual frustration. His anger makes him really rev that engine, and peel out in a cloud of gravel and dust, and it is this tantrum that tears from the escaped maniac's arm his horrible hook. This frustration turns out to be a good thing; if a girl does her job and puts her foot down, her man might be upset for a while, but he'll be glad later -- avoiding not just one hook, but another, altogether different sort of 'hook'.
Sexist, sure, but in the '50s, not much wasn't.
And that's the whole point of exploring this tale -- like all classic, enduring scary urban myths, it's a spooky little morality play with a warning to give and a lesson to teach. It says teen sex is bad, and that saving her virginity saves them both; mom, dad and the preacher can sleep easy, even as their teen kids lie awake in terror.
The story has had value all through the following decades, eventually becoming the dark heart of a slew of 'new' horror icons in the '70s and '80s -- can't you see the similarity of this tale to slasher films like Hallowe'en or Friday the 13th? Who gets killed first? That's right, the unmarried teen partiers, or failing that, the town drunk who first stumbles upon the killer/monster/thing of evil. The moral -- doing risky things will kill you, but being chaste, prudent and responsible will help you survive.
The Hook Killer, like Michael Myers, Jason and others who came later, is really just doing the job of parents, preachers and teachers --the Hook is FATE, and whether you meet it as death in a fogged up sexual romp or heed its lesson by driving away is up to YOU.
 The tale persists, growing and changing into ever more inventive (if not always scarier) ways on movie screens, in books and television shows, not only because its object lesson is still valued by most parents but also because it simply works as a good, scary story. The best ones never get old, never go away, and always scare the new listener, the new reader, no matter how young or old. Classic...
Generations remember being scared by it, even if they never considered all the societal mores attached to it from the beginning, and they pass it on to the next group of wide-eyed preteens who, even while they scream and giggle and shiver, are also just beginning to consider whether the girl next door is starting to fill out, or if they should let the new boy at school go further than holding hands.
 The Hook Killer of Lovers Lane admonishes us to save ourselves, teaches us what we can expect if we don't, and stabs home each of its lessons with a sharp, bloody terror dangling from your door.
Not bad for an old story we've all heard a million times.
Okay, we'll drive back now. I didn't want to be here even this long! I guess I can sure go on and on, eh?
Hey, what th -- ? The car won't start.
Seriously, we're out of gas, no joke.
Come on... we'll have to walk home.
Oh, don't panic! It's not that far.
Just a dark road.
Here... I'll just come 'round and let you out...


  1. Excellent post! I have always maintained that deep within every piece of horror legend is a practical or moral lesson, take it or leave it...if you dare!

  2. Man, I sure can ramble on! But really an interesting and fun undertaking, thanks for the invitation shell!

  3. thanks for sharing..

  4. Ah, one of my FAVORITE urban legends! I still remember the first time I heard this scared the living crap outta me! I enjoyed your re-telling, Mike C., as well as your analysis. I completely agree that the core of this story is a cautionary tale of the benefits of the chaste life for teens. Well done!


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