The Bye Bye Man Trailer Conjures Classic Urban Legend Horror Motifs

What is it about urban legends that always make for effective horror film plots? Those grotesquely memorable creatures whose mere physical appearance conjures a shiver and sense of dread in us (and somewhere down the line often become super cool McFarlane actions figures). Last week horror fans were given a trailer for the newest inheritor of this long-standing tradition: The Bye Bye Man.

Vacant house, naive college victims, what's the worst that could happen?
Vacant rundown house, naive college victims, what’s the worst that could happen?

Slated for release January 13th, The Bye Bye Man follow four college kids who move into a vacant building off-campus together (Sounding familiar already?). It doesn’t take long for them to discover the strange tale of someone called “The Bye Bye Man”, and things quickly spiral out of control from there. Over the course of the film, the friends fight to protect each other from this nightmarish figure while trying to keep him a secret.

Why a secret? Because simply hearing the Bye Bye Man’s name seems to mark you for an eventual torturous death.

You have to wonder: Who's the jerk that knew about the curse and left this for someone to find?
You have to wonder: Who’s the jerk that knew about the curse and left this for someone to find?

That brief synopsis alone conjures up multiple urban legend-thriller franchises. There’s definitely more than a little bit of Candyman influence there, with the usage of repeated verbal patterns, which played on the childhood Bloody Mary game and brought it to eerie, murderous places. The Bye Bye Man seems to be playing with the same technique but in the opposite direction: Once you hear his name for the first time, simply thinking about him can lead to your death after that!

Still, even with this new twist on a classic motif, the repetition’s still there throughout the trailer. It’s hard to even count how many times our unfortunate main character Elliot (Douglas Smith) says, “Don’t think it! Don’t say it!” over the course of two minutes. It’s an attempted mental block against the Bye Bye Man, though, not a means of summoning him, and that’s what makes this feel fresh.

Douglas Smith inTHE BYE BYE MAN
Think Christopher Reeve imagining that brick wall at the end of Village of the Damned, but without all the albino murder-children.

Then, but of course, one can’t help but note how similar a plot that utilizes horny college kids who mess around with the wrong urban legend is to the Urban Legend franchise; I mean, it’s in the freaking name. You’d think after decades of horror films centering on teenagers not leaving well enough alone unto their demise would’ve educated the greater masses to not go into the creepy basement, or read from the old book, or obsessively dig deeper into tales of supernatural murder.

Didn’t Jamie Kennedy explain all of this when he played film feek Randy Meeks in Scream? But I digress.

And the award for "World's Creepiest Coat Check" goes to...
And the award for “World’s Creepiest Coat Check” goes to… don’t say it, don’t think it!

The trailer does highlight a lot of common horror tropes, including a boatload of pleasantly-tacky CGI effects. A hanging coat suddenly becomes the Bye Bye Man pointing its finger at Elliot and his girlfriend Sasha (Cressida Bonas) until he turns their bedside light on. Elliot’s best friend John (Lucian Laviscount) swipes through pics of the urban legend on his smartphone when the figure begins to come through the screen a la Freddy KruegerKim (Jenna Kanell), John’s girlfriend, rushes toward an overturned car wreck by train tracks only to discover it’s an illusion to place her staring down an oncoming train.

That last one had a very Final Destination feel to it, but while The Bye Bye Man appears to borrow from many preceding horror films, its true focus lies in one single question: How do you escape a thought? As Elliot himself puts it in the trailer, “It spreads like a virus,” and the intent of these unfortunate friends is to ensure that doesn’t happen. Hence his hesitation in detailing what transpired to Detective Shaw (Carrie-Ann Moss), “If I tell you about him, you and your kids… you’re all dead.”

I’m getting a very “if the Unabomber and Slender Man had a kid” kind of vibe.

All horror film trappings aside, that’s what has me excited to see this film. New ideas in the genre are hard to come by, these days, but a fresh take on a familiar idea is just as good. The Bye Bye Man certainly looks like it has the potential to become the next big teen-scream franchise if it can deliver on the premise.  Then we’ll start talking sequels.

The Bye Bye Man hits theaters nationwide January 13th, and by the way, that’s a Friday. Well played, STX Entertainment, well played.

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Brad Rosenberg

Brad lives in Brooklyn with his girlfriend, their cat Shemi, and fish Niko. He’s wrapping up an M.A. in Media Studies at The New School in Manhatten and has been a lifelong horror dork since the age of three. While R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps was his first horror love, he’s since branched out into the full genre (especially the corny B-movie stuff). If he had to choose a favorite, it’d be Candyman.

1 Comment

  1. I know the folks this happened to. The movie is telling a significantly different story from what I can tell, but if you want a good synopsis of what happened to the real Elliott and friends read the chapter The Bridge to Body Island in Robert Schneck’s book The President’s Vampire. That is the story that I was told from the participants back in the 90’s in Wisconsin. I saw the notes from the ouija sessions and the tapes, and held the cursed board in my hands. Elliott was using it as a clipboard for a while.

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