Follying around

What SCARES US. Dybbuk, yūrei, Baba Yaga and other creatures that will KEEP YOU AWAKE

Some wait until you fall asleep, others scare you as soon as you turn off the light. Some live under water, while others live in caves, sometimes they appear in a mirror image or pop out of the...

Przemysław Mudlaff

15 June 2023

Dybbuk yūrei Baba Yaga

They may have six legs, long claws, or a hook for a hand. There are also those with abundant hair or others with large eyes and sharp teeth. Paradoxically, monsters have always served humanity in explaining reality. Beasts have helped and still help man in understanding inexplicable phenomena, they have explained and still explain the world around us. Although the vast majority of monsters are universal, which means that Asians, Europeans and Africans alike fear a given monster, there are also quite a few unique ethnic bogeymen around the world. Their use in cinema allows all zombies and vampires exploited to the limit to rest. The list below therefore includes the most interesting, in my opinion, ethnic bogeymen that have already been presented, whether on the big or small screen.

Japanese yūrei

sadako ringu the ring

Yūrei are demons who suffered harm at the hands of loved ones during their lifetime, and after death they gained great strength to return to the world of the living and take revenge on their tormentors. Their actions are motivated by Shinto-Buddhist beliefs and customs. Their appearance is also not accidental, in accordance with the convention of amazing Japanese stories about ghosts and other supernatural phenomena – the 17th-century kaidan. It is also based on one of the three traditional theaters of the Land of the Rising Sun – kabuki, where demons were depicted as characters with pale faces and long, black, loose hair, dressed in white mourning kimonos.

The theme of yūrei has, of course, been presented primarily in Japanese horror films for several decades.

Tuunbaq by Dan Simmons

terror Tuunbaq

The Tuunbaq is a fictional monster, so it has no direct equivalent in Inuit folklore. It is a creature made of the beliefs of the Inuit by Dan Simmons, the author of the novel Terror, on the basis of which the first season of David Kajganich’s series under the same title was created. Tuunbaq is a malevolent being (tupilak) designed to persecute and kill the enemies of the sea goddess, Sedna. During the war of the gods, the tupilak gained a soul and a name. However, it turned out that the monster was unable to destroy Sedna’s opponents, so he turned against her. For this betrayal, the monster was sent down to earth, banished to the North, and disfigured. There, Tuunbaq took the form of the most dangerous animal he had ever met – a polar bear. However, it was much larger than a standard bear, and definitely more dangerous. More than the flesh of other animals, the Tuunbaq were interested in their souls. He quickly realized that those belonging to the people living in these areas, the Inuit, are tastier. So they decided to somehow get along with the creature (children without languages communicated with the monster) and promised him that they would not set up their headquarters in the farthest North, and would pay homage and sacrifices to him. The arrival of the ships Terror and Erebus complicated the situation for everyone.

Philippine aswangs


Aswangs are the most terrifying monsters of Philippine folklore. They were first mentioned by the Spaniards who had been in possession of the islands since 1521. The term aswang describes various types of supernatural monsters. Looking like ordinary people during the day, mostly female, aswangs gain superhuman strength at night and take the form of: a large bird (tik-tik, wak-wak), a Tasmanian devil (sigbin) or a woman with no lower body with bat wings (manananggal), as well as other animals: dogs and pigs. These creatures feed mainly on the guts of small children, but the greatest delicacy for them are human fetuses. During the day, sluggish and shy wander around in search of night hunting objects. Aswangi are cunning monsters, as they often pose as birth attendants. After the baby was born, the fake midwives put the mothers to sleep and devoured the newborns. Fortunately, there are ways to protect yourself from these demons. During the day you will recognize them when you see your inverted reflection in their eyes. Besides, no aswang will enter a church, mosque or other temple. At night, it is enough to avoid walking, close windows and doors, or place a special, repellent oil called hintura over the front door of the house. These oils are reportedly still used today in some Filipino delivery rooms.

Aswangs symbolize all that is evil according to Philippine tradition. Their actions have no motivation. Demons oppose the family, which is one of the most important local values. In addition, they feed on raw meat, which is the complete opposite of cooked, perfectly seasoned and aromatic Filipino cuisine.

Film aswangs are mainly depicted in Philippine cinematography. Aswangs are, for obvious reasons, usually antagonists appearing in horror or horror-related productions (Patient X, 2009, Kubot: The Aswang Chronicles 2, 2014), but there is also a drama that showed an ethnic demon as the protagonist, and with serious heart dilemmas (Woman from 23B, 2016).

Slavic Baba Yaga

hellboy Baba Yaga

It seems that we all know Baba Yaga very well. We know from various fairy tales (including the Brothers Grimm) that she is an old, disgusting woman living in the forest, in a hut on a chicken leg. Her favorite food is human meat, and it is best when it is young and roasted. Moreover, her intentions are never noble and good. Meanwhile, it seems that Baba Yaga as we know was formed by Christianity. According to some researchers, Baba Yaga from ancient Slavic beliefs is a healer living in a remote area, knowing the techniques of herbal medicine, to whom people in need, suffering torment, or a female elf who took care of the forest came. In any case, she is certainly an extremely wise character, as evidenced by her blindness.

Since we are talking about beasts here, let’s focus on presenting Yaga in an unfavorable light. There are many indications that Baba Yaga was a demon because she was condemned by some Slavic god who cursed her. Since then, she could not die, but she was getting older. In addition to eating children, the creature was also reportedly dangerous to adult men, whom it found in a dark forest and suffocated with its breasts.

baba yaga

The presentation of Baba Yaga in the cinema has a very long tradition. The character appeared first in the cinematography of the Soviet Union, and the most important titles here are Vasilisa prekrasnaya (1939) and Golden-horned deer (1972). The Slavic demon also became a frequent hero of Western cinema, but these films usually differed significantly from Slavic legends or failed to make good use of them. In this regard, it is enough to cite such productions as the quite interesting Italian The Devil Witch (1973), the completely unsuccessful horror film Baba Yaga from 2016 and the theme of the witch from Hellboy (2019).

Irish banshee


Banshee is one of the most terrifying but also fascinating Irish fairies. He appears in the middle of the night, in the place of impending death, and utters a blood-curdling lament. Originally, the banshee appeared to people who were about to meet an abrupt end in life, such as as a result of murder. In later folk tales, the apparition of the nightmare was replaced by its shrill cry. This fairy mainly takes three forms. So she can be a young, beautiful girl, a mature matron or an old witch. The common feature of these three characters is long, silver hair, which the apparition sometimes combs with a comb. Banshees wear gray hooded cloaks or a white sheet. Their eyes are red from constant sobbing. According to Irish tradition, some families even have private banshees that appear before their members die.

The most popular depiction of the banshee on screen comes from the TV series Teen Wolf (2011-2017), where in the episode The Girl Who Knew Too Much we learn that Lydia (Holland Roden) is an Irish folklore apparition.

Jewish dybbuk


The dybbuk is a spirit derived from Jewish folklore, the belief in which spread throughout 16th and 17th century Eastern Europe. Dybbuk was usually depicted as the soul of a sinful man who had already left his body, but not the world. As such, it wandered the Earth restlessly until it found shelter in the body of a living person. However, dybbuks are not always harmful. They simply have some business to attend to that may guarantee their salvation. Therefore, they often contributed to solving a murder case or improving the fate of the person in whom they were staying. In those days, people with mental disorders were usually suspected of being possessed. They were then taken to the rabbi, who was supposed to exorcise the demon from the body.

Interestingly, the theme of the dybbuk in the film resonated perfectly in Polish cinema. A beautiful example of its use is the most outstanding Jewish picture produced in Poland, recorded entirely in Yiddish, i.e. The Dybbuk (1937), as well as the work by Marcin Wrona, Demon (2015). The character of the dybbuk was also used by the creators of one of the episodes of the TV series PSI Factor (1996-2000) and, for example, the Coen brothers in the film A Serious Man (2009).

Brazilian pisadeira


At the end of the monster, which I will mention a little to loosen the atmosphere. It is true that the appearance of this apparition is very scary, but the way of choosing a victim seems quite funny. Originally from Brazil, the pisadeira is a very slim, bony woman with short legs and long, greasy hair. He also has red eyes, a pointed nose, sharp teeth, and long yellow claws. Her arrival is heralded by an unbearable high-pitched giggle. However, it appears at a rather strange moment and I am not able to understand what it would be used for. Well, pisadeira attacks people who … ate a hearty meal and went for a nap. The apparition sits on the victim’s chest and presses it down so that the overeaten one wakes up and gets scared. The fear is said to be so great that the victim is unable to stop the pisadeira and dies. The only film example of the use of this Brazilian creature is the short film Pisadeira (2017). Remember, don’t overeat before a nap.

Przemysław Mudlaff

Przemysław Mudlaff

He appreciates the truth and sincerity of the intentions of its creators in cinema. He loves to be emotionally kicked and abused by the film, but also happy and amused. A hunter of film curiosities, references and connections. A fan of the works of PTA, von Trier, Kieślowski, Lantimos and Villeneuve. What he likes the most is talking about the cinema over a beer, and the beer has to be cold and thick, you know what.

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