Some urban legends can be utterly gruesome, like the European story of the so-called ‘Smiley Gang’ or ‘Smiley Face’ murderer that made its way around big Belgian cities in 2002. As the story was often told in Brussels, a gang or a single man would follow a woman home from the subway and attack her in an abandoned alley. She was always presented with a choice: be raped or ‘smile forever.’ Naturally, the woman went with option two, which resulted in her mouth being sliced open at the corners up to her ears so that it resembled a clown’s smile. As is often the case, this urban legend would become the premise of a horror film. Smiley came out in theaters in 2012, with its mouth-slicing serial killer wearing a mask with a grotesque grin, noting in its tagline that ‘Evil wears a smile.’
Beware before sitting down in the red plush cinema chairs of the UGC de Brouckère an urban legend tells us, as there might be madmen hiding needles with HIV-contaminated blood in them. The needle could have a note on it saying ‘welcome to the world of HIV,’ or you might find a sticker attached to you with the same message – it depends on who’s telling the tale. Other versions of this completely false pinprick story have been circulating major cities around the world ever since the ’80s when the AIDS scare was on the forefront of many minds. As these tales tend to spread, storytellers have attached the name of a Brussels venue to add local color and make things more believable.
‘The Microwaved Pet’
A classic that nearly every Belgian has heard at some point casts a dog as its unsuspecting victim. When a family finally gets a furry companion, the two kids are over the moon with their new pet. So when the parents are called up for an emergency – mom and dad are both nurses – they tell the children not to take the dog outside. As soon as the parental forces are gone, their rebellious offspring take the dog into the garden where the rain is pouring down hard. Once back inside, the two try covering up their tracks by putting the poor dog in the microwave to dry him off. The results are a fried oven and an equally roasted pooch.
The Brussels’ version of ‘The Perfume’ is set in Rue Neuve, a busy shopping street. When a woman encounters two men who offer her an expensive perfume for a low price, she follows them into an alley to smell the fragrance but is instead knocked out by chloroform, after which the thieves run off with her bag. This story has been shared widely in Belgium since the turn of the last century, often in the form of an email or even a fictitious news story on the internet.
‘The Hairy-Armed Hitchhiker’
Another urban legend that victimizes young women, ‘The Hairy-Armed Hitchhiker’ or ‘The Hitchhiker With The Hairy Hands’ tells the tale of a 20-something woman helping out an old lady by giving her a ride home from the Kinepolis movie complex. Driving along, the woman catches a glimpse of the granny’s extraordinarily hairy arms and wrists and drives into the bus in front of her to create a diversion. The elderly woman jumps out of the car, and in the left-behind purse, the serial killer – in the Belgian version it’s often the existing ‘Mons Ripper’ who was active in the ’90s – left a knife or a hatchet. Though almost always presented as a recent news fact, the earliest roots of this fictitious tale can be traced back to the 1830s.
‘The Angels of Mons’
An urban legend/spiritual tale with a rare happy ending, ‘The Angels of Mons’ ran rampant in Belgium and England the months after the Battle of Mons during the Great War. After a surprise attack from German troops, British soldiers found themselves cornered in an elevated Ardennes city. When the situation was at its bleakest, St. George is said to have floated down from the sky, along with other angels, to hold back the Germans and give the English a shot at victory. The origins of the tale can be traced back to fantasy author Arthur Machen, who published a similar short story in the London Evening News, only to be gobsmacked by reports of veterans who confirmed visions of winged creatures during the fight.