10 Strange Details We Learned About the True Story of The Bye Bye Man

By  · Published on January 12th, 2017

Stretching the definition of “true” even by Hollywood standards.

As with any horror movie purporting to be “based on a true story,” The Bye Bye Man takes a lot of liberties with its source material. But the funny thing is, the “true story” of the Bye Bye Man is already so unbelievable and unlikely to hold much truth anyway that it didn’t need to be changed to still be both interesting and scary.

The Bye Bye Man is adapted from a story originally titled “The Bridge to Body Island,” which was published in Robert Damon Schneck’s 2005 anthology of weird historical accounts, “The President’s Vampire: Strange-but-True Tales of the United States of America.” Both book and story have been retitled to tie-in with the new movie, but the content is still the same (with an update), and it’s crazy but not ridiculous.

Here are the key points and details of the Bye Bye Man story, as written in the book and told by Schneck on radio shows:

Of course, Schneck also thinks all of it could have been made up, not intentionally but through the subconscious suggestion built up through the experiments conducted by those friends. Schneck is the sort of writer who likes to get to the bottom of the mysterious stories he presents and not so much debunk them as explain them through scientific, psychological, and folkloric expertise.

He admits that “The Bridge to Body Island,” aka “The Bye Bye Man,” is a curious diversion for him in that it’s not based on any record of history or legend. He first heard about it from a friend, one of the supposed three friends, during a Devil’s Night party. It was based on an actual experience, and Schneck has corroborated the tale with the other two, whom to this day want nothing more to do with it – they signed releases for the movie, but that’s as much as they’d comply.

What’s especially fascinating about the story, and Schneck also acknowledges this, is how many layers of narration there are. He wrote and tells the story that he heard from a friend, who heard the story via the Ouija “Spirit of the Board,” which was relaying the story via the Bye Bye Man. And after publication, others have shared the story and it’s become a minor urban legend (comparable to or mistaken for the Slenderman for many), and now there’s the Hollywood take.

Hilariously Hokey, The Bye Bye Man Can’t Leave Quickly Enough

So, what’s definitely true about this “true story” is that some college kids got freaked out while playing around with a Ouija board, which is pretty common. And one of those kids was already prone to having panic attacks before the experiences, and two of them had already believed they’d had paranormal experiences before, one with a ghost in a mirror, the other with a ghostly phone call. They also were into folk tales.

The whole story – particularly with the specifics of the Bye Bye Man – in the book is so much better than the movie version, with a richer consideration of this tale and others like it. But is the adaptation scarier by cinematic design? Well, the text isn’t that frightening, but I first heard the story spoken by Schneck on the podcast Mysterious Matters, and I did get spooked.

You can listen to that episode below, and read more about the Bye Bye Man in the original story, available in the book now titled “The Bye Bye Man: And Other Strange-but-True Tales.”

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.