Parents have been inventing stories about monsters to scare their children into obedience for centuries. It make sense, short of being held at gunpoint, a bloodthirsty demon is just about the only thing that's going to convince a six-year-old to brush his teeth and go to bed before midnight.
Some cultures, however, took this idea a bit too far and invented creatures that would make any grown man shit his pants. Like...
We all know that Australia is home to the vast majority of Earth's deadliest creatures. Seriously, it's like the headquarters for the Justice League of Poisonous Animals. Even the goddamn snails can kill you. Had most of us lived here before Steve Irwin tamed the fuck out of it, we would have been petrified to even look out the window for fear of some horrible cyanide butterfly gunning right for our eyeballs.
He's got a black belt, too. And a knife.
Not so for indigenous Aboriginal children. After growing up in the nightmare kingdom that is the Land Down Under, these kids had such big-ass balls of steel that their parents had to invent something utterly insane just to keep them from wandering off into the outback. Enter the Yara-ma-yha-who, a child-sized, frog-man covered in red fur with octopus arms and a gaping, toothless mouth.
This Seussian demon lived in the branches of fig trees--presumably because that's the last place anyone would expect to see it--and would swoop down on unsuspecting children, using its sucker-laden arms to drain their blood until they were too weak to move. For reasons the legend chooses not to explain, the creature would then leave for a while, possibly to help a friend move a desk.
Before the poor kid can recuperate and run home, though, the monster would return and swallow them whole, puking them back up as a shorter version of themselves covered in red hair.
This is a fate worse than death.
The idea is that bad children or ones that ran away too often would be caught by the Yara-ma-yha-who over and over again until they eventually turned into a little, red, fig tree haunting monster themselves. For some reason this is viewed as worse than staying at home and growing up to land a job in the paint department of the Brisbane Home Depot.
Most parents find that terrifying stories are usually enough to keep their kids in line.
"Now remember to eat all your peas, Jessica, or else Rumpelstiltskin will come steal your fallopian tubes under the next full moon."
But some Japanese villages really get into the spirit of childhood trauma and take boogeymannery to a whole new level with the Namahage festival.
On the night of December 31 (while the western world gets drunk off its ass without any productive purpose), a band of adult volunteers--parents, teachers, clowns, whoever may be craving the sweet taste of a child's fear--dress themselves as shaggy, knife-wielding ogres and visit families door to door. It's sort of like grown-up trick-or-treating, except instead of yelling "trick or treat!" they're threatening the lives of little kids for all their disobedience over the past year.
"I heard there's a little boy here who doesn't like to brush his teeth!"
Anything goes, really, so long as it strikes terror into gullible little hearts. During each visit, parents get to gleefully play along as far as they're willing to go, stopping the devils just short of dragging the kids away by mercifully promising (wink, wink) that the kids will behave themselves and offering the monsters free alcohol instead (so it is like trick-or-treating, only child endangerment is the point).
We like to think that the worst kids are visited later in the night, since by that point there stands an increasingly greater chance of them being vomited and/or urinated upon. If that doesn't squeeze a solid year of angelic behavior out of the snot-nosed punks, we don't know what will.
Most famous in Hispanic countries, the Cuco is a mysterious being name-dropped in various traditional lullabies as a horrible, unknowable whatsit with an appetite for the restless. A Latino version of "Rock-a-Bye Baby," for instance, can be translated as "sleep little child, sleep now, or the Cuco will come and eat you." You know, because nothing soothes a baby like threats of cannibalistic murder.
Better than a glass of warm milk.
Though best known for his appearance in lullabies, El Cuco's usefulness is really only limited by a parent's sadism. You're already threatening your child to sleep using a hideous monster, so why stop there? Kid won't eat? Send in the Cuco. Flunked a math test? It's Cuco time. We're betting the Cuco is also a prominent figure in discouraging teenage pregnancy.
"Remember C.J., if you get Becky pregnant, the Cuco will tear your penis out through your asshole."
By the time you kick them out at 30, you'll have molded yourself a successful, productive, serial killing member of society. And really, that's what parenting is all about.
Few things made us more uncomfortable as children than being introduced to old people. They offered us candy and jokes left over from Reconstruction, and their houses smelled like outlawed insulation materials. Twist these unsettling undertones into the most godawful horror stories imaginable and you have the perfect boogeymen, because getting gummed to death is the slowest and most nauseating fate we can imagine.
Really, anything involving this face is more than we care to think about.
In England they have Black Annis, who lived in a cave dug out with her own iron claws and wore the tanned hides of naughty children as a goddamn skirt. The Slavic Baba Yaga lived in a dancing chicken-leg hut and rode a magic cauldron when she ventured out to go hunting for kids. There was also that cookie-house witch from Germany's Hanzel and Gretel, though she might not really count since she got her ass kicked into a fucking oven (the last thing we want to do here is empower little children).
All of these monsters have two things in common: they're ugly, old, women and they love the sweet taste of child flesh. Evidently the inventors of these stories were looking for an ironclad way to avoid having their kids come bugging them for money later in life, and we have to admit the "cannibal granny" seems like a pretty solid deterrent.
"I just need a couple of bucks to make it to next month. I'd ask Mom but, you know, she might eat me."