WHITBY, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 07: Participants walk through the streets during the annual Whitby Krampus parade on December 07, 2019 in Whitby, England. The Krampus is a horned, anthropomorphic figure from Austro-Bavarian Alpine folklore who during the Christmas season punished children who had misbehaved. The event held in Whitby helps to raise money for the Whitby Wildlife Sanctuary charity. (Photo by Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)

Six of the Scariest Creatures From Italian Folklore To Get a Taste of Transatlantic Halloween Vibes

The stuff of my nightmares, for real.

It’s only a little less than a week until Halloween, and I thought I could bring you all along on a journey through scary legends and monstrous folklore creatures hailing from the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. As you might know, many of the countries in continental Europe don’t have their own Halloween tradition— or at least, not in the way the United States and other English-speaking countries do. Pretty much all we know about Halloween — the jack o’ lanterns and the trick or treating and the dressing up — we have imported straight from America.

Recommended Videos

However, that doesn’t make that the days between the end of October and the start of November are completely devoid of meaning. A good chunk of the Christian confessions throughout Western Europe — Catholic, Lutheran and Anglican, for example — celebrate All Saint’s Day on November 1st, with families getting together to remember their loved ones who passed away and visit the places where they’re buried.

And also, the fact that Halloween isn’t exactly a local tradition doesn’t mean we don’t enjoy a good scare as the days get shorter and the weather chillier. Sometimes a good thrill is exactly what you need. And European folklore definitely delivers in terms of monsters, witches and similar unnerving stories—so here are the six scariest from my home country, Italy.

The Babau, from all over Italy

The babau, also spelt as babao or baubau, is pretty much the Italian version of the boogeyman—in fact, that’s how the character is called in the Italian dub of Nightmare Before Christmas. This mysterious creature is generally identified as a terrifying monster without a defined shape or particular look. It could be humanoid but it could also very well be an animal since its name could come from the onomatopoeia mimicking a dog’s barking in the Italian language. In case you’re wondering, in Italian dogs say “bau” instead of “woof.”

The babau has become such an omnipresent figure of Italian folklore that it appears pretty much throughout Italy to scare children into being good—with the recurring (but by now a bit old time-y) threat being that “I’ll call the babau if you misbehave!”

A picture of the Oogie Boogie in Tim Burton's Nightmare Before Christmas
It’s Mister Bau Bau! (Disney)

The Krampus, from Trentino-Alto Adige

Common throughout the entire Eastern Alpine region — so you’ll find some variation of it in Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Hungary and Germany as well — the Krampus is definitely one of the most terrifying figures that Italian folklore has to offer. It might surprise you to know that it’s actually more tied to Christmas than it is to Halloween, but indeed the Krampus comes out to roam the streets once December rolls around.

According to legend, the Krampus was a demon that bishop Saint Nicholas was able to defeat. Because of that, the demon is now doomed to serve the saint and accompany him wherever he goes. That means that the Krampus arrives in town around the celebration in honor of Saint Nicholas — at the beginning of December — and hunts for misbehaving children.

It’s a good thing most people believe that it’s Santa Claus the one making the rounds around Christmas— at least he only delivers coals to those on his naughty list rather than sending a monstrous half-man half-goat after you to punish you for your evil deeds.

The Gata Carogna, from Lombardy 

The gata carogna looks like a massive red she-cat, with shaggy fur and eyes filled with anger— according to the folklore of the Northern Italian region of Lombardy, it stalks through the cities of the provinces of Bergamo and Cremona to attack children and steal their soul. If by now you’re starting to guess that most of these creatures are meant to keep children safe and indoors, well, you’re probably on the right path.

The Borda, from Emilia-Romagna

Hailing from the central region of Emilia-Romagna, the Borda is one of the many kinds of witch-like figures that populate Italy. The Borda in particular is known for her frightful appearance and for always wearing a blindfold. She appears once it’s dark or on foggy days around waterways and bogs, where she drags everyone who has the misfortune of passing by her.

Considering how one of the most defining features of that area of the Po Valley is exactly bogs and canals, you can see how the Borda came to be as the personification of the fear of these places—and once again, meant especially to keep children safe.

The Thyrus, from Umbria

There’s obviously a pretty decent number of various dragons and worms popping up throughout Italy— but none as terrible as the Thyrus, who was said to haunt the outskirts of the city of Terni, in the region of Umbria. Its most formidable weapon was his breath, so terrible that whoever inhaled it was definitely going to die within a few days.

The Thyrus was ultimately defeated by a brave young man from Terni, which actually has a green dragon on its official city emblem, as a reminder of what its people can do.

The Ammuntadore, from Sardinia

One of the two major islands off the shore of Italy, Sardinia is incredibly unique in many ways, from its dialect, which is an actual language completely separate from Italian, to its traditions. Among its many myths and legends, one of the most terrible is that of the Ammuntadore, a creature that overlaps in some ways with the Incubus and that has very likely originated from this Roman legend being passed on through the generations even after the fall of the Roman Empire. 

The Ammuntadore attacks its victims’ dreams, sitting on them as they sleep and filling their heads with anguish and nightmares. An Ammuntadore visit can end with the victim waking up troubled by what they have seen in their dreams—but in some of the most extreme cases, the weight of the Ammuntadore on the victim’s chest leads to their death by asphyxiation.

https://twitter.com/MetalofMaster/status/1521206688958889984

This is, obviously, just a small taste of the larger corpus of Italian folklore. Italy’s history makes its traditions incredibly diverse, often varying from town to town within the same region, so there’s definitely more to explore if you’re intrigued!

(source: Monster Movie Italia; image: Getty Images)


The Mary Sue is supported by our audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn a small affiliate commission. Learn more
related content
Read Article JoJo Siwa Sure Is Stirring Up Controversies With Her ‘Rebrand’
JoJo Siwa with a mic in her hand on stage
Read Article All ‘X-Men 97’ Episode Titles, Explained
The X-Men stand together in 'X-Men '97'.
Read Article JoJo Siwa’s ‘Invention’ of Gay Pop Hasn’t Gone Over Well
Jojo Siwa looking like a member of Kiss on a read carpet
Read Article What You Need to Know as ATEEZ’s Coachella Performance Gets Closer and Closer
ATEEZ members in their 2023 Crazy Form Music Video.
Read Article This Redditor Concocted the Perfect Revenge After His Roommate Ate His Fancy Beans
Minthara from Baldur's Gate 3
Related Content
Read Article JoJo Siwa Sure Is Stirring Up Controversies With Her ‘Rebrand’
JoJo Siwa with a mic in her hand on stage
Read Article All ‘X-Men 97’ Episode Titles, Explained
The X-Men stand together in 'X-Men '97'.
Read Article JoJo Siwa’s ‘Invention’ of Gay Pop Hasn’t Gone Over Well
Jojo Siwa looking like a member of Kiss on a read carpet
Read Article What You Need to Know as ATEEZ’s Coachella Performance Gets Closer and Closer
ATEEZ members in their 2023 Crazy Form Music Video.
Read Article This Redditor Concocted the Perfect Revenge After His Roommate Ate His Fancy Beans
Minthara from Baldur's Gate 3
Author
Benedetta Geddo
Benedetta (she/her) lives in Italy and has been writing about pop culture and entertainment since 2015. She has considered being in fandom a defining character trait since she was in middle school and wasn't old enough to read the fanfiction she was definitely reading and loves dragons, complex magic systems, unhinged female characters, tragic villains and good queer representation. You’ll find her covering everything genre fiction, especially if it’s fantasy-adjacent and even more especially if it’s about ASOIAF. In this Bangtan Sonyeondan sh*t for life.