Hollywood takes some liberties, sure, but these real life horror stories gave screenwriters chilling ideas. Although some of these movies turned out to be more frightening than others, there’s no doubt that the actual incidents that inspired each would be enough to send any of us running for the hills.
As long as those hills don't have eyes, naturally.
The Silence of the Lambs
It turns out that Hannibal Lecter isn’t just the product of someone’s sick, overactive imagination–he’s based on a Mexican surgeon named Alfredo Ballí Treviño who killed and mutilated his friend, his lover, and (allegedly) several hitchhikers.
If you hadn’t heard of the Zodiac Killer, who murdered people in the 60s and 70s and then sent taunting notes to the police, you probably looked him up during the 2016 Presidential election. The cases were never solved, but this movie is a look at one reporter’s attempt to crack the case.
A small boy received Robert the Doll in the early 1900s only to find out the seemingly innocent gift was a voodoo doll. Though there’s no proof that it’s possessed by the spirit of a serial killer (or anything else for that matter), it was the inspiration for Chucky and Charles Lee Ray.
In 1916, a great white shark killed 5 people off the coast of the Jersey Shore ... and in the process, inspired one of the most beloved scary movies of all time. Ironically, since Jaws's success, author Peter Benchley campaigned to save the sharks.
The Mothman Prophecies
In 1966-1967, the people of Point Pleasant, West Virginia, claimed to have been terrorized by a “mothman” who appeared to several townspeople over several months. After the deadly collapse of a local bridge in 1967, he was never seen again.
Related: 21 of the Strangest Causes of Death
The Hills Have Eyes
It's likely that this is more of a tall tale than actual history, but who can say for sure where these things begin? Either way, the Sawney Bean Clan was said to be a family of inbred cannibals who lived in a cave in 16th century Scotland. They ambushed, robbed, and ate travelers in the countryside.
The Perron family claims to have been haunted for nine years before finally asking for help. This movie follows the famous demonologist and psychic couple Ed and Lorraine Warren as they attempt to make sense of the happenings in the Rhode Island house.
The Town That Dreaded Sundown
From February 22 to May 3, 1946, the “Phantom Killer” preyed on young couples parked in cars in the small Texas town of Texarkana. The 70s film (and its 2014 remake) is loosely based on these Texarkana Moonlight Murders, which have never been solved.
The writers of this movie did extensive research into the many instances of women accused of practicing witchcraft during the Puritan history of the United States.
The filmmakers of The Strangers point to a variety of real-life home invasion cases as source material for their chilling flick. One particularly grisly case rumored to have served as inspiration? The Keddie Murders of 1981, which remain unsolved to this day. In 1981, four people were brutally murdered in the Keddie cabins in the California woods. The movie does diverge from the actual case, as it follows a couple rather than a family. The couple in the film is stalked and terrorized in a remote location before being murdered at dawn.
This story was first published on did you know?
Featured still from "The Conjuring" via New Line Cinema