Film & TV
We all love a good horror binge. Whether it's a horrifying serial killer or a ghost that just won't let the residents of its home live in peace, we're always looking to be scared out of our skin.
It turns out that some of the scariest stories not only echo real life but were actually inspired by it. Check out these 13 horror movies that were based (however loosely) on truly horrifying real life events.
13. The Mothman Prophecies (2002)
The film, starring Richard Gere, follows an investigation into sightings of a “mothman” in West Virginia. While the premise may seem bizarre, it is based on the real-life experiences of people living in Point Pleasant, West Virginia. There were several reported sightings of a similar creature (and other odd paranormal occurrences like time-lapses, blurred vision, and dampened hearing) in the days before the Silver Bridge collapsed in 1967, killing 46 people.
In fact, there have been sightings reported around the world of similar creatures, always appearing as a harbinger of horrible events–even appearing before the infamous Chernobyl disaster of 1986.
12. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (2003)
Ed Gein is one of the most infamous American killers in history, and his bizarre, creepy, murderous life has been the inspiration behind many a horror movie baddie (even Hannibal Lecter, who was created as a combination of Gein and Ted Bundy). Gein struggled with mental issues thought to stem from an isolated, strict upbringing that prevented him from exploring his sexuality. Though it was never proven, he’s believed to have murdered his own brother.
What is certain is that from 1954-1957 he murdered at least two female victims in order to "wear" their faces, breasts, and genitalia over his own. He also admitted to digging up bodies and adding their parts to his horrible collection.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre makes use of Gein’s propensity to wear his victim’s skin, but gives deformity as the reason, rather than suppressed sexual desires. Also, Gein didn’t kill his victims with a chainsaw (that we know of), but with a gun.
11. A Haunting in Connecticut (2009)
In 1986, the Snedecker family rented a house in Southington, Connecticut. After the family (parents, a daughter, and three sons) moved in, the mother, Carmen, found strange items–like those used by morticians–in the basement. They soon discovered that not only had their house once been used as a funeral parlor, but apparently some spirits (and even demons) had stuck around.
After the entire family reportedly experienced paranormal occurrences (such as seeing ghosts and being sexually abused by demons), they hired famous demonologist Ed Warren and his wife Lorraine, along with John Zaffis, to come investigate.
The investigators declared the house infested with demons and did their best to cleanse the property. Even though the family stands by the story, some wonder if it could possibly be true–especially considering that the Snedeckers lived in the house for nearly two years before deciding they’d had enough.
A Haunting in Connecticut is pretty closely based on the events described by the Snedeckers, though various things, including family dynamics and their reasons for moving, were certainly dramatized.
10. The Amityville Horror (1979 and 2005)
Another case involving the famous demon-fighting Warrens, though this one has been thoroughly debunked (the family involved admitted they made the story up for the money). Still, the movie is based on the story of what the Lutz family ‘experienced’ when they moved into the old, haunted house in Amityville, New York.
What is true is that one of the previous occupants of the home, Ronald DeFeo, Jr., murdered his entire family and then testified (never recanting) that voices in the house made him do it. He’s currently serving six consecutive life sentences.
Even if the Lutz family says they made it up, plenty of third party sources still claim many of the events depicted in the film (the red room, the flies, the cold spots, the imaginary friend Jodie) are all true. You can read a rundown here of what’s confirmed and what isn’t, but it sounds to me as if something odd is going on in that house.
9. Zodiac (2007)
The (self-named) Zodiac Killer is believed to have committed at least 6 murders in the San Francisco Bay Area in the late 1960s. He’s infamous thanks to his habit of writing letters to the police that contained evidence (like fingerprints) and other clues to his identity, along with requests that his murders make the front page of the papers. He’s also infamous for never having been caught …
There are many movies that take inspiration from the Zodiac Killer to create their smart, police-taunting murderers. But Zodiac follows the actual case and is one of the best true crime movies of all time.
8. From Hell (2001)
This film is based on the life and murders of a serial killer we’re all familiar with: Jack the Ripper. In some ways, the movie was relatively true to life–the portrayal of everyday life in Whitechapel was historically accurate and well done, for example–but Hollywood did take liberties with the storyline in other places. The victims are not known to have been related in any way, and the Ripper was never reported to have worn a cape and top hat. You can check out more comparisons between history and the film on Casebook.
7. The Conjuring (2013)
Here's another case investigated by Ed and Lorraine Warren. This movie scared the pants off people in theaters a couple of years ago, and, unlike Amityville, this tale of demons and other evil infestations has never been proven false. But what are the facts?
The story is based on the legend of Bathsheba Sherman–a supposed witch who lived in the 1800s–and her haunting of the Perron family, who moved into her old house in the winter of 1970. According to the family, they started experiencing bizarre, frightening, and threatening events shortly after the move, which was why they called in the paranormal investigators.
One of the daughters who later penned a memoir about the event, even though the movie contained “a few liberties taken and discrepancies,” it is still “a fair depiction of the chaos and danger we faced at the farm.”
6. The Girl Next Door (2007)
If you’re like me, some of the scariest movies are the ones that seem as if they could actually happen. The Girl Next Door definitely falls into that category, and the true story that inspired the film might be even more disturbing than the version Hollywood brought to life.
Lester Likens was a carnival worker, frequently traveling to make money. When his busy schedule (and general unfitness) meant he was unable to care for his daughters, Sylvia (16), and Jenny (15 and a polio patient), he lodged them with his neighbor Gertrude Baniszewski for the price of $20 a week. Gertrude had seven children of her own, but had Lester bothered to inspect the house before leaving his kids, he would have found the living conditions were less than ideal–there was no stove, only a hot plate, and everyone had to share three spoons.
But that wasn’t the worst of it, not by far.
When Lester forgot to pay on time, the girls paid the price. Gertrude took them down to the basement and beat them with a paddle. The money arrived the following day, but the incident seemed to have unleashed something evil in Gertrude. From then on, she focused her rage on Sylvia alone, accusing the girl of everything from promiscuity to stealing from local grocery stores. She, along with her kids, neighbors, and even Sylvia’s own sister, beat and tortured the teenager with their fists and hot needles, deprived her of access to food, water, and a bathroom, and raped her. Sylvia eventually died from internal bleeding, shock, and malnutrition.
There were several arrests and convictions in the case (including Gertrude’s). Gertrude was eventually released from prison in 1985, but she has never shown any remorse for the murder of the young girl.
In this case, fiction is actually kinder than the truth, in many ways, because the truth is just too disturbing.
5. The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)
Her name wasn’t Emily Rose, it was Anneliese Michel. At first, her intense periods of shaking, sweating, and general loss of bodily control led doctors to diagnose her with grand mal seizures. When the girl took to attacking family members, drinking her own urine, and panicking when exposed to religious objects, Anneliese's family became convinced sinister forces were at work.
Over 40 exorcisms were performed over the course of several years. During this time Anneliese's health deteriorated. She died of pneumonia in 1976.
4. The Hills Have Eyes (1977)
This one is super weird and may surprise even the most devoted of horror aficionados. In the film, a family trapped in the Nevada desert is terrorized by a group of mutants (perhaps inbred or the result of some weird radiation accident). In real life, so the tale goes, the infamous Sawney Bean clan terrorized Scotland. It was the late 13th or early 14th century when Sawney got married and moved into a cave, the intricate system of tunnels providing a lovely home. With no money and no trade, he resorted to robbing passersby to support his family.
But he didn’t stop there. He decided it might be best to kill his victims to decrease his odds of being identified, and then he figured, what the heck–why let good meat go to waste?
As you might imagine, the following two or three generations of Beans, all of whom intermarried and regularly ate human flesh, produced some pretty strange individuals. For decades, they terrorized the countryside, descending on groups as large as six to eight people and killing them all at once before pickling and salt-curing the decaying bodies for later consumption.
Their downfall came after they found themselves outnumbered one night, leading to their being revealed, and summarily tried and executed. In fact, King James himself led the charge into the cave, where it can be assumed that more than one person lost their lunch.
Understandably, historians doubt whether Sawney Bean and his cannibal clan ever existed. If they did exist, the details of their gory spree were most likely exaggerated over time, slipping into spooky folklore. Nevertheless, the tale of Sawney Bean lives on along the rugged coasts of Scotland, where the Bean cave attracts tourists every year.
3. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Freddy Krueger may not be real, but Wes Craven did take his inspiration for the film’s concept from real life. He came up with the concept after reading an articles in the New York Times, which details the deaths of 18 seemingly healthy Hmong Laotian immigrants who died in their sleep. The consensus was that they were frightened to death by their own nightmares. This event led to some pretty wild conspiracy theories, and to this day it is unclear exactly why the Hmong died. Defeated doctors simply called the problem “Sudden Unexpected Nocturnal Death Syndrome.”
2. An American Haunting (2005)
Based on one of America's most famous poltergeist stories, An American Haunting recounts the story of Tennessee's Bell Witch, a ghost of a witch who terrorized the Bell family between 1817-1821 and even supposedly scared off General Andrew Jackson. She spoke, sang hymns, hurt their young daughter Betsy, and claimed to have been responsible for the patriarch’s death. You can visit the Bell property (if you dare) in Adams, Tennessee.
1. The Strangers (2008)
This is one of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen, I think because it just feels so real. The director of the film stated the inspiration came from a mashup of two things: the Manson family murders, particularly the Tate murders, and the odd, still unsolved Keddie Cabin Murders of 1981.
You’re probably somewhat familiar with the former, but the latter took place in the Sierra Nevada mountains: A woman, Sue Sharp, and three of her children were found dead in their cabin one morning, bound, bludgeoned, and stabbed for no apparent reason.
This story was first published on did you know?
Featured still from "Texas Chain Saw Massacre" via Vortex