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8 Spooky Movies Inspired by Real Ghost Stories

The story behind these horror flicks is as scary as the movies themselves.

spooky movies ghost stories
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  • Photo Credit: Cross Creek Pictures

If you’ve ever watched a horror movie and thought there’s no way that could happen in real life… think again. Some of the most popular films to date are based on true encounters. Here are the eight of the best horror movies which can attribute their fame to an actual ghost story. It’s safe to assume that there are many more to come. 

8. The Inkeepers

horror films based on real life events
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    Photo Credit: Dark Sky Films

While Ti West was directing his previous film, The House of the Devil, he and the crew stayed in the Yankee Pedlar Inn. Despite filming a horror movie only 25 minutes away, West quickly realized that weirder stuff was happening in the inn. At first, the crew just laughed off these weird mishaps. They were filming a satanic horror, after all, their minds were deep in the realm of the paranormal.

After a while, though, the crew started to think there was truly something weird about the hotel. Doors opened and closed on their own, lights flickered and the entire crew experienced incredibly vivid dreams - the usual haunting stuff. The film’s director Ti West learned of the hotel’s haunted history and decided to use some of the lore in his next production, thinking, “Why not make a movie we lived?” The result? The Innkeepers.

7. The Devil’s Backbone

Not only does the plot align with a real and traumatic event in Spanish history, but it speaks to director Guillermo del Toro’s personal experiences with the paranormal. As a kid, del Toro recalls his own encounters with monsters. His strategy was to play nice with these spooky figures and overcome his fears of the night. On one specific occasion, del Toro heard his dead uncle sighing. This memory was used when crafting Santi’s ghost in the film.


6. The Changeling

The Changeling is rooted in one of the most bizarre haunting stories of the 1960s. When Russell Hunter moved to Colorado, he was surprised by the incredibly low rent. Soon, he discovered just why no one was willing to pay more than $200 a month for his luxurious mansion in Denver. His story inspired the iconic movie, including that terrifying scene of red balls bouncing down a staircase.

5. The Entity

The haunting of Doris Bither was truly a nightmare. It’s also where The Entity’s director Sidney J. Furie found inspiration. In 1974, Bither reported having been sexually assaulted by ghosts. Her sons attested to these ferocious attacks, saying they watched their mother slapped, shoved and thrown by invisible forces, which Bither claimed to be the ghosts of Asian men. The boys even felt the occasional nudge or pinch. Her experience baffled the paranormal community. Investigators came in, but only seemed to make matters worse. A book was written by Frank de Felitta, which served as the direct inspiration for the film’s screenplay. 

4. The Quiet Ones

horror films based on real life events
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    Photo Credit: Exclusive Media Group

So, in the 1970s, a group of Canadian psychiatrists tried to actually create a ghost. Their work became known as the Philip Experiment. First, they created a fictional historical character (Phillip - hence the project’s name) and gave him a haunted backstory which concluded with a tragic death. After a year of unsuccessful attempts to contact the fictional ghost, the group decided to try a traditional seance. Here’s where things get strange. “Philip” began moving the table, knocking on the walls, blanketing the group in cold air, making lights flicker, and more. Today, the polls are divided: Some say this proves ghosts exist, while others say it tells us that ghosts are figments of our minds. Regardless, the story makes for the base of a terrifying horror film. 


3. Insidious

Behind Insidious is the real-life encounter of screenwriter Leigh Whannell’s close friend. He recalls a friend telling him that he woke up in the middle of the night and felt someone grabbing his neck. A voice said, “Don’t you dare.” He reported how hearing about the incident really unnerved him, so when Leigh teamed up with director James Wan to create the terrifying realm of ghosts that plague a young family, they had plenty of creepy stories to use. 

2. The Woman in Black

Not all terrifying experiences can be seen - some are felt. The Woman in Black is based on a horror novella written by Susan Hill. In a scene in the book, she describes the creepy coastline on which the story takes place, “The sea on shingle is quite noisy, but when you dropped down off the path, there was a wall, and once you got on to the marshes, the sound of the sea went, and it was quiet except for the slight moan of the wind and reed beds that make a dry rattling sound…” With this harrowing atmosphere as the backdrop for an equally dark film, you’re certainly in for a scare. 

1. Poltergeist

horror films based on real life events
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    Photo Credit: MGM

Not only is Poltergeist loosely based off the events that happened to the Hermann family in their home on Long Island, New York, but the film itself may be haunted. Here’s why: The 1982 Poltergeist’s young star tragically died at 12; Dominique Dunne (who played the older sister in the same version) was murdered a few months after the film’s release; two cast members died after the sequel hit theaters; in 2009, a cast member was brutally murdered; and an exorcism was performed on the set of the sequel due to the presence and use of human skeletons. We don’t think these are mere coincidences. Don’t worry – the film is just as terrifying as its supposed curse.

Feature still from "The Woman in Black" via Cross Creek Pictures