I know what you’re thinking, we’ve all heard about The Amityville Horror, we know there are people who think they were driven from their haunted homes, that exorcisms happen, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise was launched by the bizarre actions of a specific serial killer. But did you know about the social experiment that pitted people against each other and surprisingly went horribly wrong, that mad scientists exist, or that supernatural murderers like Michael Myers are also based in truth?
For better or worse, there is no shortage of stranger-than-fiction headlines to inspire writers and directors, and it does not take much at all for them to legally slap on that “Inspired by true events” tag. This year’s The Forest (2016) for example, was inspired by the so-called Suicide Woods in Japan where a disproportionate number of people have committed suicide—these woods are not haunted by deadly spirits as superstitious locals and movie previews suggest, but the fact remains that people who go into these woods do not (have any plans to) come back out.
The following is not a list of films like The Forest that are so loosely rooted in reality, the movies listed here draw on verified events, not the accounts of believers, ghost hunters, and priests. These are 10 Movies You’ll Wish Were “Not” Based On True Stories.
10. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984-2010)
In 1981, 18 Laotian refugees died in Atlanta of unknown causes, in their sleep, while experiencing nightmares. Dr. Baron, an epidemiologist working for the Center for Disease Control, actually stated on record that these 18 men and women had otherwise been perfectly healthy and that nightmares could have been the culprit. The official cause of death was “possible cardiac arrhythmia”, an irregular heartbeat, which can accompany bad dreams.
On top of all that, this 1981 incident was not the first recorded case of specifically Asian citizens dying in the throes of a nightmare. Whether Freddy Krueger made an appearance in these deadly dreams is another story.
9. The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)
Of all the exorcism movies, this might be the most authentic: The parents of Anneliese Michel, the real Emily Rose, were found guilty of negligent homicide alongside the two clergymen who chose exorcism over medical treatment, seeing what psychiatrists would say is akin to schizophrenia as demonic possession. In fact, the movie gets it wrong by having a physician on hand during exorcisms; no medical attention was sought.
In 67 separate rituals dragged out over 10 months, Anneliese, convinced in her own mind that she was possessed, was made to pray and genuflect, and her wishes to not eat or drink were respected. In the end, she died of malnourishment, dehydration, and pneumonia and was buried outside of her family’s plot alongside her illegitimate sister.
If you need a good scare, some of the actual audio recordings of Anneliese’s demonic ramblings are still available online.
8. Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1994)
You can bet cast members Renee Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey did not give their Oscar-worthy performances in this campy, cult classic that was inspired, in part, by skin-mask wearing serial killer Ed Geins.
This particular entry in The Chainsaw franchise though is about an entire family of inbred, backwoods killers and mostly parallels the real-life story of The Bloody Benders. Ma and Pa Bender ran a general store out of the front of their Kansas home, and buried the remains of their victims out back. The scariest part of this story is that the Benders were never brought to justice; they fled, disbanded, and the Bender line died out. Lucky for us, they committed their crimes in the 1800s–though if their descendants were alive today, we would never know it.
Runner up: True Grit (1969, 2010). Apparently a daughter of one of their victims tracked Ma and daughter Bender from Kansas to Michigan where she identified them when they were arrested for larceny. Unlike the film though, no vigilante justice was sought (after the charges were mysteriously dropped).
7. Ringu (1998)/The Ring (2002)
No, there is no record of any video tape killing unsuspecting Japanese teenagers, that is not the grain of truth in this now-cult classic horror flick. What is based on fact though is the backstory of that creepy long-haired girl who, in the movie, lived on that video tape and eventually crawled out of the TV on screen and into our collective nightmares.
Mifune Chizuko, the inspiration for ghost girl (named A. Shizuko in the film), took her own life after a failed 1910 demonstration of her psychic powers. Chizuko was one of two girls that a misguided professor took under his wing with plans to develop their mentalist skills. Ringu may have played up the rivalry between the two supposed psychics by casting them as sisters, but the fact remains that in real life only one of these girls died out of humiliation.
6. Finale (2009)
This movie is about a family coping with the suicide of a son but descending into madness in the process. Tragically, this is a page right out of director John Michael Elfers’ own life. Elfers’ brother killed himself when they were young, and his mother found meaning in the aftermath by convincing herself that her son had been manipulated and sacrificed by an evil cult. The director has said he made Finale in an attempt to finally deal with this tragedy in a constructive way by telling his deceased brother’s story through his mother’s eyes, leaving the audience to decide whether the cause of death was suicide or demonic manipulation.
5. Witchfinder General (1968)
The bizarre true story that inspired this movie harkens all the way back to 17th century England, when witch hunts were literally that and Protestants and Catholics readily accused each other of consorting with the Devil. This religious tension in part led to the English Civil War, during which a one Matthew Hopkins, played in the film by Vincent Price, declared himself the Witchfinder General of the country.
He had no official title or office but enough financial backing to terrorize the communities that fell under his watch with the threat of what today would amount to enhanced interrogation techniques. It was rumored that somebody killed Hopkins using his own techniques against him, but by all accounts he actually died as most did back then, at home and from some now easily curable disease.
4. Primeval (2007)
Most of us know that Jaws was inspired by a rash of deadly shark attacks, 4 deaths in 12 days to be exact, that happened one summer; there was no single murderous shark responsible nor were the killer sharks being particularly aggressive, they just happened to be breeding successfully during a hot, overcrowded summer at the Jersey Shore.
Gustave on the other hand is the name of an actual individual beast, a crocodile more accurately, who alone has terrorized communities along the Ruzizi River in Burundi for decades, and served as the inspiration for the creature in Primeval. This beast is real, still alive, and still hasn’t been caught, almost exactly like that animatronic shark of Spielberg fame.
3. Grimm Love (2006)
Grimm Love was most assuredly inspired by the 2001 story of a German man (Armin Meiwes) who placed a wanted ad asking for someone to volunteer some of his or her own flesh so he could take a crack at cannibalism. Somebody answered this ad, which asked for a “well-built man…to be slaughtered and then consumed” but strangely let himself be partially consumed before being slaughtered.
Meiwes was arrested on charges of manslaughter but not before he spent 10 months feeding off of his formerly suicidal victim. He was later re-tried for murder and is now serving out a life sentence. Like Hannibal Lechter, Meiwes has since consulted with police on other (cannibalism) cases, but unlike Lechter has actually expressed remorse.
2. The Experiment (2010)
This movie was inspired by the Stanford Prison experiment. Doctor of psychology, Philip Zimbardo, was curious to see what would happen to healthy, non-criminals when put in a prison environment. The plan was to have half of the research subjects ‘play’ prison guards, and the rest ‘play’ prisoners. The research team actually went so far as to have the pretend prisoners arrested in front of their homes to kick off the study.
As in the movie, the research subjects started to take their roles a little too seriously, guards became abusive, prisoners started to crack, and in reality, at the behest of his lab assistant (who he eventually married), the study was shut down ahead of schedule. Unlike in the movie, nobody died and eventually almost everybody who participated moved on; 40 years later though, Zimbardo is still cashing in this one study, lecturing and writing books on the nature of evil.
1. The Human Centipede I-III (2009-2015)
Some of the most horrendous human-on-human atrocities were committed during WWII, and while a number of uplifting stories came out of this period to inspire some of the most popular movies of the last 50 years, a few not so heart warming occurrences made it into popular culture as well.
Two men, one Nazi doctor and one Japanese physician, were single-handedly responsible for committing or ordering others to commit the majority of these mad science crimes against humanity. Dr. Mengele from Germany conducted experiments on twin humans, sewing some siblings together, and Dr. Ishii played Mr. Potato Head with some of his prisoners, sometimes removing, mixing up, and reattaching limbs.