“Based on a true story” is a favourite buzz phrase thrown around when it comes to horror movies – though the phrase itself has such wide-ranging applications that it rarely means much these days. Certainly, it doesn’t mean the viewing public should take the fantastical story presented to them as factual. But horror aficionados often simply want to believe it; the story’s supposed reality makes it all the more creepy for moviegoers, and the adrenaline rush is much more intense if the horror hits close to home. So, despite how loosely and sometimes irresponsibly the ‘based on a true story’ term is employed, the audience remains in blissful ignorance.
But if we look a little further into movie history’s favourite horror oeuvres, we find that some of the most unexpected stories really do come have pretty solid roots in reality. While horror favourites like the modern classic ‘Wolf Creek’ are often the amalgamation of a number of news reports, isolated incidents and rumours, some stories can be traced to a single event – however unbelievable. Which horror movies are actually based on horrifying true tales, and which ones are products of a writer’s ability to stretch the truth? These 5 terrifying and often bizarre movies are all, surprisingly, genuinely based on true stories.
5. The Blob (1958 and 1988)
The Story: An alien lifeform that resembles the Jello you ate as a child keeps growing and growing, eating everything in its path.
The Truth: It’s one of the cheesiest sci-fi/horror films of all time, surely there couldn’t be any truth in The Blob? In fact, there was a basis of truth behind this bizarre story. Indeed, its basis was true enough to warrant an “inspired by true events” label that you might not have been aware of, at least. The Blob is based on a police report from 1950 in Pennsylvania. Two police officers reportedly witnessed something that looked like a ‘quivering purple mound of jelly’ falling from the sky. They found that it glittered when their flashlights fell on it. But instead of consuming everything in its path, the goo dissolved in their hands, leaving nothing behind as proof. Still, the media latched on to the story, and movie producers managed to stretch that piece of relatively banal news into a movie.
4. The Strangers (2008)
The Story: The Strangers tells the story of a couple being terrorized by three seriously creepy masked murderers in their remote home. The killers play sadistic games with them all night, terrifying the couple and preventing them from escaping. The movie was said to be “inspired by true events,” a claim which horrified moviegoers.
The Truth: The true story behind the film is relatively tamer. The inspiration came to director Bryan Bertino from a childhood memory of a stranger knocking on his door and asking for someone who didn’t live at the house. It later transpired that a number of local houses had been broken into. Considering the fact that many of us experience strangers knocking on our door in our lifetime, this is a lot less terrifying than the movie itself. However, the scarier parts of the film were loosely based on the Manson Family killings – which, as most of us know, were pretty gruesome. But is The Strangers a totally true story? Not exactly.
3. Hostel (2005)
The Story: A group of backpackers stay in a hostel while traveling through Europe. They seem to pick the wrong town to stay in, since there’s a torture-tourist industry going on where people pay money to torture and kill innocent and unsuspecting people passing through.
The Truth: The movie boasts that it’s “inspired by true events” and one has to wonder – do these types of places really exist? If you trust the movie poster, it sure sounds like it, and that’s pretty horrifying. However, Eli Roth explained how “true” these events actually are: He came across a website from Thailand which boasted that you could pay a large sum of money to walk into a room and shoot someone in the head. He says that according to the website, these people are all volunteers who are poor or have terminal illnesses and some of the money goes to their families. But Roth himself said he wasn’t sure if this was real or just a sick prank posted by internet trolls. And in his own words, it really didn’t matter since “someone took the time to make the site.” So yes, it could be real. Possibly the scariest thing about this is that it doesn’t sound as far fetched as we’d like…
2. The Conjuring (2013)
The Story: Paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren are called in to help a family that’s being terrorized by an evil entity.
The Truth: Most people probably know by now that the Warrens were indeed real people, and the story is the story of the Perron family. Andrea Perron has noted the movie has taken liberties with their story, but has said that yes, it’s basis is certainly true. The main spirit said to be haunting them was Bathsheba Sherman, and she was a real person as well. You can visit her grave in downtown Harrisville, Rhode Island. Possibly the creepiest aspect of all this is the haunted doll Annabelle, also said to be real. Annabelle was a Raggedy Ann Doll that was given to a nursing student named Donna. Shortly after the doll arrived, weird things started to happen. It even allegedly injured one of Donna’s friends. A spiritual medium came in and told them the dolls was haunted by a little girl who died there named Annabelle, but things continued to escalate, and the girl contacted the Warrens. The Warrens ended up taking the doll, claiming it was possessed by a demon. Annabelle remains locked up to this day.
1. The Exorcist (1973)
The Story: The Exorcist is considered a horror classic. It’s the terrifying story of a 12-year-old girl possessed by demons who have her vomiting up green goo, spinning her head all the way around and walking down stairs in a backwards, inverted crab-walk. It’s a little dated, but the premise and the movie itself is still one that scares horror fans even today.
The Truth: In this case, the truth is stranger than fiction. There are many scarily believable reports of exorcisms around the world, but The Exorcist is based on a single apparently true exorcism, that of a boy known as Roland Doe. Roland was great friends with his aunt, Harriet, who introduced him to a Ouija board. When Roland was thirteen, his aunt died in St. Louis, MO. It’s believed that Roland tried to reconnect with his aunt using a Ouija board. Whatever the case, strange things started happening around Roland after Harriet’s death – objects would levitate, a picture of Jesus rattled on the wall, furniture would move on its own. During one exorcism, the boy freed his hands from the restraints that held him down. He then broke a bedspring from the mattress and slashed the priest from wrist to shoulder with it. The injury required over 100 stitches. He was eventually freed from whatever demons possessed him, and the boy grew up to live a seemingly normal life.