Most people have a love/hate relationship with the horror movie genre. The viewer is expecting a frightening viewing experience; the genre’s purpose, ultimately, is to frighten people. Yet, it’s easy for producers and directors in the genre to fall short in delivering this ultimate experience.
At one point, viewers loved the creepy scene where the protagonist walks in a dimly-lit, silent hallway only to be met by the antagonist. These types of scenes were a dime a dozen in the 70s. And you know what? It work. It was original at the time. So viewers loved the genre.
But considering we’re a “what have you done for me lately”- type of society, what was original back in the 70s falls quite flat in the new millennium. There was a time in the new century when deformed children creeping out of the ground was frightening; but that theme’s shelf life, too, has expired.
That’s why horror flicks based on true events will truly never get old. It will always pass the test of time. No one can daresay this type of movie lacks authenticity; it is based on true events after all. That’s why movies like The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005) and The Hills Have Eyes (1977) performed so well at the box office. People were expecting, and received, an authentic story.
Here is a list of some of the best horror films that were based on real life events.
12. The Hills Have Eyes (1977)
Written and directed by Wes Craven, this horror flick tells the story of a suburban family’s road trip through a land where savages live. It became a cult classic and led to a sequel in 1985 and a remake in 2006. It’s based on the real life story of Alexander “Sawney” Bean who was the head of a 48-member clan in 15th century Scotland.
He was executed for the mass murder and cannibalization of over one thousand people. There are suspicions that the character never existed or his story was highly exaggerated but the mythical figure is now a part of the Edinburgh tourism industry.
11. The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)
The Exorcism of Emily Rose is loosely inspired by the story of Anneliese Michel. According to Wikipedia, Anneliese Michel was a German woman who went through the Catholic exorcism rites in 1975 and died the next year due to the lack of medical care, undernourishment and dehydration. Her parents and the priests were charged with negligent homicide and the case was highly publicized since the ritual of exorcism was rarely used after the 18th century.
The two priests were found guilty of manslaughter and negligence. They were sentence to prision. Her grave became a place of pilgrimage and she is considered an unofficial saint by some.
10. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one of the best horror films of all time. It tells the story of a family of cannibals who welcome a group of friends to their home. The plot is entirely fiction, yet the killer, the chainsaw-wielding Leatherface, is loosely based on the murderer Ed Gein.
Despite giving him a chainsaw to wield, the similarity between the two is limited to the human skin mask the character wears. Ed Gein had nine in his possession when he was arrested. Horror flicks, whether loosely based on true events or entirely based on real-life story, always make for the most authentic viewing experience.
9. Deranged: The Confessions Of A Necrophile (1974)
Although it was a low budget film, the American feature became a cult film based on the life of Edward Theodore Gein, who committed crimes around Plainfield, Wisconsin. He exhumed corpses from local graveyards to create trophies from the bones and skin. He was initially considered unfit for trial, being confined in a mental health facility.
It looks like the critically acclaimed movie Psycho, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, was also inspired from the life of Ed Gein but that story focuses more on the relationship he had with his deceased mother. In Deranged, he goes further and digs up other bodies and uses them to decorate his house, after which he moves on to live victims.
8. Stuck (2007)
Stuck is based on a true story which took place on October 25, 2001 when a nurse’s aide named Chante Mallard decided to leave her friend’s Fort Worth, Texas apartment to go home at 3:00 a.m. after drinking, taking drugs and partying. A local homeless man was walking across the highway and Mallard hit him with the car, lodging him into the windshield.
After trying to remove him, she decided to continue her drive even though he stuck in the windshield. She eventually left him in her garage where he bled to death. Chante asked her ex-boyfriend and a relative to dump the body in a park. She was arrested four months later and sentenced to 50 years in jail.
7. The Serpent and The Rainbow (1988)
The inspiration for this film comes from a book with the same title written by the American anthropologist Wade Davis. He wrote it after returning from Haiti in 1985. The book talks about the zombie experiences he reportedly discovered, claiming the return of Clairvius Narcisse from the grave. He died in 1962 and was seen back in the village in 1980 when he explained that a voodoo practitioner put him into a deathly trance and then revived him to use him as a slave for a plantation from which he could only escape after the death of the master.
The story put Davis on a quest to find out more about the mysterious “zombie powder” and he discovered it to be a combination of toxins taken from puffer fish and frogs. Director Wes Craven managed to create a highly impressive and scary film based on this story.
6. Eaten Alive (1977)
Tobe Hooper directed the movie Eaten Alive, a story inspired by the life of Joe Ball. In the film, a hotel owner kills his female guests and feeds them to his crocodile. The film received bad reviews, despite it being based on real events.
During the 1930s, Joe Ball was the owner of the Sociable Inn in the town of Elmendorf, Texas and he built a swamp pond behind it with five alligators. The guests would apparently pay large sums of money to watch him feed live animals to the alligators. Many female members of his staff went missing shortly after. When authorities became suspicious and started investigating, Ball committed suicide.
5. Black Water (2007)
Another crocodile horror movie; this one was done 40 years after Eaten Alive. Black Water tells the story of a couple who go on the Blackwater Barry fishing tour. A crocodile attacks their boat and kills their guide, so they climb a tree and try to survive in the wilderness.
The film is based on a trip taken by Ashley McGough, Shaun Blowers and Brett Mann in 2003 through the Northern Territory of Australia. While in the river, Brett was killed by a crocodile, which continued hunting the other two. They climbed a tree and stayed there for 22 hours until a rescue helicopter finally found them.
4. The Rite (2011)
In this film, Sir Anthony Hopkins portrays Father Lucas Trevant who teaches a seminary student how to perform the ritual of exorcism. The movie is based on the life of Father Gary Thomas and on the book “The Making of a Modern Exorcist” by Matt Baglio. Father Gary Thomas was tasked by the local bishop in San Jose, California to become an exorcist for the diocese.
He worked as a consultant for the film, so the scenes are highly accurate according to him, making some people from the set wonder if they weren’t attracting demonic forces through the creation of the film.
3. Ravenous (1999)
Ravenous is inspired by Alfred Packer who was probably the most widely known cannibal in America in the late 1800s. He was going to the gold mines of Colorado in 1874 along with five other prospectors before deciding to continue their journey during the winter instead of taking shelter until spring, a decision that led to the death of everyone except Packer.
He was questioned later and said that one of the prospectors murdered the others and attacked him with a hatchet, so he killed him in self-defense. A while later, he was living in the Los Pinos Indian Agency and strips of human flesh were discovered. He was charged with both murder and cannibalism to which he confessed.
2. Borderland (2007)
Three college students take a road trip to a city on the border of Mexico to indulge in a week of parties. In the end, the three of them become the prisoners of a group of satanic drug smugglers who want to use them as a sacrifice. The story is inspired by the life of Adolfo Constanzo who was a practitioner of black magic. He was also the leader of a drug cartel, using his influence and power to perform 23 ritual murders in the region of Matamoros, Mexico, in 1988 and 1989.
The organs of the victims were harvested and used for spells that would protect the cartel from its enemies. After a manhunt was initiated to find him, Constanzo finally committed suicide.
1. The Snowtown Murders (2011)
The film was originally entitled Snowtown before it was later renamed The Snowtown Murders. It tells the story of James Vlassakis who, along with Robert Joe Wagner and Mark Haydon, became the followers of John Justin Bunting. Together they tortured to death at least 11 individuals. Their bodieswere placed in barrels and hidden in an abandoned bank vault. When questioned, Bunting said he was cleaning society of pedophiles, handicaps and homosexuals.
In time, his torture methods became more elaborate. Only after Mark Haydon’s wife was killed did the police manage to track the gang and Vlassakis was one of the key witnesses in the trial after his plea bargain.
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