So many great movies over the years have invoked so many different emotions from their audience, with us all having our favourite memories of our favourite moviegoing experiences. For some, though, they’ve tragically taken a lot more from a cinema trip than ever could be feared.
For as long as most of us can remember, we’ve heard stories of movies that have inspired individuals to carry out some truly horrendous, heinous, and almost unspeakable crimes. It’s not the filmmaker's fault, it’s not the cast and crew’s fault, it’s not the fault of any glitzy Hollywood studio. No, some people have just seen what’s happened on screen and channeled that into the real world, often with shocking and brutal consequences.
While many a big name movie has been inspired by or based upon true events, likewise many an act of real-life horror has been carried out based upon a feature film. To try and understand why these people did what they ultimately did after seeing a particular picture, that’s far too wide a topic to delve into here. Either way, so many atrocities have been carried out in that vein over the past few decades.
So, continue to read on to explore 15 examples of real-life horrors that were influenced and inspired by what was seen on the silver screen. And be warned, some of these are extremely gruesome when simply reading about them.
In a case of a prank gone wrong, the Saw franchise was the inspiration behind an act that would lead to 52-year-old Beverly Dickson suffering a stroke back in 2007.
While attending a funeral, Dickson had received a traumatic voicemail message from the day prior that would shock her so much that she suffered a stroke and was rushed to hospital.
Merely a prank call from a pair of 13-year-old girls, the message claimed that a friend of Dickson’s was hidden in her house, and that the house would shortly be filled with a toxic gas that would take just 30 seconds to kill anyone in the immediate vicinity.
The official police report even quoted the message as saying, “I want to play a game. You need to decide if life is worth living for.”
Tracing the call back to two Winchester, Tennessee teenagers, the Saw-influenced 13-year-old duo were charged with phone harassment.
14 The Town
Whilst his mainstream acting career may have been on the rocks at a certain point in time, Ben Affleck began to wow moviegoers with his directing work – garnering praise from critics and fans alike for Gone Baby Gone, The Town and Argo. And it’s The Town that inspired a real-life 2011 crime.
In Affleck’s 2010 movie, a group of criminals rob a bank as they use nuns’ habits as part of their disguise. Unfortunately for Navahcia Edwards and Lyndon Germel Wesley, that plan didn’t work quite as well in real life as it did on the silver screen.
Using The Town as the inspiration for a bank heist, the pair initially managed to make off with an reported $120,000. Their success would be short-lived, however, and the two would be charged with robbery. The kicker? Edwards was previously an employee at the Chicago bank in question.
Luckily, dispute guns being pointed at staff, nobody was harmed during this whole incident – although it serves as a nice reminder that just because some genius plan works on the big screen, that doesn’t mean it’ll work in real life.
13 Fight Club
Starring Ed Norton and Brad Pitt, David Fincher’s 1999 Fight Club was brimming with quality on every level, from plot, to performances, to the score, to Fincher’s delicate direction. But while that movie - itself based on Chuck Palahniuk’s 1996 novel of the same name – was pure fiction, it sadly inspired some very real events.
Key to Fight Club was the Project Mayhem concept that the Tyler Durden character was pushing forward with; a philosophy that resonated with many frustrated sorts, and one of those was a 17-year-old by the name of Kyle Shaw.
Making a fireworks-based “bomb” as part of his own Project Mayhem plan, Shaw set off the device outside a Starbucks in 2009. Pleading guilty to attempted arson and attempted criminal possession of a weapon, 2010 saw him given 3 and a half years in prison.
As well as Shaw’s ideals of revolution, Fight Club has also inspired a whole host of real-life brutal underground fight clubs, too.
12 A Nightmare on Elm Street
One of two Wes Craven movies on this list, A Nightmare on Elm Street is rightly revered as one of the greatest horror movies of all-time, and Freddy Krueger has gone on to become a true icon of the horror genre.
Unfortunately, though, Robert Englund’s Freddy also happened to influence Daniel Gonzalez in 2004. Diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic, Gonzalez went on a drug-fuelled rampage that saw him murder four completely random people. Where the Elm Street influence comes in is in how he’d armed himself with several knives in a way that mimicked Freddy’s famed blade-enhanced glove.
Despite official reports admitting that David Gonzalez had not received the proper medical treatment for his condition, he was ultimately given six life sentences for the four murders and two further attempted murders. Gonzalez would end up committing suicide once behind bars.
You might think of the whole Twilight franchise as kid-friendly, a tad soppy, and your usual bland and generic YA fodder. Whilst largely true (sorry, Twihards), that didn’t stop a 13-year-old boy from taking inspiration from Robert Pattinson’s Edward Cullen and embarking on a bloodsucking spree of his own.
The Iowa teenager came to his Vice Principal’s attention after biting a female classmate, and further investigation found that he’d actually bitten 10 other classmates in just that past month. Upon contacting the child’s father, the school was told that his son’s love of Twilight was the reason for all of this. That didn’t fly with the authorities, though, and the 13-year-old was referred to juvenile corrections.
In the grand scheme of things, this is a minor, minor matter, but it goes to show that even the most well-meaning, non-offensive, and dull (again, sorry, Twilighters) movies can inspire people to mimic what they see on the big screen.
10 The Matrix
Sci-fi classic The Matrix is maybe a slightly surprising entry on this list, yet the Wachowskis’ 1999 film has been the inspiration behind several violent crimes since its release. So much so, attorneys have actually coined the phrase “The Matrix defense” – which claims that those accused of misdemeanours believed they were actually in an alternate reality.
The most notorious of these cases involved Lee Boyd Malvo, who was convicted of murder for his part in the 2002 Washington, DC sniper shootings. Obsessed with the concept of blurring reality, Malvo even scribbled “Free yourself of The Matrix” on his cell wall.
Another who pulled “The Matrix defense” was Vadim Mieseges. Having dismembered his landlady, he told police officers that he had been sucked into The Matrix – a claim that would later play a part in a judge accepting his plea of not guilty by reason of insanity.
9 The Deer Hunter
Michael Cimino’s 1978 movie, The Deer Hunter, is often remembered by many for its infamous Russian roulette scenes. Closing out the film, Robert De Niro’s Michael does his best to help save fellow Vietnam War vet Nick, played by Christopher Walken. Sadly, Nick’s choice to play Russian roulette again goes awry when he shoots himself dead in front of his pal.
Clearly this is a shocking, powerful moment and scene, but it managed to actually inspire plenty of people to carry out the very same thing! Yes, as in some people who saw The Deer Hunted decided that it would be the ultimate thrill to carry out their own game of Russian roulette, complete with a loaded revolver.
One of the more widely reported incidents saw Mickey Culpepper accidentally take his own life in 1980, although this frankly stupid craze was something that spread across the entire globe for a spell in the early ‘80s.
8 American Psycho
Sure, he may have vaguely remembered from 1987’s Empire of the Sun and certain other features, but it was 1999’s American Psycho that firmly put Christian Bale into the spotlight. A brilliant darkly comedic thrill ride brimming with social commentary and satire, the movie quickly became a favourite of many. Sadly, Michael Hernandez would become one of that many.
5 years after the movie’s release, Hernandez, just 14 at the time, stabbed one of his classmates to death, openly admitting that he’d based his actions and behaviour around Bale’s Patrick Bateman and also Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter of The Silence of the Lambs fame.
According to Hernandez, he had been given superpowers by God and encouraged by the big man upstairs to kill his classmate. His plan was to use these powers to become a real-life serial killer in the mould of Bateman and Lecter.
Unsurprisingly, in 2008 Michael Hernandez was found guilty of first-degree murder.
7 A Clockwork Orange
With its scenes of gratuitous ultra-violence and rape, Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange soon became one of the most controversial movies of all-time upon its release in 1971.
As the film’s central Droogs and their antics became a favourite of many a moviegoer, some took their admiration for Malcolm McDowell’s Alex and his “brothers” a step too far as they mimicked the cinematic atrocities in their everyday lives. Examples of this included a 14-year-old who was accused of the manslaughter of a classmate shortly after the film’s release; a 16-year-old boy who beat a vagrant to death; and a rape case that saw the offenders singing Singin’ in the Rain.
In fact, due to the rise in violence and sexual crimes following A Clockwork Orange’s release, the film would be banned entirely in the UK by 1973 at the request of director Kubrick and wouldn’t actually be widely available until after Kubrick’s death in 1999.
6 Taxi Driver
Likely one of the most well-known entries on this list is how John Hinckley. Jr was influenced by Taxi Driver when attempting to kill President Ronald Reagan.
In that 1976 movie, Jodie Foster plays a 12-year-old prostitute who Robert De Niro’s Travis Bickle does his best to try and protect. Bickle also then carries out his own assassination attempt on a Senator in the running for the Presidency.
Where reality is concerned, Hinckley Jr. became obsessed with Foster after seeing the feature. Firing six shots at President Reagan on March 30, 1981, Hinckley Jr. claimed that this was just to get Foster's attention, and then went on to describe it as “the greatest love offering in the history of the world. Everybody, but everybody, knows about John and Jodie.”
Fortunately, Reagan only suffered minor injuries after being struck by a solitary bullet. Hinckley Jr. was found not guilty by reason of insanity, in turn being institutionalized before being released late last year.
Over the decades, many a slasher film has been blamed for inspiring brutal and tragic real-life events. And Wes Craven’s Scream is no exception.
Early 1998 saw 37-year-old Gina Castillo stabbed to death by her 16-year-old son and his 14-year-old cousin, with the teenagers admitting that they carried out the gruesome murder in order to fund a murder spree that would reenact the plot of Scream and Scream 2, including purchasing Ghostface masks and voice modifiers.
One person who did get his hands on a Ghostface costume, though, was Thierry Jaradin. The 24-year-old Belgian truck driver donned the outfit before stabbing his 15-year-old neighbour a reported 30 times!
Considering the brilliance of Wes Craven and the lashings of social commentary and even black humour involved in the Scream franchise, it’s truly sad to see some people wishing to play out the role of Ghostface in real life.
4 Child’s Play 3
For anybody who was around at the time it happened, the 1993 murder of 2-year-old James Bulger was absolutely horrific to hear about. In subsequent years, as more detailed information has been made available, it’s even harder to believe that such vile atrocities could be carried out – let alone carried out by a pair of 10-year-old boys, Robert Thompson and Jon Venables.
In case any non-UK readers aren’t familiar with this horrendous crime, Thompson and Venables lured young James from a shopping centre, taking him to a railway line where they carried out unspeakable acts (if you’ve got the stomach for it, the full details are online and easy to find) before finally leaving him to die.
Originally, Child’s Play 3 was claimed to have inspired some of the things that Thompson and Venables did to James, although that’s never been completely proven. Regardless of whether they’d seen a Chucky film or not, no movie could be blamed for the true horrors that were unleashed on James Bulger back in 1993.
3 Queen of the Damned
For as long as we likely all can remember, various people have claimed to be vampires or have attempted to become vampires. Obviously there are a whole load of vampire-based movies out there, but 2002’s Queen of the Damned is one that has been directly cited as the reason behind a brutal murder.
Having watched the film approximately one hundred times, Allan Menzies claimed that he received a middle of the night visit from the movie’s lead character, Aaliyah’s Akasha. According to Menzies, he was told to go on a murder spree that began with his friend, Thomas McKendrick.
Believing that his friend was plotting to kill him, Menzies stabbed McKendrick to death before drinking his blood, eating part of his head, and then burying him in a shallow grave. Once put in prison, the man nicknamed “The Vampire Killer” committed suicide.
2 The Dark Knight
To many of us reading this, the murder spree of James Holmes on July 20th, 2012 really hit home. Whilst Holmes killed 12 people and injured 70 during the midnight premiere of The Dark Knight Rises at Aurora’s Century 16 movie theater, there’s a good chance that many of you reading this – particularly those with a love of the Caped Crusader – were doing the exact same thing as those poor souls who were the victims of Holmes’ massacre. They’d eagerly gone out to watch the first showing of the final outing for Christian Bale’s Batman, but they tragically ran into a very real Joker inspired by Heath Ledger's turn in The Dark Knight.
A longtime Batman obsessive, James Holmes’ killing spree has more than a passing resemblance to Batman’s greatest nemesis. In Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, The Joker murders a full TV audience by deploying a toxic gas, whilst Arnold Crimp also kills 3 people in a film theater. Where Holmes’ action were concerned, he infamously entered the movie theater, let off several smoke bombs, then began to fire shots into the theater audience.
1 Natural Born Killers
When it comes to the notoriety of inspiring real life horrors, very few movies can boast as terrifying a record as Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers.
Starring Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis, the basic plot of the film focused on two loved-up serial killers who are essentially glamorized by certain corners of the media as they embark on a murder spree.
While the screenplay for the film was written by none other than Quentin Tarantino - even if based on previous real events - not even QT could dream up some of the true horrors that would play out in real life. Truth be told, Natural Born Killers has reportedly inspired many copycat killings since its 1994 release, but the killing spree of Benjamin Darras and Sarah Edmondson - both pictured above - is the most chilling.
Having taken LSD and watch the movie several times, the pair went on a rampage that saw Darras sentenced to life in prison, while Edmondson was handed 35 years.
Sources: latimes.com; www.nbcnews.com