When watching a horror movie a thought immediately pops into my head, aside from why are you going down into the dark creepy basement by yourself!. I'm always left wondering how the film's writers developed the idea for the film. Writers typically draw upon their own lives to write, but unless someone has stared down Jason Vorhees, I have a hard time believing their own lives influenced the Friday the 13th franchise. The terrifying truth is that many films are inspired by real life events. Whether it be through local media coverage or ancient crime files, horror writers are adept at finding those horrific incidents which will translate well onto the big screen.
In order to honor these writers (and probably make some readers sleep with the lights on tonight), this list will countdown 15 Horror Movies Based on a True Story. The only requirement to be listed here is that the makers of the films have admitted to using some real life occurrence as inspiration for their films.
Far from a list of indie no-names, this list contains some of the most famous horror movies of the past fifty years. All storylines and characters referenced are from the first-hand knowledge of the author and all dates related to the events or films are taken from IMDb.com.
There is something about possessed and evil dolls which holds a special place in the mind of the American consciousness. The creators of The Conjuring began to realize this after the attention that was paid to the Annabelle side-story in the first film. This led them to launch a franchise based on the doll, 2014's Annabelle and the upcoming Annabelle: Creation. The spookiest aspect of the Annabelle story is that it, much like the plot of The Conjuring, is based on a true life investigation of Ed and Lorraine Warren. The real Annabelle is a Raggedy Ann doll that was given to a student nurse in 1970. A medium reportedly told the student that the doll was inhabited by the spirit of a dead girl named “Annabelle Higgins", which the girls did not believe until it began to show extremely malicious behavior.
14 The Exorcism Of Emily Rose
For whatever reason, movies about demonic possession have always managed to freak me out. As such, I was appalled when I learned that 2005's The Exorcism of Emily Rose was based on a true story. The film is supposedly based on the possession of Anneliese Michel, a girl who was made famous by undergoing an almost year long exorcism procedure. The film borrows several aspects of Michel's experience, including the fact that the girl being exorcised is being possessed by several demons. That is demons plural, as in more than one. It's unclear just how closely this film follows the traumatic event of Michel, but its excellent written story makes it worth a watch regardless.
13 Eaten Alive
Prior to writing this article, I had only seen bits and pieces of the Eaten Alive film, so for research purposes, I went back and watched it again before doing this entry. The films a little outdated, but there is something mesmerizing about the scenes and the storyline keeps the audience invested throughout. The film is somewhat based on the actions of Joe Ball, a serial killer who murdered around 20 women in the 1930s. Ball has managed to make it into the realm of folklore because he reportedly fed his victims bodies to the six alligators he had trapped in a pond near his home. Among his victims were several girls from a nearby bar, as well as Ball's own wife.
12 The Hills Have Eyes & Wrong Turn
Horror movie fans have likely noted the long history of inbred cannibal films which have pervaded American cinema. While these films differ in certain aspects, they all portray a member of ordinary society being pursued and eventually eaten by a ruffian family in some isolated location. The legacy of these films dates all the way back to 15th century England. There, a Scottish clan leader named Sawney Bean allegedly abducted and consumed hundreds of people with his family. Due to the "close-knit" nature of his family, by the time Bean was executed for his crimes the entire clan had suffered the consequences of decades of obvious inbreeding. It is easy to draw a connection between Bean and his clan and recent films like Wrong Turn and the Hills Have Eyes.
11 The Haunting In Connecticut
I'm surprised that more ghost movies don't try to take elements from real life instances of paranormal activity in order to utilize the "based on a true story" label. One of the scariest haunting movies of the past ten years, The Haunting in Connecticut, did just that. The film's creators based much of their story on the real life paranormal events which plagued Al and Carmen Snedeker, a couple who bought a home over a funeral parlor. While this part of the story was omitted from the film (because honestly, it's hard to have sympathy for someone who's stupid enough to buy an apartment over a funeral parlor), such elements as the writing on the young man's skin were supposedly based on the experiences of the Snedeker family.
10 The Strangers
The Strangers is a great horror film because it plays upon the most natural of human fears, the fear of random acts of violence. That is the fear that no matter how we handle ourselves, that it only takes one crazy person and some bad luck to fundamentally alter (or end) our lives. The makers of Strangers drew the inspiration for their film from the infamous Charles Manson murders of the late 1960s. Manson and his "family" orchestrated a series of random murders (and dozens more have been attributed to them) in the hopes of setting off an eventual "race war". It is strongly implied in the film that the three intruders are actually a family.
I'm amazed that people are still willing to see films based on the Zodiac killer, for the simple fact that we don't actually know anything about this Northern California serial killer. The real Zodiac terrorized the sunshine state from the latter part of the 1960's into the 70's, with five confirmed victims and potentially twenty-three more unconfirmed. The killer gained notoriety by sending a series of taunting letters to the Bay Area press. These letters included four ciphers which to this day have never been fully solved. Despite his willingness to taunt law enforcement, the identity of the Zodiac killer has never been verified. Several movies have been made about these killings, including 2007's Zodiac starring Jake Gyllenhaal.
8 The Possession
2012's The Possession has become quite the cult classic in the five short years since its release. This film follows the family of a young girl as she is fundamentally altered by her relationship with an old wooden box engraved with Hebrew letters that her dad finds at a yard sale. The inspiration for this film comes from a story about an old dybbuk box. Numerous owners of the box have reported strange things happening to them, and eBay has been busy with people warning about the boxes strange influence. In order to avoid legal troubles, the makers of the film have tried to undercut the influence of these dybbuk box stories, instead claiming that the film was mostly inspired by the original Exorcist film.
7 The Conjuring
The first film of The Conjuring franchise introduced us to real life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren. The plot of The Conjuring was based on just one investigation conducted by the Warrens, though it has been stated that facts from other cases were intermingled to supplement the story. The Conjuring was based so closely on real life, in fact, that it has led to several lawsuits being filed against the makers of the film. The current owners of the house shown in the film have claimed that several home break-ins have occurred as a result of the film's popularity. Some of these intruders have even placed Satanic idols in the home, adding another scary chapter to this houses already lurid history.
6 Texas Chainsaw Massacre
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise was the first set of films that I remember trying to use it's "based on a true story" label to its obvious advantage. The makers of the films wanted you to believe that a Leatherface actually existed like the one shown in the films. The truth is that the Leatherface character is loosely based off of Ed Gein, a serial killer who had nine human skin masks in his possession at the time of his arrest. Though this is similar to the maniac shown in the TCM franchise, Gein wasn't the mentally challenged, chainsaw wielding, lunatic shown in the films. Gein was clearly deranged, but in a less obvious way than your typical movie killer like Leatherface.
5 The Legend Of Boggy Creek
Not all the entries on this list are about serial killers and demonic possession. In 1972, a docudrama about the Fouke Monster gained a lot of attention in the national press. This film, The Legend of Boggy Creek, is composed of staged interviews of locals who claim to have seen the beast, as well as dramatic reenactments of these encounters. Stories about this monster have been prevalent since the 1940s. Perhaps the most famous of these being the eyewitness account of one farmer who claims the beast stole two of his pigs, each weighing over two hundred pounds. This movie is also famous for its directional style, which is said to have influenced such films as The Blair Witch Project.
4 The Exorcist
A real issue with the horror movie industry is that the films generally lack staying power. Something that was terrifying in the 1980s may simply be corny in the modern age, or vice versa. One film which is just as scary today as it was when it debuted is the original Exorcist film. The Exorcist is the film version of a book of the same name, but that book was based on a real-life exorcism which occurred in 1949. The boy on whom the exorcism was performed was called Roland Doe. The film is only loosely based as there are several facts from the film don't match up with the real-life exorcism.
But we wouldn't blame you if the movie is still even scarier to you after reading this blurb.
3 The Amityville Horror
When the initial Amityville Horror movie debuted in 1979 it was the pinnacle of movie cinema. Its status was furthered by the fact that the movie is heavily based on true occurrences. The plot of the original Amityville film (which was preceded by a book on the subject) is based on the frightening sequence of events experienced by the Lutz family in 1975. They moved to Amityville in this year and began to experience the paranormal activities described in the film.
For you thrill seekers, the address of the house is 112 Ocean Avenue. The real family lasted a mere 28 days in the home with their sudden exit being the inspiration for the Jay Anson book and subsequent films.
2 The Mothman Prophecies
Several of the entries on this list is loosely based on true life events, but 2002's The Mothman Prophecies certainly takes the cake in that regard. Essentially, the writers of Prophecies wrote their own original script and then added certain facts and settings to make it relatable to the Mothman phenomenon of the late 1960's. In my opinion, the filmmakers would have been better off sticking to the facts of the actual event, because The Mothman Prophecies leaves a lot to be desired. The real Mothman story stems from a series of Bigfoot type sightings in the area of Point Pleasant, West Virginia. Several eyewitnesses claimed they saw a large (almost seven feet) winged creature with glowing red eyes. Several government types were also reported to have been in northwest West Virginia at the time.
1 Silence Of The Lambs
It would shock some to learn that perhaps the most critically acclaimed horror film of all time was loosely based on true events. Silence of the Lambs is a masterpiece of cinema (regardless of genre) and won Academy Awards for all five major categories. Writers of the film, however, have admitted to mirroring some elements of the film off of real life criminals.
Specifically, the antagonist of the film, Buffalo Bill, was loosely based off of serial killer Ed Gein. We already talked in an earlier entry about how Gein provided the inspiration for the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise, but it appears that Leatherface is not the sole legacy of Gein's insanity.