Whether you’re looking for ghouls, ghosts, or gore, there’s probably a horror movie to fit your tastes. But the scariest movies are always those that seem like they could happen. The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity were all the more terrifying because the found footage-style filmmaking made them seem real. In fact, the Paranormal Activity series has been so successful that the sixth installment, Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension, will hit theaters at the end of October.
While the found footage horror movies can make it feel like the on-screen events really happened, there’s a whole genre of scary movies that claim to actually be real. Unlike the found footage films, these “based on a true story” movies supposedly use real experiences as the inspiration, making the events of the film all the more terrifying. So with Halloween around the corner, here are 10 Creepy Horror Films Inspired by a True Story to help you ring in the scary movie season.
The Amityville Horror (1979)
The original 1979 The Amityville Horror, starring James Brolin and Margot Kidder, is the classic haunted house horror flick, which was given a not-so-classic remake in 2005. The movie is actually based on a 1976 book titled The Amityville Horror: A True Story, which claimed to tell the true story of George and Kathy Lutz’s 28 days in an allegedly haunted house. According to them, their large dream home on the coast of Long Island turned on them not too long after moving day, when demonic forces began terrorizing their family.
Now, it’s true that, a little over a year before the Lutzes moved into the house on 112 Ocean Avenue, Ronald DeFeo Jr. shot and killed his entire family – six people total – inside the house. The Lutzes purchased the house furnished with the DeFeo’s furniture, and actually did have a priest come and bless the house prior to moving into it.
But that’s where the story gets a little murky. Some evidence suggests the Lutzes began shopping around for a publishing deal while still in the house and attempted to get publicity for the haunting once a book was imminent. Notably, paranormal investigators Lorraine and Ed Warren, who were also the investigators behind several other “true story” haunting films, claimed the house was plagued by malevolent spirits. Many have suggested the whole thing was a scam, and interestingly, no one who has lived at 112 Ocean Avenue since the Lutzes has reported any strange happenings.
A new film in the franchise, Amityville: The Awakening, will hit theaters next year.
The Haunting in Connecticut
Another haunted house flick, The Haunting in Connecticut is about another family who failed to check into the history of their house prior to moving: the Campbells relocate to a home that previously served as a funeral parlor, where the owner’s son served as a demonic messenger and provided a gateway for spiritual entities. The story is supposedly based on the experience of the Snedeker family, who also worked with paranormal investigators Lorraine and Ed Warren. Horror novelist Ray Garton was hired to document the tale his 1992 book, In a Dark Place: The Story of a True Haunting, which became the basis for the movie.
But in subsequent interviews, Garton has claimed that he made up some of the details. While the Snedekers and the Warrens have maintained that the house was truly haunted, there’s obviously no proof that anything supernatural occurred during the family’s two year stay in the house. No other family who has lived in the house has come forward with any ghost stories.
The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)
The Exorcism of Emily Rose follows a lawyer who takes on the case of a priest who is charged with homicide after he performs an exorcism on Emily Rose (Jennifer Carpenter) and she dies. The story mostly takes place in a courtroom, with Emily Rose’s possession being told through courtroom testimony and flashbacks. But the possession and the subsequent trial is actually a fictionalized version of the possession of a German woman named Anneliese Michel.
During the 1970s, she was believed to have been possessed by six or more demons. Michel began experiencing shaking and the inability to control her body at the age of 16 By the age of 21, her parents were seeking pastors to perform an exorcism. Two years later, the church finally granted permission for the exorcism and at the age of 23, Michel died from malnutrition and dehydration. Prosecutors charged Michel’s parents and the two priests who performed the exorcism with negligent homicide.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
One of the first great slasher films, 1974’s Texas Chain Saw Massacre follows a group of teens who end up on a farm belonging to a family of cannibals. Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen) torments the teens, occasionally with a chainsaw, as he tries to off them, one-by-one. The popular franchise has spawned four sequels, a remake, and a prequel. The latest in the franchise, Leatherface, will be released next year, and it will follow the teen years of Jackson Sawyer – the boy who one day becomes the skin-wearing serial killer we all know and, uh… love?
When it came out in 1974, it was marketed as a “true story,” despite the fact that Leatherface didn’t actually exist and commit a series of murders in Texas. But while it might not be based on a true story, it was inspired by the real-life serial killer Ed Gein, who created a “woman suit” out of skins of exhumed female corpses and murdered at least two women. He similarly served as the inspiration for Norman Bates in Psycho and Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs.
The Girl Next Door (2007)
Based on Jack Ketchum’s 1989 novel of the same name, The Girl Next Door follows two young girls who must move into their aunt’s house after the death of their parents. Unfortunately, the aunt (Blanche Baker) is a sadistic psychopath and the neighborhood boys seem content to allow both girls to be tortured and sexually abused. It’s a movie so disturbing that you can’t get it out of your head, much less believe it could actually be real.
But it’s actually the fictionalized version of the torture and death of an Indiana teen named Sylvia Likens in 1965. Her and her sister had been left in the care of family friend Gertrude Baniszewski, who soon began taking out her financial troubles on Likens. Her children and several other neighborhood children would beat Likens, tie her up, force feed her, and sexually abuse her. After being tied up in the basement, she died at the age of sixteen from shock, malnutrition, and a brain hemorrhage.
Compliance is the story of a fast-food worker subjected to sexual humiliation and psychological abuse at the hands of a prank-caller, who pretends to be a police officer and calls Sandra (Ann Dowd), the restaurant manager, to complain that Becky (Dreama Walker), an employee, stole from a customer. The film may be more thriller than horror movie, but once Sandra begins taking orders from the stranger, which begins with a humiliating strip search and gets worse from there. The resulting tale, a warning against blindly following authority, is downright chilling. What the film lacks in gore and sudden frights, it makes up for in emotional trauma and horror at how far some people will go to avoid conflict.
While watching it, it’s impossible to think anyone could possibly be so naive, yet the movie is actually inspired by a real incident that occurred at a McDonald’s in 2004. A prank-caller began calling various rural locations in over 30 states, pretending to be an officer and asking managers to conduct strip searches on female employees. During one such call, the manager of a New Hampshire McDonald’s detained 18-year-old Louise Ogborn for over three hours. During that time, she was stripped naked, forced to dance, and ordered to perform various crude acts by the prank-caller, all of which was caught on surveillance cameras.
The Strangers (2008)
A movie about what happens when your romantic trip goes awry, The Strangers follows a young couple who are terrorized by three masked strangers while staying at a remote getaway. The unknown assailants destroy all means of escape and outside communication before the violent invasion, trapping the couple in the house. It’s a simple premise that could happen to anyone, so it makes sense that the trailer proclaimed it was inspired by true events.
However, the production notes for the film discredit the claim slightly by clarifying that the seeds of the story were sparked during Bryan Bertino’s youth: “That part of the story came to me from a childhood memory. As a kid, I lived in a house on a street in the middle of nowhere. One night, while our parents were out, somebody knocked on the front door and my little sister answered it. At the door were some people asking for somebody that didn’t live there. We later found out that these people were knocking on doors in the area and, if no one was home, breaking into the houses. In The Strangers, the fact that someone is at home does not deter the people who’ve knocked on the front door; it’s the reverse.” So, despite the “inspired by true events” claim, it’s almost entirely a work of fiction.
Eaten Alive (1977)
From Tobe Hooper (the same guy behind Texas Chain Saw Massacre), Eaten Alive also takes place in Texas, where a hotel owner kills off anyone who stands in his way and then feeds them to a crocodile he keeps as a pet. A curious little slasher flick, it stars Neville Brand as the crazed hotel owner, who seems to get crazier and crazier as the movie progresses. It’s Hooper’s sophomore effort, following Chainsaw Massacre, and while it’s less well-known, the creepy hotel set and effects benefited from a larger budget.
And like Chainsaw Massacre, the film is actually loosely based on a real life serial killer – a Texas man named Joe Ball. Ball owned a bar in a very small Texas town with an alligator pit in the back. He definitely charged customers a fee to view the alligators eating live cats and dogs, but he also possibly used the alligators to dispose the bodies of 20 women he murdered. When authorities approached Ball about the women who had disappeared, he shot himself with a handgun. There’s no concrete evidence Ball fed his victims to an alligator, but a handyman who worked for Ball led officers to two bodies he claimed he help Ball dispose of.
Wolf Creek (2005)
Wolf Creek is an Australian horror film about the dangers of hitchhiking and a dream vacation gone terribly, terribly wrong. When three friends get stranded in remote Australia on their way to a hiking trip, a bushman offers them assistance. But the hikers’ thankfulness is short lived when they wake up bound, gagged, and drugged. It’s an incredibly gruesome film and was criticized at its release for it’s depiction of violence against women. But it’s success in theaters earned it a sequel in 2012.
Upon release, Wolf Creek was marketed as “based on true events,” leading many to assume the story was entirely factual. However, it was actually based on a combination of murders from around Australia. The 2001 abduction of Peter Falconio and attack against his girlfriend by Bradley John Murdoch are said to influence the film, which was scheduled to be released during Murdoch’s trial. The court in the Northern Territory actually enjoined the film’s release to prevent it from influencing the jury. But John Jarratt, who plays the crazed bushman, used Ivan Milat, known as “the backpack killer,” as inspiration for the role.
The Entity (1981)
Another supernatural horror movie, The Entity follows Carla Moran as she is attacked by an invisible assailant. The film opens with her being violently raped, and the sexual and physical abuse continues for much of the film. Convinced by friends and family that she is losing her mind, she seeks help from parapsychologists, who discover there are supernatural forces at work.
The movie is based on the book of the same name by Frank De Felitta, which was inspired by the real story of Doris Bither who lived in California. She approached some parapsychologists after what she believed herself to be the victim of a “spectral rape.” At the time, there wasn’t any evidence, but she did occasionally develop bruises around her body and inner thighs. Of course, there’s no way to prove one way or the other whether Bither actually had a malevolent entity following her around. Some of her story was corroborated by family and friends, including her eldest son, who said he was also thrown back by an invisible force after attempting to assist his mother.
Those are just some of our favorite horror movies inspired by true events. What movie do you think is creepy? Which ones did we miss? Let us know in the comments!