Scriptwriters and novelists have been doing something creative for years that most people can’t: they have been creating monsters. Of course, most of them aren’t the depraved psychopaths they depict in their works, so you have to wonder how they came up with someone like Pinhead or Leatherface. Fortunately, most of their research isn’t conducted themselves as they can pull from history to get inspiration when creating a truly evil villain.
Most writers will tell you they pull from their own experiences, but when it comes to creating someone like Hannibal Lector, let’s hope that’s not the case. As it turns out, writers have long been plucking from the headlines and horrific tales of victims and witnesses to craft the perfect monsters for film.
Sadly, human history is littered with tales of real people doing some incredibly sick things. This has helped some of the world’s most creative writers come up with the creatures that scare us the most. Whether you are a fan of horror, thrillers, and suspense or not, you have likely heard of just about every one of these movie monsters.
We decided it would be interesting to explore just who inspired some of the vilest villains ever set to celluloid and came up with these 15 Real-Life Monsters You Didn’t Know Inspired Movie Villains.
15. ELMER WAYNE HENLEY – LEATHERFACE
Leatherface’s penchant for creating facemasks composed of human flesh may not have been the brainchild of his creators Kim Henkel and Tobe Hooper. As it turns out, there was more than one inspiration for the character who appeared in multiple versions of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. In addition to one sick monster we will get into later, he was inspired by Elmer Wayne Henley.
Henley was one of several inspirations thanks to his participation in the Houston Mass Murders of the early 1970s. He, alongside an accomplice, abducted, tortured, assaulted, and murdered at least 28 teenage boys in the Houston, Texas area.
14. ALFREDO BALLÍ TREVIÑO – HANNIBAL LECTER
No one could have played Hannibal Lecter better than Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs, but the character wouldn’t exist at all if not for the criminal antics of serial killer Alfredo Balli Trevino, a physician whom Lector creator Thomas Harris referred to as Dr. Salazar.
Harris met him in prison during a trip to Mexico in the 1960s. He described Salazar as a “Small lithe pale man with dark red hair (with a) certain intelligence and elegance about him.”
Salazar was imprisoned for killing his younger lover whom he had chopped into pieces he placed into small boxes. He was also suspected of murdering multiple hitchhikers in the outskirts of Monterrey, Mexico in the 1960s.
Harris also may have used serial killers Albert Fish and Andrei Chikatilo, a cannibal, as inspirations for Hannibal Lecter. Lecter was chosen by the American Film Institute as the #1 Movie Villain in 2003.
13.VLAD THE IMPALER – COUNT DRACULA
There were a number of inspirations for Bram Stoker’s famous villain, Count Dracula. Among the many psychopaths Stoker considered when creating the world’s most infamous vampire was one fellow who was lovingly referred to as Vlad The Impaler.
Though his actual name was Vlad III, Vlad got his moniker thanks to his regular usage of the tactic of impaling his victims. We don’t mean he enjoyed stabbing folks with a sword; it was much worse than that. When Vlad III would capture people in combat, he would line the road with his captives whom he would literally impale on large spikes driven into the ground.
People impaled in this manner wouldn’t die right away (well, not all of them every time). They would linger for a while screaming in pain as they slowly died of their wounds.
12. JOHN LIST – KEYSER SOZE
In The Usual Suspects, Keyser Soze is regarded as the most monstrous man to ever live. Someone who would gladly kill his own family to hand out justice to anyone who would wrong him.
The film offers a great twist ending with the reveal that Soze was sitting in the police precinct the whole time, but the character was based off yet another monster the world would be better off without.
John List was so meticulous in the planning and execution of the murders of his wife, mother, and three children that the crime went unnoticed for almost a month. He fled New Jersey and lived out a new identity for 18 years before he was finally caught thanks to a broadcast of his story on America’s Most Wanted.
11. GENENE JONES – ANNIE WILKES
Annie Wilkes was the main antagonist in Stephen King’s novel and film Misery. She was the number one fan who would do anything to ensure her favorite author wrote her favorite character just the way she liked it… and we do mean anything.
Though her crimes were only slightly similar, Wilkes was partially inspired by the slayings committed by Genene Jones during the 1970s and 1980s.
Though she was only ever convicted of killing and injuring two children, it is believed that Jones is responsible for the deaths of more than 60. As a licensed nurse, she is suspected to have injected digoxin, heparin, and succinylcholine into dozens of children over the years, resulting in their deaths.
Jones is a rare type of serial killer; one who takes people into her care only to destroy them for her own sick means. It is because of this that she likely inspired King to create someone as sick as Annie Wilkes.
10. TED BUNDY – BUFFALO BILL
Though Hannibal Lecter was the focus of much attention in The Silence of the Lambs, the whole point of bringing him into the investigation was to get his help in finding Buffalo Bill.
Bill was responsible for kidnapping and killing several women whom he would place into a well within his home and eventually kill to use their skin/leather for his nefarious purposes. While Bill likely had multiple sources of inspiration, the infamous Ted Bundy was one of the main points of focus for his creation.
Bundy was responsible for committing at least 30 murders during his seven-state homicide spree between 1974 and 1978. He is possibly one of the United States’ most well-known serial killers who kidnapped, raped, and then defiled his victims’ corpses.
Hi predilection for and sexual attraction to the corpses of his victims is likely the reason he is so reviled and well-known throughout the world, and it was this same interest in the remains of the dead that helped to inspire Buffalo Bill.
9. CHARLES STARKWEATHER & CARIL ANN FUGATE – MICKEY AND MALLORY
Natural Born Killers was a charming tale of a couple of lovebirds who traveled around the country killing people. It’s a familiar tale of love and laceration, which, as it happens, was inspired by the real-life hijinks of Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate.
During a two-month murder spree between December 1957 and January 1958, Starkweather, who was then 19, alongside his 14-year-old girlfriend, Fugate, killed 11 people. Starkweather was sentenced to death by the electric chair while Fugate was sentenced to serve life in prison. Fugate was released after serving 17 years though she died in a car accident in 2013.
The couple inspired multiple films besides Natural Born Killers: The Sadist, Badlands, and Kalifornia. Starkweather’s execution was the last done in Nebraska until the practice was resumed in 1994. Fugate holds the distinction of being the youngest female in the United States to ever be tried for first-degree murder.
8. NILE RIVER CROCODILE “GUSTAVE” – KILLER CROC FROM PRIMEVAL
Not all monsters portrayed on film are people; animals can get up to some serious killing if given the opportunity and Gustave is no exception.
Gustave is a large male Nile River Crocodile from Burundi who served as the inspiration for the man-eating crocodile in the film Primeval. You might think that a crocodile is scary enough and just about any example could have been used as inspiration, but the truth is, Gustave is no innocent when it comes to dining on man-flesh.
It is believed that Gustave has killed and eaten upwards of 300 people along the banks of the Ruzizi River. Because of the rumors surrounding this large creature, he has gained mythic status among the locals. It’s possible his kill-count is much lower… or even higher, but the true number is difficult to estimate.
7. GERTRUDE BANISZEWSKI – RUTH CHANDLER
Numerous depictions of the crime committed by Gertrude Baniszewski have been adapted into film, television, and literature, but we’re focusing this entry into our list on Ruth Chandler from The Girl Next Door. Baniszewski inspired the character thanks to her participation in the brutal murder of Silvia Likens in October 1965. The crime has been called “The most terrible crime ever committed in the state of Indiana.”
Baniszewski, along with her children and some others in the neighborhood, kidnapped Sylvia Likens and proceeded to beat, rape, and torture her to death. The details of her crimes are a bit too gory for our general audience, but we can tell you that she burned parts of her with scalding water and matches, rubbed salt in the wounds, and forced her to eat her own excrement before finally deciding to let her die. Baniszewski once hit her so hard, she broke her own wrist.
6. 2-TON GREAT WHITE SHARK – “BRUCE” FROM JAWS
Peter Benchley knows a thing or two about sharks and has even expressed regret over the years that his hit novel and subsequent film Jaws created a fear of sharks. Well, amplified it at any rate.
In truth, the robot fish that was lovingly known as Bruce to the filmmakers and the villain of both the book and movie was inspired by a real-life 2-ton great white shark. Benchley based his story of a shark that was caught by fisherman Frank Mundus in 1964.
The shark was 4,500 lbs (2041 kg) and was caught off Long Island. Quint, played by Robert Shaw in the film, was inspired by Mundus, as was the monster he caught. While the shark Mundus caught wasn’t a man-eater so far as anyone knew, the photograph (pictured) inspired Benchley to write the tale of a monster shark swimming just off the shore of a popular beachfront.
5. IVAN MILAT & BRADLEY JOHN MURDOCH – MICK TAYLOR
Wolf Creek is a 2005 Australian horror film all about a fellow named Mick Taylor who hunts down a group of backpackers in the Australian outback. It seems like a relatively simple plot; people who were out of their element cross paths with a crazy loner out in the middle of nowhere who delights in killing friendly tourists. In the 1990s, Ivan Milat (pictured, far left) murdered tourists while Bradley Murdoch (center) went and did the very same thing in 2001.
Murdoch was no stranger to the law when it finally caught up to him for the murder of Peter Falconio, but Milat’s killings were a bit more dastardly in comparison. He was convicted of killing seven people aged 19 to 22 between 1989 and 1993. Five of his victims were foreign visitors (three German and two British) while the remaining were native Australians.
4. PETER KÜRTEN – HANS BECKERT
Peter Lorre beautifully played Hand Beckert in M, which was his first starring role in 1931. The role helped to launch his career and it was based off a real-life German serial killer who was known colloquially as The Vampire of Düsseldorf.
Between February and November 1929, Kürten committed a series of murders and sexual assaults before he was caught and tried for nine counts of murder. He was executed via beheading for his crimes in 1931.
Kürten wasn’t called The Vampire of Düsseldorf because he liked to dress up as a vampire or anything as pedestrian as that. No, he actually drank the blood directly from his victim’s wounds as they lay dying.
Kürten was truly a monster who plagued the city and surrounding areas of Düsseldorf for nearly a year. While Hans Beckert is nowhere near as horrifying in depiction as the man who inspired his creation, he does come close in his degree of villainy.
3. SAWNEY BEAN – PAPA JUPITER
In The Hills Have Eyes, a mutant clan of psychotic killers is led by the patriarch, Papa Jupiter. The character is extremely violent and quite insane.
Jupiter was inspired by the story of Alexander “Sawney” Bean. Bean was believed to be the leader of a Scottish clan consisting of 48 members sometimes between the 13th and 16th centuries. The story is told through a crime catalog of Newgate Prison in London called The Newgate Calendar and its authenticity is sometimes suspect, though many believe the tale to be true.
Bean is said to have been executed for the murder and cannibalization of more than 1,000 people. He led his clan consisting mostly of his kin (thanks to incest) to capture, rob, and eventually eat people who would travel close to the clan’s cave.
There are numerous details provided in the accounts of Bean and his family, but the veracity of the tale suggests he may have been a mythical figure. Since this isn’t known for sure, we decided he deserved a place on this list.
2. FRED PHELPS – ABIN COOPER
Kevin Smith’s 2011 film Red State depicts Abin Cooper as a fanatical preacher and charismatic leader of the Five Points Trinity Church. He is the principal antagonist of the film and a true monster, though he pales in comparison to the true monster upon whom he is based: Fred Phelps. You might remember Phelps as the charismatic leader and fanatical preacher of his own group of miscreants in the Westboro Baptist Church.
While Phelps wasn’t a serial killer, nor did he kill anyone we know of, he was truly a monster. He and his church protested dozens of funerals of fallen U.S. Servicemembers claiming that “God Hates Fags” and “God Loves A Dead Soldier” because he believed that God was punishing America for its acceptance of homosexuality.
1. ED GEIN – NORMAN BATES… AND A WHOLE LOT MORE
When it comes to infamous serial killers/monsters who inspired film villains, you don’t have to look much further than Ed Gein. While we likened him to Norman Bates in our picture, he was the inspiration for just about every character previously listed here.
Gein was known as The Butcher of Plainfield and would exhume corpses to create trophies from their body parts, which he would keep around his home. He only confessed to killing two women, but likely killed many more.
He wore a mask fashioned from the skin of the dead, which inspired that particular aspect of Leatherface and a version of his story was written into the book Psycho by Robert Bloch. Gein was found guilty, but criminally insane so he served out the remainder of his life in a mental institution.
Other characters he inspired include Buffalo Bill and Dr. Oliver Thredson from American Horror Story: Asylum.
What do you think of our real-life monster who inspired our favorite movie monsters? Sound off in the comments and let us know who you think is the worst on our list!
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