13 Iconic Horror Movies Inspired by Real-Life Events
Any horror fan knows that there's one phrase that will make any scary movie twice as terrifying: "Inspired by true events." It's a tricky phrase, because we often don't know what the original "events" are, and we can't get a sense of how "inspired" the filmmakers were. The halls of horror history are littered with disturbing movies and a handful of potential new classics. But the truth is harder to find. To help give your nightmares a little more weight, we dug into a handful of the most iconic horror movies, and the "true" events that "inspired" them.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
What's real: In A Nightmare on Elm Street, Freddie Kruger kills his victims while they're dreaming, and Wes Craven was said to have drawn inspiration from a shocking series of unexplainable real-life deaths in Southeast Asia. An archived article in the LA Times describes the cause as "a rare affliction that kills young male Southeast Asian refugees as they sleep." In a New York Times article from 1981, it's described as "nightmare death syndrome" and outlines an anamoly "in which death results from terror induced by a nightmare." So, while Freddie Kruger may be a fictional monster, the way he kills his victims is a very real, mysterious phenomenon.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
What's real: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was marketed as a true story, but the reality is that the events of the film didn't actually happen. That said, Leatherface was based in part on a very terrifying serial killer named Edward Gein. It's been widely reported that Gein made plenty of items from human skin. These allegedly include a wastebasket, leggings, a belt, an apron, a lampshade, and — yep, you guessed it — a face mask. Sorry for all the nightmares.
What's real: Speaking of Edward Gein, he was also said to be the inspiration for Norman Bates, the iconic, cross-dressing serial killer from Psycho. According to an in-depth look at the film on NPR, the story of Gein inspired fiction writer Robert Bloch, who lived just 40 miles away from all the madness. Bloch reportedly "read about Gein in the newspapers and became fascinated. He decided to fictionalize Gein's story, and his novel, Psycho, was published two years later." Hitchcock scooped the story from there, and the rest is horror history.
The Shining (1980)
What's real: We all know Stanley Kubrick's iteration of The Shining comes from the famous, classic Stephen King novel of the same name. But where did Stephen King find his inspiration for the intimidating, monstrous Overlook Hotel? There's actually a real, haunted hotel called The Stanley in Estes Park, CO. The establishment's website dives deep in its haunted history, and even touches on King's fateful visit: "A stay of one night was enough to inspire his third major work and first hard-cover bestseller — The Shining."
The Conjuring (2013)
What's real: There are scores of real-life connections in The Conjuring. The Perron family — who suffers a horrible haunting in the film — is very real, and has spoken on record about their terrifying experiences with physical manifestations and evil spirits. Of course, Ed and Lorraine Warren are real individuals and paranormal investigators. Ed unfortunately died in 2006, but Lorraine lives on to this day.
The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)
What's real: The story of Emily Rose actually follows the life of Annaliese Michel — a young girl living in Germany — very closely. According to a piece by The Washington Post, Michel was thought to be possessed in 1976. The woman who first suspected possession noted that, during a religious pilgrimage, she "would not walk past a certain image of Jesus, refused to drink water from a holy spring, and smelled bad — hellishly bad." After an attemped exorcism, Michel reportedly died of malnourishment and dehydration. Even the film's court case really happened — a German court found her parents and two priests guilty of manslaughter.
The Hills Have Eyes (2006)
What's real: Have you ever heard the legend of Sawney Bean? The earliest versions of the story date back to 1775; a loose version of the events on BBC traces the story back to Scotland. Bean was a Caledonian cannibal who assembled a clan of approximately 48 members, many of which were the product of incest. During his chilling 25-year reign, the group is thought to have killed and eaten more than 1,000 people. Wes Craven directly credited the Sawney Bean legend as his inspiration for The Hills Have Eyes. With heavy themes of incest, in-breeding, and cannibalism, it's not hard to make the correlation.
The Exorcist (1973)
What's real: Another book-to-movie adaptation, The Exorcist comes from a 1971 novel by William Peter Blatty. The origin of Blatty's book, though? It's actually inspired by the 1949 exorcism of a young boy who's since been referred to using the pseudonym "Roland Doe." There are plenty of online iterations of the story, including a piece from Yahoo that cites Doe's alleged "strange welts" and other markings, his purported aversion to anything sacred, and a strange, guttural speaking voice he sometimes presumably used. The Smithsonian Channel even recounted the exorcism story with witness accounts.
What's real: Most of the events of this prequel have been fabricated. Interestingly enough, though, the way we meet Annabelle in The Conjuring is very close to her real story. The official website of Ed and Lorraine Warren has an in-depth telling of Annabelle's tale, which details the way the doll moves, leaves notes, and inadvertently causes horrifying accidents. Annabelle is actually a Raggedy Ann doll in real life, and is currently being held safely in a glass case in the Warrens's Occult Museum.
The Amityville Horror (1979)
What's real: This film was adapted from the 1977 novel, written by Jay Anson. Anson's novel roots itself in the brutal true story of the Lutz family. A feature on ABC News has previously made an attempt to uncover the truth of the story — or lack thereof. According to ABC, "The house had been the scene of a horrible multiple murders a little over a year before, when 23-year-old Ronnie DeFeo went from room to room methodically shooting his parents and his four brothers and sisters in their beds." George Lutz, the father of the family, claimed they couldn't keep the house warm, no matter what they tried. The family members cited strange voices, odors, and sounds. Doors would slam. George Lutz woke up almost every morning at 3:15, the approximate time of DeFeo's murders. After 28 days, the Lutz family moved out.
The Haunting in Connecticut
What's real: The Haunting in Connecticut is based on very real — and very unsettling — events. People has written about the details of the family's haunting. In real life, Carmen Reed's son did have cancer. The whole family described "a malevolent force that took different forms and would on occasion slap, grope, [or] threaten" them. Reed said, "My son started seeing this young man with long black hair down all the way to his hips . . . he would talk to my son every day. Sometimes he would threaten him, other times he would stand there and just say his name." Nope.
Open Water (2003)
What's real: The film's events are directly inspired by real-life couple Tom and Eileen Lonergan, two American tourists who were left behind during a scuba diving excursion in 1998. The Guardian details the ordeal in full, mentioning the various bits of evidence that were discovered after the couple's disappearance. While there's no indication that the Lonergans met their end because of a bloodthirsty shark, their bodies were never recovered.
Deliver Us From Evil (2014)
What's real: Eric Bana's character in this film is inspired by a real man named Ralph Sarchie. USA Today pegs him as a retired police sergeant and "self-described demonologist assisting in spiritual exorcisms." Actually, Sarchie has written his own book about his various paranormal experiences. It's called Beware the Night, and it served as a foundation for Deliver Us From Evil. While the events of Sarchie's book are difficult to verify and easy to question — Sarchie himself says he encounters a lot of skeptics — he insists they chronicle his real experiences and beliefs.