There’s nothing quite like making some popcorn, popping in a horror film and getting the pants scared off of you. Most horror movies are only scary while we’re watching them because we’re swept away in the drama and know they’re not real. The truth is that a few terrifying horror films are actually based on true stories, which makes them so frightening we never want to sleep with the lights off again.
These horror movies are based on true stories – so watch with caution.
The Exorcist (1973)
This 1973 film is renowned because of its creepy premise, but did you know it’s actually based on truth? The Exorcist movie is based on a book about a real life boy named Roland Doe. Doe was possessed by demons in 1949, and his possession was so frightening a litany of books detailing witness accounts have been written in its wake.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre may seem a little outlandish. Did a dude with a mask made of human skin really run around with a chainsaw terrorizing people? Sort of. Texas Chainsaw Massacre is actually based on the story of serial killer Ed Gein. When Gein was finally arrested he was found to have nine masks made from human skin – but that’s not all. Police searched the house and found whole human bones and fragments, a wastebasket made of human skin, chairs upholstered with human skin, skulls on his bedposts, a corset made from a female torso, bowls made of human skulls, leggings made from human skin and two human vulvas estimated to be from 15-year-old girls, among other body parts.
The Conjuring (2013)
The Conjuring was a massively popular film that pulled in a surprising $41.5 million during its opening weekend in 2013. The reason this film is so scary is because it’s true. The Conjuring film was based on the story of an 18th-century farmhouse in Rhode Island where Roger and Carolyn Perron and their five daughters were tormented by spirits. This occurred in the 1970s, but it was so frightening that Lorraine Warren, the medium depicted by the film’s main character, doesn’t like to talk about it.
“The things that went on there were just so incredibly frightening,” the 86-year-old said. “It still affects me to talk about it today.”
The Amityville Horror (1979)
The Amityville Horror was originally a book by author Jay Anson. The book was so frightening and popular that it was turned into a film which saw so much success it was remade in 2005. The truth behind the story is what made this franchise so successful. As the story goes, on November 13, 1974, police discovered all six members of the DeFeo family shot and killed execution-style in their home in Amityville, New York. Allegedly, the house was evil and drove the father to commit these murders. The people who moved in after the DeFeo family corroborate this story, claiming to they were haunted into leaving. A priest who blessed the home also heard a loud, threatening “Get Out!” from mysterious, disembodied voices.
Child’s Play (1988)
No one wants to ever believe a children’s toy can come to life and do some serious damage, unless it’s like Toy Story. Child’s Play is nothing like Toy Story, but unfortunately, it’s a whole lot more real. The script for the 1988 film was based on servant who put a voodoo curse on author Robert Eugene Otto. He was given the homemade “Robert the Doll” in 1906 when he was six years old. The servant was allegedly so mistreated by Otto’s family and recently suffered the loss of her own child. This drove her to use her skills in black magic to torment Robert. She transformed his childhood doll into a menace, which the family caught moving throughout the house, giggling, snickering and causing destruction.
Just like Texas Chainsaw Massacre was inspired by the insidious serial killer Ed Gein, so was Psycho. The main character in the film, Norman Bates, has a very strange relationship with his mother just like the real serial killer. Gein’s mother, Augusta, was a fanatical Christian who tried her best to instill the fear of God in her boys. She wouldn’t let them interact with people outside of school and constantly verbally abused her children. As an adult, Ed Gein still lived with his mother and picked up odd jobs to support her. After his brother’s mysterious death, his mom was all he had left. When she died from a stroke, things were never the same. Gein spiraled into insanity and became obsessed with dead people. He also sealed off every room in his house to be preserved as a shrine to his late mom.
The Forest (2016)
The actual events in the creepy thriller The Forest may not have actually occurred, but the premise is very, very real. The film takes place in Japan’s infamous Suicide Forest, called Aokigahara Forest. These woodlands are the subject of more than a couple urban legends. Aokigahara is allegedly home to angry souls called yūrei. These souls grow with each death they cause, and over the years as the forest’s death toll has grown, they’ve become insanely powerful. The forest has over 500 confirmed suicides since the 1950s and even more people have gone missing never to be found.
The Haunting In Connecticut (2009)
The psychological horror film The Haunting in Connecticut was scary only because it was totally real. The story behind it is so disturbing, it’s almost better to just not think about. The film was based on the tale of the Snedeker family who rented an old house in 1986. The family moved in with their three daughters and three sons, but when they explored the basement, they found some creepy things including tools used by morticians. The family discovered their home was an old funeral parlor and shortly after noticed the presence of malicious beings. The parents were both raped and sodomized by demons among other terrible, terrifying events.
A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984)
A Nightmare On Elm Street is a creepy classic. The film was so popular it was remade in 2010. Part of the reason the film is so creepy is because it deals with bad dreams. We all have them. We can’t avoid them, but what if they’re actually real? This film is actually sort of true, which is probably not something you want to hear as you’re drifting off to sleep or flipping through your phone before bed. The film was inspired by a group of Loatian refugees who died in the middle of a nightmare. When doctors did the autopsy, they found nothing wrong with any of the people who had died.
The Girl Next Door (2007)
The Girl Next Door plays on the idea of an unlikely villain, which is why it’s so scary. You never know who could be evil deep down beneath their innocent girlish veneer, and the real life girl next door was pure evil. The 2007 film is loosely based on what many people regard the worst crime to ever happen in Indiana State. The story began when Sylvia Likens’ mother was arrested for shoplifting and her father, unable to take care of his children, left them with a neighbor named Gertrude Banizewski. Banizewski already had seven children of her own and took care of Sylvia and her siblings for just $20 a week while their father was away. Banizewski violently tortured Sylvia and eventually murdered her.
Hard Candy (2005)
Hard Candy is often regarded as one of the most disturbing movies to ever have mainstream success. Plus, it has horror film legend Patrick Wilson (who went on to star in The Conjuring and Insidious, two of the scariest films of the last decade). The story behind the disturbing film is allegedly true. According producer David W. Higgins, the film was inspired by a 20/20 news story where young Japanese girls lured older men to a spot of their choice to have a meaningful conversation. Once these men were vulnerable and alone, they would get jumped by the whole gang of girls, who’d torture them and take all of their money.
Everyone knows how uncomfortable it can be to be in a sauna longer than the recommended amount of time. 247°F plays on this fear by telling the true story of a group of people who were literally locked in a sauna until they died. As the story goes, four friends were in a sauna and one left for the bathroom. He never ended up coming back and accidentally locked them inside. They slowly sweltered to death Final Destination tanning bed style. In real life, though, the story has a much happier ending. The friends managed to shut off the heat and the temperature slowly decreased over the next 10 hours that they were stuck in the sauna. No one actually died.
Not too many of us would complain about watching Jake Gyllenhaal star in a creepy-as-all-get-out film. The only problem is his creepy film was way too true and the killer was never found. Nothing like a good unsolved mystery to scare you into never leaving the house again. The film was based on the story of the Zodiac Killer, who terrorized Northern California in the ’60s and ’70s. No matter how many clues he left detectives (and there were plenty of clues), no one could ever figure out his true identity. He murdered victims all over Benicia, Vallejo, Lake Berryessa and San Francisco. Theoretically, he could still be out there, and if not him, there’s always room for a copycat. Let’s not think about that though!
The Strangers (2008)
There’s no denying that The Strangers is absolutely terrifying. No one wants to live with the thought of random people breaking into your home and torturing you. Unfortunately for us, this film was inspired by a true story. Yes, it can happen because it did. In the film, a couple is tormented by three masked strangers who seemingly have zero motivation to kill. They’re sick. The film was allegedly inspired by a childhood experience had by the filmmaker. Strangers knocked on his door while his parents were away and asked for someone who didn’t live there. He later found out that these people had broken in and robbed numerous homes. The filmmaker also cites the Manson Family murders as inspiration.
The Hills Have Eyes (1977)
The Hills Have Eyes is another Wes Craven horror masterpiece that was so popular it got a remake in 2006. The film follows a family who are tormented by a group of inbred, deformed cannibals. This actually comes from a Scottish tale about a 16th century criminal. Allegedly, people travelling through Ayreshire, Scotland went missing but authorities couldn’t ever find them. These deaths were attributed to Sawney Beane and his family who lived in a cave by the sea. They had no contact with the outside world and robbed and murdered anyone who came in their path, then ate the bodies.
Silence Of The Lambs (1991)
Like Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Psycho, the award-winning thriller Silence of the Lambs was partially inspired by serial killer Ed Gein. The terrifying serial killer Buffalo Bill was actually inspired by a number of real-life serial killers. Aside from Gein, Bill was inspired by Jerry Brudos, the Lust Killer, who strangled four women in the late ’60s and took pleasure in dressing up as a woman and sexually pleasuring himself after committing murder. He also took trophies like amputated feed. Ted Bundy, who raped and murdered young women and was connected to a whopping 36 murders in the ’70s, was also reportedly a major inspiration.
The Blob (1958)
The Blob ranks pretty high when you’re talking about ridiculous, outlandish horror films, but apparently the 1958 and 1988 Blob movies are based on a real incident. The incident occurred on September 26, 1950 in Philadelphia when two policemen saw what looked like a parachute come down from the sky. When they drove to the landing site, they saw an almost indescribable, sticky thing. Some accounts say it was six feet in diameter, filled with crystals and gave off a strange mist. When the officer stuck his hand inside, it was covered with an odorless, sticky residue. In real life, the strange being dissolved into nothing rather than wreaking havoc.
The Entity (1982)
The Entity is a terrifying film about a single mother who is assaulted by unseen (i.e. paranormal) force. The film was based on a book written by Frank Defelitta, which was based on a real-life story. According to reports, Doris Bither, of Culver City, California, was warned when she moved into her new Santa Monica home. Bither didn’t heed the warning and was battered and raped repeatedly by ghosts, demons and unseen forces. Paranormal investigators set up shop in her home and saw lights and poltergeist activity. They even saw a green mist that took the shape of a tall human male, which was so frightening an investigator fainted.
The Exorcism Of Emily Rose (2005)
There’s nothing like a good exorcism story to scare you into spraying holy water all over your room! Much like The Exorcist, The Exorcism of Emily Rose was based on a true story. The story followed the real-life tale of Anneliese Michel who became possessed by demons. When she was just 17 years old, Michel began to suffer from convulsions, which were diagnosed to be Grand Mal epilepsy. Curiously, she started hallucinating demons while she was praying and started to hear voices telling her she was damned. She became convinced that she was possessed and her parents withdrew her from the psychiatric clinic and took her to a real life exorcist. It allegedly took nearly a year to rid Michel of her demons, but modern day psychologists say Michel probably had schizophrenia and would have benefited from proper treatment.
The prequel to The Conjuring is just as real and just as scary as the film it precedes. Annabelle follows the story of a terrifying, possessed Raggedy Anne doll. The doll was originally purchased by a woman at a hobby shop who gifted it to her daughter. Her daughter, Donna, brought it with her when she moved into an apartment and started studying nursing. Donna and her roommate Angie would come home to find the doll in a different position or in a totally different room. The doll also left messages around the apartment that said “Help Us” and “Help Lou,” and the owners found small spots of blood on the doll’s chest with no explanation of where the blood could have come from. The doll eventually grew so powerful that it nearly killed Angie’s fiancé while he was sleeping.