Huffpost Weird News
David Lohr Headshot

13 Horror Films Inspired By Disturbing Real-Life Events

Posted: Updated:
HORROR CRIME
Horror films inspired by disturbing real-life events. | Getty Images

BOO! With Halloween upon us, HuffPost Weird News has assembled a list of 13 horror films that were inspired by disturbing real-life events.

These films aren't the best or the worst, but the fact that they're based on real life horror stories only makes them more chilling.

  • 1
    The Conjuring
    Released in 2013, "The Conjuring," starring Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, is about two paranormal investigators -- Ed Warren and his wife, Lorraine – and their investigation of a family that was supposedly terrorized by a dark presence when they moved into a Rhode Island farmhouse in the 1970s. The film was promoted heavily as being "based on a true story" prior to its release. Since the film's release, some viewers have called into question the veracity of the accounts that were detailed on the silver screen. Ed Warren died in 2006 and his 86-year-old wife was unavailable for comment, but HuffPost did find someone familiar with the pair. Tony Spera, director of the New England Society for Psychic Research – an organization founded by the Warrens in 1952 – said the film is about as real as it gets. "The movie is very close to the actual events that traumatized the family," Spera said. "Banging sounds, rapping noises, ghostly images and the presence of the witch were [all] occurrences that actually transpired in that house." Spera also said the depictions of the Warrens were "spot on" and commented that Farmiga's performance left him "slack jawed."
  • 2
    The Exorcism Of Emily Rose
    Famed film critic Roger Ebert called "The Exorcism of Emily Rose" an "intriguing and perplexing movie." The 2005 film follows the trial of Father Richard Moore, a priest played by actor Tom Wilkinson, who is charged with negligent homicide in the death of Emily Rose. The young girl supposedly died as a result of a failed exorcism. According to Brian Dunning, a writer who hosts the weekly podcast, Skeptoid, there is some real world DNA inside the cinematic feature. "[The] story is based on the 1976 case of the German girl Anneliese Michel, who died of dehydration and starvation after months of intensive exorcism activity by two Catholic priests ... Anneliese had been undergoing psychiatric treatment for many years, and today we believe she suffered from both schizophrenia and dissociative identity disorder," Dunning told HuffPost. Dunning said Michel's parents and the two priests were ultimately found guilty of manslaughter, and the case inspired some members of the Catholic Church to reform parts of the exorcism ritual. However, those reforms were largely ignored. "Psychiatrists today agree that exorcism does far more psychological harm than good," Dunning said.
  • 3
    Eaten Alive
    Directed by Tobe Hooper, a popular screenwriter and producer, the 1977 horror film "Eaten Alive," follows the story of a Texas hotel owner who has a penchant for murder and feeds his victims to a large pet crocodile. The film is said to be inspired by Joe Ball, a bootlegger and alleged serial killer, who operated the Sociable Inn in Elmendorf, Texas, in the early 1900s. The DVD release also includes a mini documentary about Ball. Truth be told, the only similarity between Ball and his supposed movie counterpart "Judd" is that both men have an apparent affection for crocodilians. Ball, who kept a pond full of alligators next to his inn, committed suicide in 1938, after police questioned him about the disappearance of his wife and former girlfriend. A handyman who worked for Ball allegedly admitted to helping his boss dispose of the bodies of the two missing women and led police to their remains. It was known that Ball often fed animals to his gators, so police officers searched the pond but found no human remains. Despite the lack of evidence, rumors persisted that Ball had killed as many as 30 women and fed their bodies to his alligators.
  • 4
    The Mothman Prophecies
    Released to theatres in 2002, "The Mothman Prophecies" follows John Klein, played by Richard Gere, as he leaves his Washington newspaper job to investigate sightings of winged creatures, referred to as "mothmen," in a small West Virginia town. The film claims to be based on actual events that occurred in Point Pleasant, W.Va., between November 1966 and December 1967. Loren Coleman, founder and director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine, was a consultant during the production of "The Mothman Prophecies." According to Coleman, the film, which is based on the 1975 book of the same name by parapsychologist John Keel, is a fictionalized narrative of actual events. "'The Mothman Prophecies’ is based in reality, but the film is [director] Mark Pellington's docudrama/fictionalized narrative motion picture of the events," Coleman told HuffPost. "The characters ... were created from parts of the personality and experiences of ... Keel. Even the character names are formed via movie scriptwriters as puns, for example [Alexander] Leek [is] Keel backwards."
  • 5
    JAWS
    The 1975 film "JAWS" is based on Peter Benchley's novel of the same name. The movie stars Roy Scheider as Brody, a police chief on the small island of Amity who goes on the hunt for a killer great white shark. It is often reported that the story was inspired by real-life shark attacks that plagued the New Jersey shoreline in 1916. "There are some similarities between the 1916 New Jersey shark attacks and 'JAWS,'" Jake Gove, founder and creator of the fan community Jawsmovie.com, told HuffPost. "The 1916 attacks were during the summer tourist season," Gove continued. "After the first attack, an official publicly downplayed the danger ... The beaches remained open and groups of vigilantes hunted the waters looking for the shark with no success." Each of the actual events to which Gove refers is also depicted in the film. Is this a coincidence? "In 2001 ... Benchley actually denied that the 1916 attacks were an inspiration for his book and the subsequent movie. The New York Times had printed an item about the connection between the two and Benchley got them to print a correction," Gove said. But that doesn't mean the shark tales were not inspirational for the moviemakers. Gove pointed out that, in the movie, the character Brody mentions the 1916 shark attacks, indicating the incident was "definitely on the radar of 'JAWS' screenwriter Carl Gottlieb and director Steven Spielberg."
  • 6
    The Amityville Horror
    The 1979 film "The Amityville Horror" was about the Lutz family and the strange manifestations they allegedly witnessed when they moved into a New York home where a family was brutally murdered. The movie was based on a book of the same name that was published by Prentice-Hall in 1977. The book included a series of intervallic scenes evocative of several successful horror films, most notably "The Exorcist." Nonetheless, since its jacket was emblazoned with the words "True Story," the book was placed in the true crime section of bookstores around the world. Since that time, a number of other films about the story have been made. But is the story true? "Yes, the film contains some fiction; but to be fair, the original book by Jay Anson also contained a healthy dose of fictional elements, exaggerations and artistic license," said Dan Nolte, creator of Amityvillefaq.com. However, Nolte said the fictional elements should not downplay the Lutzes' "real-life experiences," which included "seeing phantom human-like apparitions, beds slamming up and down" and other paranormal events. "Hollywood is out to make a good horror movie. I can't fault them for that. They are known for fictionalizing true life events. Frankly, in order to present a good, clear story, you must alter certain aspects. Unfortunately, many people have called the Lutzes' story a hoax, based on Hollywood's version of their story. They must remember that this film is not a documentary. A lot of the film is true to life, but some important parts are fiction," Nolte said.
  • 7
    The Girl Next Door
    Based on the Jack Ketchum novel of the same name, the 2007 film "The Girl Next Door" details the horrific torture and abuse of a teenage girl who was being cared for by her aunt. In his Oct. 2, 2007 review of the film, Village Voice writer Nick Pinkerton described the 14-year-old victim in the film as a "repository for every imaginable abuse, up to and including blowtorch clitorectomy." The inspiration for the film came from the real-life murder of 16-year-old Sylvia Marie Likens. The teenager was tortured to death in 1965 by Gertrude Baniszewski, Gertrude's children, and other young people. The prosecutor in Baniszewski's trial described Likens' death as, "the most terrible crime ever committed in the state of Indiana." According to John McCormick, creator of the Sylvia Likens Memorial website, the film is not entirely in line with the facts of the case. "Sylvia was never raped by any of the boys; however, she was forced to use a Coke bottle on herself in front them," McCormick said. He also pointed out that Likens was branded on her chest but she was never burned with a torch on her privates, as was portrayed in the film, and the teen was not actually related to the Baniszewskis. McCormick said, "An American Crime," another movie inspired by the case, is "more accurate" but "downplayed the roles of some of the family members in Sylvia’s torture."
  • 8
    The Blob
    If you are a lover of horror films, you have most likely seen the 1958 film, "The Blob." If you haven't, put it in your Netflix queue. The independent film, which was Steve McQueen's debut leading role, is about a growing amoeba-like alien that comes to Earth from outer space and wreaks havoc on the small community of Downingtown, Pa. The film was supposedly based on reports about a mysterious gelatinous purple object that crashed in a farmer's field outside of Philadelphia in 1950. The discovery was noted in a New York Times article on Sept. 28, 1950. According to the article, two Philadelphia police officers saw the object float down to Earth, but were unable to pick it up. "The part touched by his hand dissolved ... leaving a sticky, odorless residue. Within a half hour the entire object had evaporated," a patrolman said, according to the news report. The FBI was notified, but when they went to examine the find, there was nothing left but a spot on the ground.
  • 9
    A Nightmare on Elm Street
    Wes Craven's 1984 film "A Nightmare on Elm Street" is one of the most memorable horror films ever produced. The movie's primary antagonist, Freddy Krueger, is a quintessential boogieman and murderer who stalks his victims in their dreams and uses a glove fitted with razors for killing purposes. In 2012, The New York Times selected the film for inclusion in its list of The Best 1000 Movies Ever Made. Was this disfigured serial killer actually inspired by real life events? According to Craven, the answer is yes. "It was a series of articles in the LA Times ... about men from Southeast Asia, who were from immigrant families and who had died in the middle of nightmares ... One was the son of a physician. He was about 21 ... Everybody in his family said almost exactly these lines: 'You must sleep.' He said, 'No, you don't understand; I've had nightmares before -- this is different.' He was given sleeping pills and told to take them ... Everybody went to bed, thinking it was all over. In the middle of the night, they heard screams and crashing. They ran into the room, and by the time they got to him he was dead. They had an autopsy performed, and there was no heart attack; he just had died for unexplained reasons," Craven said in an October 2008 interview with Cinefantastique. According to Will Watson, administrator of Nightmareonelmstreetfilms.com, Craven details the stories about the men from Southeast Asia, as well as other real-life inspirations behind the film, in a 2010 documentary called "Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy."
  • 10
    The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
    Another Tobe Hooper film, 1974's "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" is about a group of friends who visit a house in which one of their relatives once lived and are hunted down by a chainsaw wielding killer named Leatherface and his family of cannibals. The film was marketed as a "true story," and, upon its release, was banned in several countries due to numerous complaints about its violence. According to Michael Newton, author of "The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers" and numerous other true crime books, there is a bit of truth to the film. "The [movie] is rooted in the real-life 1950s case of Wisconsin's Edward Gein," Newton told HuffPost. "Crazy Ed, like Hooper's Leatherface character, wore the skinned-out scalps and faces of his victims and decorated his farmhouse with human remains." Newton said there is no proof that Gein indulged in cannibalism, but the suggestion is there. "Arresting officers did find a victim's heart in a pan atop Gein's stove," he said. "When asked if he planned to eat it, Gein allegedly replied, 'Do you think I'm crazy?'" Gein’s crimes are said to be the inspiration for several other films, including, "Psycho" and "The Silence of the Lambs."
  • 11
    Primeval
    The plot for the 2007 film "Primeval" centers on a news team that is sent to Burundi to capture a legendary 25-foot crocodile. But, as with all horror films, the task is easier said than done and turns even deadlier when the group is targeted by an African warlord. A gigantic 25-foot crocodile may seem unrealistic to viewers of the film, but the inspiration behind the film was, in actuality, roughly 20 feet long and some 2,000 pounds. Named Gustave, the large Nile crocodile is believed to be responsible for the deaths of hundreds of villagers in Burundi. However, the details of the film, like the main protagonist, are a croc, according to Michael McRae, a journalist who has written extensively about Gustave for National Geographic. "I thought the movie was a cheesy 'gorefest' but kinda campy, too," McRae told HuffPost. "And as in Hollywood, the writer who provided the inspiration for the script got stiffed." McRae said he is not alone in his disdain for the film. He claimed Patrice Faye, the amateur herpetologist expat who created the legend of Gustave, called the film, "an insult to purists and herpetologists but, above all, an insult to Burundi."
  • 12
    The Haunting in Connecticut
    Within the similar vein of "The Amityville Horror," the 2009 film "The Haunting in Connecticut," chronicles the experiences of a family that is exposed to supernatural behavior in their new home, which was a former mortuary. The film was inspired by events Carmen Reed and her family claim happened to them while living in Southington, Conn., in the 1980s. "There were a lot of things that were very accurate, [but they also] changed a lot of things around and turned it into Hollywood," Reed told HuffPost. One of the inaccuracies was a scene in the movie where a shower curtain nearly suffocated Reed's niece. "[What they portrayed] was very accurate, but the shower curtain scene happened to me, not my niece," Reed said. The seances depicted in the movie also never occurred, but the exorcism of the demons was a reality, according to Reed. "They were going for a PG-13 rating, so they couldn't put a lot of the events in there [because] they were more intense," Reed said.
  • 13
    The Exorcist
    You can't talk horror films with a true film buff without "The Exorcist" coming up at some point in the conversation. The 1973 cult classic is about the demonic possession of a 12-year-old girl. It chronicles her mother's attempts to win back her child from the demon that possesses her through an exorcism conducted by two priests. According to Brian Dunning, host of the weekly podcast Skeptoid, there is some truth behind the scenes of the horror film. "The [movie] was based on the actual case of an anonymous boy in 1949, given the pseudonyms Robbie Mannheim or Roland Doe," Dunning told HuffPost. "The boy survived and went on to have a normal life, largely because his actual case was not nearly [as] dramatic as what was depicted in the movie." Dunning said "The Exorcist" was not only inspired by an existing story but was also hugely influential for many other horror stories that followed. "In the lawsuits seeking royalties following the success of 'The Amityville Horror' book and movie, it came out that publisher Prentice Hall was actively looking for stories to ride the wave of popularity of 'The Exorcist.' The judge even rebuked 'The Amityville Horror' creators for writing fiction [and for] trying to copy 'The Exorcist,'" Dunning said.

So there you have it: 13 horror films inspired by real-life horrors. Now it’s time to dim the lights and pop in your favorite horror DVD -– the perfect formula to get your fear on in preparation for All Hallows' Eve.

Around the Web

10 Horror Movies Based on Actual Events | List | FEARnet

Horror Films You Didn't Realize Were Based on True Stories ...

7 Actual True Story Horror Movies - HorrorMovies.ca

10 Horror Movies Based On Disturbing Real Life Events - WhatCulture!

Top 5 Horror Movies Based on True Events | Scene Creek