Here we present Horror Movie Web’s guide to the Top 20 ‘Horror Movie Based on True Story’.
“Monsters are as real as ghosts. They live in us and sometimes – they win,” said Stephen King, one of the most famous horror writers. He did not literally mean ghosts and monsters, but used these words to describe the dark side of man. And he was right. And whether he meant it or not, perhaps sometimes his statement was right in the literal sense too, as we see with the paranormal horror movies true stories in this list.
HMW’s Guide to the Top 20 Horror Movie Based on True Story
Below we bring you a selection of eerie films that are inspired by real people and based on true incidents. Keep in mind, that while they are based on true stories, these films are still made for entertainment, so don’t expect everything in them to be a literally retold as it happened in real-life.
In researching these films, it became clear that each horror movie based on true story tended to fall into one of two camps – ‘Killers’ or ‘Paranormal’ – with a few exceptions, so we have split the list up accordingly.
The films are listed in no particular order and it was not possible to choose just one (not to mention picking just one best film is a pretty futile exercise), so this list represents 20 equally ‘best’ true stories horror movies we have hand-picked for your enjoyment.
KILLERS Best Horror Movie Based on True Story
Here, Craven created one of the most recognizable villains in the history of film. In ‘Scream’, we explore the true story on which the film was based, and the panic and chaos that reigned during the five-day murders committed by Danny Rolling the so-called butcher from Gainesville.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) **Cult classic horror movie based on true story**
Tobe Hooper’s ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ follows a group of friends who visit the house where one of their relatives once lived, and they are soon haunted by Leatherface and his cannibal family. The film was advertised as a ‘true story’ and after its cinematic release was banned in several countries due to numerous complaints from the public about its violence. Michael Newton, author of ‘The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers’ and numerous other books based on real events, argues that there is truth to the film.
“The premise of the film draws on a real case from the 1950s in the state of Wisconsin, and includes a man named Edward Gein… Crazy Ed, like Hooper’s character Leatherface, wore the scalps and faces of his victims and decorated his farmhouse with human remains.” Newton says there is no evidence that Gein enjoyed cannibalism, but he doesn’t rule out that possibility: “The officers who arrested Gein found the heart of one of the victims in a pan on his oven.” Gein killed two women and exhumed dozens of corpses from local cemeteries. He was sentenced to treatment in a psychiatric institution. Gein’s crimes allegedly served as the inspiration for several other films, including classics such as ‘Psycho’ and ‘Silence of the Lambs’.
Another horror movie based on true story, inspired by Ed Gain. Have you ever loved someone so much that you guarded their bodies after their death?! Just look at what one of the most notorious American serial killers is doing.
The Girl Next Door (2007)
Based on the novel of the same name by Jack Ketchum, the film details the horrific torture and harassment of a teenage girl cared for by her aunt. The story is based on the murder of 16-year-old Sylvia Marie Likens. The teenager was tortured to death in 1965 by her aunt Gertrude Baniszewski, as well as her children who also lived in the house. At trial, the prosecutor described Sylvia’s death as ‘the most horrific crime ever committed in the state of Indiana’.
The Hills Have Eyes (2006)
‘The Hills Have Eyes’ is a disturbing horror movie based on true story, about cannibals who live in the hills of the US state of Nevada. It is inspired by the story of the Sawney Bean clan, a group of alleged cannibals believed to have lived in a cave in Scotland in the 16th century that looted, killed and ate their victims.
The film ‘Borderland’ is based on the true story of Mexican serial killer Adolf Constanz. Adolfo learnt to sacrifice animals from his mother who performed voodoo rituals and was considered a witch. When he grew up, he began to apply the skills he learnt to people. In addition to being a maniac, he was also a cannibal.
The Dentist (1996)
We are sure of one thing, after watching this movie, going to the dentist will be a real nightmare for you. The film is based on the true story of a dentist who turned out to be a serial killer.
I Spit on Your Grave (1978) **Cult classic horror movie based on true story**
Writer/Director Meir Zarchi took the inspiration for the film from his own experiences in Central Park in 1974. There he came across a woman who had been raped and beaten, but when he took her to the police, she was allegedly treated unfairly. Zarchi said the character of Jennifer Hills came from that incident, playing a woman who takes matters into her own hands. The film is ridiculously violent, and we can’t even embed the trailer here because it is blocked in some regions (go look for it if you’re curious).
Wolf Creek (2005)
Two men provided the inspiration for Greg McLean’s film. The first was Ivan Milat, who kidnapped hitchhikers and tortured them in the woods in the 1990s, and the second was Bradley John Murdoch, who was responsible for the murder of a British tourist.
PARANORMAL Best Horror Movie Based on True Story
Deliver Us from Evil (2014)
The supernatural thriller ‘Deliver Us from Evil’ is a film based on real cases led by New York police officer Ralph Sarchie (who also wrote a book). It is a tense horror/thriller in which the aforementioned police officer, in addition to struggling with personal problems, begins to investigate a series of disgusting and unexplained crimes. He soon joins forces with a priest who knows a lot about exorcism rituals. They work together to fight the demonic phenomena that terrorizes the city.
The director of the film is Scott Derrickson, probably best known to a wider audience for directing another horror movie based on true events – ‘The Exorcism of Emily Rose’. The screenplay for the film is co-written with Paul Harris Boardman, who also wrote the screenplay for ‘The Exorcism of Emily Rose’.
The Exorcist (1973) **Cult classic horror movie based on true story**
The plot of this cult 1973 classic revolves around the demonic possession of a 12-year-old girl and follows her mother’s desperate attempts to save her possessed child through exorcism. Judging by Brian Dunning’s statements, some scenes of this film were not made up and happened in reality: “The film is based on the real case of an unknown boy from 1949 under the pseudonym Robbie Mannheim or Roland Doe”. The boy survived and resumed a normal life, mostly because the whole case was not as dramatic as shown in the film itself.
The Amityville Horror (1979, 2005)
The plot of ‘The Amityville Horror’ revolves around the Lutz family and the strange manifestations they allegedly witnessed after they moved into a house in New York, where the entire family that previously lived in it was brutally murdered. The film is based on the book of the same name published in 1977, which inspired several other successful horror films including the already mentioned ‘Exorcist’. The cover stated that it was a ‘true story’ and the book thereby found its way onto the true crime shelves in bookstores around the world. Since then, a dozen more films have been made based on the same story.
But is this really the true story? “It is true that the film contains a certain fiction; but if we are to be objective, the book by Jay Anson also contained a fair amount of fictional elements, exaggeration and artistic freedom,” said Dan Nolte, author of amityvillefaq.com. However, Nolte also argues that fiction should not overshadow the real-life incidents experienced by the Lutz family, which included “depictions of human-like ghosts, moving beds up and down” and other paranormal events. “All Hollywood wants is to make a good horror film and no one can blame it for that. People in Hollywood are known to like to fictionalize real events. A large part of the film is a true story, and only some parts are fictional” said Nolte.
The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)
Film critic Roger Ebert called ‘Emily Rose’s Exorcism’ an “intriguing, confusing film achievement.” The plot of the film follows the trial of Richard Moore, a priest accused of killing a young girl, Emily Rose. The girl died as a result of a failed exorcism. Judging by the statements of the author Brian Dunning, certain parts of the film are by no means fiction. “The story is based on the 1976 case of German girl Anneliese Michel who died of dehydration and starvation after months of intense exorcism by two Catholic priests… Anneliese was subjected to psychiatric treatment for many years and today we believe she suffered from schizophrenia and acute personality disorder” says Dunning. Dunning also adds that Michelin’s parents and two priests were subsequently found guilty of murder and that the case itself inspired some members of the Catholic Church to reform the exorcism ritual.
The Conjuring (2013)
Ed and Lorraine Warren were real-life paranormal researchers who claim to have investigated more than 10,000 cases in their careers. One of these cases was the Perron family, whose home was haunted by a malicious witch named Bathsheba Sheran, who lived there in the 19th century. From the beginning of its distribution, its veracity was doubted. Ed Warren died in 2006, and his 86-year-old wife was not available for comment. However, Tony Spera, Head of the New England Society for Psychic Research, an organization founded by the Warrens in 1952, said the events in the film were true. “The film is very similar to the actual events that traumatized the family,” Spera said. “Unusual banging, sounds, scratching, images of ghosts and a frightening sense of presence are really the events that took place in that house.”
The Conjuring 2 (2016)
Known as the English Amityville, the Poltergeist of Enfield is one of the best and most documented cases of the paranormal in the world. In this film, we again see Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) in the role of paranormal investigators, who travel to England. The story is based on true events that took place in a house in the English town of Brimsdown between 1977 and 1979. Ed Warren cited this case as one of the most horrific experiences of his career. This case is the subject of numerous books, documentaries, horror and TV series.
The Rite (2011)
If you love stories and movies about exorcism, this is the right thing for you. Based on the life of one of the most famous American exorcists, Father Gary Thomas, this horror will simply blow you away.
Verónica is a supernatural horror based on true events from the early 90s and show us what happens when the ouija board game turns into a creepy reality. At the very end of the film, you can even see real photos taken by the police who responded to the call for help on June 15, 1991. Veronica is actually 14-year-old Estefania Gutierrez Lázaro from Vallecas (southern Madrid), who tragically passed away in August 1991. According to her parents, Estefania became interested in the occult as a teenager.
OTHER Best Horror Movie Based on True Story
The plot of the film ‘Primeval’ from 2007 revolves around a team of journalists who were sent to Burundi to film a huge, seven and a half meter long crocodile. But, as in all horror movies, the task turns out to be by no means simple and soon becomes deadly when the group is attacked by a giant crocodile. The giant seven-and-a-half-meter-long crocodile may seem unrealistic to viewers, but the inspiration that served for the film was a crocodile six meters long, weighing over 900 kilograms. Gustave, as the crocodile was called, lived in the Nile River and is believed to be responsible for the deaths of hundreds of villagers in Burundi. However, the details of the film (like its main protagonists) are entirely fictional judging by the writings of Michael McRae, a journalist who has written extensively about Gustave in National Geographic.
The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988)
In the film, an anthropologist from Harvard goes to Haiti to explore the voodoo rituals by which people are transformed into zombies with the help of a mysterious plant powder. Wes Craven’s film is based on a book by anthropologist Wade Davis. Davis really researched the process of turning people into zombies and voodoo rituals in Haiti and wrote a scientific paper about it. The book has been sharply criticized in scientific circles, but Davis claims it is all true.
Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) **Cult classic horror movie based on true story**
What better way to end our horror movies true stories list than with ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’? When Wes Craven made the film ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ 31 years ago, you can be sure that many people could not sleep at night. Freddy Krueger’s face is hard to forget. But Freddy Krueger, it turns out, is not the only reason people could not sleep. One of the most interesting aspects of this film is the story on which Wes Craven based his masterpiece. In early 1981, an unusual story appeared in newspapers about young people suffering from horrible nightmares, with some reportedly dying in their sleep.
Wes was particularly intrigued by the story of a young man who was driven to the brink of madness by his nightmares. The young man believed he would die if he fell asleep, so he drank large amounts of coffee and took pills to help him stay awake. His father, a psychiatrist, prescribed him sleeping pills that he did not want to take. When he finally fell asleep after three days, his parents were awakened by eerie screams coming from his room. They ran into the room but it was too late, the young man died in his sleep. Under his pillow they found sleeping pills he hadn’t taken and a coffee machine hidden in the closet.
That’s how the idea for the film came. But what actually happened? The young man suffered from a rare disorder known as Bangungot or Sudden Night Death Syndrome. In the early 1980s, an epidemic of this gruesome syndrome appears to have occurred in the Philippines. Many young men refused to sleep because in their sleep they were, as they claimed, haunted by demons. Wes collected newspaper articles on the subject and built upon them a whole franchise of films based on dreams and nightmares. In the film, young people are haunted by Freddy Krueger, the ghost of a murderer and child abuser, who was captured by his parents and burned alive. The idea for Freddy’s famous glove with knives came to Wes while watching his cat sharpen his claws.