There is nothing as terrifying as seeing the words “Based on true events” prior to the beginning of a horror film. It’s like getting an official confirmation that those monsters in your closet from childhood were actually real, and honestly, just the thought of it gives us heart palpitations.
Believe it or not, some of the most legendary horror flicks fit right into that category. And we’re not just talking about psycho killers and murder cases. We’re talking haunted houses, exorcisms, demon-possessed people, and killer dolls. You might be skeptical about the authenticity of these stories, or maybe you’re quick to dismiss the so-called “based on a true story” claims. However, we did a bit of digging and discovered that there actually is some truth to these horror films. See which ones were inspired by real-life events:
20. The Exorcist
When 12-year-old Regan starts to behave oddly, her mother consults numerous doctors – but none of them can help her. She eventually learns that her daughter has been possessed, and so she reaches out to two priests and requests an exorcism to get her daughter back.
The film is closely based on William Peter Blatty’s novel of the same name, and that book was inspired by the real life of an anonymous 14-year-old boy who was a demon possessed, apparently. He was very close to his aunt, who was a spiritualist, and she introduced him to the Ouija board. Shortly after her death, his family started to experience paranormal activity whenever he was around. So they called on a priest to perform a series of exorcisms on him. He went under the pseudonym “Roland Doe.”
19. Child’s Play
Six-year-old Andy gets a “Good Guy” doll from his mom on his birthday. However, both of them are unaware that the doll is possessed by the soul of serial killer.
Believe it or not, Child’s Play was really inspired by an allegedly haunted doll. It’s known as “Robert” and it’s currently on display at the East Martello Museum in Florida. It originally belonged to the Florida painter and author, Robert Eugene Otto. And apparently, it was given to him by his family’s abused female servant, who cursed the doll by using voodoo. Like Chucky, the Robert doll had the ability to walk, talk, laugh, and make facial expressions. Eugene’s parents claimed they even heard their son having conversations with the doll, and they’d hear it talking back.
…Yeah, never looking at dolls the same way again.
18. The Conjuring
When a family of seven moves to a farmhouse in Harrisville, Rhode Island, a series of mysterious, paranormal events begin to happen. After being taunted by spirits and suffering the loss of their dog, they contact a team of demonologists, Ed and Lorraine Warren, to investigate.
The story is closely based on the real-life story of the Perron family, who moved to a home in Rhode Island. Soon after their arrival, they’re said to have experienced supernatural events leading them to contact paranormal investigators, who found out that the home was haunted by the spirit of a witch. We should also note that The Conjuring 2, which focuses on mysterious ghost activity in a council house in England, was also inspired by a real-life event: the Enfield Poltergeist. There were actual claims of poltergeist activity at a council house in Enfield, England from 1977 to 1979.
17. Nightmare on Elm Street
Freddy Krueger is a suspected pedophile who gets burned alive by the parents of his victims. But after death, he returns as an evil spirit in the dream world. In an act of revenge, he begins to murder young teenagers in their sleep, one by one.
While the actual premise is made up, the film was inspired by news articles that reported the deaths of Cambodians, who all died while they were apparently having a nightmare. In the Los Angeles Times, it was also stated that some people refused to sleep because they feared it would lead to their deaths.
A marine biologist, a shark hunter, and a local police chief team up to hunt down a giant white shark that has been attacking and killing beach-goers on Amity Island in Jaws.
This was based on Peter Benchley’s book of the same name, which was inspired by the Jersey Shore shark attacks of 1916. Four people were killed and one was critically injured. The author was also inspired by a shark fisherman named Frank Mundus, who once caught a 4,500-pound white shark.
15. The Haunting in Connecticut
The film follows the Campbell family who, in an attempt to ease the stress of traveling for their cancer-stricken son, move to a home that’s closer to the hospital. However, they have no idea that they’ve moved into a place that’s filled with dangerous supernatural forces.
The movie was inspired by Carmen Reed and her family, who moved into an old house in Connecticut. She did an interview and revealed that, like the movie, her son did have cancer. She also revealed that the family also encountered spirits that would threaten or terrorize them, and it all began on the night that they moved in. Carmen 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, which was enough to scare him.”
Carmen also mentioned that two priests visited the house, but got scared and left. She reached out to a third priest who was finally able to do a three-hour exorcism and rid the house of evil.
14. The Exorcism of Emily Rose
Freddy Kruegeror her eventual death because they were never convinced that she was possessed, but rather, that she had medical issues. As a result, he’s put on trial for homicide.
This film is based on the alleged possession of a 16-year-old German girl named Anneliese Michel. Initially, she was diagnosed with psychosis and she suffered from severe depression. It got so bad that her family assumed she was possessed, so they reached out to a Catholic priest to perform an exorcism. It actually took two priests to successfully complete the ritual, which lasted over ten months. But shortly after, she died. Both of her parents and the priests were charged with negligent homicide.
In this scary movie, three American college grads take a road trip to Mexico to celebrate with a week of partying. However, one of them gets captured by an ancient Mexican cult that practices human sacrifice. The remaining two team up with a former cop to investigate.
The movie is based on the story of Adolfo de Jesús Constanzo, a Cuban-American serial killer and drug dealer who led a cult known as “The Narcosatanists.” In 1989, he abducted and murdered an American student named Mark Kilroy. And when police finally discovered that he and his cult were responsible, they raided his ranch and discovered fifteen mutilated corpses, including Mark’s.
12. The Possession
The Possession follows little Emily, a girl gifted with a pretty wooden box. But when she opens it, she becomes possessed because it turned out to be haunted.
The film was inspired by an actual dybbuk box, which is a wine cabinet that’s said to be haunted by a “dybbuk.” A dybbuk is an evil and restless spirit that has the ability to possess the living. That box was auctioned on eBay, along with a horror story that was written by actor Kevin Mannis. … We want nothing to do with it.
11. The Forest
After learning from Japanese police that her twin sister may be dead, Sara Price travels to the last place where she was seen: Aokigahara, also known as the suicide forest. Everyone is convinced that her twin must have killed herself, but Sara can sense that she’s still alive. So despite the risk, she goes to the forest with her new friend, Aiden. But things get messy when Sara starts to encounter demonic figures and spirits within the forest.
The film was inspired by the real suicide forest (also called Aokigahara), which is located at the northwest base of Mount Fuji in Japan. It’s one of the most popular destinations for suicide and, according to Japanese mythology, it’s a home for ghosts of the dead.
10. The Rite
When seminary student Michael Kovak attends a Vatican school of exorcism, he struggles with his own faith and has doubts about the practice. Even though he witnesses several exorcisms, he remains skeptical and assumes that psychiatry can be more useful. But then he encounters an evil force when he becomes the apprentice of Father Lucas, and it causes him to reconsider his beliefs.
The film is based on the book The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist by Matt Baglio. It’s based on real-life events that were witnessed by the former exorcist-in-training, Father Gary Thomas, as well as his own experiences while training in Rome.
9. The Strangers
A young couple (that’s going through some relationship issues) spend the evening at an isolated home in 2008’s The Strangers. But during their time there, they are terrorized by three masked home-invaders trying to kill them.
Director Bryan Bertino was actually inspired by two events while creating this film. One was the Tate murders, which was conducted by members of the Manson Family in 1969. They killed five people, including one pregnant woman. The second was a series of break-ins that took place in Bryan’s own neighborhood during his childhood. Creepy.
It’s by far one of the most disturbing films out there telling the story of a seemingly charming and charismatic guy who basically trains his girlfriend’s teenage son to become a bigoted and violent murderer — just like him. The boy becomes an accomplice to many tortures and murder sprees and the whole film just leaves the viewer feeling off.
This was based on the real-life Snowtown murders that took place in Australia between 1992 and 1999. John Bunting, Robert Wagner, and James Vlassakis committed several murders while Mark Haydon helped them dispose of the bodies. The pack was led by John, who convinced the others that their victims were pedophiles or homosexuals. Talk about sickening… It was one of the most publicized cases in Australian history.
7. From Hell
The film focuses on Inspector Frederick Abberline, an opium-addicted officer who investigates the Jack the Ripper murders.
Quite obviously, this was based on the story of Jack the Ripper, an unidentified serial killer who targeted female sex workers from the slums in London. He was connected to the murder of five women, whose bodies were found severely mutilated. They were known as the “canonical five,” but Jack the Ripper was apparently connected to several other murders too. Police had named over 100 suspects while attempting to pin down the real killer, but they weren’t successful.
Real estate secretary Marion Crane decides to steal some money from work because she’s struggling financially. But while she’s on the run, she stops at the Bates Hotel. Little does she know that she is in the company of a deranged, psycho killer.
This was a film-adaptation of Robert Bloch’s novel of the same name, and the novel was inspired by the Wisconsin murderer and body snatcher, Edward Gein. He confessed to killing two women, but in addition to that, he exhumed corpses from local graveyards and used their bones and flesh as decorative props and keepsakes. So for instance, among the things that police found in his home were a lampshade made from the skin of a human face, leggings made from human leg skin, and bowls made from human skulls. *Shudders*
5. Eaten Alive
A mentally-ill guy named Judd runs a sleazy motel in the swamps of Louisiana. Whenever he encounters a guest that threatens his business or fails to do his bidding, he feeds them to his pet alligator.
The movie was loosely based on the life of Joe Ball, also known as The Alligator Man. He was responsible for murdering over 20 women, and he apparently disposed of the bodies by feeding them to his pet alligators… So terrifying.
A team of four American journalists travel to the African country of Burundi to cover a story about a giant, killer crocodile. But aside from trying to capture the crocodile, they have to deal with a dangerous warlord who seems to be targeting them all.
Believe it or not, there really is a 20 foot, 2,200-pound, man-eating crocodile in Burundi. His name is Gustave (like the one in the movie), and he’s rumored to have killed over 300 people. There’s even a PBS documentary about him called Capturing the Killer Croc.
3. The Amityville Horror
A pair of newlyweds, George and Kathy Lutz, move into a new home in Amityville, New York, along with Kathy’s three kids. But they immediately start to experience paranormal events, not knowing that the place is actually haunted due to a mass murder happened there just a year prior.
This was based on a real case that was taken on by Ed and Lorraine Warren, and the Lutz family was real. They experienced a lot of paranormal activity in their home. But the making of the film caused some controversy and led to a lawsuit from the real George Lutz, who apparently was never contacted about the project. His case was never resolved by the time he passed away.
2. Silent House
Sarah, her father, and her uncle visit a run-down family home in order to fix it up. But eventually, the trio gets separated and Sarah gets trapped inside while experiencing what appears to be paranormal events. She has no contact with the outside world and she has some vivid hallucinations, making it tough for her to tell what is real.
It’s said that the film is based on an actual incident that occurred in a village in Uruguay in the 1940s, but there aren’t many details regarding what really happened.
1. Wolf Creek
In Australia, three backpackers are kidnapped by a seemingly-friendly local who turns out to be a psychopath. He holds them captive at an abandoned mining site and tortures them all.
The film was influenced by multiple events that occurred, but the main inspiration came from the abduction and murder of British backpacker Peter Falconio by Bradley John Murdoch. Bradley was also charged with assaulting and attempting to kidnap Peter’s girlfriend, Joanne Lees, who fortunately escaped. The film also drew inspiration from the backpacker murders, which were committed by Ivan Milat. He actually killed seven victims and buried them in a forest.