What’s scarier than a horror movie? Sometimes it’s the real-life stories on which they’re based. Killer dolls, killer nightmares and killer sharks all exist in real life… sort of. At least that's what some people say. You’ll be surprised just how true-to-life some of your favorite horror movies are.
1. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984): Don’t worry about going to sleep tonight. There’s no real-life Freddy Krueger. However, Wes Craven was inspired by a study about Southeast Asian immigrants having nightmares so disturbing they refused to sleep. Some later died in their sleep, quite possibly while having such nightmares. For whatever reason, only men were impacted by these nightmares. There’s no real-life Nancy, either.
2. The Exorcist (1973): How “real” you think the demonic possession was depends heavily on your view of the world. However, what did happen is that Roland Doe was the subject of one of the few 20th Century exorcisms in the United States. What actually happened between “Doe” (a pseudonym), 14 at the time of his exorcism, and Father Edward Hughes, is hard to tell. Much of what we know about the case is hearsay. Possessed, made in 2000, is specifically about the Doe case, but not nearly as good.
3. The Amityville Horror (1979): You’ll never look at flies the same way again. The book is allegedly a faithful telling of events after the Lutz family moved into a haunted house in Amityville, Long Island. The haunting tales are largely regarded as a hoax. No other resident of the famous Dutch colonial has ever reported any problems other than weirdo fans of the book and movie hanging out around the house.
4. The Hills Have Eyes (1977): The Hills Have Eyes is perhaps based more in legend than reality. Sawney Bean was a Scots clan leader who had 14 children, many of whom might have been inbred. They were said to have killed and eaten people and even lived in caves. However, no one can pin down a date for when Bean lived, with accounts varying from the 13th to the 16th centuries. Some believe the accounts of his savagery were exaggerated, while others believe he was fabricated completely.
5. The Girl Next Door (2007): This one is almost too disturbing to mention. Almost. Sylvia Likens and her sister were left by her carny parents with a neighbor. While the mother initially encouraged abuse against both girls, it soon focused solely on Sylvia. The tortures 16-year-old Likens endured tested the limits of human cruelty and have been described as the most horrific in Indiana history. The mother and her children all received lengthy prison terms.
6. Ravenous (1999): The pedantic among you will be quick to note that this is a dark comedy and not a horror film as such. Well, it’s gory and it’s too damn good to leave off. Ravenous is based loosely on the Donner Party and Alfred Packer, two of the most famous cannibal stories in American history. The central conceit of the film is that eating human flesh is addictive and not a one-off lark.
7. Jaws (1976): Shark fanciers are quick to point out that sharks behave little like the Great White in Jaws, but the attacks on Amity are based on true events on the Jersey Shore in 1916. All told, five people were attacked in less than two weeks at three locations along the Jersey Shore, causing paranoia and panicked shark hunts. None of the sharks descendents hunted the hunters down to the Caribbean, calling the veracity of Jaws: The Revenge into question.
8. Child’s Play (1988): Killer dolls certainly aren’t real… or are they? Well, “Robert the Doll” is a famous voodoo doll from Key West presented to Robert “Gene” Eugene Otto, known for very odd behavior across generations. The doll was accused of talking on its own, mutilating other toys belonging to Gene and tying up a family dog. Robert now lives safely behind a thick sheet of glass in a museum.
9. The Entity (1982): Hauntings that just go bump in the night are scary enough. The Entity is about an alleged haunting that went way further than that. Doris Bither believed the ghost of three Asian men combined into a single entity repeatedly raped her in her Culver City, CA home. Two paranormal investigators eventually came and evaluated her claims but their findings are shrouded in obscurity.
10. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974): The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one of a slew of films based on the real-life case of Ed Gein, the first American mass murderer to become the focus of media attention. Little of the actual Gein case remains in the film, save for the suit of skin worn by Leatherface. Click here to read more about films based on various aspects of the Gein case.