Spooky season is finally upon us, and as such, it’s the perfect time to begin your annual horror movie binge. From Halloween to It, there are plenty of scary flicks out there to help you enjoy this special season, including those inspired by true stories. Some of our favorites have either taken inspiration from or completely based their plots on the true stories of real-life people. Somehow, it makes the experience that much scarier knowing that these events happened in real life, unearthing some of our greatest fears and giving them terrifying new life. Let’s get into the cult classics and fan-favorite horror films that are based on true stories, some of which may surprise you!
The Amityville Horror (2005)
In 1975, the Lutz family purchased a home for an exceptionally low price. Little did they know that it was because of the tragedy that had occurred there just one year prior. The Amityville house is one of the most famous haunted houses in America, and the movie starring Ryan Reynolds and Melissa George as the house’s new owners is nearly just as famous.
A year before George Lutz purchased the house, Ronald DeFeo Jr. shot his entire family dead. Once the Lutz family moved in, they reported all kinds of paranormal activity including a knife being knocked down when no one was there, a voice screaming “Get out!” at a priest hired to exorcize the house, and even Kathy Lutz and her two children levitating above their beds. While all of this is terrifying and makes for a great horror film, the Lutz family’s claims have been questioned due to their financial issues while owning the house as well as their lawyer claiming that they came up with the story while intoxicated.
The Exorcist (1973)
The classic horror movie that nearly every fan of the genre has seen is next. While there were no heads spinning around, there was definitely something going on in D.C. when this story happened in real time. While a pre-teen named Regan led the movie, the real event that The Exorcist is based on actually involved a young boy named Roland Doe, which was changed in the film to protect the family’s privacy. In 1949, after the death of his aunt, Roland began to experience strange things in his home: scratching sounds, water dripping from pipes and walls, and his mattress moving unexpectedly all on its own.
After seeking help, a priest made the decision to perform an exorcism but stopped in the middle after Roland broke free of his restraints, broke off a piece of his boxspring, and used it to cut the priest. After the exorcism, scratches were found on Roland’s body, one of which wrote out the word “Louis,” signaling his parents to go to St. Louis with their family. Another exorcism was performed on Roland, this time with multiple priests and assistants present. During the ritual, they witnessed scratches as well as the mattress moving. After that, things only got worse when they claimed that Roland was possessed by at least ten demons.
The story had a happy ending, though, after Roland was moved to Alexian Brothers Hospital. Another exorcism was performed, which caused seizures as well as the outburst, “Satan will always be with me!” The priests continued, however, calling on St. Michael to help them. In the end, Roland awoke and claimed to have seen St. Michael vanquishing the demons. He went on to live a normal life after that.
Another cult classic is Wes Craven’s serial killer spectacle Scream. Shockingly enough, this movie is also based on a true story and real-life serial killer the Gainesville Ripper, AKA Danny Rolling. In 1990, Rolling killed five students in the Gainesville area, one from Santa Fe College and four from the University of Florida. Each student was killed in their apartment and “posed” as to evoke more shock from the public. Because he killed with a knife, he was dubbed the Gainesville Ripper.
Although Rolling didn’t wear a mask like Ghostface, you can see the similarities in the way the two kill people: with a knife and an inclination for said posing of the bodies. Kevin Williamson began writing the film after reading an article about the Gainesville Ripper. He noticed an open window and realized how easy it could have been for someone to get in. The first Scream movie came out only six years after the murders, which is kind of bizarre when you realize what that could have done to the victims’ families. While there are definitely some differences between Ghostface and the real Gainesville Ripper, if you know the story’s inspiration, you can easily see it shine through in the movies.
Not putting Psycho on this list would do a disservice to all horror fans. After all, it practically ignited the horror genre as we know it. Based on the crimes of Ed Gein, otherwise known as the Butcher of Plainfield, Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece wasn’t the only horror film to draw inspiration from the real-life happening. Silence of the Lambs also took pieces of Gein’s story for the killer in the movie known as Buffalo Bill, who was also a butcher.
Gein would dismember his victims and then skin them, keeping their skin and bones for decor, dishware and, most disturbingly, as clothing. In Psycho, we see Norman Bates wearing his dead mother’s clothes, but the reality is so much worse. Gein would walk around his home dressed in dead women’s skin and also use the skin to make lampshades, chairs and other furniture covers. He was obsessed with the idea of death and, like Norman Bates, his mother. The similarities between the two are in plain sight but were also toned down for the movie, which is terrifying in itself.
The Conjuring Universe (2013-Present)
Probably the most successful horror films that are based on a true story⏤in this case multiple ones⏤are the ones in the Conjuring Universe. This collection of movies features Annabelle and its sequels, The Nun and The Conjuring series. The main characters throughout each film are Ed and Lorraine Warren, a husband-and-wife team of paranormal investigators. Each film is based on a real-life case that was documented by a real-life couple. Of course, the writers of the movie franchise have taken some liberties with the stories and characters. In reality, the pair weren’t as happily married or as in love as they are in the movies, which is heartbreaking after the most recent installment of the franchise, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It.
The Warrens’ most famous case was the one surrounding the Annabelle doll and its demonic possession. Unlike in the film, Annabelle was actually a Raggedy-Anne doll. She was a gift to Angie, a nursing student, and “lived” with her and her roommate, Donna. The two noticed that the doll would move on its own and also found hand-written notes from Annabelle scattered through their apartment when they returned home. Once the Warrens were brought in, they realized that the doll was looking to possess a human body. At this discovery, they exorcized the apartment and the doll, taking it home to the Warren Occult Museum so its inhuman spirit couldn’t reach anyone else.
There are many other horror films based on true stories, including Paranormal Activity, The Hills Have Eyes, and The Strangers. The more research you do about horror movies, the more you realize just how many of them took inspiration from real-life cases, which is as bone-chilling as many of the final on-screen products. However, I doubt it will stop any of us from watching some of them now that spooky season is finally here.
Which movies have you been most shocked to realize are inspired by true stories?