In our opinion, when a horror film is based on a true story, the movie is automatically much more frightening. We never want to believe that there could be any possibility of truths in the absolutely terrifying movies on our screens. Here are some of the scariest movies that are based on real-life historical events. Next time we watch these movies, we will definitely need to have all lights in our house turned on.
1. A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984)
The 2010 slasher film A Nightmare On Elm Street is about a group of teenagers who all live on the same street. While they are asleep and dreaming, the kids are stalked and murdered by a disfigured man named Freddy Krueger. Although this movie sounds horrifying, it is even scarier to learn it is based on actual events.
Writer and director Wes Craven gave an interview in 2014 in which he admits he took inspiration for the movie from an article he read in the L.A. Times in the 80s. The article details a family who survived the Killing Fields in Cambodia and escaped to the United States. However, the young boy in the family was still haunted by terrible nightmares about what he experienced in Cambodia.
According to Craven, “[the little boy] told his parents he was afraid that if he slept, the thing chasing him would get him, so he tried to stay awake for days at a time. When he finally fell asleep, his parents thought this crisis was over. Then they heard screams in the middle of the night. By the time they got to him, he was dead. He died in the middle of a nightmare. Here was a youngster having a vision of horror that everyone older was denying. That became the central line of Nightmare of Elm Street.”
This story is so tragic that it inspired one of the scariest movies of the 1980s and spawned an entire franchise of movies.
2. Orphan (2009)
Even if Orphan wasn’t based on a true story, it would be an extremely horrifying film. After a married couple lost their baby, they decided to adopt a nine-year-old girl. However, it becomes apparent that the adopted daughter is not who she says she is and becomes increasingly becomes much more sinister and violent. It turns out the girl is actually a 33-year-old woman who then tries to kill her adopted parents.
The movie was inspired by Barbora Skrlová, a 33-year-old Czechoslovakian woman posing as a 13-year-old schoolboy in Norway after running away from a family where she had facilitated extreme child abuse on the family’s other children.
Following Orphan’s release, an Indiana couple found themselves in a much-too similar situation to the plot of Orphan when they adopted a six-year-old Ukrainian girl named Natalia Grace. After Natalia had been with the family for a few weeks she started acting strangely, convincing the mother that their adopted daughter was actually an adult woman. It was partially because Natalia Grace had a sophisticated way of speaking and was not interested in playing with toys. In 2013, the family put Natalia up in an apartment in Lafayette, Indiana, and paid her rent. They then moved to Canada and left Natalia behind.
3. Annabelle (2014)
Dolls aren’t alive… right? The 2014 movie Annabelle takes a more sinister spin on a Toy Story-like movie. Instead of Annabelle being a happy toy that comes alive when her owners aren’t looking, she is actually a creepy doll possessed by a demon. The film follows a couple who purchase a vintage porcelain doll to help welcome their new baby, but the doll soon becomes violent and dangerous.
Although the characters and storyline of Annabelle are all largely fiction, the possessed doll itself took inspiration from real-life events. The real Annabelle is an (allegedly) haunted Raggedy Ann Doll housed at (a now closed) occult museum owned by paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren. According to legend, a nursing student received a Raggedy Ann Doll from her mother as a gift in 1970. However, the doll began exhibiting strange behaviors, and when it was brought to a medium, it was revealed that the doll was possessed by a dead woman named “Annabelle Higgins.” The nursing student and her roommate continued to keep the doll in their apartment until frightening incidents began to occur. It was then that the Warrens were contacted who claimed that a demon actually possessed the doll.
According to the Warrens, the real Annabelle doll is responsible for two near-death experiences, one fatal accident, and a “string of demonic activities” spanning over 30 years. However, it is important to emphasize that the story of Annabelle is just an urban legend. In fact, in 1963, an episode of the Twilight Zone aired called “Living Doll.” After this episode, there was an increase in reports of supposedly possessed toys, suggesting a correlation between the episode and claims made about creepy dolls.
4. Psycho (1960)
Arguably one of the most famous horror movies of all time, Psycho (1960) was somewhat based on murders committed by Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein. Gein was infatuated with his mother, similar to the killer Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.
The movie was actually based on Robert Block’s 1959 book, Psycho. Unbeknownst to Block, he was writing his story eerily similar to Gein’s real life, only 35 miles from where the killer lived. It was only right before the novel was finished that Gein’s crimes and murders came to light. Block was shocked at how similar Bates’ actions and motivation in his book resembled Gein’s real-life atrocities.
Psycho isn’t the only horror film inspired by Ed Gein’s actions. Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), The Silence of the Lambs (1991), and Deranged (1974) all draw inspiration from Gein’s actions.
5. The Exorcist (1973)
Like Psycho, The Exorcist (1973) is not only one of the most famous horror films of all time, but also one of the most famous movies of all time. In fact, it was nominated for ten Academy Awards in 1974. The film follows the demonic possession of a twelve-year-old and her mother’s attempt to rescue her soul by invoking the help of two Catholic priests who perform an exorcism on her.
The 1973 movie was based on the 1971 novel, The Exorcist, written by William Peter Blatty, who drew inspiration for this book from a supposedly real event in the Washington D.C. area around 1949. Blatty was a 20-year-old English Literature major at Georgetown University when he stumbled across a newspaper article that would change his life forever. Published in The Washington Post was a story about a 14-year-old boy from Mount Rainier, Maryland, who had been freed from a supposed demonic possession done by a Catholic priest. Throughout Blatty’s career, the idea of a demonic possession story stayed with him until he wrote his 1971 book.
In 1993, historian and author Thomas B. Allen published the book Possessed: The True Story of an Exorcism, in which Allen tracked down one of the surviving priests that performed the 1949 exorcism that Blatty drew his inspiration from. He also used a copy of the diary of another priest involved in this case. According to Allen, the original 14-year-old boy played with an Ouija board, similar to the 12-year-old girl in the movie. Ultimately, the two real priests involved in the real case had to perform the rite of exorcism on the young boy between 20 and 30 times.
6. The Amityville Horror (1979)
The Amityville Horror is a 1979 horror film that recounts the tale of a young couple who purchase an extremely haunted house, in which super scary paranormal activities take place. The 1979 movie is based on Jay Anson’s 1977 book of the same name.
Anson actually based his book on chilling real-life crime. On November 13, 1974, at a house thirty miles outside New York City, 23-year old Ronald J. DeFeo Jr. killed his entire family, including his two parents and four siblings, while they slept. Only thirteen months later, the property was purchased by the Lutz family, but when spooky paranormal activities began happening in the house, the family vacated the property after only 28 days.
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Some of the supernormal activities the Lutzes claim to have experienced include seeing green slime coming out of the walls and keyholes in the house, smelling strange doors, hearing voices scream “Get out!”, and waking up at 3:15 am every morning, which was around the same time that the murders had been carried out. Although many people question the validity of the Lutzes’ claims, the family took a lie detector test to prove their innocence. They passed the test.