- Horror films have produced some of the most iconic figures in pop culture, like Ghostface or Pennywise.
- But not all scary movies are completely fictional – some of the most chilling films are actually based on real life.
- For example, “The Conjuring” was based on the real life Perron family.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
While scary movies often seem too terrifying to be real, that’s unfortunately not always the case. Films like “The Conjuring,” “Poltergeist,” and even “Nightmare on Elm Street” all have a basis in truth.
And those aren’t the only ones.
Keep reading to learn about 21 gruesome real-life tales that some of the all-time best scary movies are based on.
“The Conjuring” is about the Perron family and the traumatic experiences they’re having in their new Rhode Island home.
The Perrons (husband Roger, wife Carolyn, and their five daughters) moved into what was known as the Old Arnold Estate in 1970. Almost immediately, the family reported paranormal activity, such as floating or moving furniture, doors opening and closing, disembodied sounds, and even being pushed, pulled, and hurt by unseen spirits.
Upon calling in paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, they found that the property was haunted by various ghosts, but that one particularly malevolent spirit called Bathsheba was preying on them. Bathsheba, who lived on the property in the 1800s, had been a suspected Satanist, and was charged for the violent murder of her first child.
“The Conjuring 2” is about a girl being possessed by a demon in London.
The Hodgson family reported experiencing unusual phenomena in their London home in August 1977 (like furniture flying through the air, and objects hurling towards witnesses).
Most famously, however, Janet, one of three Hodgson children, claimed she was being possessed by a man named Bill Wilkins – it was later confirmed that a man by that name did in fact live in the house, and died there of a brain hemorrhage.
While Janet did admit that around “two per cent” of the haunting was made up, she maintains that the Enfield Poltergeist was real. You can listen to audio of her while she was allegedly possessed to make up your own mind.
“Annabelle,” “Annabelle: Creation,” and “Annabelle Comes Home” tell the story of Annabelle, an evil doll that terrorizes her owner.
Annabelle is a doll that is believed to be imbued with an evil spirit. While the real-life Raggedy Ann doll (which can be viewed at the Warrens’ Occult Museum in Monroe, Connecticut) is much less creepy looking than her movie counterpart, she is said to have terrorised her owner.
The story of the doll begins in 1970, when a nurse received it as a birthday gift from her mother. She soon began to notice that the doll would change positions by itself. She then started finding creepy notes with messages like “Help me” written on them. And, allegedly, she once found the doll leaking blood.
Once again the Warrens were contacted for help. According to them, the doll wasn’t possessed, but being manipulated by a spirit. They cleansed the home and took the doll to their museum, where it remains to this day.
“The Amityville Horror” connects the murders of the DeFeo family with a demonic presence in the house.
On November 13, 1974 at 3:15 a.m., Ronald DeFeo Jr. stole his father’s shotgun and murdered his entire family in their home in Amityville, New York, claiming that voices in the house made him do it. He was later convicted and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.
A year later, the Lutz family moved into the home, and claimed to experience paranormal activity almost immediately.
George – the patriarch of the Lutz family – claimed to wake up frequently at 3:15 a.m. (the time of the murders) and hear gun shots. His daughter Missy gained an imaginary friend Jodie, which was also the name of a DeFeo daughter. Missy says she did not know anything about the murders at the time.
The Lutz family fled their home only 28 days after moving in, sparking one of the greatest debates in paranormal history: is the Amityville home haunted?
“The Haunting in Connecticut” is about a family that moved into a former funeral home, which turns out to be haunted.
“The Haunting in Connecticut” is based on the plight of the Snedeker family (changed to Campbell in the movie).
The Snedekers moved into a new home in the ’80s to be closer to the University of Connecticut’s hospital, since their son Phillip was undergoing treatment for cancer. The family soon realised that the house they had moved into used to be a funeral home.
According to mother Carmen, Phillip quickly became withdrawn and angry, and started seeing a ghostly man who would tell him to lash out. She eventually sent him away, though it’s unclear whether he went to stay with family, or whether she had him committed (there are reports of both). Either way, after Phillip left things allegedly got a lot worse for the rest of the family.
They eventually called in a priest to perform an exorcism (as well as the Warrens, who made yet another appearance).
“Veronica” is about a Spanish teenager who used a Ouija board to contact a dead loved one with disastrous consequences.
The film is based on a real Spanish teenager whose death was never solved.
In 1992, a student named Estefania Gutierrez performed a “makeshift séance” at her high school. A few months later, she died in the hospital – after experiencing seizures and claiming to see shadowy figures.
The story gets even stranger: a year after Gutierrez died, her parents called the police because they were experiencing paranormal activity, similar to the shadowy figures their daughter had reported. The police was sceptical, until they too heard disembodied noises. The official report called the home “a situation of mystery and rarity.”
“The Strangers” is a terrifying look into the mindset of monsters who commit crimes just because they can.
The poster for “The Strangers” claims that the film was “inspired by true events,” though it’s more of an amalgam of a few terrifying true tales.
Director Bryan Bertino said he drew his main inspiration from an experience from his childhood. “As a kid, I lived in a house on a street in the middle of nowhere. One night, while our parents were out, somebody knocked on the front door and my little sister answered it. At the door were some people asking for somebody that didn’t live there. We later found out that these people were knocking on doors in the area and, if no one was home, breaking into the houses.”
“The Exorcist,” one of the most beloved horror films of all time, is about a preteen girl who becomes possessed by a demon.
“The Exorcist,” is based on the story of a 14-year-old boy known as Roland Doe, who began exhibiting strange behaviour in 1949. His family reported furniture moving on its own, scratches all over Doe’s body, and loud, disembodied voices.
After a cross-country move, and no change in Doe’s strange behaviour, his family enlisted the help of the Catholic church. One of the priests involved in the Doe case, Father Raymond Bishop, kept a diary.One of his entries stated “at midnight, the Fathers planned to give (Roland) Holy Communion, but Satan would have no part of it. Even while the institution of the Blessed Sacrament was explained, his body was badly scratched and branded. The word ‘HELLO’ was printed on his chest and thigh.”
Eventually, after multiple attempts, the “demon” was exorcised and Doe returned to normal. He never spoke of the incident publicly.
“The Exorcism of Emily Rose” is also about a girl possessed by a demon.
The story of Anneliese Michel – renamed Emily Rose in the film – is tragic. When Michel was 17, she experienced the first symptoms of her alleged possession. She was diagnosed with epilepsy, and given medication to help treat the disease.
But the meds didn’t help. Michel continued to have seizures, and began to claim she was having visions, and hearing voices telling her she was a sinner. She became depressed, and turned to religion: at her peak, she was genuflecting (kneeling) 600 times a day, eventually rupturing her knee ligaments.
By the time Michel was 23, she had been treated with dozens of different medications (nothing helped), and had undergone 67 exorcisms in 10 months. She eventually stopped eating, and died of starvation in 1976.
“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” describes a group of hitchhikers that pick the wrong family to catch a ride from — they end up being cannibals.
The main villain of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” is Leatherface, who was based on real-life killer Ed Gein.
Gein, who grew up in La Crosse, Wisconsin, in the early 1900s, was obsessed with his mother: he rarely interacted with anyone besides her, and when she died he spiraled.
He used their body parts to create a “woman suit” that he wore, pretending to be his mother. He also had lamps, belts, and bowls made out of human body parts.
“Poltergeist” tells the story of a family who buys a haunted house that was built on top of a Native American burial ground.
The Hermann family eventually moved away, but maintain that the house was haunted.
“When a Stranger Calls” is about a babysitter who’s being terrorised by a mysterious caller that’s inside the house with her.
The film is based on the real unsolved murder of 13-year-old Janett Christman in 1950.
Christman was babysitting 3-year-old Greg Romack, when she called the Columbia Police Department and told them to “come quick,” but hung up before the police could trace her call. When the Romacks returned home, they discovered Christman’s body in a pool of a blood. She had been raped and strangled with a cord. The police eventually ruled that it had been an “inside job” – the killer knew the house and its layout well.
“Dead Ringers” explores the mysterious deaths of a pair of creepy, co-dependent twin brothers.
The Marcus twins shared a gynecology practice, an apartment in New York City, a house in the Hamptons … and eventually their deaths.
Apparently, 45-year-olds Stewart and Cyril Marcus were addicted to barbiturates: though, when their decomposing bodies were found, their mysterious deaths were first ruled as being caused by an overdose, then by withdrawal (they may have been attempting to wean themselves off the drugs).
Some say that Cyril outlived his brother by a couple of days, and continued to live in the apartment before eventually dying himself.
The film is set to receive a TV reboot soon on Amazon Prime, with Rachel Weisz starring.
“Jaws” is the story of a small beachside town that’s being terrorised by a vengeful shark.
The terrifying tale of the most famous great white shark ever is based upon a string of shark attacks on the Jersey Shore in 1916. First, 25-year-old Charles Vansant bled to death from a bite in Beach Haven, New Jersey. Five days later – and 45 miles north – a bellhop from Spring Lake also bled to death from a shark bite.
The story only gets more terrifying. The same shark then swam 30 miles north and 10 miles inland, killing both a boy and a man trying to save the boy in a creek.
Finally, the fifth victim was attacked 30 minutes later in the same creek – he survived.
George Burgess, an ichthyologist (scientist who concentrates on the study of fish), called it the “most unique set of shark attacks that have ever occurred.”
“The Girl Next Door” is about a boy who tries to save his neighbour from her twisted adopted family.
The murder of Sylvia Likens is known as the “worst crime in Indiana history.” Likens was just 16 when she was found dead in the basement of her temporary home.
Her carnival-worker parents left Sylvia and her sister in the care of 37-year-old Gertrude Baniszewski, a mother of seven, paying Baniszewski by the week.
Three months later, on October 26, 1965, police found Sylvia’s emaciated corpse, apparently covered in hundreds of wounds. Baniszewski – with the help of some of her children and a few neighbourhood kids – had tortured the girl to death.
“The Possession” is the tale of a family being tortured by a demon inside a Dibbuk box.
James Haxton posted the real Dibbuk box on eBay with a chilling description of events that befell him after he bought it at an estate sale. He claimed that he bought the box for his mum’s birthday, and that she almost instantaneously had a stroke upon receiving it.
He also claimed that the final straw inspiring him to get rid of the box was when his sister, brother, and brother’s wife all stayed over, and all reported having the same exact nightmare.
You might be wondering what exactly a dibbuk is. According to Live SciFi, it’s a “malicious or malevolent possessing spirit believed to be the dislocated soul of a dead person” that escaped from Sheol (Judaism’s version of Hell).
“The Rite” is based upon the life of a real priest, Father Gary Thomas, and his time at the Vatican while training to become an exorcist.
“The Rite” is based on the life of Father Gary Thomas, a priest that’s one of 14 Vatican-certified exorcists that works in the US. According to Thomas, he’s exorcised the demons from five people, and receives multiple requests for exorcisms daily.
Father Thomas trained for three months in Rome to become a certified exorcist, completing his training in 2005. Of his time there he said “I encountered a lot of people with diabolical attachments … I had never seen what I am seeing now.”
“Wolf Creek” is about three backpackers in the Australian Outback that unknowingly hitch a ride from a sadistic murderer.
The horrifying tale of the backpackers in “Wolf Creek” is based on a real string of murders that occurred in Australia’s Belanglo State Forest in the ’90s by Ivan Milat, aka “the Backpacker Killer.”
“Eaten Alive” is about the mentally disturbed owner of a Texas hotel that feeds people to his pet crocodile.
Eccentric bootlegger Joe Ball owned a Texas bar called the Sociable Inn in the early 1900s. He also kept multiple alligators in an enclosure near the saloon.
A known ladies’ man, Ball had relations with various waitresses, bartenders, and hostesses – three of which went missing. Turns out, Ball had murdered two of them. Many believe he then fed them to his pet alligators, though there was never any evidence – his keeping them as pets was enough to cause concern and create rumours.
When the police came around for questioning in 1938, however, he shot himself in the heart.
“Open Water” tells the harrowing tale of a couple fighting to stay alive after their boat leaves them behind in the middle of the ocean.
Tom and Eileen Lonergan were scuba diving at the Great Barrier Reef in Australia in 1998, when they were left behind by their boat after someone messed up the headcount. They were never heard from again.
The diving company didn’t even realise they were missing until two days later, when their passports and other personal effects were found on the boat. Months after their disappearance, Tom’s dive slate was found 100 miles north of their original disappearance. He had written “We have been abandoned … by M.V. Outer Edge. […] Help!” Their dive jackets and one of Eileen’s fins eventually washed ashore, but there was no signs of a shark attack or any other violent activity.
Some believe they were eaten by sharks, while others maintain that it was a murder-suicide pact.
“A Nightmare On Elm Street” is best known for bringing Freddy Krueger, a serial killer who murders people in their dreams, into the mainstream.
The idea for this iconic franchise came from a Los Angeles Times article that Wes Craven, the film’s writer and director, read, about a boy that was too terrified to sleep after surviving the Killing Fields in Cambodia.
Here’s what Craven said to Vulture about his inspiration: “He 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 a horror that everyone older was denying. That became the central line of ‘Nightmare on Elm Street.'”
- Read more:
- The creepiest urban legend from every state
- The 10 horror movies with the biggest opening weekends at the box office of the decade, including ‘Us’
- 21 horror films coming out this year that scary-movie buffs can look forward to
- The most popular horror movie in every US state
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.