Horror Movies Based on Real-Life Stories

Because nothing is scarier than a movie plot line that is plausible enough to happen to you or someone you know

<p>Lakeshore Ent Corp/Kobal/Shutterstock; New Line/courtesy Everett Collection; Warner Bros. Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection</p> Horror Movies Based on Real-Life Stories

Lakeshore Ent Corp/Kobal/Shutterstock; New Line/courtesy Everett Collection; Warner Bros. Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection

Horror Movies Based on Real-Life Stories

Sure, films such as The Amityville Horror, Nightmare on Elm Street and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre are all part of Halloween lore, but part of the reason why these films got so popular initially was because they were art that loosely imitated life. After all, what's scarier than a movie plot line that's plausible enough to happen to you or someone you know?

From haunted houses and possessed dolls to true-life exorcisms, check out these 10 horror movies based on real-life events.

'The Amityville Horror'

<p>Moviestore/Shutterstock </p> James Brolin, Margot Kidder in 'The Amityville Horror'


James Brolin, Margot Kidder in 'The Amityville Horror'

Though there is still major debate on whether or not the alleged paranormal events that took place at 112 Ocean Ave. in Amityville, N.Y., are true, the murders that led to the story being written in the first place certainly are.

On Nov. 13, 1974, 23-year-old Ronald Joseph DeFeo Jr. got up in the middle of the night and fatally shot his entire family: parents Louise and Robert Sr., as well as siblings Dawn, Allison, Marc and John. According to Syfy, he then ran to a nearby bar to report the crime and initially tried to pin it on someone else before he admitted to having committed the murders himself.

After DeFeo Jr. was sent to prison, the family home was put on the market a year later, which is when George and Kathleen Lutz moved in with their three children. The Lutzs would go on to report a series of paranormal activities happening in the house, which is where the story of The Amityville Horror originated. Apparently, the hauntings were so severe, they had to escape the house in the middle of the night, only a month after they had moved in.

The Lutzs' story has been the subject of much debate, especially given the fact that the next family to take over the house — James and Barbara Cromarty — resided in the residence for a decade without any paranormal occurrences.

'A Nightmare on Elm Street'

<p>Moviestore/Shutterstock</p> 'A Nightmare on Elm Street'


'A Nightmare on Elm Street'

No, there never was an actual child killer who was haunting teenagers in their dreams.

However, the concept of Freddy Kruger came to A Nightmare on Elm Street director Wes Craven after he read an article about a boy who died in his sleep after suffering petrifying night terrors.

"I’d read an article in the L.A. Times about a family who had escaped the Killing Fields in Cambodia and managed to get to the U.S,” he told Vulture in 2014. “Things were fine, and then suddenly the young son was having very disturbing nightmares. 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 A Nightmare on Elm Street.

'The Conjuring'

Photo by Michael Tackett © Warner Bros. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga in 'The Conjuring'.
Photo by Michael Tackett © Warner Bros. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga in 'The Conjuring'.

Though filmmakers took some creative liberties while making The Conjuring, the crux of the story is based on the real-life Roger and Carolyn Perron, who moved into 1677 Round Top Road in Rhode Island in 1971 and experienced some purported paranormal activities in the home.

And while paranormal investigators Ed Warren — a self-described demonologist— and his wife Lorraine Warren — a clairvoyant and medium — play a large part in the movie, they were not integral to the story of The Conjuring in real life. In fact, according to The Providence Journal , Roger Perron kicked them out of the house when they came by.

The film is based on books written by Andrea Perron, the couple's oldest daughter, who was old enough to remember the spooky happenings.


<p>Warner Bros. Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection</p> 'Annabelle'

Warner Bros. Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection


According to the Warrens, the real-life Annabelle doll's hauntings were so dire, they had to lock her up in their occult museum in Monroe, Connecticut.

And though their stories were never corroborated, according to All That's Interesting, the paranormal investigators claim to have been summoned by a priest named Father Cooke when two young women — Donna and Angie — wanted to perform an exorcism to get rid of the spirit of a dead 7-year-old girl named Annabelle Higgins, who had inhabited their doll.

Up until then, Donna and Angie had been informed by a medium that Annabelle's spirit "was benevolent and simply wanted to be loved and cared for," per All That's Interesting.

Upon their arrival, however, the Warrens explained to the young women that they had been ill-informed and that Annabelle was in "search of a human host." The couple would go on to order an exorcism and later moved the doll to their occult museum, where she resides now.

'The Exorcism of Emily Rose'

<p>Lakeshore Ent Corp/Kobal/Shutterstock </p> 'The Exorcism of Emily Rose'

Lakeshore Ent Corp/Kobal/Shutterstock

'The Exorcism of Emily Rose'

With a star-studded cast featuring Laura Linney, Campbell Scott, Tom Wilkinson and of course, Jennifer Carpenter in the titular role, the events in The Exorcism of Emily Rose are nearly as chilling as the real-life events the film is loosely based on.

Emily Rose is based on a 19-year-old named Anneliese Michel, who died after almost 70 exorcism sessions in Bavaria, West Germany, per Collider.

Michel — who grew up in a hyper-religious family — had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and epilepsy as a teenager. However, things took a dark turn when her convulsions turned into hallucinations and she came to believe she was possessed. Michel then insisted on being exorcised and her parents sought the help of Father Arnold Renz and Father Ernst Alt, who performed a host of exorcisms beginning in September 1975.

According to Collider, "Anneliese was often in need of restraining, either by holding her down or chaining her to a chair" during the hour-long rituals.

The young teen died on July 1, 1976, and her parents — Ana and Joseph Michel — along with the clergymen, were charged with negligent homicide as she had stopped taking her medication and was found to be malnourished and dehydrated. The Exorcism of Emily Rose follows the complicated court case of the four adults, in which judges had to debate the validity of their faith vs. the facts of the case.

All parties were found guilty, "but were given lenience, sentenced only to time served, and three months probation," says Collider.

'The Exorcist'

<p>HA/THA/Shutterstock</p> 'The Exorcist'


'The Exorcist'

Though this case didn't end as tragically as Anneliese Michel's, the events behind The Exorcist are still fascinating.

Thirteen-year-old Roland Doe was grief-stricken over the passing of his Aunt Harriett, a spiritualist "who’d taught him many things — including how to use a ouija board," per All That's Interesting.

Following Harriett's death, the boy began experiencing strange happenings — scratching in the wall, seeing water mysteriously dripping from pipes and walls, and most scary of all, feel his bed moving.

His parents then sought the help of some Catholic priests and Father E. Albert Hughes performed the first exorcism on Doe in February 1949. A few days after the ritual, scratches spelling out "Louis" appeared on Doe's body and his mother took that to mean they needed to leave Maryland to get more help.

The family traveled to St. Louis, where they were connected to Father Walter H. Halloran and Rev. William Bowdern from St. Louis University, who agreed to exorcise young Roland. They worked on the boy until April of that year when he finally revealed the devil possessing him had gone.

Decades later, it was revealed the young boy grew up to have a completely normal adulthood. According to Vanity Fair, Roland Doe was actually Ronald Edwin Hunkeler, a NASA engineer who aided in the 1969 moon landing. His identity was only revealed after he died in 2020.


<p>Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Getty</p> 'Poltergeist'



Steven Spielberg knows how to make a phenomenal film, however, for 1982'sThe Poltergeist, the screenwriter had plenty of material to work with.

The film is based on the real-life happenings at the Herrmann house, which took place in the '50s in Seaford, Long Island.

One morning in February 1958, James Herrmann received a phone call from his freaked-out wife, Lucille, telling him that strange things were happening in their home, per LongIsland.com. Their teenagers, who had reportedly heard inexplicable popping noises around the house, later found caps of "shampoo, bleach and a vial of holy water," all removed from their corresponding bottles. The family dismissed the spooky incident, with James even believing there might have been a weird chemical reaction that caused the popping.

In the following weeks, however, the strange happenings escalated. In one instance, the Herrmanns even phoned the police, who failed to explain also. The devout Catholics then turned to a priest, but after he prayed over the house, things got "more violent with figures smashing and a bookcase falling over randomly." The case of the Seaford poltergeist went national and Life Magazine published an article about it.

After documenting 70 different incidents between Feb. 3 and March 10, 1958, the Herrmanns vacated the suburban home.

'The Rite'

<p>Warner Bros/Kobal/Shutterstock</p> 'The Rite'

Warner Bros/Kobal/Shutterstock

'The Rite'

The story of The Rite is loosely based on a book titled The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist by Matt Baglio.

Though, of course, certain aspects of the film were exaggerated for dramatic effect, the true story goes like this: Father Gary Thomas had been selected to train as an exorcist when he met journalist Matt Baglio in an exorcism class. From there, Baglio followed the priest as he traveled Rome, performing his new duty.

Currently, the real-life Reverend Thomas serves as director of the propaedeutic year program at St. Patrick's Seminary and University in Menlo Park, California.

'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre'

<p>New Line/courtesy Everett Collection</p> 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre'

New Line/courtesy Everett Collection

'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre'

So much of what happens in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is disturbing. But perhaps no other character in the movies is as frightening as Leatherface, the menacing, basement-dwelling killer who eats people and wears their faces after killing them.

And while the character was never a real person, his traits were based on serial killer Ed Gein, who "was known for exhuming corpses from graveyards and making mementos with their bones and skin," reports Cosmo.

'The Strangers'

<p>Glenn Watson/Rogue/Mandate/Kobal/Shutterstock</p> Gemma Ward, Kip Weeks, Laura Margolis, Liv Tyler, and Scott Speedman in 'The Strangers'.

Glenn Watson/Rogue/Mandate/Kobal/Shutterstock

Gemma Ward, Kip Weeks, Laura Margolis, Liv Tyler, and Scott Speedman in 'The Strangers'.

This Bryan Bertino thriller is an amalgamation of three separate real-life events. First, and perhaps most obvious, the fictional thriller draws inspiration from the Manson Family's home invasion and murder of Sharon Tate and her friends, Jay Sebring, Abigail Folger and Wojciech Frykowski, as well as Steven Parent, who was visiting the home's caretaker.

The Strangers also incorporates parts of the Keddie Cabin Murders, reports Screen Rant, in which four people were killed in a small resort town in California. That case went cold as the murderers were never caught.

Lastly, Bertino also drew inspiration from his own childhood for the movie. The famed director once got spooked by a group of strangers who knocked on his door when he was home alone one day, and asked for someone who didn't reside there. Though he later learned the perpetrators were robbing houses whose occupants weren't present, the incident left an unforgettable mark on the future director and he used the incident as part of the film.

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