It has often been said real life is scarier than fiction. This is true in many instances, which is why some of the scariest horror movies have some basis in reality. Some are complete retellings of true stories, while others take inspiration from real events. These movies are scary because they can, and supposedly have, happened. It is one thing to advertise a film as if it happened, but audiences know the ones that took place are the ones to watch out for. Today, we take a look at some of the scariest, chilling movies that were inspired by real events.
10. Zodiac (2007)
While not technically a horror movie, Zodiac tells the story of America’s most notorious unsolved murder spree. In the late ’60s in San Fransico, an unknown person killed at least five people. The assailant then taunted the police with puzzles, calling himself the Zodiac Killer. This film follows Robert Graysmith, a cartoonist (played here by Jake Gyllenhaal) who worked at the newspaper that received much of Zodiac’s letters. The film is based on the book of the same name by Graysmith, giving it a first-person testimonial of the events. While the film is a crime thriller as opposed to straight horror, the fact the Zodiac was real and never caught makes this one of the most sinister true stories ever put to film.
9. The Conjuring (2013)
The Conjuring series has become so successful as one of the scariest horror franchises that it is easy to forget that a bulk of the films are inspired by true events. Ed and Lorraine Warren were real paranormal investigators, and the core Conjuring movies showcase their most sinister case files. Even Annabelle is a real cursed doll, although portrayed much differently in the films. The first movie follows the case of the Perron family. The film is filled with all kinds of terrifying imagery that is surely the product of James Wan’s imagination. However, the real Lorraine Warren worked on the film as a consultant and swears few creative liberties were taken.
8. Psycho (1960)
It is hard to believe that one of the most famous horror movies of all time is based in reality, but some of the more disturbing elements are. The film was based on a novel by Robert Bloch. Bloch based the character of Norman Bates on the true stories of serial killer Ed Gein. Gein lived an incredibly sheltered life and became unnaturally close with his mother. When she passed away, Ed took on a split personality, that of his mother. He would walk around in her clothes and talk to himself in her voice. If this wasn’t bad enough, he also dug up her corpse and talked to it as if she were still alive. Norman Bates wasn’t the only horror icon based on Gein, however.
7. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
In addition to Norman Bates, Ed Gein was also a significant inspiration behind Leatherface and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Ed Gien would also desecrate graves and use the parts he dug up to create furniture and clothing. The most disturbing thing he did, and the central basis for Leatherface, was wearing his victim’s faces as masks. While the story of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre films is fabricated, it is terrifying to know the most disturbing elements of one of the scariest horror movies ever are based on real events.
6. Borderland (2007)
While Borderland may not be the best-made film, its dark and disturbing subject material is based on true stories. In a nutshell, three college friends go to a party in Mexico. When one of them goes missing, the other two discover a cannibalistic cult that sacrifices humans. This is loosely based on the case of Mark J. Kilroy. Mark was a college student kidnapped while partying with friends in Mexico. Mark was kidnapped by a cult, who sacrificed at least 14 people before Mark. While Borderland takes tons of creative liberties, the core of the story is what makes it terrifying as it happened.
5. Eaten Alive (1976)
Like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Eaten Alive was also directed by Tobe Hooper, stars Marilyn Burns, and was inspired by true stories. The film follows an insane man who runs a sleazy hotel. He kills those he sees as undesirable and feeds them to his alligator. The film is very loosely based on Joe Ball. For many years, Joe was known simply as a folklore figure. However, his crimes and slayings were very real. Like the antagonist from Eaten Alive, he would feed his victims to his pet alligator. Tobe Hooper is known for crafting some of the scariest horror movies, and this true tale is no exception.
4. The Amityville Horror (1979)
The Amityville Horror franchise has taken on such an absurd life of its own that it is lost on many just how grounded in reality the first film was. In 1974, Ronald DeFeo Jr. killed his family in the infamous house after claiming voices told him to do so. While this happened without a shadow of a doubt, the story of the Lutz family has its holes. George Lutz moved his family into the house. They lived there only 28 days before fleeing. The terrifying things they claimed happened to them were the basis of a novel, as well as this first film. Whether or not fans believe Lutz was telling the truth, there is no doubt something sinister happened at the house in Amityville, New York.
3. The Rite (2011)
Some of the scariest horror movies of all time are movies about demonic possession. One thing that would make these movies even more terrifying is if they were based on true stories. The Rite chronicles a young priest who doesn’t believe in exorcisms. He soon learns how real they are when Fathe Lucas mentors him. This film is based on the life of Father Gary Thomas. Like the character in the movie, Gary was skeptical until he was essentially forced to believe. This terrifying film is the supposed real deal and one of Anthony Hopkins‘ scariest works.
2. The Exorcism Of Emily Rose (2005)
Another one of the scariest movies about demonic possession is also based on shocking true stories. The film follows the trail of a priest who is convicted of the wrongful death of a young girl. The priest claims she was possessed, and he did everything in his power to help her. This is based on the case of Anneliese Michel. Anneliese was a young girl who supposedly was possessed before she died. Her mother, as well as a priest, was put on trial for her wrongful death. While the names and some events were fabricated, the basic premise of the film was all too real.
1. The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976)
A slasher film involving a masked killer stalking a town seems like a one-in-a-million movie. The main killer was even the inspiration for Jason Voorhees’ first adult appearance. This film is much more sinister, however, as it truly happened. The film is based on the Texarkana Moonlight Murders. An unknown man with a sack covering his head murdered five people in three months in 1946. The killer was never found, and to this day, his identity is unknown. The film premiered in the very town the killer hunted his prey. The movie even ends with an ominous warning that he is still out there. While not the scariest horror movie, this is one of the most disturbing examples of true stories making their way to the big screen.