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Top 10 Horror Films That Claim To Be Based On Real Events

by Jason Emmitt
fact checked by Jamie Frater

Most of us enjoy a good scary film, but there is something about those movies that claim to be “Based on True Events” that always creep us out just a bit more.

Here is a list of 10 films that are said to be based in reality, and the true events that inspired them.

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10 A Nightmare on Elm Street

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) Official Trailer – Wes Craven, Johnny Depp Horror Movie HD

In 1984 the film A Nightmare on Elm Street was released. The film, which features the iconic villain Freddy Krueger, who hunts the children of Elm Street and slaughters them in their dreams, is eerie enough on its own, but hearing there might be some truth to this urban legend was almost too much!

The real events, while creepy, are not as inspired as the claw handed killer the film depicts. Film creator, Wes Craven, said he conceived the idea for the script after reading an article in the L.A. Times, about a Hmong family who fled the Cambodian Killing Fields and migrated to America. The family’s youngest son began having vivid nightmares, often staying awake for days on end. He was afraid that if he slept the things in his dreams would kill him.

Eventually sleep overtook the boy and his fears came to fruition as he did in fact pass away.

Throughout the 70’s and 80’s there were a rash of unexplained deaths amongst the Asian community, all taking place while they slept. Add to that the memory of a childhood bully and what you have is a movie that cemented its place in American horror culture.

9 The Strangers

The Strangers Official Trailer #1 – Liv Tyler Movie (2008) HD

Secluded home, late night knock on the door. That is where the similarities between real-life and the 2008 film The Strangers, ends.

In the movie, a couple is tormented, hunted, and eventually (spoilers) murdered by a group of Doll faced killer. According to the trailer it was based on true events. This is a good example of how far imagination can take one with just the seed of an idea.

Bryan Bertino, the writerof the film, said he came up with the script based off a childhood memory. He said his family home sat out on a street far from his closest neighbor. One night, while his parents were out, someone knocked on their door. The uninvited guests inquired about someone but Bertino or his sister recognized the name and so the visitors left. It was later discovered that the couple was going house to house and when they found homes where no one answered they were breaking in. No one was killed, but the idea lingered for years and eventually morphed into the story on the big screen.

8 The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) – Movie Trailer

In 1974 Tobe Hooper deliver a film so shocking it left some questioning his sanity so imagine the shock when it was announced that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was inspired by real life!

The film, which depicts a family of cannibals who abduct and torture a group of young travelers, was a hit, partly due to the “true story” hype, but similarities to real life events were minor.

In the film, the character Leatherface, wears a mask of human flesh. Hooper claimed Leatherface, as well as a few other small details, were based on serial killer Ed Gein. Gein made lamp shades and other household items from skin and bones and also created a “Woman suit” that he wore to pretend to be his mother.

The rest of the story came from a rogue thought one holiday season as Hooper stood in a crowded Montgomery Ward. As his eye caught a display of chainsaws it crossed his mind that he could get through the crowd swiftly if he just cranked over one of the machines. The tale of Gein, along with that disturbing thought, merged.

Not surprisingly Ed Gein was the ispiration for other Hollywood characters including Norman Bates in Psycho, and Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs.

7 Return of the Living Dead

The Return of the Living Dead (1985) – Official Trailer (HD)

In 1968 the film Night of the Living Dead would forever change the way we saw zombies, creating a new genre that, years later, is still going strong. The genre has forked into various directions and it all started with 1985’s Return of the Living Dead.

Return of the Living Dead came from a disagreement between George Romero and John Russo on how to handle sequels to the Night of The Living Dead franchise. It gets confusing, but at the start of Return of the Living Dead, we see the words “Based on True Events”.

Wait? Are they saying zombies are real?

There are two stories why this message graces the screen. The first is more fun, although likely nothing more than urban legend. It says a chemical truck spilled in a graveyard and, as they were hauling away contaminated soil, they uncovered a grave where a body was found to be moving.

The real reason is more Hollywood than Halloween. In the film they refer to the events of Night of the Living Dead as real making that a legend and this the true story.

Misleading? Sure, but wouldn’t we much rather it be a hoax than an actual zombie apocalypse?

6 Poltergeist

Poltergeist (1982) Official Trailer – JoBeth Williams, Craig T. Nelson Horror Movie HD

In 1958, Seaford N.Y., the Hermann family made national news after reporting strange occurrences in their home. Odd noises, objects being moved and bottles suddenly popping their tops and spilling their contents.

At first the family suspected a prank by one of the kids, but after several more incidents, authorities were called in. They too believed it to be a hoax perpetrated by the family until they too began to witness bizarre activity.

Psychics were called and investigations performed. Theories were presented and quickly debunked. Something seemed to be happening inside the Hermann home and what it was no one knew.

Eventually the family moved but the story had found its way into popular culture. In 1982, the film Poltergeist hit theaters and, while the film plays out much different than actual events, the creators have claimed that the tale of “Popper the Poltergeist”, was the basis for the screenplay.

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5 When a Stranger Calls

When a Stranger Calls (2006) – Official Trailer [HQ]

We’ve all heard the story of the babysitter who keeps receiving phone calls from someone asking if she has checked on the children. As the campfire yarn goes, the call comes in so frequently that the girl, understandably concerned, calls the police. When the next call rings through they trace it only to discover “The call is coming from inside the house”! It is a truly terrifying twist, and the basis for the 1979 movie, When a Stranger Calls, but did you know there is some truth to this legend?

The first 20 minutes of the film are said to be some of the most thrilling in cinema history, keeping the audience on the edge of their seats. The movie was a success, spurring a sequel, When A Stranger Calls Back, as well as a remake in 2006. However, the real-life events were much more tragic.

One night in 1950, the Columbia Police Department received a disturbing call from 13-year-old Janett Christman. The call just a scream and the words, “come quick” and then the line went dead. With nothing to go on the police had no idea from where, or whom, the call had been made. At the time, Janett was babysitting 3-year-old Greg Romack. When Greg’s parents returned home, they found Janett’s body. She had been assaulted, beaten and strangled to death.

An investigation ensued and, while the killer was never found, it was deemed that whoever it had been knew the layout of the house and they suspected it had been an “inside job”.

4 Scream

Official Trailer: Scream (1996)

The 1996 film Scream was not only influenced by a true to life serial killer, but also the aforementioned When A Stranger Calls.

The opening scene of Scream has a young girl at home alone when the phone rings and a voice on the other end begins asking her about scary movies. As it turns out the call is from a killer who is in the house.

The movie depicts a small town where local youth are stalked and tormented by a cell phone wielding killer in a mask in the likeness of The Scream by painter Edvard Munch. To say the film was “based on true events” may be a bit of a stretch, but reality did help play a part in its creation.

Written by Kevin Williamson, the idea began after hearing a news story regarding a man named Danny Rolling who murdered five college students. Then one night Williamson came home to find a window inexplicably open. That planted a seed and he penned an 18 page short story that would later form the foundation for the film.

It took years for Scream, originally titled Scary Movie, to reach fruition but, once it did, box office returns and numerous sequels proved that adding a little realism to your story goes a long way.

3 The Blob

Trailer – The Blob (1958)

First released in 1958 and then a remake in 1980, The Blob tells the tale of a meteor that crashes to earth and releases a gelatinous creature that absorbs any living thing it comes in contact with. As it absorbs it also grows until eventually it reaches gargantuan proportions and attacks the town.

Was there any truth behind it?

Philadelphia, 1950, two police officers report seeing something float down from the sky and land in a field. Upon investigation they discovered an odd, purplish substance with a similar consistency to soap that dissolved when touched. Half an hour later the space jelly had completely melted away.

The Air Force was called but, as there was nothing left to examine, nothing came of it. Still the idea was out there, and it worked was the foundation for the story written by Kay Linaker and Theodore Simonson.

The movie went on to earn over $4,000,000.00 from a $110,000.00 budget! Not bad for a creature inspired by space slime.

2 Annabelle

Annabelle – Official Main Trailer [HD]

This one starts in 1970 after a nursing student received an antique Raggedy Ann doll as a birthday gift from her mother. Almost immediately she, and her roommate, noticed odd things happening in their apartment. They would find the doll in different positions than what they left it, and odd, cryptic notes began to appear with messages like “Help me”.

A psychic was called, and informed them that the doll was possessed by a young girl named Annabelle. The roommates tried to let the spirit reside with them; however, as time went by things began to take a dark turn. Scratches began to appear on them, reports of blood oozing from the doll, and one even claimed they were attacked.

That is when Ed and Lorraine Warren were called in. They examined the doll and determined that the spirit was actually demonic in nature. They cleansed the apartment and took the doll back to their occult museum where it remains locked up to this day.

Parts of the actual story of Annabelle made their way into the 2013 film The Conjuring, although the style of doll was changed. This portion of the film became so popular that eventually it spurred a spin off film, Annabelle, in 2014, an two sequels, Annabelle Creation, 2017 and Annabelle Comes Home, 2019. Aside from the inclusion of the doll and the name Annabelle, the films have relatively little in common with the original story; still, they make for a creepy good time at the movies!


Jaws Official Trailer #1 – Richard Dreyfuss, Steven Spielberg Movie (1975) HD

Considered one of the scariest films of all times, JAWS, is the one that made everyone afraid to get in the water. Released in 1975, the movie is actually adapted from the novel written by Peter Benchley.

JAWS tells the tale of a 25 Foot Great White shark that goes on a man-eating spree in the tourist town of Amity over a fourth of July weekend. After a number of attacks three men, Sheriff Martin Brady, Oceanographer Matt Hooper and self-proclaimed shark hunter Quint, are sent out to dispatch the beast

Most people speculated the novel was based off a string of shark attacks that took place in New Jersey in 1916 but Benchley has refuted this assumption. The attacks were briefly mentioned in the book, but Benchley himself has stated he was fascinated with the idea of a killer shark after reading the story of a 4,500 pound Great White that had been harpooned by fisherman Frank Mundus off the coast of Long Island in 1964. Benchley said Mundus became the inspiration for the character Quint and the rest just fell into place.

No matter where the idea came from, JAWS is a movie that holds a special place in the hearts horror fans. It has spun off several sequels and is still a staple at local drive ins over 45 years later.

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About The Author: Jason has been an avid writer since the age of twelve. He was first published after winning the Young Authors award with Breakaway Magazine at the age of 16 and has since gone on to write numerous articles, short stories, and his first novel, LYRIC.

fact checked by Jamie Frater