Most successful horror movies are products of the fears and anxieties of their era. In the '50s, they had Godzilla because they were afraid of nuclear war; in the '60s, they had Night of the Living Dead because some were afraid of social change; and today, we have Paranormal Activity because people can't stand not being on camera all the time.
However, it turns out that many iconic horror movie moments that you thought came out of the imaginations of Hollywood writers can also be found in the pages of history, hundreds or even thousands of years before it made sense for anyone to come up with them. Coincidence, or demonic influence? You decide.
#5. There Were "Killer Doll" Legends a Century Before Chucky
In Child's Play, a boy is given a doll as a gift, but little does he know that it has an evil spirit trapped inside thanks to a voodoo spell. The doll does various evil things that the kid gets blamed for, but when he tells people that the doll is alive, no one believes him ... until the doll starts killing people, that is.
"Hey, just left a turd in your mom's panty drawer. Good night."
Child's Play was partly based on the early 1900s Key West, Florida, legend of Robert the Doll ... who is still around. Here's a picture of him:
His eyes aren't actually black. He's just reflecting the emptiness that's now inside you.
Purportedly, a young boy named Gene Otto was given a life-size straw doll made in his likeness, which he named Robert. From that day onward, Gene and Robert were inseparable. They'd dress alike and sleep together, and Robert even got his own spot at the dinner table.
But then things got weird(er). Some versions of the story say that one of the servants, who was of Caribbean descent, was treated unfairly by the family and cursed Robert with a voodoo spell.
Considering that he already looked like this, the spell was probably unnecessary.
So the story goes that members of the house staff claimed that Gene would sometimes talk to Robert, who would reply in an entirely different voice. When things would end up misplaced or broken around the house, Gene would claim that Robert did it, but no one would believe him. Eventually, Robert was relegated to the attic and forgotten about.
But when Gene grew up, his parents' house became his, and upon moving in, he rediscovered Robert in the attic. According to some tellings, Robert once again gained a seat at the dinner table, and Gene would even prop him up in a chair next to his marriage bed every night.
"What do you mean, 'This is creepy'? He's just a doll. Grow up."
After Gene Otto's death, Robert was left behind in the house, which passed from owner to owner. Various stories of noises and childlike giggling were reported in the house until Robert was finally donated to a museum in 1994. Today, Robert is a tourist attraction and an amusing urban legend no one at the museum actually believes in ... until he starts killing people, of course.
#4. There Were UFO Sightings in the 19th Century
In the 1993 film Fire in the Sky, six loggers working late in the mountains come across an actual, no-shit flying saucer while driving in their truck. One of the men approaches the UFO and is knocked out cold by a light coming from it. The other five get the fuck out of there fast, and when they come back, there's no trace of their friend.
Turned out he was just abducted by Joan Rivers' plastic surgery leftovers.
Obviously, stories about UFO encounters are older than a movie from the 1990s: We've told you before that alien abductions in fiction are older than real-life claims of abductions by decades. But the idea of spotting spaceships in the sky goes back to even before that ... as in, before human flight was even possible.
In 1865, a St. Louis newspaper reported that a trapper named James Lumley was working late in the mountains, much like the dudes from Fire in the Sky, when he spotted a "bright, luminous body in the heavens," followed by an explosion. Instead of sticking around to get picked up by it, though, he kept his distance, and the next day he found a large stonelike object with "curious hieroglyphics" carved into it, broken glass, and traces of a dark liquid.
It teased a subtle aroma of hazelnut.
But perhaps the most amazing story of old-timey UFOs is the one that took place in Aurora, Texas, in 1897: As reported by the Dallas Morning News, a mysterious "airship" crashed down on the small town, and when the authorities examined the remains of the pilot inside, they found him to be "not an inhabitant of this world." The pilot was buried in the local cemetery, and supposedly his grave is still there, although unmarked.
And we're not digging yet ... why?
We're not saying it was a real spaceship; we're just pointing out that even this story predates The War of the Worlds. The sci-fi tropes that this seems to be referencing didn't even exist yet.
#3. An Ancient Roman Writer Was Haunted by Chain-Rattling Poltergeists
In the final act of Poltergeist (you know, the part with all the panty shots and skeletons), the Freeling family finally discovers the horrifying secret behind their haunted house -- the builders had relocated a cemetery on the land, but only moved the headstones. They left the bodies behind, and so the angry dead took vengeance on the living.
The moral of this story is to never play musical chairs with dead people. They were there first.
Poltergeist isn't the only movie where you can find this scenario: The Amityville Horror, The Shining and dozens of other stories feature it, too. Typically, it's an ancient Native American burial ground, specifically, so you wouldn't think that this storytelling device is much older than the New World ...
... except it totally is. A letter written in the first century by Roman magistrate Pliny the Younger has this and a lot of other haunted house tropes as well. In his letter, Pliny told of a philosopher who moved to town, needed a place to stay and saw how cheap a particular house was. He was informed of its purported haunting, but, you know ... a cheap house is a cheap house, and if you throw your toga parties in the public square, you might get arrested.
What's the worst that could happen?
That night, to prove that he wasn't some pansy, the philosopher sent his servants away and stayed up all night writing. Before long, he heard the clanking of chains and ghostly wailing. He ignored it right up until the noise was in his room. Then, the ghost of an old man with a long beard and chains appeared and beckoned with a skeletal finger for him to follow.
"Togas are stupid. Stuuuuuuupid! Why will no one listen?"
The philosopher followed the ghost into his yard and marked the spot where it stopped. The next morning, he had his servants dig up the spot and found the body of a man bound in chains. They gave the corpse a proper burial, and according to Pliny, the haunting ceased.
We lost count somewhere along the way, but that story has approximately every single feature of every haunted house story ever, and it was written nearly 2,000 years ago.
Pliny's ghost is suing the shit out of Charles Dickens' ghost right now.