30 Facts About Scary Movies Based On True Stories

Truth is stranger and more horrifying than fiction.
30 Facts About Scary Movies Based On True Stories

Darth Vader can’t really hurt you. But Jeffrey Dahmer drilled holes into children’s heads and then poured bleach into them because he wanted them to stay his perfect dolls forever. Which one is worse? 

Sometimes truth is stranger and more horrifying than fiction. The following movies based on true stories count on it. 

1. Silent Hill

Based on the real-life city of Centralia, this film series aims to adapt the games and almost succeeds. But the real horror is what came out during the film’s release—which is that the whole series is about ... circumcision? At least, according to one of the wiki’s moderators, who went on a rant that went viral when the film came out. 

2. Henry: Portrait of a Killer

The film, based on the real life killings of Henry Lee Lukas, was an incredibly hard film to release. The MPAA wouldn’t give it a rating due to its horrible scenes, and no amount of cutting seemed to get around that, despite many critics giving it rave reviews. Of note was Michael “I’m Yondu in Guardians of the Galaxy” Rooker’s portrayal of Henry. It may have been so good because, like Jared “I Sent Pigs to My Co-Workers” Leto, he stayed in character the entire time. To the point that his wife found out she was pregnant and waited until after filming was complete to tell him. 

3. My Friend Dahmer

This film is based on the shocking true story of how Jeffrey Dahmer had friends in high school, and it actually features some of those friends. They're the Dahmer Fan Club, whose name definitely doesn’t sound like they're making fun of him. Mike Kukral cameoed as a chaperone at the dance that he, in real life, went to—which kinda sounds like the recipe for a stress-induced breakdown, but hey, he had fun. 

4. The Amityville Horror

Based on the debatably true story of a haunting, following an actually true story of mass murder, this is the unofficial first film in the Conjuring franchise. One of Ed and Lorraine Warren’s first big claims to fame was investigating this haunted house. Or pretending to, at least. Lorraine Bates called the house “as close to hell as I ever wanna get” and the scariest place she ever went. 

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5. The Conjuring 

The Conjuring tells the story of Ed and Lorraine Warren’s investigations in a haunted house and how, if you’re a good storyteller, you can make the most boring film ever and still rake in millions. The real-life house underwent a “real” haunting and now stages virtual tours. Virtual haunted house tour due to the pandemic is potentially the most horrifying combination of words in this entire article, just fair warning.

6. The Conjuring 2

James Wan, the director and co-creator of Saw, Insidious, and the Conjuring series, has been attached to a bunch of films, including a live-action Castlevania. At one point during the planning, they built an animatronic of Dracula, but when the film was cancelled, the cool puppet had no one to scare. So Wan repurposed it for this film … before ultimately deciding it was too out of left field, replacing it with the Nun. Hey, maybe it’ll show up in Aquaman 2!

7. Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It

While most films have occasional homages, Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It—the first Conjuring sequel to not have a number after it, based on the first trial in America to use the defense of demonic possession—is almost more homages than movie. From Nightmare on Elm Street to Pet Sematary, entire wardrobes, shots, sets, and lighting are duplicated. It’s a harder game to spot what isn’t an homage

8. Annabelle: Creation

The best in the Conjuring series, this film—about the doll (in actuality a Raggedy Anne doll) and starring a girl named after the villain from The Ring—had an actual priest on hand as a consultant. At the request of actress Stephanie Sigman who portrayed Sister Charlotte, he performed the same ritual he did on The Conjuring 2, and blessed the set

9. The Sacrament 

Based on the Jonestown Massacre, this film produced by Eli “Hostel” Roth is the first and to date only horror film that bears the VICE branding. Yes, that VICE. 

10. The Exorcism of Emily Rose 

The Exorcism of Emily Rose, about the real-life possession of a young woman and the subsequent trial, starred Jennifer Carpenter (the sister that Dexter wants to bang) as the possessed girl. Despite full dolls and animatronics being built, all of the hideous horrible contortions she makes in the film are all real, all her. Oh, also, her radio would go off every night and play Pearl Jam’s “Alive” on repeat—specifically the "I’m still alive" bit.

11. The Girl Next Door 

Based on the real life murder and torture of a teenage girl by her aunt and neighborhood kids, this film is famous for absolutely messing up anyone who watches it. However, one scene was added for the film and the book which seem to have been nowhere in real life and is perhaps the single most brutal scene. No amount of funny haha jokes could erase the horror of the phrase “clitoris burned off with a blowtorch.” 

12. From Hell

From Hell is a terrible film based on an excellent book by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell based on the Whitechapel Murders, also known as the Jack the Ripper killings. The title takes its name from a letter signed “From Hell," one of the only letters believed to have actually been the killer or killers. Most letters received are believed to be fake. What makes this letter stand out? Oh, the fact that it was accompanied by a part of a human liver. Fun! You can read the letter in its entirety here or do literally anything else with your day. 

13. The Town that Dreaded Sundown

The Town that Dreaded Sundown is based on the real Moonlight Murders, where a man killed five people. The film ends with excited moviegoers in Texarkansa, where the film and actual events took place, going to go see the film. The killer goes too. Because they want to tempt fate, Texarkana really shows that film every year as part of a Halloween festival. Potentially, like the ending of the film, the real killer attends those as well. 

14. Vacancy

Based on the true story of an old idiot who used to hide in vents to spy on his guests, Vacancy dials up the depravity to include snuff films. Perhaps piggybacking off the idea of it being a true story, there used to be a number you could call to hear a message from the proprietor discussing his killer deals because what’s a horror movie without a few puns. Weirder still? The sequel had music from a Nine Inch Nails member, although not that one. 

15. A Nightmare on Elm Street

A Nightmare on Elm Street is about a pedophile a group of parents burn but who then comes back later to kill everyone. Fun for the whole family! It’s actually based on a few different real life events. The man himself came from two different sources. One was an odd, old man that director Wes Craven saw. The second was a bully of Craven’s named Fred Krueger, whom he had previously named the villain in Last House on the Left

16. The Wave 

This Norwegian film about a fjord falling and causing a three-hundred foot tsunami is … completely based on a thing that will actually happen. During the climax, the main character has to descend to a submerged hotel and the lead actually learned how to hold his breath for three minutes

17. Open Water

Open Water is based on two people who were stranded at sea, and most of it is made up because the only people left to answer questions about what happened were the sharks. Perhaps as a way to say “props to you,” the filmmakers used real live sharks for the filming of the movie, which, on second thought, sounds like the beginning of a different horror movie altogether. 

18. The Strangers

Based on a series of mysterious unsolved murders and a true-to-life event from the writer’s childhood involving burglars checking if people are home by knocking on the front door, The Strangers offers no true motivation for the killers, just faceless monsters. The other inspiration? The Manson Family. 

19. Suspiria

Yes, Suspiria is apparently based on a true story. When a co-writer’s grandmother was young, she was sent away to a boarding school … only to leave after discovering black magic was being practiced there. In the remake, Tilda Swinton secretly had two roles—including one as a man.  

20. Wolf Creek

Based on two different murders, Wolf Creek went the extra step and even filmed on location of the actual murder

21. The Quiet Ones

The Quiet Ones is about a parapsychologist trying to prove the existence of ghosts, but it’s based on a real-life experiment that was much weirder. The actual experiment was an attempt to create a fictitious character, inventing the details of his life … and then do a séance. The first time didn’t work, but after the participants were put in a typical séance environment—with mood lighting and such—it worked … three times, with the table even moving across the room

22. Orphan

Perhaps the most surprising thing is that this film, about a nine-year-old adopted into a family who discovers she’s a 30-year-old maniac, is that it’s based on a true story. A 34-year-old woman, with the same disorder Esther has in the film, pretended to be a 13-year-old boy. 

23. The Rage: Carrie 2

Based on the true story of a pack of assholes called the Spur Posse, who got off rape charges because the world is evil, the film originally began as its own thing—called The Curse. Then producers realized how close it was to Carrie and decided to just strap it into the series.  

24. The Wave

This film about a teacher showing his students how easy it is to fall prey to hateful rhetoric is shown on average every ten minutes to a middle school class somewhere in America. Roughly 1% of the people being shown it actually pay attention. Despite being about Hitler, this film was actually an ABC Afterschool Special, produced by Normal Lear. 

25. Devil’s Pass

Based on the Dyatlov Pass Incident, which is wild enough we could write multiple articles about (and we have), this film supposes that the incident was caused by … government time travelling alien monsters? It’s very confusing. But while there’s a chance you haven’t heard of this film, you’ve probably heard of some of the director’s other films, including Die Hard 2 and Cliffhanger. Also Deep Blue Sea which goes here at the end for being the best. As for the Dyatlov Pass Incident, the actual story is a bit more depressing than fiction, so let’s just watch this trailer instead. 

26. The Mothman Prophecies

The Mothman Prophecies is based on an actual cryptid and a real disaster—the Silver Bridge collapse, supposedly prophesied by the Mothman, as documented by John Keel. But, you might not know, Keel wasn’t the first to report on it. That was Gary Baker, who was also one of the first people to report on the Men in Black, and he didn’t believe a word he wrote. Which is fair, given he would just make up and exaggerate reports to make a better story. Today, Point Pleasant is a small cryptid museum to Mothman, even featuring a metallic Mothman statue, with a shiny metal ass that you can slap whenever you want. 

27. Scream

Scream, based on the Gainsville Ripper, and how much its author wanted a paycheck, follow the murders of a bunch of kids by a rando who calls and asks scary movie trivia. There’s been five sequels, including a television series. Perhaps slightly unsurprising given all of that is that, up until 2018’s Halloween, Scream was the highest-grossing slasher flick of all time … followed by its sequels. 

28. The Birds

Based on a series of unexplained bird attacks in California, The Birds is one of the most famous horror films of all time, despite featuring as its prime antagonist … ya know … birds. Of course, the true antagonist of the film was Hitchcock. Main star Tippi Hedren says he sexually assaulted her, and shortly after she rebuffed his come-ons, she was injured in a stunt—glass carving her face in what she called retribution for rejecting his advances. The horror didn’t end there, though, as Hitchcock locked her into a seven-year contract, controlling what she made and when, and all of it had to be with him. But he made Psycho, so that’s all right, then. 

29. Psycho

Loosely based on Ed Gein, Psycho is a tour de force of horror, showing that being an awful person doesn’t mean you can’t make great art (and vice-versa). However, it wasn’t just Hitchcock on this film—it was, to cut costs, the team behind his television show Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Cutting costs is also why Psycho was in black and white. 

30. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Based on Ed Gein and Elmer Wayne Henley, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is the best horror film of all time. The film is heavily about food. Leatherface is a butcher, the climactic final scene occurs at dinner, and people are treated like cattle. Despite that, or maybe because of it, the original house is now … a restaurant. If you’re ever in Texas, make sure to stop by. They’d love to have you for dinner. 

Tara Marie writes words and things. You can get her comic here, see how much she loves Le Croix here, and buy an award-winning comic magazine she writes for here. Leatherface is a personal hero of hers and she strives daily to be more like her. 

Top image: Dimension Films

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