Even for horror movie fans, there is nothing scarier than real life. And real life has inspired quite a few of the scariest films ever made!
While writers and directors take a lot of creative license, lots of your favorite skin-crawling movies were based on real events. Here are the 10 scariest movies based on real events!
1. The Amityville Horror
The 1979 scary flick The Amityville Horror was based on a 1977 book of the same name written by Jay Anson. And that book was allegedly based on a 1974 incident in which Ronald DeFeo Jr. murdered six of his family members. They all lived in a Long Island neighborhood named Amityville.
There has been much controversy (and many legal quarrels) over just how accurate the book and movie are to those real events. But no one can deny that a genuine horror happened in Amityville!
2. The Exorcist
The 1973 film The Exorcist is likewise based on a novel of the same name. And that 1971 William Peter Blatty novel took its inspiration from a 1949 case where a young boy from Cottage City, Maryland was exorcised.
Obviously, there is no known basis for the more fantastical and supernatural aspects of the movie. But those events are based on the young boy’s Lutheran pastor, Luther Schulze. This man claimed to see phenomena such as floating furniture inside the boy’s home.
Like many movies on this list, the 1975 film Jaws was based on an earlier novel: a 1974 book of the same name written by Peter Benchley. And Benchley was kind enough to describe the real-life killer shark inspiration in the introduction. He describes a 4,500-pound great white shark that died near Long Island and his ongoing fascination with how much carnage it could cause.
The vast majority of characters and events in both book and movie are completely fictional. However, Quint’s haunting story about the USS Indianapolis survivors being tormented and tortured by sharks is actually true!
4. A Nightmare On Elm Street
The 1984 film A Nightmare On Elm Street seems the least likely to be based on real events. After all, how could a homicidal dream demon with a clawed hand be real? Nonetheless, director Wes Craven took inspiration from multiple people who mysteriously died in their sleep.
Throughout the 1970s, many refugees escaped genocide in places like Cambodia and Laos. The Los Angeles times wrote about how some of them refused to sleep due to horrific nightmares. Eventually, they died in their sleep! Craven later created the kind of monster that may have claimed their lives.
5. The Shining
Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film The Shining ended up being just as iconic as the 1977 Stephen King novel it was based on. The film is full of over-the-top spookiness, but King insists that the core of the story came from true events.
In 1974, Stephen King and his wife Tabitha spent the night at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado. They were the only guests, and King thought the hotel looked perfect for a ghost story. His unconscious did the rest. He dreamed of his son being chased through the hotel by a fire hose. King started writing the outline for The Shining as soon as he woke up!
Wes Craven helped invent the slasher horror genre with 1984’s A Nightmare On Elm Street. He then turned the whole genre on its head with the 1996 film Scream. While that film was a postmodern dissection of modern horror, it was also based on real events.
Scream is loosely based on Danny Rolling, better known as the “Gainesville Ripper.” The name comes from his stalking and killing of five college students in Gainesville, Florida back in 1990. He wore no mask, but did share one notable thing in common with Scream slasher Ghostface. He had a desire to become a famous “superstar” serial killer.
The 1982 film Poltergeist seems too outlandish to be based on true events. What kind of home could actually experience what the Ghostbusters would later call “spooks, specters, and ghosts?” The answer to this is the Hermann family home.
In 1958, the Hermann family lived in Long Island. At this time, their home was allegedly haunted. Lids popped off, shelves fell over, and ornaments flew through the house. Witnesses to these events included a police officer and a British reporter! This haunting was soon over but served as a cinematic inspiration.
8. Texas Chainsaw Massacre
The 1974 Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie openly marketed itself as being based on true events. Let’s get this out of the way: there was never a chainsaw-toting Leatherface hunting down teens in real life.
Instead, Leatherface was very loosely based on Ed Gein, a man who killed women and dug up bodies. He even made freaky arts and crafts out of bones and skin throughout the 1950s. He was also the loose inspiration for the Hitchcock horror film Psycho!
9. Child’s Play
We know what you’re thinking: how the hell can the 1988 Child’s Play, about a voodoo-infected killer doll, be based on a true story?
However, this tale was based on a doll made back in 1906 for young Gene Otto. It was created by a disgruntled voodoo savant. Witnesses claimed the doll laughed, talked, and walked around. It also mutilated other toys and generally tormented Otto until his death.
You can now view “Robert the Doll” in the Fort East Martello Museum over in Key West, Florida.
10. The Hills Have Eyes
The plot of the 1977 horror classic The Hills Have Eyes is as simple as it is brutal. A normal family gets stranded in Nevada, and they are soon hunted through the desert by killer cannibals!
Director Wes Craven based this on a true story. Back in the Middle Ages, a Scottish clan led by Sawney Bean killed and cannibalized countless people. All Craven had to do was change the time period and nationality of our creepy killers.