10 Horror Movies (Supposedly) Based on Actual Events

Happy Friday Every-bloody!  Summer of Blood 2011 is in full effect, y’all.  I was surprisingly well entertained by Final Destination 5 a couple weeks back.  Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for the remake of Fright Night that premiered last week: Hated it!  Tomorrow, I’m looking forward to seeing Don’t be Afraid of the Dark.  As an avid Guillermo del Toro fan, I have high hopes.  I’ll try to have a review for you all up on Film Sponge tomorrow.  Then next week, I’m super stoked to check out Apollo 18Shark Night 3D also opens on September 2nd, but I’ll be in no hurry to catch that one (already too many sharks in the sea, in my opinion).

Tonight’s list honors a special breed of Horror films, those supposedly based on actual events.  While this claim must always be approached with skepticism, the very prospect of a film’s basis in reality is intriguing—and can be terrifying.   Unfortunately, there’s currently no law against lying about a movie’s origins—and filmmakers use this fact to their advantage.  While some movies are undeniably based on fact (Zodiac, Gacy, and Bundy—obviously) other really twist the truth (The Blair Witch Project).  Either way, the “Based on Actual Events” tag-line almost always adds intensity to a Horror movie.

The following compilation should not be considered proof of validity.  Also, the films on this list aren’t necessarily the most accurate.  These are (in my humble opinion) the best, most entertaining movies that claim a foundation in reality.  Enjoy!

10 Horror Movies (Supposedly) Based on Actual Events

Check out the entire list after the jump!

Open WaterOpen Water is loosely based on the story of Americans Tom and Eileen Lonergan who, in 1998, were left behind on a scuba excursion at Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.  There abandonment is blamed on several factors including an inaccurate head count and the couple’s penchant for maximizing time spent underwater.  Part of what makes this true-life story so terrifying is that no one even noticed the couple was missing for two days.  Since their bodies were never found, there’s no proof that the Lonergans were devoured by sharks, but fishermen did find an ominous message on a waterproof slate used by divers to communicate underwater that read: “We have been abandoned on 25 Jan 98 3pm. Please help us [come] to rescue us before we die. Help!!”

Boarderland: One of the best of any After Dark selection, Borderland might unfairly be accused of excessive “borrowing” from Horror heavy-hitters like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Hostel. But in fact, Borderland is loosely based on actual people and events. Real-life Mexican cult leader and drug smuggler Adolfo de Jesus Constanzo is known to have employed Voodoo-esque rituals, along with kidnapping and murder, to keep a stranglehold over an entire border community. University of Texas junior Mark Kilroy was supposedly “sacrificed” at the hand of Constanzo’s followers in 1989. Historical accuracy notwithstanding, Borderland (like Hostel and Tourista) is a morality tale for young Americans who would travel to poor countries to indulge in lawless, consequence-free debauchery.

The Amityville Horror:  In the earl 80’s, Leonard Nemoy narrated a pseudo-scientific news magazine called “In Search Of” that reported on topics ranging from UFO’s to the Loch Ness Monster.  As a young impressionable lad, I remember an episode dedicated to the truth behind The Amityville Horror.  It scared the Jeebus outta me!  From that moment on, the line between fantasy and reality has always been blurred in my mind.  The Amityville Horror is a movie based on a book that recounts the story of the Lutz family who moved into a huge riverfront home in upstate New York only to abandon the house (along with all of their belongings) a month later.  When I finally worked up the nerve to watch the 1979 film (in 1995 when I was 22 years old!) it still scared the hell out of me.  Forget the lame sequels and the big budget 2005 remake.  While most of the “actual events” of this film have since been called into question, the original Amityville Horror is still one of the scariest movies of all time.  Believe it.

From Hell:  There is no debate that a serial killer known as “Jack the Ripper” terrorized prostitutes working in London’s Whitechapel district in 1888.  The movie From Hell (starring Johnny Depp) is filled with many accurate details including the victim’s names, the chronology of events, and the historical context in which the murders took place.  Whether or not The Queen’s official surgeon committed these crimes in a perversion of Freemason rituals, however, is complete conjecture.  Nonetheless, From Hell is so grounded in fact that a viewer unfamiliar with The Ripper’s legacy might find this film utterly confusing.  So if you haven’t seen From Hell yet, read a brief history of “Saucy Jack” on Wikipedia before viewing.  You’ll thank me.

An American Haunting: According to IMDB, An American Haunting is: “Based on the true events of the only case in US History where a spirit was proven to have caused the death of a man.”  While I’m absolutely certain that the above statement is a fabrication, An American Haunting features characters who actually did exist, as well as aspects of the documented legend of the Bell Witch.  The film does a great job at suggesting potentials reasons behind the family’s haunting, including a teenager’s telekinetic abilities and her repression of sexual abuse.  While it may be impossible to know what aspects of An American Haunting have a factual foundation, the movie succeeded at making me consider the unbelievable.

The Hills Have Eyes:  Surprised to see this film on my list?  So am I!  I had no idea until I began researching for this list that The Hills Have Eyes is based on the legend of Alexander “Swaney” Bean, a Scottsman of the 15th or 16th century who reportedly headed a 40-person clan of cannibals that killed over 1,000 people during a 25 year reign of terror.  The clan eluded capture for so long by hiding in a cave that was 200 yards deep and, during high tide, the entrance was blocked by water (believed by many to be Bannane Cave, located between modern Girvan and Ballantrae in Ayrshire).  Today, most historians argue that the legend of Swaney Bean is just that, but others maintain the story is flush with “kernels of truth”.

A Haunting in Connecticut:  Before the movie, the Discovery Channel ran a series called A Haunting that included this tale about a family in Connecticut: “In 1986, Ed and Karen Parker move their family into an old Connecticut home to be near the hospital where their teenage son receives cancer treatment. Soon after learning that their residence was once a funeral home, sons Paul and Bobby start seeing ghosts. Paul begins seeing evil entities, including four dark men and a demon called the “Man in the Suit”, and his mental health worsens while his physical health begins to improve. Paul begins to spend more time alone and his behavior becomes violent and unpredictable. He writes dark, sinister poetry and even physically attacks his favorite cousin, Theresa. With his behavior becoming increasingly erratic, his parents have him committed to a mental hospital. Before his departure, Paul warns his family that once he is out of the house, the evil will begin to attack everyone else. Sure enough, once Paul is gone, the evil forces inhabiting the house turn on the rest of the family. In desperation, the Parkers contact psychic investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren for help.”  Well if it was on the Discovery Channel it must be true, right?  The current residences of this Connecticut house, however, claim they have never experienced any paranormal activity.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre:  Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (along with Norman Bates from Psycho, and Jame Gumb from The Silence of the Lambs) are all based on real-life nut-job Ed Gein, a Wisconsin man arrested for multiple murders and grave-robbing in 1957.  Gein made himself a mask and body suit out of human skin.  He also used this unique fabric for making furniture and lamp-shades.  Some sick details not mentioned in any fictional account are the fact the Gein had soup bowls made from human craniums and a large collection of severed nipples.  Part of what makes Gein so terrifying is that he seemed like a harmless, mild-mannered geek before his house of horrors was uncovered.  Despite the mounds of grizzly evidence collected, Gein was spared from prison when he was found not-guilty by reason of insanity.  He lived his remaining days in a mental institution where doctors described him as a model patient.

The Exorcism of Emily Rose and Requiem:  Both of these movies are based on the real life story of Anneliese Michel (September 21, 1952 – July 1, 1976), a German Catholic girl believed (by some) to be possessed by demons.  Anneliese underwent a series of exorcisms during which time she rarely ate or drank.  Unfortunately, the exorcisms seemed to have little positive effect and Anneliese eventual died of malnutrition and dehydration (reportedly only weighing 68 pounds at the time of her death).  The priest who conducted the rituals and both of Anneliese’s parents were put on trial for her murder, although no one served time in prison.  What I find interesting about the two films based on Anneliese’s life is that they come at the story from different ends of the Horror spectrum.  The Exorcism of Emily Rose is an exaggerated exploitation of the case, incorporating many details that never actually occurred.  Requiem, on the other hand, is hardly a Horror movie at all, instead telling the heart-wrenching story of a misdiagnosed mentally ill woman who suffered from seizures and sexual repression (clearly the more accurate retelling).

The Exorcist: The Exorcist might not enjoy its reputation as the most terrifying movie of all time were it not for the claim that it’s based on actual events.  William Peter Blaty, screenwriter and author of the novel The Exorcist, was inspired by an article he read in college at Georgetown University about an exorcism performed on a 13-year old boy in Maryland in 1949.  Journalist Mark Opsasnick spent years separating fact from fiction, eventually publishing the definitive story behind the movie called: “The Haunted Boy of Cottage City: The Cold Hard Facts about the Story that Inspired ‘The Exorcist’”.  It’s a fascinating read, and comes highly recommended.  I don’t want to ruin the surprise for you, but Opsasnick does eventually meet the man who was once the “possessed” boy who inspired The Exorcist.  It’s… not how you might imagine…  I’d even go so far as to say that Opsasnick’s essay would make a damn good film itself.  Check it out for yourself: http://www.strangemag.com/exorcistpage1.html

Well, that’s it for another episode of Blood and Guts for Grown Ups.  Have a great weekend Every-bloody!  See you next Friday!

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About Saucy Josh

I write a blog for intelligent Horror movie aficionados called Blood and Guts for Grown Ups: https://bloodandgutsforgrownups.wordpress.com/ View all posts by Saucy Josh

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