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Chilling Facts About The Real-Life Events That Inspired Horror Movies

Mathew Burke

If you go to a horror movie, you’ll probably see the words “Based on true events” flash across the screen. While some flicks take artistic licence to the next level, a shocking number of scary movies are actually based on terrifyingly true events. Need proof? Read on to learn more about the eerie inspirations your favorite spine-chilling movies.


Real Inspirations For Horror Movies Facts

The Conjuring Was Based On Actual Ghostbusters

Husband and wife ghostbusters Ed and Lorraine Warner are the main characters in the electrifying Conjuring movies, but did you know that they were real people? The actual Warrens had the very cool job of “paranormal investigators” and they really worked on a case that involved an evil ghost named Bathsheba.

The Real Family Still Believes They Were Haunted

In a quiet house in 1970s Rhode Island, the Perron family started experiencing strange events. Their home smelled like rotting flesh and one of the Perron daughters began levitating in her bed, and that was just the beginning of the madness. Ma and Pa Perron called in the Warners, who claimed that the family was being haunted by Bathsheba Thayer, a mother of four who sacrificed her children to the devil.

Reporters claimed the story was a hoax, but the Perrons and Warners begged to differ. To this day, Andrea Perron insists that she “knows what [she] experienced.”

Winchester‘s Terrifying True Story

The 2018 horror movie Winchester seems outrageous, but much of its plot is based on an incredibly sad, dark story. In the late 1800s, Sarah Winchester had it all. She was married to the wealthy firearm magnate William Winchester and had just given birth to a new baby but by 1881, everything came crashing down.

The Real Winchester Mystery House

Sarah’s husband died of tuberculosis, and her baby wasted away from the childhood illness marasmus. Grieving and lost, Winchester reportedly went to a medium for guidance. The clairvoyant told Sarah that she was being haunted by the victims of her husband’s rifles, then ordered her to build a mansion for herself and the spirits. Winchester followed the psychic’s orders: She had construction workers build the infamous Winchester Mystery House for almost 38 maniacal years.

The House on Haunted Hill

At a certain point, Winchester’s instructions were so nonsensical that there are stairs that go nowhere and windows creepily looking into other rooms. Many believe the mansion’s twisting insides were meant to keep the vengeful ghosts confused. The whole house only had one working bathroom for Sarah; the rest acted as decoys to elude the ghosts. Sarah also slept in a different bedroom every night, fearing that spectres would catch up if she stayed put. When she passed away in 1922, the house still hadn’t been completed.

The Real Life Roots of Freddy Krueger

First of all, Freddy Krueger, the iconic villain from 1986’s A Nightmare on Elm Street, wasn’t a real person—there has never been a person that could enter your dreams and kill you, so don’t worry. But the movie was inspired by a story Wes Craven heard about a group of South Asian men who died unexpectedly in their sleep when they seemed to be perfectly healthy. The phenomenon still happens sometimes today, and it’s called “sudden unexplained death syndrome.” Sounds a bit on the nose!

An Eeerie Real Tragedy Delayed the Release of Escape Room

2019’s Escape Room takes the latest entertainment fad and adds on a horror movie spin, but few people know that an actual escape room really did lead to the deaths of its players. In Poland, an escape room caught on fire, and carbon monoxide poisoning actually killed the five teenagers who were “playing” in the next room. The movie was already in the editing phase at the time of the fire, but the parallels were too creepy to ignore. They delayed the release of the film out of respect for the lives lost.

Curse of the Zodiac isn’t Just Fiction

The Zodiac Killer is one of America’s most infamous serial killers. In the late 1960s, he (or she) terrorized Northern California, taunting the public with eerie cryptic codes and chilling messages splashed all over the newspapers. But the most frightening part of the Zodiac is the fact that he’s never been caught. The story of their chilling reign has provided the basis for more than ten movies, which range from documentaries to thrillers like David Finch’s Zodiac and the 2007 horror flick Curse of the Zodiac.

The Dark True Story of Snowtown 

Between 1992 and 1999, three Australian men committed a series of slayings that became known as the Snowtown Murders. One of the most notorious cases in Australian history, the men hid the bodies of their eight victims in barrels inside an abandoned bank vault. The grisly case inspired the critically acclaimed 2011 movie Snowtown.

It told the harrowing story  through the eyes of young Jamie, who falls under the dark spell of his sinister father figure John. The scariest part of the movie is how faithfully it represents its chilling source material.

Horror Movies Inspiration FactsSnowtown,Madman Entertainment

A Real Haunted Doll Inspired Annabelle

The Conjuring’s Ed and Lorraine Warren got called into some eerie cases, but their most chilling might be the tale that inspired the movie Annabelle. In the film, Annabelle is an unsettling porcelain doll that terrorizes a young couple. But the real Annabelle was a plush Raggedy Ann doll from the 1970s. She may have looked innocent, but that Raggedy Ann wreaked havoc on Donna and Angie, two nursing students who shared a house.

Horror Movies Inspiration FactsAnnabelle,Warner Bros.

Don’t Mess With Annabelle

According to Donna, Angie, and the Warrens, the real Annabelle doll would change places and even creepier, leave messages on parchment…even though Donna and Angie didn’t have any parchment in their house. When the girls got creeped out, they went to a psychic who told them that the spirit of a little girl named Annabelle Higgins possessed the doll. But when Angie and Donna got the Warrens involved, they had a darker idea.

Warren’s Believe it or Not

The Warrens believed that there was no little girl animating Annabelle. Instead it was a demonic force. But even after exorcising the doll and taking it out of Angie and Donna’s home, Annabelle still had some evil left in her. The Warrens claim that their brakes cut out as they drove home with the doll. They locked her in a glass case but apparently, she’s been known to escape…

Hoboken Hollow is Based On a Real Evil Ranch

In 1984, police raided the ranch of Walter Wesley Welbracht Sr. and his family. As they searched the property, they made an absolutely horrific discovery. It turned out that the Welbrachts had been abducting and enslaving people to work for them for almost a decade. The prisoners were tortured, and at least one person died there. The “Texas Slave Ranch,” as it came to be known, served as the basis for the 2006 movie Hoboken Hollow.

Horror Movies Inspiration FactsHoboken Hollow,

Sylvia Likens was the True Victim of An American Crime

The murder of Sylvia Likens is known as “the most terrible crime ever committed in the state of Indiana.” Likens was the daughter of two carnival workers, who left her in the care of Gertrude Baniszewski. Baniszewski held Likens captive in her basement for weeks, and along with her daughter, son, and two other neighborhood boys, tormented and eventually killed her. The Ellen Page movie An American Crime, released in 2007, is a fictionalized version of these true events.

Horror in the Borderlands 

Borderlands, the 2007 Mexican-American horror movie about a cult that practices human-sacrifice, is a loose adaptation of truly disturbing true story. Adolfo de Jesús Constanzo was a real-life Cuban-American serial killer who led a religious cult in the 1980s. Constanzo convinced his followers to kidnap, murder and dismember people between 1986 and 1989 in the name of the devil-like god Kadiempembe.

Horror Movies Inspiration FactsBorderland,After Dark Films

Slenderman is Connected to a Horrific Crime

IndieWire called this 2018 movie “tasteless” because of the dicey way it handles a real-life tragedy. While the Slenderman character is entirely fictional, two teenage girls in Wisconsin claimed to do his bidding when they stabbed their “best friend” 19 times. Unsurprisingly, the victim’s family did not support the movie.

Real Girls Inspired Hard Candy

Before she rose to fame as the titular Juno, Ellen Page starred in the 2005 psychological thriller Hard Candy. The dark movie details how a young girl kidnaps and torments man that she suspects of being a pedophile. The idea for the movie came about from a news story that producer David W. Higgins saw. It was about a group of innocent-looking Japanese schoolgirls who would lure older businessmen to secluded areas, beat them, and rob them.

The Real Amityville Horror

On November 13, 1974, Ronald DeFeo Jr. methodically walked into each bedroom in his house, killing everyone as he went. His parents, two brothers, and two sisters were all found in the exact same position: laying on their stomachs in their beds. But the true horror came after DeFeo’s demented spree.

Too Late To Be Submitted As Evidence?

When police questioned DeFeo, he claimed that voices told him to kill his family, though he changed his story many times over. The courts clearly didn’t buy his shifting supernatural story, as they sentenced him to serve  six consecutive life sentences. But then the Lutz family moved into the home where DeFeo Jr. committed his crimes. Their experiences would form the basis of the classic horror movie The Amityville Horror. 

Lutz Get Out Of Here

The Lutz family lasted just 28 days before leaving the Amityville house due to what they claimed were horrifying paranormal events. But before they left, guess who stepped in to investigate the chilling paranormal activities?  You guessed it, Ed and Lorraine Warren, Hollywood’s favorite ghost detectives. Outside of that information though, the events of the movie, and the 2005 remake, were made up for the screen. If that disappoints you, you can always investigate for yourself: The house still stands in Long Island.

American Horror Story: Roanoke Isn’t Just a TV Show

Virginia Dare was the first English child born in North America, but unfortunately, that’s not the only reason she’s famous. In 1587, Dare entered the world in the mysterious colony of Roanoke Island. Her grandfather had return to England for supplies, but expected to see little Virginia when he got back. Instead, he returned to a disturbing sight.

What Happened at Roanoke?

The village was gone. Not abandoned: gone. The houses had been taken down, and the materials had been moved. There was no trace of the pilgrims. Virginia and the settlers had vanished. From combat with Indigenous tribes to vicious diseases to assimilation, there have been many theories about what happened to the settlers. While no one knows for sure, the old American mystery has inspired numerous TV shows and films, the most notable being a recent season of American Horror Story. 

A Local Legend Inspired The Mothman Prophecies 

Between 1966 and 1967 in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, a series of strange events occurred. People began reporting sightings of a seven-foot-tall moth like creature with a ten-foot wingspan: the mothman. Eventually the sightings stopped, but only after a bridge collapsed in 1967, killing 46 people, leading many to believe that the mothman was behind it. This local legend served as the inspiration for the 2002 Richard Gere flick The Mothman Prophecies.

The Victorian Boogeyman Who Was Really From Hell

Jack the Ripper, who preyed on sex workers in 19th century London, is one of the most notorious criminals in history. He killed at least five women, perhaps more, and he was never caught by authorities. Police at the time received many letters from people who claimed to be the ripper, but one of the only possibly authentic letters included an utterly chilling item. It came with part of a human kidney and began with the line “From Hell.” The chilling missive inspired Alan Moore’s graphic novel of the same name, which in turn became a 2001 movie with Johnny Depp.

Ravenous Comes From Grisly True Stories

Cannibals are always a popular topic for horror movies like in 1999’s Ravenous. Though, as you could expect, the movie is highly fictionalized, the general story of cannibalism in the Old West was inspired by disturbing authentic occurrences. In real life, people like Alfred Packer and the Donner party got lost in the wilderness and resorted to cannibalism to stay alive.

A Family Was Actually Haunted in Connecticut

Shortly after the Snedeker family moved into a rental home in Connecticut, they made an unsettling discovery. Their new basement was filled with mortician’s tools, because their house used to be a funeral parlor. The family reported various terrifying sightings, and contacted good ol’ Ed and Lorraine Warren to investigate. Their story became the basis for the 2009 movie The Haunting in Connecticut.

A Very Bad Omen

The Omen was not inspired by a true story, but this creepy behind-the-scenes tale is too eerie not to share. During the filming of the 1976 film The Omen, a private plane was hired by the film crew to transport them but they had to make a last minute cancellation. Instead, the plane flew elsewhere, only it didn’t get very far. The plane crashed violently onto a road, into two traveling cars. And who was in one of those cars? The wife and children of the pilot who crashed the plane.

Chucky is Based on a Real Doll

A lot of horror movies simply involve a crazed maniac who kills for fun, which is terrifying yet believable. But how could a movie about a psychotic, possessed doll be true? Well, that’s where Robert the haunted doll comes in. The 113-year-old doll is the basis for Chucky from the Childs Play series. Robert once belonged to Florida painter and author Robert Eugene Otto and has been blamed for car accidents, lost jobs, and divorces, among many other things.

The Mummy’s Curse Might Be Real

Remember how when Imhotep’s grave is disturbed in The Mummy, he rises from the dead and takes vengeance on the people who woke him up? Well…that’s kind of what happened to the people who discovered King Tut’s tomb. When Howard Carter did the deed, the world was amazed–but also fearful of the mummy’s curse. As time passed, it looked like they were right to be afraid. One of Carter’s team, Lord Carnavon, died soon after the discovery. They didn’t realize it then, but the disasters would keep coming.

Fingers Crossed The Scorpion King Doesn’t Come To Life

The entire city of Cairo was cloaked in darkness, with the lights going out under strange circumstances. Then people who discovered the tomb and those who visited its unearthed treasures started to fall like flies. An Egyptian prince was shot by his wife. The man who X-rayed the mummy died under mysterious circumstances. A man on Carter’s team was poisoned. Another member, Richard Bethell, was smothered to death. His father then killed himself. T:;DR: Don’t mess with ancient Egypt, guys.

The Rite Was Inspired By an Actual Exorcist

Exorcisms sound too supernatural to be true, but they’re a real part of the Catholic faith, even to this day. Just ask Father Gary Thomas, a real-life Catholic priest who just so happens to be one of very few trained exorcists in America. After the church noted a spike in possession reports, the Vatican sponsored a course to train Father Thomas and other selected priests. His accounts formed the basis of the chilling 2011 Anthony Hopkins movie The Rite, which follows a priest who enrols in an exorcism course and assists Anthony Hopkins’ character with some heeby-jeeby inducing ceremonies.

Real News Inspired Jaws’ Monster Shark

1975’s Jaws was the first modern-day blockbuster, but was it based on a true story? The short answer is… not exactly, but it was inspired by a startling deep sea creature. Peter Benchley wrote the novel that inspired Spielberg’s Jaws after he learned that a man named Frank Mundus had caught an enormous 4,500 lb. great white shark off of Long Island. The story featured a photo of Mundus next to the animal’s gaping mouth and razor-sharp teeth. Benchley took it from there.

A Creepy eBay Listing Inspired The Possession 

In 2003, a man named Kevin Mannis put a Jewish wine cabinet up for sale on eBay. But this was no ordinary listing. In the chilling post, Mannis described how he bought the cabinet at an estate sale without realizing that it contained a malevolent Jewish spirit called a Dybbuk. Mannis described how the spirit made light bulbs burst, stunk up his shop with the scent of cat urine, and he believes, led to his mother’s stroke. The scary story became so popular it inspired the 2012 movie The Possession.

The Exorcist was about a Real Little Boy

In 1949, a boy named Roland Doe had apparently become obsessed with a Ouija board after his aunt passed away. Soon after, strange occurrences began happening in the house and his parents came to believe the worst: Their child was possessed. The Does had their minister perform a terrifying 30-session exorcism on little Roland. After the most frightening weeks of his life, the boy went back to normal. William Peter Blatty used elements of the story when writing his book The Exorcist, which became the now-iconic film.

The Eerie Story Behind Twins

With movies like The Fly and Videodrome, David Cronenberg has become the master of “body horror.”  But few people know that his 1988 movie Dead Ringers was based on a chilling real story. The film detailed identical twin gynecologists whose practice and lives slowly dissolve into drugs and madness over a woman.

Though Cronenberg based the story on the novel Twins, both of these works were inspired by the real-life story of Stewart and Cyril Marcus, twin gynecologists who were found dead and badly decomposed from overdoses in their New York City apartment.

Henry was a Terrifying Real Man

The BBC called the 1986 movie Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer “quite possibly the most harrowing serial killer movie ever made.” It was based on the confessions of Henry Lee Lucas, who took the credit for more than 600 crimes. However, there’s a twist: Most of Lucas’ confessions ended up being false! But he’s still believed to have been responsible for 11 deaths, which is more than enough.

The Blob and the Strange Case of…Real Space Jelly?

It seems impossible that the 1958 sci-fi movie The Blob could possibly be based in truth. After all, it’s about a sentient, alien blob that lands on earth in a meteor and proceeds to devour everyone it can get near. But, believe it or not, it’s based on a real incident in 1950 where two police officers in Philadelphia witnessed a strange object that floated down out of the sky. And that’s just the beginning of the mystery…

This is a Case for the FBI

When they tracked it down, it ended up being a puddle of purple goop that was filled with crystals and giving off a sort of mist. To add more mystery to the story, the FBI was called in to investigate, but by the time they arrived, it had evaporated without a trace. It never ate anyone and it didn’t exactly come to earth in a meteor, but it was enough to inspire the iconic flick.

Skip This One If You Don’t Like Going to The Dentist

The Dentist is a 1996 slasher film about a murderous dentist who goes on a rampage after he catches his wife cheating on him. The real life inspiration was a man named Dr. Glennon Engleman, a practicing dentist who, get this, worked as a hitman on the side. Engleman committed at least seven murders for money across a span of 30 years. I guess it shouldn’t come as a surprise that a dentist turned out to be a sadistic sociopath.

Horror Movies Inspiration FactsThe Dentist,Trimark Pictures

Leatherface Was Based on a Vicious Criminal

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which was originally released in 1974, is considered to be a seminal slasher movie, serving as the origin for many tropes of the genre. It was even one of the first major horror movies to use the “based on a true story” tagline for a movie that’s almost entirely fantasy. While the creators did base certain aspects of the story on the crimes of Ed Gein, the “true story” tagline was mostly meant as a marketing scheme, as well as subtle political commentary.

The Real Life Alligator Man

The story of Joe Ball, the so-called Alligator Man, sounds like your usual down-south urban legend. A serial killer who got rid of evidence by feeding his victims to his pet alligators. Well, this story is frighteningly real. Ball was an actual person who actually did feed his murder victims to his alligators in south Texas during the 1930s. His story is the inspiration for the 1977 movie Eaten Alive, about a crazed innkeeper and his pet crocodile.

Horror Movies Inspiration FactsEaten Alive,Virgo International

A Creepy Scottish Clan Inspired The Hills Have Eyes

Although the location was changed all the way from the coast of Scotland to the desert of Nevada, the 1977 movie The Hills Have Eyes is meant to be a modernized re-telling of the story of Sawney Bean, the leader of an infamous clan of cannibals in Scotland. According to legend, Bean and his clan lived in the 17th century, and killed and ate 1,000 people. The tale of the cannibal clan is now part of Scottish folklore, but many scholars believe it’s more myth than reality.

Primeval Might Be About an Actual Monster Crocodile

For decades, a Nile crocodile known as Gustave haunted Burundi’s Lake Tanganyika. He was said to be 20 feet long, close to 2,000 pounds, and had reportedly eaten hundreds of people, gaining a reputation as a maniacal serial killer. Primeval, a 2007 movie about a giant, man-eating crocodile in Burundi, took the legendary creture as its inspiration. How do we know? Its original title was Gustave.

Get Out Has Eerie Real-Life Implications

Jordan Peele’s instant classic Get Out has all the hallmarks of a great horror movie: a mansion with dark secrets lurking in the basement, hypnosis, mind control, and more. But the scariest part of the flick is its basis in reality. Peele said he wrote the movie because he was frustrated that people thought racism was over when Obama became President.

He used Get Out to show that prejudice and racial violence were still very much alive, just a little better hidden. Alison and her family act like they’re not biased but, spoiler alert, it’s all an act to literally sell Chris’ body to the highest bidder!

A Real Demonologist Inspired Deliver Us From Evil

2014’s Deliver Us From Evil follows a New York City police officer who investigates a terrifying series of events involving secret runes, ancient demons, and possession. It sounds like classic supernatural shenanigans, but the movie drew inspiration from a non-fiction book by Ralph Sarchie, an actual NYPD sergeant turned Catholic demonologist. Spooky…

The Psycho Behind Psycho

One of the most iconic slasher movies of all time, Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 masterpiece Psycho was based on a book, that was in turn based on none other than Wisconsin’s notorious killer Ed Gein. His personality and crimes inspired Bate’s obsession with his dead mother and his isolation in the middle of nowhere. But that’s not even the scariest part.

Even though Bloch insisted that most of Norman Bates’ character sprang from his imagination, he actually lived very close to where Gein committed his deranged crimes.

Orphan Inspired a Vicious Crime

The movie Orphan isn’t based on a true story. Instead, the twisted film flipped the script by inspiring a vicious real-life crime. When an American couple adopted a little Ukrainian girl, they had no idea that she’d start smearing blood on their mirrors, saying that she would “poison them,” or, worst of all, be a deranged fully grown adult dwarf in her 20s.

The Real-Life Exorcism of “Emily Rose”

2005’s The Exorcism of Emily Rose is terrifying, but the events that inspired the film aren’t just scary—they’re heartbreaking. Anneliese Michel was a young German woman in the 1970s who suffered from epilepsy. Her devout parents became convinced that their daughter was being possessed by the devil. They called in two priests, but the solution wasn’t as simple as a single session…

Annaliese Michel’s Sad Life

After 67 vigorous exorcisms, the two priests hired by Anneliese’s parents claimed that they found multiple demons inside Anneliese. With the demons gone, she should have gone back to normal life, but just months after the last exorcism, Anneliese died. She was just 23 years old. According to the church, the young girl passed away because the possessions had weakened her. But a criminal court blamed something, or rather someone, else.

The Real Emily Rose Met a Tragic End

After Anneliese passed away, the coroner ruled that her death was preventable. She did not die of demonic possession, but malnourishment and dehydration. In a heartbreaking detail, Anneliese’s knees were broken when she died because she was genuflecting for such long periods of time.

Who was to blame for such a tragedy? In a tragic twist, the court charged Anneliese’s own parents with criminal negligence. According to one witness, her death could have been prevented if she’d been taken to a doctor just a week before she perished.

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