Top 25 Horror Movies Based on True Stories

Horror Movies Based on True Stories's NOT what's for dinner.

Have you ever found yourself watching a horror film and been struck at how realistic the story, setting, and characters are? Arguably, there is nothing scarier than horror movies that are based on or inspired by true events.

To know that the horror movies we love may not be as fictitious as we thought. These 25 films will chronicle real events and “loosely” based inspirations, since there is nothing creepier than watching slashers, paranormal entities, or alien-beings that blur the lines between fact and fiction. So pop a Zoloft, lock your doors, and read on to discover the Top 25 Horror Movies Based on True Stories...or, at least some really creepy fiction masquerading as reality.

25. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

One of the most truly terrifying horror films ever made, a film that simulates a waking nightmare, was actually inspired by the horrific crimes of Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein. In addition to his murders, Gein would also raid local cemeteries after hours in Plainview, Wisconsin to desecrate corpses and collect bones which he would display in his home. That morbid form of covetting makes for an unforgettable scene in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre , which explores Gein’s macabre obsessions through a crazed family in rural Texas.

Shocker fact: Gunnar Hansen, who played the legendary horror icon “Leatherface” would remain dateless for years afterwards, when his dates found out who he played in the movie.

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24. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer 

If any movie has ever been made that came too close to showing what it feels like to be a mass-murderer, it is this one. One of horror’s most personal and disturbing entries, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer loosely interprets real-life serial killers Henry Lee Lucas and Otis Toole. The “drifter” serial killer ruled the 1970s and 1980s before the rise of DNA testing and the movie brings an authenticity to madness through powerful portrayals by Michael Rooker as Henry and Tom Towles as Otis. Horror has never felt more personal or powerful.

Shocker fact: During the shooting of the film in 1985, the cast and crew were frequently threatened with violence and gunfire by Chicago gangs.

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23. The Amityville Horror

Long before Poltergeist and The Conjuring horrified audiences with paranormal possession of newly acquired real estate, The Amityville Horror set the standard, with a true story as its inspiration. In 1975, the Lutz family of George, Kathy, and their three children, moved into an upstate New York house that was actually the site of a mass homicide a year earlier, where Ronald DeFeo Jr., murdered six of his family members. After only 28 days, the Lutz family abandoned the house, and their experiences were creepily captured in the movie.

Shocker fact: James Brolin and Margot Kidder who played George and Kathy Lutz, went on record saying that they did not believe the Lutz family.

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22. The Exorcist

You have horror movies and then you have The Exorcist. William Friedkin’s masterpiece was not only one of the first film’s to explore demonic possession, it remains the standard for all possession movies to this day. The movie is actually inspired by a real exorcism performed by a Jesuit priest, Father William S. Bowdern in 1949. There are no reports of the young boy, Roland Doe, who had the exorcism, vomiting pea soup as a projectile or pleasuring himself with a crucifix, however, if judging by Linda Blair’s antics in the movie, it was likely not a sight for the faint of heart.

Shocker fact: Director William Friedkin would fire real shots from a gun into the air to get the cast into the frenzied state of fright that he wanted.

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21. Wolf Creek

There have been countless horror movies that explore a group of friends who are murdered one by one by a maniac, yet none of them have quite the eerie and desolate atmosphere of Wolf Creek. The film’s unforgettable psycho with a welcoming smile was played by John Jarratt, who is modeled on the real-life Australian serial killer Ivan Milat, who murdered backpackers in the Australian wilderness in the early 1990s. Wild animals are far from the only thing to fear when backpacking in nature. “No worries, mate.”

Shocker fact: The abandoned mine where the film was primarily shot, was actually the site of the murder of a young woman.

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20. A Nightmare on Elm Street

The slasher genre before A Nightmare on Elm Street was primarily focused on real-life homicidal maniacs who went on a killing spree. Director Wes Craven took the genre to new horrifying heights by creating Freddy Krueger, a slasher who murdered teens only in their sleep. Craven was inspired to write the story by the real-life case of Southeast Asian refugees who fled to the U.S. in the 1970s from the war and genocide plaguing Southeast Asia. When the refugees began to suddenly die in their sleep, the medical term “Asian Death Syndrome” was created, the causes likely being from extreme stress caused by nightmares during sleep. Pleasant dreams.

Shocker fact: In the original script, Freddy was a child molester. Due to the insensitivity this potentially could cause with real victims of childhood sexual abuse, Craven changed him to a child murderer.

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19. The Silence of the Lambs

The only horror film to date to receive the Academy Award for Best Picture is a tour de force of tension, suspense, creepy body horror and psychoanalysis. The skin-stealing Buffalo Bill was inspired by Ed Gein and the film’s main inspiration was author Thomas Harris’ experiences with the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit, where he extensively interviewed criminal profilers to understand the inner workings of the minds of serial killers. The results: Dr. Hannibal Lecter is the most sophisticated and brilliant serial killer ever brought to the screen.

Shocker fact: The production of the film received the full support of the F.B.I., who were helpful in releasing case files on Ed Gein and Ted Bundy, who inspired the creation of Buffalo Bill.

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18. The Hills Have Eyes

Horror genius Wes Craven took both the stranded pedestrian and cannibalism horror themes and created the creepiest looking horror villains in film history in The Hills Have Eyes. Although it is essential viewing for horror enthusiasts, its most striking fact is that it is based on true events. In the 15th century, Alexander “Sawney” Bean fled his job as a remote landscaper in the Scottish countryside and moved his family to a beachfront cave where they regularly practiced incest and lured, murdered, and ate local travelers. Yeah, Papa Jupiter and his family are based in fact.

Shocker fact: The original cut of the film submitted to the MPAA received an “X” rating, which prompted Craven to re-edit the film. The uncensored version is no longer in existence.

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17. The Legend of Boggy Creek

Long before The Blair Witch Project popularized docu-horror, Charles B. Pierce put Fouke, Arkansas on the map with his backwoods horror documentary exploring the legend of the Fouke monster, Texarkana’s Bigfoot. Interspersing real interviews with locals who claimed to have saw the beast, with a documentary approach that makes us think what we are seeing is really happening, The Legend of Boggy Creek was the first of its kind. It doesn’t matter if the Fouke monster really exists or not, the horror is found in the possibility to believe.

Shocker fact: Every eyewitness story covered in the movie is played by the real witnesses.

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16. My Friend Dahmer

More than any other serial killer in modern history, Jeffrey Dahmer personifies the manicured and perfect lie of American wholesomeness more than any of his contemporaries. My Friend Dahmer explores the genesis of this disturbed mind that would morph into an American monster disguised as a Ken doll. From his early obsession with preserving roadkill to his early impulses of wanting to experiment upon his friends, My Friend Dahmer shows both the internal and social forces that collide to create a psychopath.

Shocker fact: The entire movie was filmed in Dahmer’s actual childhood home in Bath, Ohio.

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15. Gacy

If Jeffrey Dahmer was the Ken doll of American serial killers, than John Wayne Gacy was the neighborhood teddy bear. Gacy features a powerful performance from Mark Bolton as the contractor and clown for hire by day and brutal killer of young men at night. John Wayne Gacy would not only kill his victims, but also bury them under his crawl space, of which 29 of his 33 victims were found in 1978, six of which remain unidentified to this day. The scariest of all monsters could be the most gentle and kind of neighbors...never trust a clown.

Shocker fact: The maggots that appear in the film were actually mealworms, which were a bit more acceptable to deal with.

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14. The Conjuring

Thirty-four years after The Amityville Horror dashed the dreams of potential home buyers, Director James Wan created a modern horror masterpiece in The Conjuring. Ed and Lorraine Warren, portrayed by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga in the movie, were actually real paranormal investigators and demonologists, who investigated the events of The Amityville Horror as well as the Perron house in the film, where eight generations of families lived before the arrival of the Perron’s, of which bizarre deaths and suicides were the norm.

Shocker fact: Although given an R-rating by the MPAA, the movie contains no sex, nudity, graphic violence or gore. The reasoning given by the MPAA was simply that the film was too scary.

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13. Eaten Alive

There are few worse deaths than the thought of being eaten alive by a predatory animal, however that is exactly the premise of Tobe Hooper’s Grindhouse 70s classic Eaten Alive. In the movie, the character Judd, who owns a seedy Texas hotel, has a penchant for murder that involves feeding his victims to his pet crocodile. As absurd as it sounds, the movie is based on a true story involving a Texan named Joe Ball, who in the 1930s was reported to have killed two women which he fed to his pet alligator. We forget that we are actually just as much a possible food source as the hamburger meat we grill on the 4th of July.

Shocker fact: Joe Ball, the inspiration for the character of Judd, committed suicide on September 24, 1938 when he found out that police were en route to arrest him.

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12. Fire in the Sky

Like Bigfoot, alien abduction exists in the realm of undocumented conjecture, a pastime to fulfill when you have freetime to read some interesting crypto stories. In the case of Travis Walton, a lumberjack in the White Mountains region of Arizona in the 1970s, a semblance of reality was finally captured in the possibility of alien abduction. Travis’ experiences were creepily captured in the movie Fire in the Sky, which depicts what is still the single most horrifying, otherworldly, and singular vision of an alien abduction in film history. How real is Travis’ story? See for yourself, but be prepared to sleep with one eye open for the duration of your life.

Shocker fact: In 1993, all of the loggers present at Travis’ abduction took polygraph tests...they passed.

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11. Ravenous

Cannibalism featured prominently in The Hills Have Eyes, but the concept is just as real in moments of desperation as it would be as an acquired taste. Ravenous tells the tale of a U.S. Army Second Lieutenant who is banished to a remote military outpost in the Sierra Nevada after an act of cowardice is discovered. After the arrival of a frostbitten drifter, a quest for survival ensues to avoid being the drifter’s entree for the evening. The movie was inspired in part by the Donner Party and nineteenth-century miner Alfred Packer, who resorted to cannibalism when his outpost ran out of food. Never underestimate the power of hunger.

Shocker fact: In the film, Captain Boyd hides from the ravenous creature of urban legend, Wendigo, who was a demonic spirit that possessed men in the wilderness, turning them into insatiable, flesh eating beasts.

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10. Zodiac

The Zodiac killer, who terrorized the San Francisco Bay Area in the late 1960s and 1970s, maintains his status as the most mysterious and elusive of American serial killers. David Fincher’s 2007 movie based on the killer and the obsessive search to unmask his identity, combines superb camerawork with eerie atmosphere and even eerier recreations of his murders. The identity of the Zodiac remains a mystery to this day and serves as a stark reminder that not all serial killers are captured...they exist in the world, maybe even right next door.

Shocker fact: The case of the Zodiac killer was reopened after the success of the movie and remains as an open case to this day, 50 years later.

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9. The Strangers

Have you ever had a feeling while watching TV late at night, that at any moment somebody could kick your door down and catch you off guard? That feeling was explored in terrifying fashion in The Strangers. The movie explores home invasion beyond simple monetary gain, the intruders have only one goal in mind: to destroy. The movie was inspired by the 1981 Keddie Cabin Murders in the wilderness of the Sierra Nevada, where a mother, her son, daughter, and one of their friends was brutally murdered after an invasion of their cabin by masked intruders. The case remains unsolved. Sometimes locking your doors just isn’t enough.

Shocker fact: Director Bryan Bertino was also inspired by an event in his childhood, where a mysterious man knocked on his door late one night and asked if his parents were home. The next day, there were reports of burglaries in his neighborhood.

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8. The Entity

The Entity takes the story of a poltergeist and creates a darker, extremely personal version of supernatural hell: sexual abuse. The movie is based on the experiences of Doris Bither, who claimed that three men were sexually assaulting her, yet they had no physical form to be seen or identified. Additionally, Bither’s children corroborated their mother’s claims, including one incidence where her son witnessed Doris being thrown around her bedroom by an invisible force. The movie recreates her experiences and explores the fear of being unable to fight back against a force that has no form to fight against.

Shocker fact: A scene cut from the final edit involved the character of Carol being forced to have incestuous thoughts about one of her sons.

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7. Picnic at Hanging Rock

In all of human history, there are numerous cases of people who literally vanish into thin air, never to be seen or heard from again. Are they the victims of foul play? Interdimensional transitions? Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock  is a beguiling mood piece that explores the disappearance of a group of school girls and their teacher while picnicking at Hanging Rock, Victoria in 1900 Australia. The movie is inspired by events that are shrouded in mystery, with a lack of details just as amnesiac-inducing as the rest of the group who cannot recall the events leading up to the girl’s disappearance. What really happened? The truth will likely never come to light.

Shocker fact: To this day, Hanging Rock incites fear and unease in many people who visit it.

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6. The Ritual

The wilderness has the ability to fascinate all of us with promises of natural vistas of untouched beauty, which humanity has managed to avoid ruining. The Ritual takes our love of nature and reminds us that the natural world has no cause for caring about our survival. The movie tells the tale of a group of young men who journey deep into the wilderness, without telling anybody where they are going or why.

Their exploration soon turns supernatural and reminds us that not every corner of the earth is our safe zone. The film was inspired by the Yuba County Five, which involved the mysterious deaths of five young men in rural California who went into the wilderness and were found months later dead and scattered in the forest. Starvation, homicide, supernatural? Only the forest truly knows.

Shocker fact: Although the story in the film is supernatural, the Yuba County Five served as the inspiration of venturing into the wilderness and not telling anybody of their whereabouts.

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5. Child's Play

In Child’s Play, a homicidal maniac uses voodoo to inhabit a doll. A childhood doll that is inhabited by a maniac could not possibly be based in reality...although it is. Child’s Play was inspired by the case of Robert Eugene Otto, who was given a doll by one of his family’s servants. It is believed that the servant put a spell on the doll to exact her revenge against the boy’s parents who were abusive towards her. The doll in question caused Robert to frequently act out, all of which he claimed the doll told him to do. Innocent playthings will never be the same.

Shocker fact: Chucky and his famous quips were frequently used during acts of violence in the years following the film’s release.

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4. Open Water

The ocean has long had the propensity to frighten human beings for centuries. A vast, largely unknown world that eludes our ability to fully chart and understand it. Open Water explores what it feels likes for humans to be captured in a circumstance outside of their element...and the results are truly terrifying. Not knowing what is underneath you, knowing that the sharks swarming around you will eventually devour you. The movie is based on the circumstances that befell Tom and Eileen Lonergan in 1998 off the coast of Australia. After surfacing to find their boat missing, the couple were never seen again.

Shocker fact: The movie used Caribbean Reef Sharks for the scenes where sharks are swarming Daniel and Susan. The actors used metal mesh under their diving suits in case the sharks started attacking.

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3. The Serpent and the Rainbow

Zombies usually feature as slow, laboring entities with rotting flesh and a desire for human flesh, however the authentic incarnation of a zombie is a being that is killed and brought back to life with dark magic. This concept forms the basis of horror auteur Wes Craven’s dark masterpiece The Serpent and the Rainbow. The film is based on the experiences of ethnobotanist Wade Davis who travelled to Haiti to investigate the case of Clairvius Narcisse, a rumored zombie. His journey lead him to discover black magic priests known as bucors, who are said to revive the dead with spiritual herbs to create zombie slaves.

Shocker fact: During filming, there was widespread civil and social chaos throughout Haiti, that lead the Haitian government to declare that they could not guarantee the crew’s safety.

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2. Crash

What if there was a sexual fetish that involved participants becoming aroused by the impact of car crashes? The “what if” is actually based in fact, as explored by director David Cronenberg in his surreal, morbid, and singular 1996 masterwork Crash. The movie explores a group of people who find sexual gratification in both car crashes and bodily injury, with little to no conscience involved in the carnage required to achieve this stimulation. The fetish explored in the film is called symphorophilia, a real paraphilia that is something straight out of a kinky, sci-fi-warped perception of reality.

Shocker fact: Due to the movies graphic sexual content and violence, it remains banned to this day in London, England.

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1. The Day After

Calling The Day After a horror movie is a bit of a stretch, but in 1983 the threat of nuclear armageddon was as real as any horror story could ever hope to get. The movie explores the possibility of a nuclear attack between the United States and the then Soviet Union. The scenes of nuclear winter as well as the effects of the fireball upon detonation of the bomb, are surreal and unrelentingly real possibilities that serve as a possibility of what could very well happen.

Shocker fact: Over one hundred million Americans tuned into the movies premiere in 1983, making it the most watched TV movie in history.

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After years of being trapped in an underground bunker, where the only source of entertainment was weirdly wonderful cult films, Charles has emerged back into society, ready to share his experiences.
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