8 Classic Scary Movies That Are Based on True Stories

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The following is a list of classic scary movies that are–or at least believed to be–based on real-life events.

8. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

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Movie Plot: Child killer Freddy Krueger escapes prosecution and ends up being burned alive by a mob of angry parents. Back from the dead, Krueger shows up in the dreams of innocent teenagers to haunt and kill them. In order to stay alive, the teens must fight to stay awake.

Real-Life Story: Three Southeast Asian refugees who were having terrifying nightmares fought to stay awake as long as possible. Exhausted from a lack of sleep, each man dozed off, woke up screaming, and died from an unknown cause. According to an article on the New York Post‘s website, “One man, who had terrible dreams, told his parents that he refused to go to sleep, believing he would die once he shut his eyes. He forced himself to stay awake for two days, even hiding a coffee machine in his closet, until he ultimately succumbed. His family later found him shrieking and thrashing violently in his bed — before suddenly dying.”

7. Poltergeist (1982)

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Movie Plot: The home of a family in suburban California is invaded by spirits that appear friendly at first, merely moving objects around in the house. However, the spirits turn angry, and when the 10-year-old daughter becomes possessed, the parents turn to an exorcist for help.

Real-Life Story: In 1958, Lucille Herrmann and her teenage children heard strange noises coming from different places in their Seaford, New York home. After investigating, they found uncapped bottles upended in several rooms, including a bottle of Holy Water that had been spilled on a dresser. A few days later, they heard the noises again and found several other bottles had been uncapped and upended. Once the story became public, the strange events escalated. More than 70 unexplained happenings occurred. A priest was called in to help, but to no avail.

Fearing for their safety, Mr. Herrmann decided to move his family out temporarily. However, after the Herrmanns returned, the noises resumed–now with larger, heavier objects being moved about. After nearly a month of this, the family was approached by scientists from the Duke University Parapsychology Laboratory staff. Shortly after the scientists’ arrival, the mysterious events stopped.

6. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

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Movie Plot: An FBI agent is sent to interview a demented, diabolical, yet brilliant prisoner (Dr. Hannibal Lecter) who may be able to give her clues to the actions of a psychopathic killer named Jame Gumb, aka Buffalo Bill, who’s been murdering women across the Midwest.

Real-Life Story: Silence of the Lambs was actually inspired by three real-life stories. Gumb’s first scene was inspired by Ted Bundy who feigned injury by wearing a fake cast in order to trick women into helping him. He would hit them over the head once they got to his car. The scenes where Gumb skins his victims to make a “woman suit” was possibly inspired by Ed Gein, who did the same thing in real life. Lastly, keeping his victims in a pit in his basement came straight from the pages of the real life story of Gary Heidnik, a murderer who held his kidnapped victims hostage in a pit in his basement.

5. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

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Movie Plot: A family of cannibals living in the Texas Panhandle feeds on tourists and sells the leftovers as “barbecue” and “chili.”

Real-Life Story: Though The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was marketed as a true story, director Tobe Hooper says a Christmas shopping frenzy in Montgomery Ward was the inspiration behind the film. “There were these big Christmas crowds, I was frustrated, and I found myself near a display rack of chain saws. I just kind of zoned in on it. I did a rack focus to the saws, and I thought, ‘I know a way I could get through this crowd really quickly.’ I went home, sat down, all the channels just tuned in, the zeitgeist blew through, and the whole damn story came to me in what seemed like about thirty seconds. The hitchhiker, the older brother at the gas station, the girl escaping twice, the dinner sequence, people out in the country out of gas,” Hooper told Texas Monthly.

Other accounts, however, say that notorious murderer and grave robber Ed Gein was the inspiration behind the film–at least part of it, anyway. In the movie, there’s a room that’s filled with furniture made from human bones. Gein’s home was reportedly filled with bowls made from human skulls, chair seats and a lampshade made from human skin, and other ghastly creations.

4. The Amityville Horror (1979)

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Movie Plot: A young couple unwittingly buys a haunted house in Amityville, New York.

Real-Life Story: Former land surveryor George Lee Lutz, his wife Kathy, and their three children moved into a three-story home on Long Island, New York in 1975–about a year after Ronald DeFeo, Jr. murdered six of his family members there. The Lutz’s moved out (according to Mr. Lutz they were driven out by the spirits of the murdered family members) after living there for just 28 days. While there, they reportedly encountered strange sounds and smells, gelatinous drops, and other unexplained phenomena.

3. The Exorcist (1973)

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Movie Plot: Two priests attempt to exorcise a demon-possessed girl.

Real-Life Story: A 1949 article appearing in the Washington Post was the inspiration behind this thriller. The article, titled “Priest Frees Mt. Rainier Boy Reported Held in Devil’s Grip,” was about a 14-year-old boy from Mt. Rainier, Maryland who was believed to be possessed by demons. The boy, whom the priests nicknamed Roland Doe, was treated in the old psychiatric wing of Alexian Brothers Hospital on south Broadway. The exorcism went on for several months before Doe was finally cured.

2. The Shining (1980)

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Movie Plot: Supernatural forces drive a man insane while staying at a remote hotel in the Rocky Mountains.

Real-Life Story: An overnight stay at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado inspired Stephen King to write The Shining. King, his wife Tabitha, and their three-year-old son spent the night there after heavy snowfall caused the Kings to turn back on their way to the Rocky Mountains National Park. While at the hotel, King reportedly dreamt his son was being chased down the hotel corridors by a “dark presence.”

Said to be America’s most haunted hotel, many guests report feeling a mysterious presence.

1. The Hills Have Eyes (1977)

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Movie Plot: A family traveling across the desert to California is left stranded when their car breaks down. Things take a turn for the worse as they discover they’re being hunted by a family of cannibals living in the surrounding hills.

Real-Life Story: Legend has it that Scottish cave dweller Sawney Bean and his family clan killed and ate 1,000 people over a period of 25 years. According to the legend, the Beans lived in a sea cave that was hidden from sight during high-tide.

Scottish historian Dr. Louise Yeoman told BBC News that this story simply was not true. “The Sawney story was a dig at Scots – a people so barbarous they could produce a monster like Sawney, who lived in a cave and ate people,” Yeoman said.


As the old adage goes, truth is stranger than fiction–and these movies prove just that!