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10 Terrifying Horror Films Based on Actual Events

There is no way around it; everyone loves a good scare. Being taken outside one’s comfort zone has always been good for a thrill or two to mix things up in our everyday lives. The best way to accomplish this is through the world of Horror films. Some of the industry’s most iconic names in the film have brought so many terrifying tales to life on the big screen. All these scary stories have their source of inspiration, and some have stories about how they got made that are more haunting than the film itself. No matter how alarming a scary movie can be, you always have the comfort knowing in the back of your mind that what’s happening isn’t real. There is no such thing as a “true” scary movie. Right?

What will really send a chill up everyone’s spine is the fact that some of our favorite horror films are based on actual events. Not all horror movies are based on true stories or actual occurrences, but some of them actually happened in real life. That’s right, a few of the features that caused audiences everywhere to sleep with the lights on for weeks after the credits rolled are things other people survived. For anyone looking to scare themselves silly, these are ten films that brought these horrific tales of terror to the silver screen.

1. The Amityville Horror (1979)

One of the most popular movies based on real events to spawn several lackluster sequel books of the same name.  The Amityville Horror is a well-known retelling of Ronald J. DeFeo Jr.’s real-life murder, and some remake is none other than the infamous Amityville Horror film that released in 1976. This appalling tale of family values gone completely awry is about a young couple who come to find out that their newly purchased house is inhabited by evil spirits. It becomes apparent through some horrific developments around the property that the otherworldly entities aren’t a fan of its new occupants. Possession, horrific imagery and demonic mischief are all over the place in this universally known horror title.

This frightening foray is based on a book of the same name written by Jay Anson’s. The Amityville Horror is a very popular retelling of Ronald J. DeFeo Jr.’s real-life murder of his parents and four siblings, as well as covering the later events experienced by the new house’s owners. The heinous imagery and terrifying look into the shadows of madness, to a certain extent, was actually experienced by regular everyday people. However, what is more, frightening than all of this, is when you realize that the only thing the people involved actually did was purchase the wrong house. Scary stuff.[1][2]

2. The Conjuring (2013)

The Conjuring can best be described as one hell of a terrific ghost story. Directed by the man the restored the world’s faith in the horror genre, James Wan, this film has started a series of sequels and spinoffs making up one of the most successful shared universes in cinema today. The story focuses on the infamous pair of paranormal investigators, Ed & Lorraine Warren. The two ghostly gurus on all things spiritual and demonic attempt to rid an innocent family of their home’s angry and vengeful spirits. The fear is built up through a series of tense moments and continues into one horribly satisfactory scare-fest throughout its climax.[3]

The box office favorite was famously based on just one of the many historical incidents which had the Warrens taking on some serious real-life paranormal mysteries. Throughout their illustrious career, the demonic dynamic duo claimed they had investigated over 10,000 cases of paranormal activity, and they have several books published on the subject of demonology. The Conjuring is just one of the terrifying tales the Warrens experienced and if even half of the others were almost real, it makes you think about could be lurking in the shadows.[4]

3. The Conjuring 2 (2016)

It’s a rare thing for a horror film to do so well it spawns a sequel. What is even stranger is that the next chapter is as good, if not better than its predecessor. The Conjuring 2 is one of those rare occasions and sees the return of the famed paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren. After much hesitation and some in your face evidence, they attempt to help an impoverished family in England who are being haunted by, who else, demons. The film continues the trend of horror the franchise is known for a while setting up spinoff films The Nun and The Crooked Man.

Like the other films in the Conjuring Cinematic Universe, the second Conjuring chapter is based on one of the 10,000 real cases the real-life Warrens actually investigated. The Enfield Poltergeist is one of the most infamous hauntings in all of England and well-known throughout the world. It was a televised event that has been the subject of much debate between experts and skeptics alike. The actual events have been said to have been much scarier than the film itself.[5] It was so successful it has set up a third Conjuring film to go down which will see another one of the infamous Warren cases get the movie treatment once again.[6]

4. The Mothman Prophecies (2002)

Richard Gere, Laura Linney, and a supporting Debra Messing bring this terrorizing slow burn thriller The Mothman Prophecies to life. This fantastic film that struck fear into the hearts of its viewers is about a man that begins to investigate the mysterious Mothman after his wife dies. This Mothman is a strange red-eyed creature that appears to appear just before disasters occur. He becomes obsessed with unlocking the mystery behind the being and the closer he gets, the more shocking the evidence becomes.

This alarming look into some mythical creature that can foresee horrific disasters is based on the writings of a real journalist named John Keel. Keel wrote the book titled “The Mothman Prophecies” after investigating of many sightings of the creature and other strange phenomena in West Virginia in the late 1960s. A lot is pointing in the direction of this thing being out there and the fact that no one really knows what it could really be, which makes it all the more terrifying as no one knows what to fear.[7]

5. Wolf Creek (2005)

Wolf Creek tells a chilling and factually based story that takes place all the way down under on the continent of Australia. The film’s version focuses on three backpackers, Kristy, Ben, and Liz, who are three normal twenty-year-olds who set out for an innocent hike through Wolf Creek National Park. Their troubles begin when their car doesn’t start, and they encounter Mick Taylor. They would soon realize a deadly psychopath was hunting them throughout the outback of Australia. This one is so dark and grimy it ends up being as unsettling as it is thrilling. You can feel the fear in the end.[8]

The flick’s director and screenwriter, named Greg McLean, stated that Wolf Creek was based on three different Australian serial killers. Of these killers, there was that of Ivan Milat who is also known as The Backpacker Killer, who killed backpackers back in the ‘90s. Also, Bradley Murdoch was a source of inspiration for the film. He allegedly tried to kidnap a woman after killing her boyfriend. Last but certainly not least, the infamous series of grisly murders carried out by a group consisting of four men and one woman and that took place in Snowtown, Australia.[9]

6. Zodiac (2007)

David Fincher has been known to bring some of the best serial killer stories to life with his titles such as Seven, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and, Netflix’s Mindhunter series. However, one of his most memorable tales of murder and mystery was the film Zodiac, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr., and Mark Ruffalo. This breathtaking wild ride follows investigators as they hunt the elusive Zodiac Killer. The film’s infamous manhunt takes place in the San Francisco Bay area throughout the ’60s and ‘70s following different aspects of the investigation.

Fincher’s film was based on the 1986 nonfiction book of the same name written by James Vanderbilt. “The Zodiac Killer” was, in fact, a real serial killer that is directly linked to at least five murders that occurred in the late 1960s. Not only was he was never positively identified, but he was also never apprehended, so there is actually no telling how many people this real-life psychotic individual actually killed. Who knows, the killer could still be out there and he’s gotten so good at it he doesn’t leave any clues. This all just speculation, but that kind of mystery makes this film all the more terrifying.[10]

7. The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976)

The Town That Dreaded Sundown tells its story in a pseudo-documentary-style and covers the murders of five people by a crazed man in a post World War II Arkansas. This so-called Phantom killer wears a mask and terrorizes the town of Texarkana, Texas. The film is wall-to-wall raw terror and puts many other horror movies to shame at the time. This thrilling slasher film is very different from the typical slice and dice formula. It excels at relying more on atmosphere than cheap tricks or jump scares.

If you thought this was just another chapter of the horror genre that resides in the pure fiction section, you would be wrong. This horror classic was based on similar murders that took place between February and May in 1946 in the town of Texarkana. The picture was even shot there for authenticity, and several locals were cast as extras. This mystery was still considered unsolved at the time of its release. The film eventually spawned a remake in 2014 with the same title.[11]

8. The Strangers (2008)

When an innocent couple expects a relaxing weekend at a family vacation home, their stay turns out to be anything but tranquil and enjoyable. After a mysterious woman in the shadows knocks on the door, things begin to go awry. It becomes clear that they are not alone and the couple begins to be harassed in their home by a group of masked intruders. These three masked torturers gradually up the horror as they terrify their victims to the point of accidental murder. Kristen and James struggle for survival and are forced to play this deadly cat and mouse game simply because they were home.

Three separate sources inspired this fan-favorite killer thriller. One was a personal experience of the film’s director Bryan Bertino. Strangers knocked on his door while his parents weren’t home. He would later determine that they had been responsible for other break-ins in the area. The infamous Manson Family murders, which involved the followers of Charles Manson, that resulted in the killing of five people in a home invasion killing spree was one of the sources. These heinous acts resulted in the murder of actress Sharon Tate. The Keddie Cabin Murders were also part of the sick twisted events that inspired this story. This one involved a woman and her kids who stayed at a remote resort spot out in California. All of this culminated in a film that has gone on to receive quite the following and spawned a sequel many years later.

9. The Haunting in Connecticut (2009)

The Haunting in Connecticut is one great time for those who like to tremble in fear for two hours. When their young son Matt becomes diagnosed with Cancer, the family decides to move to Connecticut to be closer to the doctors for his treatment. Everything seems fine at first, but soon Matt’s behavior becomes increasingly disturbing. The family realizes that they have moved into a house that’s not only haunted but used to be a mortuary. Satan’s minions also are known to harass and assault members of the family sexually. In an attempt to remove the demonic entities from their son, an exorcism occurs. This harrowing tale is a haunting ride into one of the world’s most infamous paranormal events.

In reality, the Reed family had experienced a series of strange events, which included seeing apparitions of what appeared to be a man with long black hair. It occurred after they moved into what was once a working funeral home back in the 1980s. They also contacted the famous Warren duo to contact the spirits involved and hopefully rid the family of its evil. The house was allegedly cleansed of the dark spirits after a three-hour-long exorcism. To this day the Catholic Church heavily denies performing the exorcism that was said to have happened during the real-life events of The Haunting in Connecticut, in which the film is based on. While it is considered to be very loosely based on what happened by Lorraine Warren herself, it is still based on one of their cases that took so much effort to bring closure to the families involved.[12]

10. Winchester (2018)

In the Winchester film, actress Helen Mirren flawlessly portrays the widowed Sarah Winchester, who is thought to be insane by many as she orders costly expansions and renovations of her sizeable Victorian mansion. The reclusive heir to the Winchester rifle fortune is haunted by the angry ghosts of people killed by the firearms developed at her families business. These curious renovations are full of twists and turn with doors leading to nowhere. In an attempt to remove her from the board of her husband’s firearms company and to stop her insane spending on these incredible ghost theories, a doctor with a drug addiction must verify if she is sane or crazy, as well as determine if the crazy things he is seeing are real.[13]

They very easily could have been as this is one of the hottest spots for paranormal fanatics and ghost chasers in the world today. There have been more than twelve million visitors to the iconic house since its mysterious architect passed away in the year 1922. It has become an equal part historical preserve, and part was a terrifying tourist attraction theme park, known internationally as the Winchester Mystery House. Enter at your own risk. For to this day, visitors claim the place is haunted and have seen some things that would make your skin crawl.[14]

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