When a horror film sports the tagline "Based on" or "Inspired by actual events," the terror quotient almost always goes up, and the films often do big box office numbers. A great recent example of this phenomenon is The Conjuring, which cleaned up during its theatrical run this Summer. The idea that the film we are about to watch is rooted in some level of truth makes the film experience more intense; even if the plot is 99% fiction, the experience is still enriched by the knowledge that there is even a shred of truth to what you are about to witness. Back in March, we ran a piece showcasing ten terrifying movies based on actual events, and due to positive reader response, we're now proud to bring you ten more horror films that take a cue from reality.
A Haunting in Connecticut
This 2009 film is inspired by the experience of the Snedeker family, who moved to Connecticut to be closer to the hospital where their cancer-stricken son was receiving treatment. As it turns out, the home they moved into was once used as a combined funeral parlor and residence. According to a documentary about the events, a young boy with cancer did live in the basement of the home – where the mortuary was once located – and had several alleged supernatural encounters. The film takes some creative liberties, but much of the story is rooted in accounts given by the family that lived there. There have been attempts to discredit the story based on the cancer treatments the son was receiving, which experts alleged were causing him to hallucinate... but the family maintains that the home was actually haunted.
A Nightmare on Elm Street
This is an example of a film very loosely inspired by actual events: writer/director Wes Craven read a news article about an Asian man who was terrified to go to sleep; when the subject of the article finally did, and subsequently wound up dead, it was discovered that he had been keeping a coffee pot in his closet and employing other tactics to stay awake at all costs. That idea inspired Craven to write a film about teenagers who were afraid to go to sleep because of a killer stalking them in their dreams. The rest, as they say, is history.
The Town that Dreaded Sundown
Charles Griffith's gritty crime thriller is somewhat of an early slasher prototype: it employs many of the tropes that have become common in the modern-day slasher film, and may even be the inspiration for the "bag-head Jason" costime in Friday the 13th Part 2. The film is loosely based on the Texarkana murders of 1946, and the culprit was unofficially referred to as "The Phantom Killer." He was never caught, which makes the true story behind the film that much more ominous. The Town that Dreaded Sundown takes creative license in several instances, but it is more true to the source material than many of the other films on our list.
There are plenty of embellishments made in the original 1987 Stepfather, but the actual story behind it is plenty terrifying on its own. The real-life killer that Jerry Blake (Terry O'Quinn) is based on, a man named John List, murdered his three children, his wife, and his mother in 1971. Like in the film, List carefully plotted his crime so that it would go undetected for a long period of time, allowing him to stage his escape. Also similar to the film, List went on to remarry and avoided detection for close to 20 years. He was eventually captured and arrested in 1989, and died in prison in 2008 while serving five consecutive life sentences.
The true story behind one of the highest-grossing and most well-received horror films of all time is greatly altered in both the novelization and the film. William Peter Blatty's novel was quite loosely inspired by the alleged possession and exorcism of Roland Doe (a pseudonym), which occurred in the 1940s. Unlike many alleged cases of demonic possession, the Catholic Church actually recognized the young boy’s experience as authentic. The alleged events leading up to and during Roland’s possession and subsequent exorcism ranged from strange noises to levitating furniture, and physical injury to those conducting one of the exorcisms. The true story has a happy ending: after all was said and done, Doe went on to lead a normal life, free of further supernatural torment.
The People Under the Stairs
This is the second Wes Craven film on our list, and it's another instance of a film very loosely inspired by real life goings-on. Craven got the basic concept for the film from a news story regarding a family that kept their children locked inside their house for years on end, and while that also occurs in The People Under the Stairs, that's where the similarities stop. The entire plot of the film, with the young protagonist named "Fool" helping to burglarize the house, is a product of Craven’s imagination. As an interesting side note, Everett McGill and Wendy Robie, who play the "parents" in the film, also played Ed and Nadine on David Lynch's cult TV series Twin Peaks.
I was actually a little bit surprised to learn that this film was based on real-life events: it seems it's inspired by the story of "Gustave," a man-eating alligator in Burundi that reportedly weighed in at over 2,000 pounds. There are unconfirmed reports that "Gus" killed upwards of 300 people. The film’s plot is primarily fabricated, but the monster is actually very real. Gus even starred in a documentary called Capturing the Killer Croc, which raised a great deal of public awareness around the incidents.
The Serpent and the Rainbow
This is the third and final Wes Craven film to appear on our list. Like the two previous entries, The Serpent and the Rainbow is very loosely inspired by actual events, but nonetheless rooted in a certain degree of fact. The film is loosely based on the book by Wade Davis, chronicling the events of his visit to Haiti to research the existence of voodoo, zombies and a paralytic drug that when mixed with other components can reportedly induce a zombie-like state. Obviously Davis’s book was much more benign than the feature film adaptation, but the core of the story has some basis in reality.
The Silent House
The 2010 Spanish-language film La Casa Muda was remade for US audiences in 2012. The plot of both films, which involves a house that harbors a mysterious (and possibly supernatural) secret, is allegedly based on an incident that transpired in Uruguay in the 1940s. The interesting thing about that is how there seems to be no way to substantiate the claims, so it’s possible that the incident was fabricated to build interest in the film, or perhaps there legitimately is no record of it... but that seems terribly unlikely.
Based on the Jersey Shore shark attacks of 1916 (which inspired the source novel by Peter Benchley), Steven Spielberg's 1975 classic gives the events a contemporary setting, and also takes countless other creative liberties. The real-life attacks resulted in four human casualties and one serious injury, but the actual species of shark responsible is still not known with any degree of certainty (though the varieties of shark most commonly implicated are the great white and the bull shark). Just prior to those 1916 attacks, the Jersey shore had been experiencing an inordinate amount of tourist traffic due to an extreme heat wave and a polio outbreak that visitors to the area were attempting to avoid.