15 True Events That Inspired Horror Movies

Martha Sorren | Nov 8, 2019 Crime
15 True Events That Inspired Horror Movies

Liv Tyler and Kip Weeks in The Strangers (2008)
Universal Studios

Halloween might be over, but the spooky season can continue as long as anyone pleases. For a really good scare, there are tons of scary movies that are based on true stories. As if ghosts, demons, and serial killers weren't scary enough in their fictional form, these ones are all reportedly real. 

With any movie, these films can still take creative license with the story lines, but they're still inspired by supposed true events. Everything from haunted eBay listings, ghost stories, and unsolved murder cases have been fodder for films over the years. Some of these movies even came out soon after the supposed events.


One director who took a lot of his scary movie ideas from true life was Wes Craven. The master of horror himself is responsible for franchises like A Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream, The Hills Have Eyes, and more. Many of his story lines are taken from news stories or old legends.

(So much for reassuring oneself that Ghostface or Freddy Krueger were just fictional!)

Some of these movies came from true stories that were so scary on their own, they didn't need much embellishing. Others had more mild (but still scary) real events that were dialed up in the movies to really freak audiences out. And, of course, none of the ghost stories and hauntings can be proven, but they're scary enough to make us think twice about questioning those who say they experienced them. We're not ones to scoff at the spirit world like that. Just in case.

Here are 15 scary films that come from true stories (or events) that send chills down our spines. No one will be able watch these the same way knowing what inspired these spooky plots.

  • 'The Amityville Horror'


    This creepy movie about a haunted house is based on the story of newlyweds George and Kathleen Lutz who abruptly moved out of their dream home in the '70s after they became convinced it was haunted. They wouldn't elaborate on the supposed events, but Topic magazine reports that George said a "very strong force" had driven them to leave "because of our concern for our own personal safety as a family." 


  • 'The Exorcism of Emily Rose'


    Dexter's Jennifer Carpenter plays the lead role in this movie about a young woman who dies after having an exorcism performed on her. According to The Telegraph, it's based on the real case of 23-year-old Anneliese Michel who starved to death in 1976 after being ordered to fast to get rid of the supposed demons within her.

  • 'Open Water'


    Open Water follows a married couple who accidentally get left behind by a boat during a scuba diving excursion. Without any way of getting home, they're left to the sharks. 

    According to The Guardian, the terrifying tale is based on the true story of Tom and Eileen Lonergan who were left behind by their dive boat. They were never seen again, but their wetsuits and other diving materials were later found. None of their clothing suggests they were killed by sharks, though, which is where the movie differs.

  • 'Psycho'

    Anthony Perkins in Psycho
    Archive Photos/Getty Images

    The Alfred Hitchcock classic Psycho is reportedly based on the serial killer Ed Gein who skinned his victims after death. The movie's version of Gein is Norman Bates who keeps his mother's mummified corpse in his house long after her death.

    So creepy.

  • 'Scream'


    The 1996 slasher film Scream was actually based on a real series of murders in Florida in 1990, according to Complex magazine. Five people lost their lives to a knife-wielding killer, and a story on the murders was shown on TV one night when future Scream director Wes Craven was watching. And so, the creepy Ghostface was born.

  • 'A Nightmare on Elm Street'


    Wes Craven was inspired by another true story for the plot of A Nightmare on Elm Street. The director told Vulture that he read an article about a young boy who was having nightmares that he was being chased. Reportedly, the child died mid-nightmare one night, and no one could explain why. Craven was taken by the scary story and turned it into one of the most famous horror franchises ever.

  • 'The Strangers'


    The Strangers is a horror movie about three masked criminals who break into a house. Director Bryan Bertino once said the story is based in part on the Sharon Tate murders which were carried out by the Manson Family. The perpetrators were total strangers to Tate, and the house's other occupants, which likely would have made the attacks even more terrifying.

  • 'The Shining'


    The Shining movie is based on the Stephen King story which is based on a real hotel. According to the New York Post, the Stanley Hotel is rumored to be haunted, and those rumors inspired King's story, which then went on to terrify everyone in movie form. It's still a working hotel and people can actually stay there -- if they dare.

  • 'Veronica'


    The Spanish Netflix horror film Veronica is reportedly based on a true story of a girl in Madrid who died after she used a Ouija board and experienced a set of strange and horrific events. In the movie, the Ouija board became a seance, with its main character Veronica followed around by an angry spirit after she attempts to commune with the deceased. 

    Rookie mistake.

  • 'Poltergeist'


    Poltergeist, a movie about a family dealing with evil spirits in their home, is loosely inspired by the rumored haunting of a family in Long Island in the '50s. Out of the blue, objects supposedly started flying around the home on their own and no one could figure out what was going on. Eventually they stopped, and the family understandably moved away. 

    But imagine living through a haunting and then seeing that haunting portrayed in a popular film a couple of decades later.

    Doubly terrifying.

  • 'Child's Play'


    Chucky, the terrifying evil doll in Child's Play, is based on a doll named Robert who is also said to be haunted by a demonic spirit. According to Talk Radio UK, since 1906, stories of this haunted doll have plagued the Key West, Florida, area where the doll is housed. After its original hauntings in the early 20th century, the doll was stashed in an attic. But it was found in 1974 by a child of the new homeowners who later claimed the doll had tried to murder the girl. Despite that terrifying tale, the doll is now on display at Florida's Fort East Mortello Museum.

    Sure, seems safe.

  • 'The Conjuring'

    The Conjuring is about a haunting at a farm in 18th century Rhode Island, and it's based on supposedly true events that real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren encountered throughout their career. Now that's a job only a select few people would want.
  • 'The Hills Have Eyes'


    If a cannibalistic cult movie sounds like it couldn't possibly be a true story, think again. The Hills Have Eyes was reportedly inspired by a Scottish legend of a man named Sawney Bean who supposedly led a cannibalistic clan in 16th-century Scotland. It's not clear if such a person ever existed, but the legend was definitely scary enough to make for a terrifying film.

  • 'The Possession'


    In The Possession, a woman buys an antique box at a yard sale and soon discovers that it's haunted by an evil spirit. The story is reportedly based on an odd eBay listing for a "haunted Jewish wine cabinet box" -- a possession that couldn't possibly end well for the purchaser. The Los Angeles Times article about the listing calls it "a jinx in a box," which is certainly what the characters of The Possession would say about their own box.

  • 'The Haunting in Connecticut'


    The Haunting in Connecticut movie gets even creepier when learning the backstory of the film. Reportedly the haunted house is based on a real family's home. Allen and Carmen Snedeker lived in the Connecticut house with their children and one day discovered that it had been a funeral parlor before they bought it. They claim that after that discovery they encountered terrifying supernatural events like water turning to blood. Their supposed experiences eventually became the plot for the movie.


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