14 Skin-Crawling Horror Movies Based on Real-Life Hauntings

Linda Sharps | Oct 29, 2013 Movies
Image: IMDb


My Halloween tradition in recent years involves three mission-critical components: 1) trick-or-treating with my kids, 2) secretly raiding their candy stash after they go to bed for my favorite treats (what, it's not like they're going to miss one fun-sized Kit Kat) (okay fine like eight fun-sized Kit Kats), and 3) forcing my husband to watch a horror movie with me. My husband hates horror movies, so my entertainment is twofold. There's the scary stuff happening onscreen, and the hilarity of my husband moaning from the couch, "Ugh NO. Why are they -- NO. WHY. GOD, WHY AM I WATCHING THIS."

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Anyway, if you're also thinking ahead to what horror fare you'll be serving on Halloween evening, consider this list of scary movies that are supposedly based on true supernatural events. Did the hair-raising scenes in these movies really happen? People will just have to watch and decide for themsleves I guess ... after going to sleep with the lights on, of course.

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For real though, most of these stories are terrifying. We're not sure how much truth is in them, but I would rather not have to find out ... like ever

Here are 14 horror films that apparently had some truth to back them up.

  • Child's Play


    A doll that runs around killing people, how could that possibly be based on a real haunting? Well, it turns out it is. Chucky is based on a real-life doll named Robert. Robert was originally owned by Robert Eugene Otto and according t stories, Eugene (as he was called) was given the doll as a child by an abused servant of his parents, and she was well versed in voodoo. The cursed doll was supposedly left with Eugene as revenge.

    Eugene's parents would often hear their son and the doll speaking to each other (and yes, they said the doll would respond in a completely different voice than Eugene's). Neighbors and friends said they could hear they had seen the doll blink, laugh, and even walk. Moved furniture and broken item would also get blamed on the doll.

    Strange reports like this continued throughout Eugene's life, until he died in 1974. Then when a new family moved into the home, similar things continued to happen. The doll is currently on display at the Key West Martello Museum, where several employs have reported that he changed positions over night. 

  • Nightmare on Elm Street


    This horror film classic may seem absurd, but director Wes Craven said he got the idea for “a nightmare that could kill” from a newspaper article he read about the mysterious deaths of several South East Asian refugees. Apparently, Hmong refugees from Laos would come to America and be so overwhelmed that it was common for many of them to immediately seek out doctors to treat outbreaks of imaginary venereal disease and parasites they believed were living under their skin.

    Eventually, eighteen refugees were found dead in their beds with the official cause of death listed as “probable cardiac arrhythmia." But, another probable cause of death was known as “oriental nightmare death syndrome" or “sudden unexpected death syndrome." It's a condition that seems to affect young Hmong males and Filipinos, where they seem to literally die of fright from their own belief of what happens in their dreams.

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  • The Conjuring


    The Conjuring (2013) was based on the case files of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren. The Warrens came to the assistance of the Perron family, who claim to have experienced increasingly disturbing events in their farmhouse in Harrisville, Rhode Island in 1971. As for whether it's really true, Andrea Perron says, "[The movie] is a fair reflection of the chaos and danger we faced at the farm. There are liberties taken and a few discrepancies, but overall, it is what it claims to be."

  • The Ring


    The Ring book and film series is loosley based on the Japanese legend of the Okiku ghost. One version of the story is that Okiku was a maid at the mansion of Japanese samurai Tessan Aoyama. The samurai wanted to seduce the cute girl but she rejected him. he then hides one of ten valuable Dutch plates and threatens Okiku to make public that she had stolen the plate unless she agrees to become his mistress. In her desperation she throws herself into the well and drowns. 

    In the wake of Okiku’s death, she was said to crawl out of the well and appear to Aoyama on a nightly basis and he was eventually driven insane. The well, locally known as “Okiku’s Well,” can still be found outside Himeji Castle, but it now has wrought iron bars covering it.

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  • The Exorcism


    This 1973 film was based on William Peter Blatty’s novel THE EXORCIST (1971). It is said that the first exorcism ever performed in the United States was the inspiration behind the book, and later the film. At 14, Ronnie Doe (or Ronald Hunkeler) was introduced to the Ouija Board by his Aunt Tillie. It was believed that the ghost of his aunt was one of the first spirits to visit him. Soon the spirits became evil and his family noticed angry voices and furniture moving. Then, they began seeing claw marks on Ronald’s body. They enlisted the help of Father Bishop, a Roman Catholic Priest and he performed an intense exorcism for days and days. 

  • The Possession


    The dybbuk box is a Jewish wine box which is said to be haunted by a dybbuk, which is a spirit believed to be able to haunt and possess the living. The box gained attention when it was auctioned on eBay with a horror story written by Kevin Mannis. It was the inspiration behind the 2012 film The Possession.

  • The Conjuring 2


    According to PEOPLEThe Conjuring 2 focuses on one of the most famous supernatural cases in history – The Enfield Poltergeist. A young girl in London was thought to be possessed by a demon. "The case involved strange voices, levitation, flying objects, furniture being moved through the air, cold breezes and more – and while some called it a hoax, others considered it to be one of the most witnessed cases of supernatural activity to date," PEOPLE reported. 

  • An American Haunting


    Taking place in the 1800s, this film is about a witch that cursed the family of John Bell, especially his daughter Betsy. The Tennessee legend of the Bell witch has been explored by many over the years, including former president Andrew Jackson. He reportedly spent a night at the Bell farm and said, "I had rather face the entire British Army than to spend another night with the Bell Witch."

  • The Exorcism of Emily Rose


    Emily Rose is "loosely based" on the story of Anneliese Michel, who was initially diagnosed with grand mal seizures due to her shaking and loss of control over her body. After being institutionalized, she became intolerant of various religious objects and began to hear voices. Her family convinced priests to perform over 40 exorcisms on her, and eventually Anneliese died of pneumonia. She was found to be horribly malnourished and dehydrated, and her case has been labelled as a tragic misidentification of a mental illness, negligence, abuse, and religious hysteria.

  • The Haunting in Connecticut


    Here's another story involving the Warrens: The Haunting in Connecticut is about the Snedeker family, who in 1986 rented an old house in Southington, Connecticut before they discovered the home had once been a funeral parlor. The oldest son began seeing ghosts and terrifying visions, and both parents said they were raped and sodomized by demons.

    Ed and Lorraine Warren hired horror novelist Ray Garton to work with the Snedekers and write the story of their house in a 1992 book titled In a Dark Place: The Story of a True Haunting. Garton has since claimed that none of the Snedekers' stories added up, and that Ed Warren told him to fabricate the book: "I went to Ed with this problem. 'Oh, they're crazy,' he said ... 'You've got some of the story — just use what works and make the rest up ... Just make it up and make it scary.'"

    However, Lorraine Warren continues to stands by the events, saying the actual case was "much, much scarier than any movie could ever be."

  • The Amityville Horror


    In 1975, George and Kathy Lutz and their children moved into a house in Amityville, on the south shore of Long Island, New York. Thirteen months before the Lutzes moved in, Ronald DeFeo Jr. had shot and killed six members of his family at the house. After 28 days, the Lutzes left the house, claiming to have been terrorized by paranormal phenomena while living there (including swarms of flies, vivid nightmares, and the appearance of cloven hoof-prints in the snow outside the house).

    In the book The Amityville Horror, the author writes, "There is simply too much independent corroboration of their narrative to support the speculation that [the Lutzes] either imagined or fabricated these events."

  • The Mothman Prophecies


    The Mothman Prophecies is based on a 1975 book by the same name, which is the author's account of his investigation into alleged sightings of a creature called Mothman in the vicinity of Point Pleasant, West Virginia, during 1966 and 1967. The creature is "described as 6-to-7 feet tall with red eyes and no head, as if the eyes were in the breast area, and with huge wings." After the first report appeared in the local press, "More and more people started seeing this creature. For the next thirteen months, over 200 individuals had some interaction with some strange phenomena -- and about a hundred of those said they actually saw Mothman." When the author investigated the events, he found Point Pleasant to be "a vortex of phenomena," and he eventually came to believe he was receiving prophecies from the entities, including a prediction about the deadly collapse of the Silver Bridge.

  • The Entity


    The Entity follows the case of Doris Bither, a California housewife, who claimed to be repeatedly attacked and raped by spirits. Investigators attempted to document the events, and the most famous of their photographs is the one that shows Doris sitting on a bed, investigators surrounding her and a floating arc of light in the middle of the picture.

    Oh, and here's something a little odd: during the filming, actor David Labiosa broke his arm. Bither's teenage son claims that during a particularly vicious attack, his mother was thrown by a force and hit her head. When he tried to intervene, he was also thrown, breaking his arm.

  • Audrey Rose


    Audrey Rose tells the story of a couple's 10-year-old daughter kidnapped by a stranger who believes her to be the reincarnation of his own dead child. Despite the marketing claims, this movie isn't quite "based on a true story," but the original tale is pretty weird. Audrey Rose was a 1975 fiction novel by Frank De Felitta, a man who had a strong belief in reincarnation, thanks to a spooky piano-playing incident with his own son when the child was 6: "We went in and there was Raymond at the piano, going like the devil. We were shocked. In fact, we were scared. Raymond said his fingers were doing it." De Felitta later consulted an occultist who said Raymond was a soul who had lived many past lives and had experienced a "reincarnation leak."

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