The True Stories Behind 7 Popular Horror Films

My favorite two genres in cinema are science fiction and horror. I'm even more excited when the two combine. Today though, I want to focus on some of the true stories behind horror movies that made me, as well as the rest of the country, wonder if they were based fully, partly, or not at all, on an actual event or series of events. To clarify, this won't be all of my favorite horror films, but it is more so a list of horror films with interesting backgrounds.

Ever since I saw the Blair Witch Project when I was 12, I've wondered what was based in reality and what wasn't. Art tends to blend the lines a lot and the art involved in creating a good film is no different. I hear people claiming a lot of different movies are based on a true story, but most of the time, I find it's just a myth shrouded in a game of telephone amongst friends. There's no example more relevant than when I talk with friends and acquaintances about The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but we'll get to that. Let's begin. 

The Blair Witch Project

Photo Couresy of The AV Club

Photo Couresy of The AV Club

I remember picking up this film on VHS from a Hollywood Video and being incredibly excited. According to all of my friends, this was real footage. The Blair Witch kick-started the found footage film craze in Hollywood, which still exists today. To this day, this was some of the best movie marketing I have ever seen. Though the rumors were that this all actually occurred, what really happened?

The answer: absolutely nothing. The Blair Witch Project wasn't really based on anything but parts of myths that have been peddled for years in other parts of the world and turned into a working narrative. According to The Thrillest, the real problem that arose from this movie was the fans of it.

The film took place outside of Burkettsville, Maryland and after the film's release in 1999, fans from all over came to investigate and film the town. It got so congested that the mayor ended up contacting another mayor who happened to be around when The Amityville Horror released and his town was plagued with visitors from all over. Burkettsville's mayor approached the situation by eventually embracing it and some shops sold merchandise. That is until the movie studio came in and threatened to sue.  

The only supposed haunting in the town was in a nearby graveyard, but nothing about a witch. The story was completely fabricated. Hooray for awesome marketing!

The Hills Have Eyes

Photo Courtesy of Blum House

Photo Courtesy of Blum House

The Hills Have Eyes is one of those movies that make you feel dirty throughout, similar to what the Texas Chainsaw Massacre causes you to feel. It's gritty and cringe-worthy, but overall, I enjoyed the film. According to BlumHouse.com and other accounts, it is actually inspired by the legendary story of Alexander “Sawney” Bean.

As this 15th century legend goes, Sawney, the son of a landscaper, had no desire to follow in his father’s footsteps. Instead he took his wife and headed for a coastal cave in Bennane Head, Scotland. There he would live and raise his family of eight sons, six daughters, eighteen grandsons, and fourteen granddaughters, most of which were the product of incest.
— Blum House

Over a 25 year span, the family would capture and murder travelers. They would then dismember the bodies and eat them. The villages nearby had grown suspicious for years as more and more people went missing around the area that they lived.

One day, a traveler they attacked was an experienced swordsman and caused them to flee back to their cave. Now that the traveler and the town knew the culprits were in that area, bloodhounds and men were sent searching for the family. They eventually found the cave and the entire family inside. 

The Beans were taken to Edinburg where they were immediately condemned to death, without trial. The men were castrated before having their hands and feet severed; they eventually died slowly of blood loss. After being forced to watch the men of the family die, the women and children were then burned alive. Their twenty-five years of terror was now over. In the end, it is believed the Sawney Bean family claimed over a thousand lives.
— Blum House

There are, however, some historians who say this tale is overly exaggerated. You can read more about it in the full article here.

The Poltergeist

Photo Courtesy of Blum House

Photo Courtesy of Blum House

As a fan of horror, I'm embarrassed to say that I didn't see the original 1982 version of Poltergeist until 2010. Although almost three decades had passed, the movie was still highly enjoyable. Hauntings are reported all of the time like we see in the movie, but was this particular film based on an actual event? Yes.

According to The Mirror, the film was based on a story out of Long Island, New York where the Hermann family was said to have been living with a poltergeist.  

Between February and March 1958, bottle tops and lids inexplicably popped, ornaments flew around the house, a heavy bookshelf mysteriously fell over and a Virgin Mary figure soared through the air and struck a mirror 12ft away.

A police officer came to investigate but was almost hit by a flying globe while a British press photographer who went to cover the story witnessed his flashbulbs lift off a table.

A priest was called and ministers from all sorts of faiths conducted rituals on the front lawn but still the strange happenings went on as parents James and Lucille and their two children Lucille jr, 13, and James jr, 12, became increasingly scared.
— The Mirror

The town's Fire Brigade were called in, but found nothing wrong with the house's structure or land it was built upon. Shortly after, the poltergeist disappeared. It was believed by the family that the paranormal events were due to a Native American burial ground in that location. Here's where the story gets stranger though: The production and aftermath made up what some called a "curse".

  • "Dominique Dunne, who played possessed Carol Anne's big sister Dana, was strangled by her boyfriend outside her West Hollywood home. She died days later in hospital."
  • "Actor Julian Beck, 60, who played preacher Henry Kane in the second movie, died of stomach cancer as the film was released and Will Sampson, who took the role of a Native American shaman died after undergoing a heart-lung transplant."
  • "Small part actor, Lou Perryman, was killed in 2009 when an ex-convict attacked him with an axe at his home in Austin, Texas."
  • "Author James Kahn, who wrote a book to accompany the film, said that seconds after he wrote the line 'Lightning ripped open the sky' his work building was struck by lightening and all the arcade games in the lounge room began playing themselves."
  • "Heather O'Rourke was misdiagnosed with Crohn's Disease in 1987 and died the following year of a heart attack as doctors operated on a bowel obstruction. She was just 12."

The Exorcist

Photo courtesy of New Media Rockstars

Photo courtesy of New Media Rockstars

I remember my friend Jeremy inviting me into his darkened room to watch The Exorcist. Coming from a religious background and still believing in the supernatural at the time, I was terrified to watch this movie. I was late to the game by not having seen this until the late 90's. It definitely wasn't as scary as I thought it would be, but with all that said, did any of it really happen or is it based on a "real" event?

According to the Denver Post, the movie was based on a exorcism of a 14-year-old Maryland boy, who priests assigned the pseudonym Roland Doe, in 1949. The exorcism took a full month to complete.

Marble statues are sprinkled throughout Calvary Cemetery, where Father William Bowdern, the priest who led repeated exorcisms on Roland Doe in 1949, is buried in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA, 19 March 2013. None of the priests who participated in the rite are still alive. Father Bishop’s diary of the case includes the following account of Father Bowdern’s involvement, dated 18 March 1949: ‘Next the Fathers began the Litany of the Saints, as indicated in the exorcism ritual. In the course of the Litany, the mattress began to shake. (Roland) was awake. The shaking ceased when Father Bowdern blessed the bed with Holy Water. The prayers of the exorcism were continued and (Roland) was seized violently so that he began to struggle with his pillow and the bed clothing. The arms, legs, and head of (Roland) had to be held by three men.
— Denver Post

This is probably the closest a movie on this list has gotten to what event it was based off of. 

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Photo Courtesy of Wikia

Photo Courtesy of Wikia

One of my all time favorite horror films, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, has created multiple fabricated origin stories over the years. I recall growing up around this movie and friends always saying, "Yeah, it actually happened!" Of course, as with most of the movies on this list, that wasn't the case.

The movie, and more specifically Leatherface, was actually based off of Ed Gein who had fancied his mother and enjoyed the taste of human flesh. As a child, he was abused and he and his brother were not allowed to have friends. This mostly ceased when his alcoholic father and brother died in separate events in the 1940's. Even though his mother was abusive, he was still obsessed with her.

In that same decade, in 1945, his mother passed away and Ed become a recluse while boarding up his windows. Then, things took an even bigger turn.

After the November 16, 1957 disappearance of hardware store owner Bernice Worden, police began to suspect Ed, who was the last person to see her alive. Police searched the family farm where they found Bernice’s decapitated body hanging upside down inside the barn. On a further search of the property, authorities also found various human remains including a trashcan made out of a human skull, chairs covered in human skin, and skull bedposts. Perhaps the trait that mostly links Ed back to Leatherface was his fondness for turning human skin into apparel. Among the other remains, the police also found a corset, leggings, masks, and a dress all made from the skin of young women.
— Blum House

Ed was found insane and then later convicted of the crimes. He died in prison in 1984. It's important to note that Ed Gein spawned a lot of movies to be modeled after him. This includes: Psycho, Deranged, House of a 1000 Corpses, and Devil's Rejects, though he is more closely related to the Leatherface character. 

The Amityville Horror

Photo Courtesy of Sky

Photo Courtesy of Sky

Growing up in Garland, Texas, there was a very memorable house I remember driving past that looked a lot like the Amityville house. The house still sits there today, though I notice now a lot of differences to the actual place. I always wondered if anything spooky ever happened at the then copycat structure, similar to the original (in my young eyes).

Back in the 1970's, Ronnie DeFoe went room by room and brutally murdered his entire family. fast forward a year or so, and a man and woman named George and Kathy Lutz would move in. 

the day they moved in they had a priest, Father Ray Pecoraro, bless the house. According to Lutz, the priest said he felt an unseen hand slap him in the sewing room and heard a voice say “Get out.” Then, Lutz says, Pecoraro became ill with flu-like symptoms and his hands began to bleed.
— ABC News

Despite this weird interaction, the Lutz Couple decided to move in anyway. Unsuprisingly to anyone that knows the story, strange things began happening, as described by George Lutz.

There were ... odors in the house that came and went,” Lutz says. “There were sounds. The front door would slam shut in the middle of the night.... I couldn’t get warm in the house for many days.
— George Lutz

The house slowly drove George a little mad. He would look at his wife and suddenly see her as a 90 year old woman with wrinkles. A goo-like substance was found on the floor by the fireplace in the mornings. Lutz would wake up around 3:15am most nights and even saw his wife levitating in her sleep while furniture around the house slammed into the ground. Shortly after, the couple finally moved out.

After moving, George suggested that since he heard voices as well, that maybe Ronnie DeFoe needed psychological help as opposed to just being thrown in a prison cell. DeFoe's lawyer met with the Lutz's and claims to have not believed anything that they said, though everyone involved were interested in making money off of the happenings. The deal fell through though and the Lutz's found another author who went on to write the now famous book, "The Amityville Horror: A True Story". The rest is history.

(It's important to note that DeFoe eventually admitted that he had made up the voices to get a better insanity plea.)

The Fourth Kind

Photo Courtesy of Musings of a Sci-Fi Fanatic

Photo Courtesy of Musings of a Sci-Fi Fanatic

THIS movie. This movie kind of scared me, as I saw it alone in a dark theater and knew nothing about the premise. The movie claims from the beginning that it contains actual footage as the main protagonist, Milla Jovovich, breaks the fourth wall (pun intended?). What actually happened you may be asking?

In real life, there was a string of disappearances in the small town on the west coast of Alaska, not far from the Bering Strait. In 2005, the FBI was brought in to investigate. The victims were largely native men traveling to the town from smaller villages, according to the Anchorage Daily News.
The FBI looked into about 20 cases, finding alcohol and frigid temperatures to be causes. Nine bodies were never found.
— CNN

The movie claims all of this really happened and that it was caused by alien abductions. With the use of "found footage" and a really creepy owl, the plot and movie itself seemed at face value to possibly be legitimate. This was, however, just another case of a writer taking an event and spinning the truth. I have to say though, they did a pretty damn good job.