15 Horror Movies Based On True Stories That Keep Us Up At Night

Now that pumpkin spice lattes are making their annual reappearance, the colder fall days of October are ahead of us. That means that Halloween is just around the corner and horror movie season is amongst us. Whether you’re a horror movie enthusiast who’s brave enough to watch alone or someone who refuses to watch until they’re in a group setting with at least one light on, everyone enjoys a good scary movie every now and then. Those of us who aren’t big fans of the genre find that knowing there’s a whole film crew behind the camera makes it a whole lot easier to get through the horror of it all. After all, these stories are a figment of the imagination, right? We’re here to put that to bed and keep you up at night with this list of 15 horror movies based on true stories. Take a look, if you dare.

15. The Conjuring

Thus far, The Conjuring has been a successful horror movie franchise that has provided us with sufficient nightmare fuel over the years. Just when you found comfort in thinking that the plots for the franchise are based on nothing more but an overactive imagination, you come across this article and realize how very wrong you were.

The main characters, paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, are based on a married couple by the same names who dedicated their lives to warding off evil spirits. Ed Warren, who passed away in 2006, was a self-proclaimed demonologist. We know, we hadn’t a clue that such a profession existed either, and we really wish it stayed that way. Lorraine has recently retired as a medium, but still consults families on how to keep the demonic spirits at bay. Many of their stories were used as a premise for the horror movie franchise. We don’t know about you, but after hearing this, we’re ordering bucket loads of sage and salt, STAT.

14. Annabelle: Creation

Whether you like it or not, you’ve probably already seen the face of Annabelle peering into your soul on every advertising platform known to man. TBH, we really didn’t need a movie that turns our nightmares into a reality. We were first introduced to Annabelle, the porcelain doll possessed by a demon, in the Conjuring franchise. At least we can find consolation in the fact that this is a fictional script that isn’t based on a true story. Just kidding, turns out that the story of Annabelle is inspired by true events. Who needs sleep anyway?

The story of the “real” Annabelle begins with Ed and Lorraine Warren, paranormal investigators who had been involved with high-profile hauntings since the early 1950s. Although the “real” Annabelle is a far cry from how the doll is portrayed in the movie franchise, looks can be deceiving. The Warrens claimed that the Raggedy Ann doll is possessed by an evil entity. After being purchased in a hobby shop by a mother for her daughter in the 1970s, the doll soon began dropping some serious paranormal mumbo jumbo vibes. The family claims that the doll moved from room to room, levitated and attacked the family members. At least the doll is now in a class encasing at the Warrens Occult Museum in Connecticut, sealed away from the rest of the world and we’re happy AF about it.

13. Child’s Play

Here’s yet another example of a movie starring a possessed doll based on true events that we didn’t need to know. We’re sure you’re familiar with Child’s Play, which became an instant horror movie classic as soon as the first instalment of the franchise hit theatres. The plot of all the movies in the franchise centres around a doll that has been possessed by the spirit of a serial killer. To avoid going to hell in the afterlife, Charles Lee Ray (Chucky), performed a voodoo ritual that trapped his soul in the doll. As terrifying as the plot for Child’s Play is, the true events that inspired the franchise will give you the heebie jeebies.

The story dates back to the early 1900s, when Robert Eugene Otto was only a 6-year-old boy. Now a famous artist and author, Robert recalls the story of being given a homemade doll out of cloth, straw and the boy’s own hair. The doll was given to Robert by a servant who was supposedly mistreated by the family and just happened to be skilled in the craft of black magic and voodoo. “Robert the Doll” was said to have replied back when the boy would chatter away to him, move from room to room and wreak havoc. Note to self: Never accept dolls from strangers skilled in the art of black magic and voodoo.

12. The Silence of the Lambs

Everyone remembers Anthony Hopkins’ iconic performance as Dr. Hannibal Lecter, a cannibalistic serial killer who is also a profound psychiatrist, in The Silence of the Lambs. Those who have watched the horror have trouble forgetting a prominent character that goes by the name of Jame Gumb AKA “Buffalo Bill.” You know, the character who kidnaps and kills overweight women with the intention of making himself a woman “skin suit”? He’s a hard character to forget.

The plot of the movie is loosely inspired by Edward Theodore Gein, made notorious in the 1960s after being found guilty for murder. Upon his arrest, authorities searched Gein’s farm and found horrifying evidence from the murders of two women, including a mask carved from the face of one of the victims, leggings made from human leg skin and human skin covering several pieces of furniture. The trial of Edward Gein also revealed that he dug up the graves of recently buried women, from which he tanned the skins to make more paraphernalia. After learning about the inspired events behind this horror movie, we think we’ve had enough of the internet for the rest of the week.

11. The Amityville Horror

Ed and Lorraine Warren, former paranormal investigators, dealt with the high-profile case of the haunting in Amityville, a village in New York State. It wasn’t long before an adaptation of the happenings hit the big screen and became a horror movie classic. The film itself had movie-goers shook to their core—the true story behind the plot will only add to the level of creepy. The plot centres around the Lutz family, who purchased the house at a discounted price because of its grim history. What grim history, you ask? Only that the previous family, the DeFeos, were brutally murdered in the house. TBH, we would have been well on our way out of there as soon as the real estate agent mentioned murder. No one has time for haunted houses.

We’re sorry to say that it doesn’t end there. The DeFeo family murders and the Lutz’s paranormal experience are true stories behind the plot. The 23-year-old member of the DeFeo family, Ronald DeFeo, Jr., brutally murdered his parents and four younger siblings. He then cleaned himself up and went on with his day before reporting the murders to the police, claiming that someone else was the culprit. Supposedly, investigators determined there was no sign of struggle and each family member was found in their bed, face down. To this day, there are many unanswered questions surrounding the murders that we would rather not delve into.

10. The Exorcist

We don’t know about you, but anything that involves the devil, we’re not about. This means that we are definitely not about The Exorcist. The film has been a top-ranking horror since the first day that it hit theatres. Why is it that in every horror movie, the parents decide to stay in the house with their demon possessed child in hopes that they’ll save him or her? If it were us, we’d let the demon keep the child and peace out. There’s more where that came from anyway, we’ll start anew in another country. OK, we’re exaggerating, but there is no denying that that would be some scary stuff!

That being said, the true story behind The Exorcist isn’t a far cry from the movie’s plot. The story dates back to the 1940s in the United States, where the priests of the Roman Catholic Church documented a series of exorcisms on an anonymous boy, deemed Roland Doe. Roland Doe was the alleged victim of demonic possession and numerous supernatural events were documented throughout the period of his possession. We know, we wish we didn’t come across this information too. Sleep is overrated anyway.

9. The Exorcism of Emily Rose

The Exorcism of Emily Rose has a plot that strays from the classic horror movie framework. That being said, the movie involves a young woman being supposedly possessed by a demonic spirit and that’s already enough for us to decide that we want none of it. It gets a lot creepier than that. The plot is loosely based on the story of Anneliese Michel, a German woman who was subject to numerous exorcisms by Catholic priests. Her family and the Catholic priests believed that Anneliese was possessed by a demonic spirit and performed daily exorcisms on her for a span of 10 months, which eventually led to her untimely death at the age of 23. An investigation following the death of Anneliese determined that she was malnourished and dehydrated due to neglect and resulted in her parents and the priests involved being charged for negligent homicide. Looks like the real evil didn’t lie in Anneliese after all.

8. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Edward Gein, known as the “The Butcher of Plainfield,” didn’t only inspire The Silence of the Lambs, but also horror movie classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. If you don’t remember the plot of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, allow us to bring up those suppressed memories. It involves a serial killer whose main choice of weapon is a chainsaw and who wears flesh masks carved out of his victims’ faces. We’ll be able to put you at ease at least a little bit here by telling you that Edward Gein was only known for doing some of the things mentioned above. We’ll give you a hint—it doesn’t include the chainsaw. When Gein was busted for the murders of two missing women, investigators discovered his barn was filled with paraphernalia made from human flesh, some from new victims and some from freshly buried bodies he unearthed from the graveyard. All in all, this true story is the stuff of nightmares.

7. The Zodiac

Dr. Alex Karev, is that you? When he’s not saving lives at Seattle Grace Hospital, he’s chasing down the infamous Zodiac serial killer who terrorized the San Francisco Bay in the 1960s. The true story behind the Zodiac Killer is just as bone-chilling as the plot this movie is based on. The only difference is that to this day, investigators have still not been able to pinpoint who the murderous rampager really was. Why can’t the Zodiac Killer just be a guy who gives really accurate predictions on your love life based on your star sign, like he does in our happy place? Instead, he murdered people and taunted the police and the press with handwritten letters, mocking the police’s inability to catch him and dropping hints of his next rampage through cryptographs. The case remains unsolved and was closed in the mid 2000s. We’re hoping that we don’t hear anything about the Zodiac Killer again anytime soon.

6. The Rite

This horror flick may have slipped under the radar for a lot of you. It all centres around a seminary student who believes that people who are seemingly possessed are actually suffering from a troubled mind and not demonic forces. But after becoming the apprentice of Anthony Hopkins’ character, Father Lucas, a seasoned exorcist, the student quickly changes his mind. Believe us when we tell you that the dark undertone of this movie will give you the heebie-jeebies immediately. The scenes in The Rite, in which Father Lucas and his apprentice encounter that which goes bump in the night, are the type of scenes your brain reminds you of in the dead of night, moments before you were about drift off into sleep.

What makes this movie all the more terrifying is that the plot is inspired by true events. An American reporter in Rome, Matt Baglio, had written a book titled The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist, which documents the numerous exorcisms conducted by the original priests. Apparently, exorcists aren’t being put out of business just yet and we don’t know how to live with that.

5. The Haunting in Connecticut

We don’t know about you, but as soon as we see that any horror movie is based on true events, we stay far away from it. We don’t need that kind of negativity in our lives. The Haunting in Connecticut is one of those horrors. The true story is another high-profile haunting that Ed and Lorraine Warren, the paranormal investigators, dealt with. Seems like all these hauntings start the same, with a new family moving into a house with a dark past. The family is oblivious to this, until they begin experiencing inexplicable events. That’s exactly what happened to the Snedekers. Who you gonna call in the event of the paranormal? Not the ghostbusters in this case, but the Warrens, of course. Turns out the Snedeker house used to be a former funeral home, where the morticians mistreated the dead bodies. We’re just going to go ahead and side with all those who thinks this case was a hoax. Ain’t nobody got time to deal with all this.

4. Deliver Us From Evil

Eric Bana acting as an NYPD cop sadly wasn’t enough to distract us from the terrifying plot of this movie. Although most of the movie is entirely invented, a lot of key elements are based on a true events and we don’t know how to feel about it. Eric Bana’s character is based on real-life NYPD sergeant Ralph Sarchie, who is also a self-proclaimed demonologist and co-author of the book Beware the Night. In the novel, he recounts his experiences with the supernatural throughout New York City and a lot of his storytelling will send a chill up your spine. It seems as though this guy is the hero we never knew we needed. We just hope we actually never have a reason to contact him and his demonologist services.

3. The Strangers

The Strangers may have slipped under the radar for many, but this horror movie will have you making a trip to the closest hardware store and purchasing more locks for your doors and windows. Hide yo’ kids, hide yo’ wives, because murderous strangers appearing at your door is not entirely unheard of. The director of The Strangers, Bryan Bertino, was inspired by a true crime book written by Curt Gentry and Vincent Bugliosi titled Helter Skelter. Vincent Bugliosi was the state prosecutor in the 1970s trial of Charles Manson, the leader of a hippie commune who guided members into a series of murders. The Manson Family was responsible for multiple home invasions and random murders, but the brutal murder of the LaBiancas is one on which The Strangers plot is based. SMH, even time spent at home is no longer sacred anymore and we’re having none of it.

2. The Mothman Prophecies

We’re having trouble imagining what exactly a moth the size of a man would look like. It’s either incredibly goofy-looking, with its long and dangly limbs or extremely horrifying. If you ask us, moths are already big enough. We don’t have the mental or physical strength to deal with anything bigger than that. The Mothman Prophecies is a movie based on West Virginian folklore of a moth-like creature the size of a man reportedly seen for a period of time in the late 1960s. Author John Keele published a book based on the sightings in 1975 titled The Mothman Prophecies, in which he claims that there is a direct relation to the sightings and supernatural events that led to the collapse of the Silver Bridge and multiple civilian deaths. Here’s hoping that the Mothman is a creature of the past.

1. The Hills Have Eyes

This film was written, directed and edited by the father of the horror genre, Wes Craven. Although it has been remade many times since, this version from the late ’70s became an instant cult classic amongst horror buffs. The plot centres in the Nevada desert where a family is targeted by a cannibalistic family of savages. The concept for the film emerged from the true historical events of Alexander “Sawney” Bean, who was the head of a cannibalistic clan in Scotland between the 13th and 16th centuries and was responsible for the murder of over 1,000 people. OK, we are calling BS on this story and there are many skeptics who share the same thoughts. We would just rather refuse to believe that something like a murderous and cannibalistic clan actually existed.