The first lines of 2008 home invasion horror The Strangers make a claim made by many horror movies:
What you are about to see is inspired by true events. According to the FBI, there are an estimated 1.4 million violent crimes in America each year. On the night of February 11, 2005, Kristen McKay and James Hoyt left a friend's wedding reception and returned to the Hoyt family's summer home. The brutal events that took place there are still not entirely known.
Obviously, horror fans know that "inspired by true events" is always to be taken with a pinch of salt — despite some fake online stories, Kristen McKay and James Hoyt are fictional characters — but there are a few interesting real-life bases for The Strangers. The randomness and brutality of the murders are close to a couple of real-life cases.
Horror film central notes:
The idea that helped spark 'The Strangers' came from when Bertino read the true crime book 'Helter Skelter'... where two of the most appalling 'Manson Family' murders occurred.
The similarity is striking. On August 10, 1969, innocent couple Leno and Rosemary LaBianca were horribly murdered at their home at 3301 Waverly Drive in Los Feliz, Los Angeles by Charles Manson, Tex Watson and other members of the Manson family. The killers tied the couple's arms and legs, and stabbed the couple to death with a knife, leaving over 60 total stab wounds on the two victims. The couple's son, Frank, found his parents' bodies the next day.
The unprovoked attack on an innocent couple and the tearful discovery of the bodies by a young man the next day are two specific details used in The Strangers. Model Gemma Ward, who played Dollface, remembers:
''To get inspiration for Dollface, I read 'Helter Skelter,' so I could get a feel for twisted girls and how their minds work when they reach a certain point."
Director Bryan Bertino was partially inspired by a spooky experience he had during childhood, explaining in the production notes for The Strangers:
''Part of the story came to me from a childhood memory. As a kid, I lived in a house on a street in the middle of nowhere. One night, while our parents were out, somebody knocked on the front door and my little sister answered it. At the door were some people asking for somebody that didn't live there. We later found out that these people were knocking on doors in the area and, if no one was home, breaking into the houses. In 'The Strangers,' the fact that someone is at home does not deter the people who've knocked on the front door; it's the reverse.
Crimes are committed all the time that nobody has a chance to explain to the victim why it happened. It just happens. And we're left to deal with the aftermath."
The Strangers has also been likened to unsolved quadruple homicide case The Keddie Murders, though this involved more victims and different weapons. Some critics also note the movie's similarity to French home invasion horror Ils (Them), which involves a couple being attacked at their remote property, even to the point of calling The Strangers an Ils remake. Cinematically, Bertino has cited his influences for The Strangers:
"The thrillers that inspired me come from the 1970s. So I wanted to create one that explores something that could happen with characters at their most vulnerable, like movies did back then."
So, to sum up, The Strangers seems to have taken inspiration from the following stories:
- Helter Skelter and the Manson Murders
- Bryan Bertino's childhood experience
- French film Ils (Them)
- 1970s thrillers
It appears that there is no direct real-life basis for The Strangers, but this doesn't make the concept any less frightening. Its similarity to horrific real-life crimes make it a gritty, memorable piece of horror cinema.