The phrase "based on a true story" gets tossed around a lot when it comes to horror films. Sometimes, with movies like From Hell or Dahmer, you know that it's going to be pretty accurate. Other times, with a movie such as The Strangers, you have to take it with a grain of salt and realize that it's probably a little more inspired by truth. However, some truly fantastic and effective horror films are actually based on terrifying true crimes, and you may not know it!
The following are what I consider the top five lesser-known true crime movies, with some honorable mentions at the end!
Grimm Love (2006)
The Film: Starring Keri Russell, this fairly unknown film focuses on the infatuation a graduate student develops with finding a film that shows the willing cannibalistic relationship between two men. As she becomes more and more obsessed with the underground cannibal subculture, she finds that her life is beginning to mirror that of her thesis subjects. This horror film/unconventional love story is intoxicating and totally under-appreciated.
The True Story: Armin Meiwes, known as the "Cannibal of Rotenburg," is a German man who searched for a willing man on the internet, killed him, and then ate large portions of his flesh. Because Meiwes's victim was willing (and they both ate his... um... man bits... together), Meiwes was initially convicted of manslaughter and only sentenced to eight years in prison. However, because Germany does not have double jeopardy, the prosecutors appealed the sentence and Meiwes was re-tried in 2006. He is now serving a life sentence for murder.
The Film: Holly, a bored young girl played by a lovely pre-Carrie Sissy Spacek, hooks up with Kit, an older, dangerously charming man (Martin Sheen) who promises to take her away from her dead-end existence. But once Kit and Holly flee her home, Kit takes them on a murder spree that terrifies the badlands of South Dakota and introduces Holly to a life she never could have imagined.
The True Story: Charles Starkweather and his 14-year-old girlfriend, Caril Anne Fugate, are one of the most notorious thrill-killing couples in the annals of American crime. In 1958, Starkweather killed ten people across Wyoming and Nebraska, with Fugate by his side for each one. He was executed in 1959 at age 20 for the 11 murders he'd committed total, while Fugate served 17 years and was eventually released, as she'd never committed any of the murders herself.
The Film: Brandi is having a really rotten day. And that is compounded by the fact that she runs down a homeless man with her car on her way home from some hardcore partying. Except... rather than tell anyone what she's done, she just drives home with the man in her windshield and plans to leave him in her garage until he dies. The problem is, the man was having a pretty bad day too (before the whole windshield thing), and he's not willing to go quietly. This brutal little film from Stuart Gordon is definitely not for those who are squiggly about car accidents.
The True Story: In 2001, Texas woman Chante Jawan Mallard was driving while intoxicated on a combination of alcohol, marijuana, and ecstasy. On her way home, she ran into homeless man Gregory Biggs, sending him crashing through her windshield. Rather than contact authorities, she drove home with Biggs in her windshield and allowed him to die in her garage, providing him with no assistance even though she was a former nurse's aid. Mallard and three friends then dumped Biggs's body in a park and set fire to her car to hide the evidence. She was eventually caught because for months she was overheard laughing and joking about the incident at a party. At her eventual trial, experts testified that if Biggs had been taking to the ER, he could have recovered from his injuries. Mallard was sentenced to 50 years in prison.
The Girl Next Door (2007)
The Film: Based on Jack Ketchum's novel of the same name, The Girl Next Door tells the story of a young girl named Meg Loughlin, who is brutalized at the hands of her sadistic aunt. Left in the care of her Aunt Ruth after the death of her parents, Meg is sexually abused, mutilated, starved, raped, and handed off to the neighborhood boys to assault. By the time help finally comes, it is too late, and one boy is left to live with the knowledge that he didn't intervene in time to help her. Brutal and devastating, The Girl Next Door is not for the faint of heart.
The True Story: The story of Sylvia Likens is almost identical to that of the young girl from The Girl Next Door, but significantly more heartbreaking when you register the fact that all of those horrible atrocities happened to a living, breathing, innocent child. Sylvia and her sister, Jenny, were left in the care of Gertrude Baniszewski when their carnival-worker parents went off to work. On October 26, 1965, after months of beatings, sexual abuse, starvation, burnings, and scalding baths, Sylvia Likens died of shock, malnutrition, and a brain hemorrhage. Baniszewski, her daughter, and multiple others involved in Sylvia's death, were tried and convicted of first or second-degree murder, though most were eventually freed. A memorial to Sylvia stands in Indianapolis, as a tribute to the strides made on her behalf in child abuse law.
Eaten Alive (1977)
The Film: Directed by Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), Eaten Alive is fun little piece of exploitation cinema about a wacko hotel owner who likes to feed less-than-reputable women to his pet crocodile. Less known than Texas Chainsaw, Eaten Alive has developed a cult following in the years since its release. But this couldn't be based on a real story right?
The True Story: WRONG! Joe Ball, a 30s saloon owner/bootlegger, had a pen filled with gators where he would dispose of the bodies of the women he murdered. While the authorities of the time were never able to determine exactly how many women he'd killed, they expected the number was suspected to be around 20. However, when the police showed up at Ball's (hehehe, balls) door to arrest him after a tip from a disgruntled employee, he shot himself in the head rather than go to jail. So the world will never know the real truth behind the man who used his pet gators as accomplices to his crimes.
Honorable Mentions: Dead Ringers, The Hills Have Eyes, & Ravenous
Did I leave off a lesser-known true crime film that you love? What do you think of true crime horror? Let me know in the comments section!
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