ByKristin Lai, writer at
MP Staff Writer, cinephile and resident Slytherclaw // UCLA Alumna // Follow me on Twitter: kristin_lai
Kristin Lai

I love horror movies. Well, that's not entirely true. I love horror movies, but I hate what they do to me afterwards. All is well when I'm curled up on the couch and eating popcorn. I just think to myself, "Oh yeah. This isn't even scary! I am the bravest human this side of the Mississippi for sure!" But the minute I head to bed and turn off the lights, I. am. terrified.

If you're anything like me, when confronted with fear, I find myself having to do every last bit of research on the subject. Does this ease my mind at all? Am I finally able to sleep at night knowing that my apartment definitely wasn't built over a Native American burial ground? Nope. But I continue to do it anyway.

Luckily, we have this mutually beneficial relationship, you and I. So, thanks to my neurosis, we can all learn a little bit more about some real life inspiration to some of horror's most frightening icons!

Freddy Krueger (Nightmare on Elm Street)

As we all know, this is Freddy. Known in life for murdering children and his terrible taste in sweaters. Known in death for killing teenagers in their sleep...and still that sweater thing. As it turns out, Wes Craven's inspiration for Nightmare on Elm Street came from some real life stuff that might be freakier than the movie itself. Side note: Inspiration for Freddy also came from an elderly man Wes Craven once saw walking by his window as a child.

In the early 1980's, there was a serious epidemic in Southeast Asia where young men were dying inexplicably in their sleep after complaining of night terrors. According to Dr. Gib Parrish, a CDC medical epidemiologist, in a 1998 Los Angeles Times article:

"The Centers for Disease Control began tracking a mysterious rash of sudden unexplained nocturnal deaths occurring in apparently healthy, male immigrants from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. The problem, unknown in other ethnic groups, has now claimed more than 104 men, averaging 33 years of age, and one woman."

These cultures, all of which have a history that believes strongly in the possibility of demons and the supernatural, described them as "nightmare deaths" in which a demon has invaded the dreams of their prey. The victims of this epidemic would try to keep themselves awake with mass amounts of caffeine and other stimulants, only to die after finally succumbing to sleep.

To this day, no one is sure what exactly caused these deaths, which means that there's no proof that demons only exist in our minds...

Leatherface (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) / Buffalo Bill (The Silence of the Lambs) / Norman Bates (Psycho) and more...

This man is the real life inspiration for, not one, but THREE classic horror films. We've all heard of Leatherface, Buffalo Bill, and Norman Bates (amongst others). What do they have in common? Well, they are three truly f*cked up men with some serious issues. They are also all based on the crimes of Ed Gein, an even more twisted man.

This is Ed Gein...

He might not be as terrifying upfront as some of his movie counterparts, but doesn't that kind of make this even scarier?

The crimes that Gein committed are almost too gruesome to write down, but I'll give it a go. In 1957, he became a suspect for the disappearance of Bernice Worden, a local hardware store owner. While investigating his property, Gein confessed to killing Worden as well as Mary Hogan, a tavern owner. Along with the decapitated body of Bernice Worden, they found many artifacts made from human bones and skin (seriously, the list is long and very gruesome).

As it turns out, many of the artifacts came from the graves of recently-deceased women that reminded him of his mother.

After his mother's death, Gein admitted that he wanted to have a sex change and live life as a woman. During the investigation, authorities also discovered a "woman suit" made out of the tanned skin of women that Gein would wear while pretending to be a woman.

In his trial, Gein entered a 'not-guilty' plea by reason of insanity. He was deemed mentally unfit to stand trial, and was sent to a maximum-security institution until 1968. His trial lasted only a week and he was found guilty of all crimes, but still stayed in the mental hospital until his death in 1984 at the age of 77.

To me, this is far more terrifying than any ghost or demon. This guy was a real person and his crimes were so heinous that they could be split up and inspire multiple horror films.

The Hills People (The Hills Have Eyes)

Alexander "Sawney" Bean was the leader of a 46 member clan of cannibals in Scotland around the 15th or 16th century. He was also the inspiration for Wes Craven's The Hills Have Eyes. The Sawney Bean family were responsible for the deaths of over 1,000 people.

Allegedly, Sawney Bean's clan lived in secrecy in a cave for about 25 years. Sawney Bean and his wife had 8 sons and six daughters, each of which had their own children mainly by incest. The family would ambush unsuspecting groups or individuals traveling near their cave. Eventually they met their match in a traveling couple. Sadly, the wife sustained fatal injuries, but the husband was trained in combat and was able to fight off the group until they drew the attention of the locals, hailing for rescue.

Once the atrocities of the Sawney Bean clan were known, a manhunt was launched and they eventually tracked down and executed each member of the demented family.

Sawney Bean's story might be more of a myth than fact, but it still inspired Wes Craven to write and direct one hell of a scary movie!

If you didn't already know, all of this proves that real life can be a lot scarier than even the movies (take Jesus Camp for example). And these were only a few examples! I don't know about you guys, but I'm now inspired to go home and watch some scary movies, then promptly fall asleep with the lights on.

Add your favorite horror movie inspiration in the comments section!


Which of these real life inspirations is the scariest to you?


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