There's nothing like the words "Based on a true story..." to ensure that a horror movie will be lodged in my memory for life. With that terrifying but admittedly overused phrase, I can't help but dig into a movie's background, often to the detriment of my sleep schedule. This first happened when I was 9 years old and started extensively researching The Exorcist. I still can't look at a crucifix the same way after this brutal scene.
Most people are aware of the story behind The Exorcist, but even lesser known films can have extremely terrifying backstories. Here are six real-life stories that have inspired horror movies but remain even scarier as facts of life.
Constanzo's early life was steeped in mysticism and crime, the perfect recipe for raising a future cult leader. After learning about Voodoo from his mother, he became an apprentice to a sorcerer who introduced him to the religion Palo Mayombe, which involves animal sacrifice. His stepfather was also involved in Palo Mayombe as well as drug dealing.
From there, he was just a morbid hop skip and a jump away from actual human sacrifices, which involved "magical" concoctions of brains, blood, spiders, scorpions, bones, and more in his cauldron, a nganga. His blood sacrifices were cheered on by his partner drug cartels in Mexico City, and the cult felt like the spells were responsible for all their success. After they were finally caught, following an American's abduction and murder, police found at least fifteen mutilated bodies buried on Constanzo's property.
The film Borderland loosely follows the crimes of Constanzo and his second-in-command/high priestess Sara Aldrete, and it doesn't hold back when it comes to the grisly scenes of brutality.
5. Stuck and Hit and Run
You know a story is particularly memorable if it's inspired multiple films all released at the same time. Stuck and Hit and Run—along with a Bollywood adaptation Accident on Hill Road—follow one young girl who hits a homeless man with her car after a night of heavy partying. She then drives back home with the man lodged in her windshield, parks him in her garage, and leaves him to bleed out and die.
The story is shocking and a tad absurd, which makes the fact that that this is a true story all the more grim. In 2001, Chante Jawan Mallard was allegedly under the influence of marijuana, alcohol, and ecstasy when she struck a man with her car. After bringing the entrapped man back to her home, the former nurse's aide did not even try to get medical attention for the dying man. After disposing of the body with the help of her friend, Mallard was eventually convicted to 50 years in prison after bragging about the incident at a party.
The film 247°F is a harrowing tale about a group of friends who get locked in a hot sauna with no one around to free them from being cooked alive. It's like the tanning bed deaths from Final Destination 3, but much more drawn out. Shockingly enough, this somewhat ridiculous premise actually happened in real life.
In the country of Georgia, four friends were enjoying a sauna when one of them suddenly left for the bathroom. He never returned, and in his haste, he locked the rest of them in. As they sweltered together, their friend passed out, and when he woke up, he had no memory of going in the sauna. Luckily, this story doesn't end quite as tragically as the movie version: the friends were able to shut off the heat, but the temperature diminished very slowly. They lingered for 10 hours in desertlike conditions before they were finally found.
3. Hard Candy
Hard Candy is one of the most disturbing movies I have ever seen, and the story of a teenage girl preying on predators has to be completely fictional, right? Well, according to producer David W. Higgins, he got the idea from a news story he saw on 20/20, and it's as shocking and ethically conflicting as the film.
The story involved young Japanese girls who lured older men (just like Ellen Page's character) to a spot of their choice for "meaningful conversation." Once vulnerable, the would-be predator got jumped by a whole gang of young girls, beating him until they could take his money. This prompted Higgins to wonder, "What if the person you expect to be the predator is not who you expect it to be? What if it's the other person?"
2. The Rite
The fact that there's a real-life history of exorcisms will never cease to freak me out, and this case is no help. The movie The Rite follows an old, expert priest who is called in to perform an exorcism on a pregnant young girl who was raped by her father. The story is based on the accounts of a then-priest sent to the Vatican to learn exorcisms. It's called The Making of a Modern Exorcist, and it's a guidebook to religious terror.
The real Father Gary Thomas was skeptical when approached to perform exorcism in his diocese, so he became an apprentice to a professional exorcist in Rome. His initial skepticism was quickly replaced by cold, hard fear that evil is very real and manifests in the form of demonic possession. Father Gary performed over 20 exorcisms, and he was a consultant on the film. He claims that the fictional sessions in The Rite are extremely accurate, which is thoroughly terrifying when you consider that the victim is coughing up nails and miscarrying her unborn child.
In the mostly overlooked film Primeval, a giant, man-eating, relentless crocodile has been terrorizing locals for years when a team of journalists arrive to film and capture the beast. In reality, proving once again that it can be stranger than fiction, there IS a crocodile in Burundi who has been eating people for decades. His name is Gustave, and at around 60 years old, he's still growing.
Most likely measuring between 18 and 25 feet long, Gustave's intimidating size prevents him from hunting normal, fast prey. Instead, he resorts to bigger animals like hippopotamus, wildebeest, and, scarily enough, humans. Some accounts say that the monstrous creature will strategically hunt humans but leave their corpses uneaten. If that's the case, he's hunting us for sport, and no one has ever been able to catch him. When one team attempted it with a live goat, their camera failed the night the goat went missing, so it's possible that Gustave isn't only powerful but extremely intelligent as well.