ByMelissa Thomas, writer at
Horror blogger. Find more of my work at Email me at [email protected]
Melissa Thomas

Horror films are designed to scare us. Most of them are made-up myths, but some of the on-screen monsters are inspired by real-life monsters, which makes them even more terrifying. The ideas for some of horror's most unbelievable films have been inspired by true stories. Here are 25 horror movies based on true stories.

25. Psycho

The Movie: A Phoenix secretary embezzles $40,000 from her employer's client, goes on the run, and checks into a remote motel run by a young man under the domination of his mother.

True Story: The film is loosely inspired by Wisconsin serial killer, Ed Gein, in the 50s. Gein was responsible for the murders of Bernice Worden and Mary Hogan (only two confirmed kills, but he is believed to be responsible for more murders) as well as a large number of grave robberies. When police searched his home, they found furniture made of human skin and bones as well as an apron made of the flesh and breasts of his victims.

24. From Hell

The Movie: Johnny Depp and Heather Graham star in this Victorian era thriller in which police search for Jack the Ripper.

True Story: The film is obviously based on Jack the Ripper, who was responsible for five murders in London during 1888. The killer has never been identified, but many speculate that it was actually American serial killer H.H. Holmes.

23. The Possession

The Movie: A young girl purchases an antique box from a yard sale— little did she know, the box contains a malicious spirit that is hellbent on possessing her.

True Story: The film is inspired by the story of the dybbuk box. Jewish folklore says that a dybbuk is a dark spirit that can possess the living. A mysterious box was up for sale on eBay and the person that purchased the box reported dark energy and sold the box to someone else. Each person that bought the box experienced the same paranormal events and sold the box to someone else. The owners of the box have experienced everything from strokes to haunting, and even possession.

22. Dead Ringers

The Movie: Twin gynecologists — one more confident than the other — take advantage of the fact that nobody can tell them apart. The more confident twin can have any girl he pleases, and once he is done with them, he passes them on to his brother with the girl being none the wiser. That strategy works until an actress enters their office. They both fall for her, but they don't want to share with the other.

True Story: Stewart and Cyril Marcus were twin gynecologists. They shared everything: a career, women and the same drug addiction. They were found dead together as a result of withdrawal from their barbiturate addiction. Cronenberg read an essay about the twins written by Ron Rosenbaum and drew inspiration for his film.

21. The Girl Next Door

The Movie: Unspeakable torture and abuses committed on a teenage girl in the care of her aunt...and the boys who witness and fail to report the crime.

True Story: Based on what was called the worst crime in Indiana's history. In 1965, 16-year-old Sylvia Likens was tortured and eventually murdered by Gertrude Baniszewski, her children and a couple of other young boys from their neighborhood.

20. Snowtown

The Movie: 16-year-old Jamie begins hanging out with his mother's boyfriend and his friends. Together, they are a self-appointed neighborhood watch group. The "watchmen" then begin a spree of torture and murder.

True Story: The "Snowtown murders" were carried out between 1992 and 1999 by Jason Bunting and his crew. The group tortured and killed at least 11 people during the spree. The crimes were covered up by Bunting, he would have the victims call their friends and leave voice messages saying that they were going out of town.

19. Child's Play

The Movie: Serial killer Charles Lee Ray gets cornered by police in a toy store. In a last ditch effort to survive, he transfers his soul to a Good Guy Doll. A mother desperate to get one of the dolls for her son, Andy, purchases the cursed doll from a man in an alley. The doll comes to life and nobody believes Andy until Chucky kills the babysitter and he talks to the mother with no batteries in his back. Chucky goes on a murder spree and is eventually burned in a fireplace and blown apart.... until Child's Play 2.

True Story: Child's Play was inspired by a nurse who allegedly put a voodoo curse on the author, Robert Eugene Otto. The curse would make one of his childhood dolls come to life and terrorize him at night.

18. Borderland

The Movie: A group of college friends on a trip to a Mexican-border town stumble on a cult that practices human sacrifice.

True Story: The film is inspired by the story of Adolfo de Jesus Constanzo, a cult leader of a group that openly practiced human sacrifice. Constanzo kidnapped and killed members of drug cartels because they denied him a share in the business. The murders were some of the most brutal in history. Kind of like a warped, real life Dexter.

17. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

The Movie: A group of friends are hunted by a chainsaw-wielding, human skin-mask-wearing man and his family of cannibals.

True Story: While the film's plot is entirely fictional, the character of Leatherface is in fact partially based on real-life serial killer Ed Gein. When Gein was arrested, he was found in possession of nine masks as well as furniture pieces made of human flesh.

16. Dahmer

The Movie: Before he was Hawkeye, Jeremy Renner portrayed real life serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer in 2002. The film was about the exploits of Dahmer and his arrest.

True Story: Obviously, the film is based on the life and crimes of Jeffrey Dahmer. Over a 15 year span, Dahmer murdered and dismembered at least 17 men. He was also found guilty of cannibalism and necrophilia. He was imprisoned in 1992 and sentenced to 16 consecutive life sentences. He was beaten to death by a fellow inmate just 2 years into his sentence.

My Friend Dahmer a new movie exploring the early life of the infamous killer — is now in production.

15. Primeval

The Movie: A team heads to Burundi to capture a legendary 25-foot crocodile. While on their quest, they become the target of a warlord that wants nothing more than to see them dead.

True Story: There really is a legendary 20-foot crocodile named Gustave that lives in Burundi. He is believed to be around 65 years old, and responsible for consuming around 300 people.

14. The Strangers

The Movie: A young couple in a troubled relationship head to an isolated home in the country. When they arrive, they are terrorized by three mask-wearing, crazy people.

True Story: Director Bryan Bertino drew inspiration for his film from a string of break-ins that occurred in his childhood neighborhood. He was also inspired by the Manson killings.

13. The Conjuring

The Movie: A family moves into an old farmhouse where malicious paranormal events begin to happen. Ed and Lorraine Warren are called in and uncover the dark secrets of the property's past while battling a possession.

True Story: The Conjuring was inspired by the real life Perron family. They moved into a home in Rhode Island, unaware of the history of the home and the land that it sat on. They called in legendary paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren who discovered that their property was being haunted by the malevolent spirit of a witch named Bathsheba Sheran who lived there in the 19th Century.

2016's The Conjuring 2 was also based on real-life events, exploring the chilling and infamous Enfield hauntings.

12. Eaten Alive

The Movie: Not to be confused with the 1980 cannibal film of the same name, this 1976 film by Tobe Hooper takes place in an old, rundown hotel in Texas. The owner of the hotel has a unique way of getting rid of anyone who threatens his business — he feeds them to his pet crocodile that he keeps in the swamp. Eaten Alive features some pretty big genre names like Marilyn Burns, the original Morticia Addams, Carolyn Jones, and Robert Englund.

True Story: Joe Ball a.k.a. The Alligator Man fed as many as 20 women to his pet alligators in the 1930s. Ball was never brought to justice because when police stopped to question him, he fatally shot himself.

11. The Exorcism of Emily Rose

The Movie: A young woman named Emily Rose becomes possessed and dies during an exorcism. Nobody believed she was truly possessed; they thought her problem was medical, so the priest was blamed for her death. The priest that performed the exorcism was then booked and put on trial for homicide.

True Story: The film was inspired by the real life 1968 possession of a 16-year-old German girl named Anneliese Michel. She was believed to have been possessed for 7 years, and an exorcism was not performed until 1975. It took two priests about 10 months to successfully perform the exorcism on Anneliese.

10. The Serpent and the Rainbow

The Movie: An anthropologist goes to Haiti after hearing rumors about a drug used by black magic practitioners to turn people into zombies.

True Story: The film is inspired by Canadian scientist Wade Davis, who wrote a book in 1985 of the same name. In the book, he wrote of his experiences with the process of zombification. What Davis discovered is startling and may lend some credence to shows like The Walking Dead and the people that believe a zombie apocalypse will happen.

9. A Nightmare on Elm Street

The Movie: Suspected pedophile Fred Krueger is hunted by the parents of Springwood who take justice into their own hands and burn Krueger alive. His actions after death are far worse than his actions while he was living. Freddy becomes a vengeful demon that hunts down the children of the parents that took his life and begins killing them one by one in their sleep.

True Story: The story itself is fictional, but writer Wes Craven drew inspiration for the film's plot from an article that he read in the LA Times about a group of Cambodians who all died while having a nightmare.

8. The Zodiac Killer

The Movie: The film follows a serial killer who is terrorizing the San Francisco area, killing at random. While carrying out these brutal murders, he taunts police through a series of phone calls and letters.

True Story: The Zodiac Killer remains to this day one of America's most high-profile unsolved cases. The killer coined himself 'Zodiac' in letters that he sent to police. He is responsible for the deaths of four men and three women from December 1968 to October of 1969. His killings were all random, and the only evidence left behind was a composite sketch and four letters that included cryptograms. The lack of evidence left behind prompted investigators to believe that the killer had a background in law enforcement. Only one of the four cryptograms sent to police has been definitively solved. The case was closed then reopened in 2007 as investigators wanted to use modern technology to take another crack at the case, but no further leads have been uncovered.

7. The Amityville Horror

The Movie: A newly wed couple move into a home, unaware of what had occurred within its walls. A mass murder had been committed, and as a result, the house became violently haunted.

True Story: The Amityville Horror is another film inspired by one of Ed and Lorraine Warren's cases. The case was that of the Lutz family who were experiencing severe paranormal activity in their home. There have been lawsuits filed throughout the years about the story's legitimacy.

6. I Spit on Your Grave (Day of the Woman)

The Movie: An aspiring writer is repeatedly gang-raped, beaten and left for dead by four men. After the events, she hunts them down one by one until her revenge is fulfilled.

True Story: Writer/director Meir Zarchi drew inspiration from his own life experience. In 1974, he came across a woman that had been brutally raped and left. He took the woman to the police, where she was treated unfairly. He wrote the story based on this woman and what would have happened if she were to have taken matters into her own hands.

5. Jaws

The Movie: A rogue white shark terrorizes the beach community of Amity. Following the carnage, a police officer, a scientist, and a fisherman set out to kill the shark.

True Story: The film was based on a novel. Benchley's novel was inspired by Frank Mundus, a fisherman who caught a great white shark in Long Island in 1964, and the string of shark attacks along the Jersey shore in 1916.

4. Wolf Creek

The Movie: Three backpackers stranded in the Australian outback are befriended by a local who turns out to be a sadistic psychopath and will plunge them into a hellish nightmare of insufferable torture.

True Story: Two different serial killers in the 90s (Ivan Milat) and 2001 (Bradley Murdoch) are responsible for the gruesome murders of hikers throughout the Australian outback.

3. The Hills Have Eyes

The Movie: A family's car breaks down on the way to California in an area that is closed to the public. Their worst nightmares become reality because the area is inhabited by a family of savage cannibals that are ready to make them their next meal.

True Story: The film is based on the story of Alexander "Sawney" Bean. Bean was the head of a clan of cave dwellers in the 16th Century. The group lived in the caves for 25 years, and over those years, they trapped and consumed an estimated 1,000 people before they were found and killed.

2. The Town That Dreaded Sundown

The Movie: A Texas Ranger hunts for a killer that is terrorizing a small town in Arkansas in 1946.

True Story: The film is loosely based on the spree of killings that took place in Texarkana in the 1940s. The killer was nicknamed the Phantom Killer, as he left behind no clues to his identity and left no witnesses alive. The Phantom was responsible for 8 murders over a 10 week period. The killer was never identified or caught.

1. The Exorcist

The Movie: Regan MacNiel, a sweet, normal teenage girl gets possessed by the demon Pazuzu while she and her mother are visiting Washington D.C.. Her mother enlists the help of two priests to free her daughter from the demon.

True Story: The Exorcist is based on a novel. Blatty's novel is based on the real life story of Roland Doe, the pseudonym given to a boy that became possessed in 1949 after conducting Ouija board sessions. The Catholic church was brought in to perform an exorcism.

Check out our behind-the-scenes look at five classic horror films including The Exorcist!

It is hard to believe that some of these films are based on true stories. These stories make these already disturbing films even more terrifying. Just remember, the next time you watch a horror film alone in the dark that frightening a character or a scary story might just be real.

What's your favorite horror movie based on real-life events? Let me know in the comments!