There’s something about watching a movie and finding out upon the closing credits that it was in fact based on a true story. Even though the revelation came at the end of the story, in hindsight it gives it much more weight. You fall in love with the characters, get attached to the movie’s events and you can’t help but wonder what they’re doing now, admire their courage and resilience and in a weird way, feel as though you know them.
When it comes to horror movies, “Based on a true story” tends to be the last thing we want to appear on our screens. Unlike in a good romance or any other kind of movie for that matter, knowing it’s a true story doesn’t endear you to the characters or their struggle. Instead it creates urgency to distance yourself from their situations as much as possible. In horror, most of us need to know it was made up, that no one was harmed and that we aren’t at risk of it happening to us. Yes, it makes the story more impactful and for some of you adrenaline junkies, that’s exactly what you want from a horror movie but for others, that’s your cue to hide behind the pillows, lock all the doors and sleep with a baseball bat by the bed, swearing to never watch a horror movie again.
Brace yourself, these seven horror movies based on true events aren’t for the faint hearted but they do make for a great night of getting in the spooky spirit.
Veronica is based on Madrid police reports. Knowing it was a case ‘mysterious’ enough for the police to seriously investigate freaks me out enough as it is. The story follows that of a girl who begins experiencing severe seizures and hallucinations following a thwarted ouija board. In the movie adaptation, the girl dies while battling a demon during a ‘seizure’ at home but in reality she died in hospital and the family only pursued police involvement one year after her death when they also began experiencing paranormal activity. According to police reports it’s a “situation of mystery and rarity.”
This story explores that of an American couple, Tom and Eileen Lonergan and plays upon our worst nightmare of what happens when stranded in shark infested waters. In the film the couple go scuba diving in the Caribbean and when the boat company completes an incorrect head count, the couple are left stranded. Obviously, terror ensues. To make matters worse, during filming real sharks were used as opposed to mechanical versions as used in Jaws. In the real life version of events, Tom and Eileen Lonergan were stranded off the Great Barrier Reef in 1998. Their bodies were never recovered.
The Girl Next Door
Based on the story of Sylvia Likens, whose murder was described as “the most terrible crime ever committed in the state of Indiana” by the prosecutor of the trial investigating her murder. Likens was brutally tortured, mutilated and humiliated by her caregiver until she eventually died. In real life her parents – carnival workers – had initially left Sylvia and her sister Jenny in the care of Gertrude Baniszewski, paying Gertrude $20 per week to care for their daughters. Having read about the case and compared notes with the movie’s plot where we watch as a girl suffers abuse from her caregiver and neighbourhood boys who, encouraged by the caregiver, join in on the abuse, not much is changed between the reality and fictionalised version. The movie also shares the story of the boys who witnessed the abuse but didn’t speak up.
A Nightmare on Elm Street
Talk about your worst nightmare – this movie explores the terrifying story of a serial killer who is able to murder you via your dreams. The story is based in part on the real life case of a boy who died during a nightmare after staying up for days on end because he was afraid of the thing chasing him in his dream. Although upon hearing his scream, his parents rushed to his bedside, they were too late and the boy had already died in his sleep by the time they reached him.
Due to the horrific nature of the true story of cannibal serial killer, Jeffrey Dahmer who had an awful habit of snacking on his victims, the film didn’t need to be too heavily dramatised to make it to cinema screens. The real Dahmer was convicted of 15 counts of murder furthermore amassing over 900 years in prison. They may add a few extra character to the movie’s storyline but as for the plot itself, there’s no need to make anything up.
While not technically a movie, this Netflix docuseries is spectacularly spooky nonetheless. The series interviews multiple people who had had liaisons with the paranormal. Producers of this show then recreated their stories with dramatisation, the kind that creates an eerie silence among those watching and result in chills throughout your entire body. The series lands on Netflix today (19 October).
The Rite follows the story of Catholic priest Father Gary Thomas and the events that occurred while he was taking a course in Rome. During the course he became qualified in the rite of exorcism through which he developed a strong belief in the existence of Satan and evil. In the movie the character is presented as a seminary skeptic who believes that the answers are in psychiatry and not exorcism. Upon being taken under the wing of a veteran exorcist his views suddenly change and he begins to question everything he thought he knew about the presence of evil.