12 Terrifying Horror Movies That Are "Based On A True Story"
Horror movies love to claim that they're based in reality. Here are 12 you can watch that actually (kind of) are.
We've all seen the trailers--horror movies with bombastic monsters and terrifying ghost encounters that bill themselves as being "based on a true story." And while most of them are obviously stretching the definition of "true" to its absolute limits, it's still fun to pretend if only for the hour-or-so we spend in the dark watching them, that maybe these scary stories did actually happen somewhere to someone.
Truth is a funny thing, though--especially when you're dealing with movies that are specifically made to entertain rather than inform. It's important to remember that horror movies are, first an foremost, trying to scare you, whether its with ghosts or monsters or hulking murderers with axes or knives. So as you can imagine, it's always best to be pretty skeptical whenever you see a horror movie boasting about its true story or true events--chances are they're playing pretty fast and loose with their definition of what's "true" and what isn't.
Still, that doesn't mean any of these movies are bad--in fact, sometimes its that little kick of inspiration from real life events that really solidify a horror movie as an unforgettable cultural artifact…or, generate a lot of confusing controversy that ultimately tanks the rest of the franchise. It really is kind of a 50/50 chance at this point. But we're not here to pass judgment, we're here to let you decide for yourself. We've gathered a list of 11 movies that are, believe it or not, based on true stories in one way or another. Which ones are you going to believe?
1. Annabelle (et. all)
The Conjuring franchise's favorite demonic doll is "real" in the sense that, yes, the real-life Warrens did claim that a Raggedy Anne doll named Annabelle in their collection was actually the vessel of a demonic spirit. The doll was contained in a blessed glass box and surrounded by all sorts of spooky (and unverifiable) tales but definitely didn't look or behave anything like the doll we see in the movies.
2. The Conjuring (et. all)
Truth-o-meter: Extremely dubious
The Conjuring movies, like the Annabelle films that fall under their umbrella, bill themselves as being based on the real life exploits of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren--and that's kind of true, at least in the sense that they do take their inspiration from cases that the Warrens actually wrote about. But that's about where the similarities end--the on-screen Warrens bare next to no resemblance to their real-life counterparts (which is a good thing--the Warrens were, unfortunately, not very good people) so you can count everything you see on screen as definitively fictional.
3. The Amityville Horror (et all)
Truth-o-meter: Very profitable hoax
The Amityville Horror franchise started out leaning into the idea that it was a true story really, really hard--and that shouldn't be a surprise. The book it was based on literally subtitled itself "A True Story." But over time, the movies got sillier and sillier, and even went full on 3D at one point. As it turns out, the original story that spawned the movies was probably just an elaborate hoax to try and explain some very real, very tragic murders.
4. The Exorcism of Emily Rose
Truth-o-meter: Loosely based
This one earns some points for not claiming out-right that it's telling a true story, because it isn't. Instead, The Exorcism of Emily Rose fictionalizes the actual court case of Annelise Michel, a young girl who died of malnutrition after 67 separate exorcism attempts were made. The real world case was ruled a negligent homicide. The movie deals with actual demons.
5. Wolf Creek
Truth-o-meter: Real murders, fake story
Unsurprisingly, the closer horror gets to crime thrillers, the more likely they are to actually have grains of truth in them. Wolf Creek follows backpackers being stalked by a serial killer through the Australian outback, events which were based on two real life murders that actually happened in the early 90s (and later in the early 00s) in Australia.
6. The Exorcist
Truth-o-meter: "Loosely based," is stretching it
Arguably one of the most famous horror movies of all time, The Exorcist is based on a (decidedly fictional) novel of the same name by William Peter Blatty which was published in 1971, but the novel actually found some inspiration in a real life exorcism performed in the late 40s by the Catholic church. Don't worry, though--Regan and her head-spinning, pea-vomiting antics are totally made up.
7. My Friend Dahmer
Yet another one that threads the needle between true crime and horror--this time leaning more onto the true crime end of things. My Friend Dahmer was based on the graphic novel of the same name which was actually created by John "Derf" Backderf, who actually was Dahmer's friend in high school. So, while parts of the movie are certainly editorialized and fictionalized for the sake of drama, this is probably about as true as you're going to see on this list.
8. The Quiet Ones
Truth-o-meter: Bad science, real experiment
The Quiet Ones is based very, very loosely on the Philip Experiment, an attempt to test if supernatural abilities and powers existed by having a group create a fictional character and then attempt to communicate with it via seance. While some participants reported feeling a presence in the room, the fictional entity never actually appeared to them. The Quiet Ones, however, takes this idea and runs with it, establishing very firmly that ghosts are real.
Truth-o-meter: Tourist trap
Winchester takes the actual historical landmark, The Winchester Mystery House, located in San Jose, California, and does a ton of dramatization with its real life history--but that real life history is already pretty buckwild. Created by Sarah Winchester, widow of the man who owned the Winchester firearm company, the Winchester Mystery House is a sprawling mansion full of trick doors, confusing architecture, and stairways that lead to nowhere. Sarah built the house believing it would keep her safe from the spirits of the people killed by her late husband's weapons. The movie takes things a step further and adds all sorts of ghosts and curses--but the house is very real.
10. The Sacrament
Truth-o-meter: Store-brand Kool Aid
Director Ti West (X) created this found footage horror movie very clearly taking inspiration from the real world tragedy of Jonestown, where cult leader Jim Jones massacred his followers in the late 70s. The movie is only inspired by these events, however, and never bills itself as being based on them--so it definitely gets bonus points for honesty.
11. Dead Ringers
Truth-o-meter: Definitely not identical twins
David Cronenberg's Dead Ringers is yet another horror movie based on a fictional novel which was based on a real story. Taking its inspiration from the novel Twins by Bari Wood and Jack Ceasland, Dead Ringers is an extremely fictionalized version of a true story about twin brothers, both of whom were gynecologists, who died simultaneously. It's Cronenberg, though, so as you can imagine things are a little bit more complicated (and messed-up) than just a weirdly timed death.
12. Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Truth-o-meter: Less than distant cousins
Before its release, in a bid to drum up enthusiasm, the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre billed itself as being "based" on "true events," which absolutely wasn't the case. In fact, if you're looking to pin the blame for modern horror's obsession with stretching the definition of "true," Texas Chainsaw isn't a terrible choice. That said, Leatherface and his family were very, very loosely inspired by the real life serial killer, Ed Gein, who infamously kept the body parts of his victims on his property.