5 Terrifying True Stories Behind Classic Horror Films

Ever wondered where the inspiration for Psycho or The Hills Have Eyes came from? Well in these cases, the truth is much scarier than the fiction...
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From Cool Runnings to Titanic to In Cold Blood, more films than I care to shake a stick at are "based on true stories", but if you narrow your field of vision to specifically horror films then suddenly things get very disturbing, very quickly. Think of how many horror films you’ve seen, you probably can’t even comprehend how many of them are based on true stories.

With some of the best horror films out there you would never even know they were sort of, almost based a little bit on something that kind of slightly happened once a long time ago (The Blob, Childs Play, Jaws), but then there’s those that are so sure of themselves they come with a "based on true events" title at the beginning that claims they are intrinsically linked to a specific person or event (Helter Skelter, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Amityville Horror).

So here we countdown some of the good, the bad, and the ridiculously absurd horror films based on the most disturbing world of reality.


He might not quite be a serial killer, but as the inspiration for some of horror’s most iconic character’s Ed Gein is certainly cinema’s favourite murderer and corpse exhumer. Any list including horror films based (loosely or otherwise) on real events would be incomplete without Hitchcock’s 1960 classic. We all know the plot and The Scene and while of course the narrative which sees Norman Bates and his ‘mother’ kill anyone who attempts to come between them isn’t all strictly true, the long lasting elements of Norman’s personality, his shrine to his mother, and the disturbingly isolated rural environment are lifted directly from Gein’s warped world.

The Exorcism Of Emily Rose

This 2005 movie does inevitably lie in the shadow of its 1973 counterpart The Exorcist, but its approach as a flashback horror within a courtroom drama is one of the most interesting takes on the supernatural genre we’ve seen in recent years. One of the aforementioned title card true stories this is based on the case of a German Catholic woman named Anneliese Michel who was said to be possessed by demons and thus underwent an exorcism which subsequently killed her aged just 23.

As the court case in the film attests in reality this was attributed to a misidentification of mental illness, abuse, or religious hysteria and after becoming convinced herself she was possessed Michel gave into the exorcisms, 67 of which were performed. Jennifer Carpenter who portrayed the role of Emily Rose in the film is compelling, captivating, and during those contorted epileptic seizures absolutely terrifying. For her performance alone this is worth watching.

The Hills Have Eyes

Wes Craven’s 1977 cult classic is one of the most enduring horror movies ever made and spawned numerous remakes, sequels, and arguably a whole sub-genre of outlandish horror road movies. You wouldn’t really suspect a film about a group of cannibals killing people who pass by them would be grounded in much reality, but that’s where you would be wrong.

What did you think this was a nice world? This is in fact based on the story of a chap called Sawney Bean in 15th or 16th century Scotland who was the head of a 48 member clan that were responsible for the murder and cannibalisation of over 1,000 people according to The Newgate Calendar. They just did things on a bigger scale back then. The clan of incestuous beings deciding that honest graft wasn’t for them instead settled for ambushing small groups of people at night to rob and murder, they would then take the bodies back to their cave where they dismembered and cannibalised them.


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Cinema has consistently taught us how horrible animals are, we’ve seen Jaws, Lake Placid, The Planet of The Apes, and Cats and Dogs. We know what they’re capable of, but one you might not have heard of is the very true tale of Gustave, as documented in 2007 horror "Primeval".

Gustave is a local resident of Burundi in East Africa, he’s also feared by near enough every other local resident of Burundi, which makes him a worthy subject of this monster movie. Gustave is a 1 ton, 20 foot man eating crocodile. He has claimed more than 300 victims and is still at large making him one of the world’s most prolific killer animals. He is known for the bullet scars that cover his body and has failed to be captured on numerous occasions, so basically if you’re ever in the Burundi region don’t go swimming in Lake Tanganyika.


Based on the Zodiac killer who operated in southern California and Nevada in the late 60’s and early 70’s this is one that’s quite obviously based on and strictly adheres to the details of the true story. David Fincher’s 2007 mystery is a subtle and nuanced piece of work which takes the most factual of cases and makes a thrilling piece of modern film. Fincher along with his screenwriter and producer took 18 months to conduct their own investigation into the case which remains open and unsolved to this very day.

The male killer who sent ciphers to the San Francisco Chronicle has claimed 37 victims however only 7 are confirmed and two of those survived the attacks. The film focuses on Robert Graysmith a political cartoonist who becomes obsessed with decoding the encrypted messages and solving the seemingly unsolvable. More a thriller than a horror this is movie that is meticulous in its portrayal of the murders and attacks and is made all the more gruesome by its vintage pop soundtrack. Grounded more in reality than any other film on the list Zodiac is a procedural tribute to all of the true horrifying cinematic crimes out there.