It’s spooky enough to learn that your favorite horror movies are based on urban legends, which might have a grain or two of truth behind them. Those kinds of movies make you start looking behind you in the dark and jumping when the phone rings. But there’s no real proof behind any of those legends.
There is, however, plenty of proof for the events described in these movies; they were all based on very true, very disturbing events.
1.) The Hills Have Eyes, 1977
In this movie, a family encounters an inbred, cannibalistic clan after being stranded in the Nevada desert. Director Wes Craven was inspired by the 15th and 16th century Scottish legend of Sawney Bean. Bean and his equally deranged wife were said to live in a cave where they produced fourteen children, who in turn produced thirty-two grandchildren, many of them products of incest. They would kidnap and murder passers by, dismembering and eating the bodies, leaving their cave scattered with human remains. Eventually, the lot of them were captured and executed. Obviously this is a legend that seems to have grown with each retelling, but historians have found evidence of cannibalism in the region during the medieval period.
2.) Heavenly Creatures, 1994
This surreal movie follows the intense friendship of Pauline and Juliet in 1950s New Zealand, and the fantasy world they create that begins to become confused with real life. Their parents become concerned that their friendship is unhealthy or homosexual (homosexuality being considered, in the 1950s, a mental illness), and the girls plot a revenge. In real life, this revenge took the form of the murder of Pauline’s mother, Honorah Rieper, in 1954. The girls, only 15, beat Honorah to death with a brick. They were considered too young for the death penalty, and, after serving five-year sentences, they were released on the condition that they never contact one another again. Juliet Hulme changed her name to Anne Perry and became an acclaimed author.
3.) The Conjuring, 2013
While the ending of this movie was embellished for cinematic thrills, the story is based on the testimony of the Perron family who, in 1971, moved into a large house just outside Harrisville, Rhode Island. The parents, Roger and Carolyn, and their five daughters reported several supernatural occurrences, including an old woman in a gray dress who told Carolyn to leave, a small child calling for its mother, and doors that would slam shut at will. Famed paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren were called in. In a later interview, Lorraine, now 87, recalled the haunting as one of the worst she’d encountered.
4.) The Town That Dreaded Sundown, 1976
Set in 1946, this movie tells the story of a small town beset by a mysterious hooded serial killer who goes about shooting people. The movie was based on what are now known as the Texarkana Moonlight Murders, where an unknown assailant called the “Phantom Killer” attacked eight people with a .32 over the span of 10 weeks, killing five. The town was put on lockdown after sunset and the police launched a full investigation, but nothing ever came of it, and the murders remain unsolved.
5.) The Lost, 2006
This movie, based off Jack Ketchum’s novel, tells the story of charming-but-psychopathic teenager Ray Pye, who shoots two girls while camping with his friends. His friends help him cover the evidence, but Pye begins to crumble under the burden of his deeds. Pye was based on Charles Schmid, a popular young man from Tuscon, AZ, who raped and murdered a 16-year-old girl and, with the help of his friends, buried her body. A year later, he confessed his crime to a girlfriend, but, when she threatened to go to the police, he killed her and her 13-year-old sister. He again confessed to a friend, who decided not to risk a threat but went straight to the police. Schmid was given a life sentence, and was murdered in prison in 1975.
6.) The Strangers, 2008
This movie draws inspiration from several different accounts of home invasions and murders, including the Manson family murders, but it also drew on a less well-known case called the Keddie Murders. In 1981, a woman, her son and son’s friend were found murdered in the living room of cabin 28 in Keddie, CA, near the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Part of the skull of the woman’s 12-year-old daughter was found almost 30 miles from Keddie three years later. No further evidence was even found, and the murders remain unsolved. It’s believed two people were involved in the murders.
7.) Open Water, 2006
This movie’s chilling premise is that while on a scuba diving trip, a couple is left behind in the middle of the ocean by their boat. If that seems far-fetched, consider that it actually happened to a couple from Baton Rouge, LA, in 1998. Tom and Eileen Lonergan were part of a scuba diving excursion in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, and the boat apparently left for its next stop before they returned. No one realized they were missing until someone found their bag two days later. There was a search for them, but they were never found, and are presumed to have drowned.
8.) Child’s Play, 1988
The premise for these movies, where a serial killer transfers his soul into a doll, is a bit ridiculous, but it was actually pulled from real life. In 1903, a 3-year-old boy named Robert Eugene Otto received a doll as a gift. He named it after himself and took it everywhere. His parents reported hearing two voices in the boy’s room at night; one was their son’s, and one was…not. Robert would also blame Robert the Doll for messing up his room. Robert the Human kept the doll for his entire life, even into marriage (she was a very patient woman, it seems), and people would say that the doll would watch them from the windows as they passed his house. The couple who moved into the house after Robert and his wife died also, for some reason, hung onto the doll, and claimed that they would hear giggles coming from the room where it was kept.
9.) Wolf Creek, 2005
In this movie, backpackers in the Austalian outback run into serial killer Mick Taylor, who’s always on the lookout for more victims to skin alive. Creepy? Yes. Creepier still? It’s based on real events. Ivan Milat, raised in the outback and a skilled hunter, used to prey on backpackers just like the fictional Taylor. He didn’t skin his victims–that was added for the film–but evidence shows that his victims were stabbed in the base of the spine, which would paralyze them for the rest of the attack. It’s believed that Milat killed at least seven people. He might have killed more, but one of his victims, a British backpacker named Paul Onions, managed to get away, and later picked Milat out of a lineup. Milat was given seven consecutive life sentences in 1997. In a chilling turn of events, Milat’s nephew and nephew’s friend were sentenced to several decades in prison for the murder of a 17-year-old, which they recorded, in 2012, at the same forest where Ivan had buried his victims.
10.) The Girl Next Door, 2007
No, not the one about the porn star moving in next to a teenage boy. This much more disturbing movie is based on the real-life murder of Sylvia Likens in Indianapolis in 1965. Likens and her sister were left in the care of Gertrude Baniszewski. Baniszewski, however, was a psycho who not only beat and abused Sylvia, but encouraged her children and some of the neighborhood children to partake as well. The terrible abuse resulted in the 16-year-old’s murder. In the end, Baniszewski, her son, her daughter and daughter’s boyfriend, and another friend of theirs were arrested and convicted.
So what’s scarier, the fact that these horrific events actually happened, or the looming specter of immortal urban legends that might be true?