10 Horror Movies Inspired By True Stories

Nightmare on Elm Street

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We go to horror movies to forget our real world problems. Who cares about paying the rent or your jerk boss when there’s a serial killer under your bed? But vampires, ghosts and zombies are just spooky stories we tell each other for kicks. Right? They’re so fun because they can’t really hurt us. Or can they? You might be surprised how many of your favorite horror movies are based on true stories. You know, the type that really can come and get you while you sleep. Here are 10 movie at least partly based on true stories.

10. Bram Stoker’s Dracula

The grandaddy of horror villains, Bram Stoker’s legendary vampire didn’t just appear out of thin air. Stoker is believed to have based him on Vlad III Dracula, otherwise known as “Vlad the Impaler,” a Romanian prince who’s said to have killed up to 100,000 people during his reign of terror. Stoker came to this association late in the writing of his novel, and thankfully made some last second edits. Can you imagine if he had stuck with the character’s original name, Count Wampyr?

9. Open Water

This 2003 thriller was inspired by the true story of Tom and Eileen Lonergan, an American couple accidentally left behind by a diving company in the Great Barrier Reef.  Shockingly it took two days for the company to realize what they’d done. While a search was quickly manned, the couple was never found. They were believed to have succumbed to dehydration or sharks, neither of which are things you want to succumb to.

8. A Nightmare on Elm Street

Director Wes Craven was inspired to write the first Nightmare after reading an LA Times article about a group of Cambodian immigrants who refused to sleep because of their vivid nightmares. Some of the men even died in the throws of their dreams. While Freddy Krueger wasn’t directly to blame, the idea of killer nightmares was too good for Craven to resist, and a monster movie legend was born.

7. The Amityville Horror

“Based on a True Story” can mean a lot of different things in the world of horror movies. Just because someone said something happened, doesn’t necessarily make it true. That might be the case here, thanks to real world paranormal detectives Ed and Lorraine Warren, who helped turn this haunted house story into a national sensation. They went on to investigate 10,000 cases in their ghost hunting career, some of which turned into other movies. This film is based on a book by Jay Arson, who took the haunted Lutz family, along with the Warrens, at their word.

6. The Conjuring

Ed and Lorraine Warren strike again, moving to centerstage in this haunted house tale. Tapes of the supposed haunting apparently made their way to producer Tony DeRosa-Grund, who spent 20 years trying to turn this “true story” into a feature film.

5. The Girl Next Door

This film is based on the real-life murder of Sylvia Likens, back in the summer of 1956. A seemingly typical teen girl, Likens was tortured to death by the woman charged with caring for her, along with her children and other neighborhood kids. The prosecutor of the trial called the murder “the most terrible crime ever committed in the state of Indiana.”

4. Wolf Creek

Two true stories helped inspire this film about a group of backpackers whose car breaks down in the Australian Outback, only to find themselves the target of a psychotic bushman. Ivan Milat kidnapped and tortured a series of hitchhikers in Australia back in the ’90s, while Bradley John Murdoch murdered a British tourist in a remote part of the Outback in 2001. Turns out dingoes aren’t the only things killing down under these days.

3. The Serpent and the Rainbow

Wes Craven’s zombie movie is loosely based on a non-fiction book by ethnobotanist Wade Davis, which explored the supposedly true accounts of people being brought back to life with local Haitian traditions and herbal medicines. While many of his accounts have come into questions, Davis no doubt helped popularize the notion of the real life zombie.

2. The Exorcist

Elements of the original novel, written by William Peter Blatty, were based on an actual exorcism performed by Jesuit priests William S. Bowbern and William Holloran in 1949. The name of the supposedly possessed boy has never been released, so we can only guess how similar the exorcism was to the film based on it. One would imagine it had substantially less pea soup.

1. Psycho…and Silence of the Lambs…and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Numerous movies have been based on the horrific exploits of Ed Gein, a serial killer famous for stealing bodies from graves that resembled his mother, and making furniture out of their skin. Details from his disturbing life have been used to motivate countless killers in the movies, including everyone from Norman Bates to Leatherface.

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Weird Roles

Anthony Michael Hall’s Most Rotten Movies

Catch Anthony Michael Hall in Weird Science on Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Universal/Everett Collection

Anthony Michael Hall was the quintessential ’80s nerd. We love him in classics like The Breakfast Club and National Lampoon’s Vacation. But even the brainiest among us has his weak spots. In honor of Weird Science airing this Rotten Friday, we analyze Hall’s worst movies.

Weird Science (1985) 56%

A low point for John Hughes, Weird Science is way too wacky for its own good. Anthony Michael Hall’s Gary and his pal Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) create the “perfect woman.” Supernatural chaos ensues. The film costars a young Bill Paxton, floppy disks, and a general disconnect from all reality.

The Caveman’s Valentine (2001) 46%

This ambitious drama starring Samuel L. Jackson couldn’t live up to its rich premise. Jackson plays Romulus, a Juilliard-educated, paranoid schizophrenic who lives in a cave. Hall co-stars as Bob, a rich man, who wants to see Romulus play the piano. The plot centers around Romulus investigating a murder, but with so much going on, the movie never quite finds its rhythm.

All About the Benjamins (2002) 30%

Ice Cube plays a bounty hunter who teams up with Mike Epps’ con man to catch diamond thieves. Hall plays Lil J, a small-time drug dealer. It’s definitely a role we’ve never seen Hall in, but overall the movie isn’t funny or original enough to justify its violence.

Freddy Got Fingered (2001) 11%

This showcase for Tom Green’s goofy gross-out comedy is often hailed as one of the worst films of all time. Green plays Gord, a 20-something slacker, who dreams of having his own animated series. Hall is Dave Davidson, a CEO of an animation studio who eventually helps Gord find success. Too bad Tom Green wasn’t so lucky.

Johnny Be Good (1988) 0%

Hall plays against type as Johnny Walker, a star quarterback. Robert Downey Jr. is his best friend and Uma Thurman plays his devoted girlfriend. Despite the support of a future A-list cast, the movie lacks central conflict and charm. Or, as TV Guide put it, “Johnny be worthless.” Ouch.

Catch the “Too Rotten to Miss” Weird Science this Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Season 6: Episode 1: Pickathon

Binge Fest

Portlandia Season 6 Now Available On DVD

The perfect addition to your locally-sourced, artisanal DVD collection.

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End of summer got you feeling like:

Portlandia Toni Screaming GIF

Ease into fall with Portlandia‘s sixth season. Relive the latest exploits of Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s cast of characters, including Doug and Claire’s poignant breakup, Lance’s foray into intellectual society, and the terrifying rampage of a tsukemen Noodle Monster! Plus, guest stars The Flaming Lips, Glenn Danzig, Louis C.K., Kevin Corrigan, Zoë Kravitz, and more stop by to experience what Portlandia is all about.

Pick up a copy of the DVD today, or watch full episodes and series extras now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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Byrning Down the House

Everything You Need to Know About the Film That Inspired “Final Transmission”

Documentary Now! pays tribute to "Stop Making Sense" this Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Cinecom/courtesy Everett Collection

This week Documentary Now! is with the band. For everyone who’s ever wanted to be a roadie without leaving the couch, “Final Transmission” pulls back the curtain on experimental rock group Test Pattern’s final concert. Before you tune in Wednesday at 10P on IFC, plug your amp into this guide for Stop Making Sense, the acclaimed 1984 Talking Heads concert documentary.

Put on Your Dancing Shoes

Hailed as one of the best concert films ever created, director Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs) captured the energy and eccentricities of a band known for pushing the limits of music and performance.

Make an Entrance

Lead singer David Byrne treats the concert like a story: He enters an empty stage with a boom box and sings the first song on the setlist solo, then welcomes the other members of the group to the stage one song at a time.

Steal the Spotlight

David Byrne Dancing
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Always a physical performer, Byrne infuses the stage and the film with contagious joy — jogging in place, dancing with lamps, and generally carrying the show’s high energy on his shoulders.

Suit Yourself

Byrne makes a splash in his “big suit,” a boxy business suit that grows with each song until he looks like a boy who raided his father’s closet. Don’t overthink it; on the DVD, the singer explains, “Music is very physical, and often the body understands it before the head.”

View from the Front Row

Stop Making Sense Band On Stage
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Demme (who also helmed 1987’s Swimming to Cambodia, the inspiration for this season’s Documentary Now! episode “Parker Gail’s Location is Everything”) films the show by putting viewers in the audience’s shoes. The camera rarely shows the crowd and never cuts to interviews or talking heads — except the ones onstage.

Let’s Get Digital

Tina Weymouth Keyboard
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Stop Making Sense isn’t just a good time — it’s also the first rock movie to be recorded entirely using digital audio techniques. The sound holds up more than 30 years later.

Out of Pocket

Talk about investing in your art: Talking Heads drummer Chris Frantz told Rolling Stone that the members of the band “basically put [their] life savings” into the movie, and they didn’t regret it.

Catch Documentary Now!’s tribute to Stop Making Sense when “Final Transmission” premieres Wednesday, October 12 at 10P on IFC.

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