So many horror movies claim to be "inspired by actual events" or "based on real events." But how many of them actually are factual? It turns out, not many. Here's our breakdown of horror movies that claim to be inspired by reality, and whether or not they're telling the truth.
The Conjuring (2013)
What they claimed was real: The Conjuring focused on the toughest case from the real life ghost hunters Ed and Lorraine Warren. They tackled the possessed home of the Perron family in 1971 in the town of Harrisville, Rhode Island. Inside this house, doors would open and shut, spirits attacked the family and eventually possessed the mother, trying to get her to kill her children. This was all due to the former owner of the property, an angry witch who cursed the land. Eventually the Warrens would clear the house.
Another important figure in this movie is the Annabelle doll. A remnant from an older case, the Annabelle doll is allegedly possessed and the Warrens now have her locked in their museum of demonic and possessed items to keep her safe. In the movie, this doll would be placed in one room, and then wind up in another. Thrown away in the trash, it would then reappear inside the owner's home. In real life, there is a doll named Annabelle locked away under the Warrens' care. Although the real-life doll looks infinitely less creepy than the movie doll, that kind of only makes it worse, right? And yes, the real-life doll was rumored to have been possessed as well, and turned up in weird places that it wasn't placed, etc.
The Facts: The Perron family is a real family. James Wan (the director of The Conjuring) met with the Perrons, interviewed them, used their stories in the film (the leg-pulling thing was something that a member of the Perron family explained happened a lot at night). The actual Perron family was even interviewed on camera and the footage was later used in a trailer for the film. The mother also seems to corroborate that she was possessed by something in this interview with the Providence Journal.
Could they all be making this up because money? Sure! But the fact of the matter is, they are real. And so is Annabelle.
Verdict: Look, I'm really afraid of dolls. So it's real. OK? It's totally real, and I never doubted it for a second.
The Mothman Prophecies (2002)
What they claimed was real: Richard Gere plays a journalist who heads to Point Pleasant, West Virginia to investigate the sightings of the Mothman, a.k.a. the same figure his fictional character's wife sees before dying. The movie alleges that this is all based on real events. There, Gere's character winds up in a crazy time loop trying to uncover this creature and stop an unknown catastrophic event from happening, which is where the prophecies come in.
Image via Flickr.
The Facts: Point Pleasant, West Virginia is, in fact, a real place. There's even a Mothman statue in the town. And yes, there are lots of great tall tales about some sort of Mothman that date all they way back to the '60s. 1966 to 1967 had a super high amount of Mothman sightings, so much so that it inspired author John Keel to head down there and write a book about all the events, a book that this movie was loosely based on. Keel even claims that he was contacted by an unknown entity by phone (which happens in the movie as well). And yes, there was a tragic accident on the Ohio River that resulted in the deaths of a few Mothman witnesses that Keel had interviewed. Keel attested that he was being warned about this accident, although he didn't know it was going to happen there and in that manner.
Verdict: Like Bigfoot, the Mothman is legend. He is a fun local fable, but sadly his existence cannot be proven. And unfortunately, The Mothman Prophecies takes too many liberties to be considered real. So no, this movie does not get a pass. But we'll continue to hold out hope for spotting the next Mothman.
The Amityville Horror (1979)
What they claimed was real: The movie (based on Jay Anson's 1977 book The Amityville Horror: A True Story) was supposed to be based on the real experiences George and Kathy Lutz. In the film, the house is blessed by a Catholic priest, but the priest has trouble blessing the house and becomes gravely ill, eventually losing his faith. The family experiences a series of paranormal events, like seeing red eyes glowing in the dark, the discovery of a secret room, ooze coming out of the walls, and nightmares about a family who was killed in the home. The Lutzes eventually learn that the house was built on a tribal burial ground and was once home to a devil worshipper.
The Facts: A year before the Lutz family moved into their home in Amityville, New York, it was the site of a brutal murder. Ronald DeFeo, Jr. had shot and killed six members of his family there. And many of the supposed paranormal phenomena in the film are described in Anson's book: the glowing eyes, the nightmares, the ooze, the secret room. In the book, a priest (Father Ralph J. Pecoraro, called "Father Mancuso") blesses the house, and hears a voice telling him to get out.
However, the book itself was probably fabricated. William Weber, the defense attorney for Ronald DeFeo, Jr., told People Magazine in 1979 that he and the Lutzes created the story "over many bottles of wine."
The Verdict: While the events in the film do come largely from the story that the Lutzes told Jay Anson, the story itself was probably invented by Weber and the Lutzes to cash in on the DeFeo tragedy.
The Haunting in Connecticut (2009)
What they claimed was real: The movie's marketers claimed that it was based on paranormal activities experienced by the Snedeker family in their Southington, Connecticut home. In the film, a family moves into a house in Connecticut near where one of the children is receiving cancer treatments. The family discovers that the house used to be a funeral home, but decide to ignore the house's macabre history—and least until the weirdness starts. Matt, the boy receiving cancer treatments, begins having visions of a ghost and so do his parents. Matt eventually learns about necromantic rites once practiced in the house, which led to the death of Jonah, who served as a medium during seances. The house, it turns out, is haunted by the spirits of the people whose corpses were hidden in the walls by the necromancer. The ghost of the medium possesses Matt in order to burn the corpses, freeing the spirits. The house burns down and Matt's cancer disappears.
Alleged Real Connecticut Home via National Paranormal Association.
The Facts: Even Lorraine Warren, one of the supposed clairvoyants who worked on the case, said the movie was only loosely based on the actual investigation—and she told media outlets that she was kind of annoyed that people thought the movie version of the story was true. Of course, she insists that the house actually was haunted, but Ray Garton, who wrote In a Dark Place: The Story of a True Haunting, the 1992 book about the case, says the whole thing was a fraud. In an interview with Damned Connecticut, Garton claimed that Ed Warren, Lorraine's wife and business partner, told him, "All the people who come to us are crazy, that's why they come to us. Just use what you can and make the rest up. You write scary books, right? Well, make it up and make it scary. That's why we hired you." Garton insisted that the Snedekers couldn't keep their stories straight and that he was barely allowed to speak to their son, around whom the story was supposed to be based. When he did talk to the boy, he told Garton that the things he thought he saw in the house went away after he had been medicated.
The Verdict: Well, the Snedekers did live in a former funeral home in Connecticut, but other than that, this isn't a true story. The movie is very loosely based on a set of stories likely invented by the Snedekers and the Warrens and cleaned up by Garton for print.
The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)
What they claimed was real: The film is loosely based on a real court case, held after a German woman named Anneliese Michel died after exorcism rites. Of course, in the movie, the young woman who died—now called Emily Rose—was really possessed, and the implication in saying the movie is "based on a true story" is that the possession could have been real. The film focuses on the trial with the exorcism shown in flashbacks, with six demons—including the ones who possessed Cain, Judas Iscariot, and Nero—possessing Emily. Rather than end her suffering, Emily chooses to live in order to be living proof of the existence of God and the devil, but her possession causes her to continue to harm herself and not eat, eventually leading to her death. The priest who performed the exorcism is convicted of negligent homicide, but the judge agrees to a sentence of time served.
The Facts: The real story of Anneliese Michel is a rather sad one. She was a deeply religious girl living in Bavaria when, at age 16, she suffered a severe convulsion and was diagnosed with temporal lobe epilepsy. She was admitted to a psychiatric hospital to treat her seizures, but the treatments didn't alleviate her symptoms and she began suffering from hallucinations. With the treatments not working, Michel began to attribute her symptoms to demonic possession, and she and her family eventually requested an exorcism. The priests they sought out refused, insisting that she was epileptic, not possessed, at least until 1975, when a bishop permitted Arnold Renz to perform an exorcism. Michel went through 67 exorcism sessions over ten months and talked about dying to atone for the wayward youth and false priests of the modern church. She eventually died of malnutrition and dehydration. The priests Ernst Alt and Arnold Renz were charged with negligent homicide and, at trial, they claimed that (like the fictional Emily Rose) Michel was possessed by six demons—including Adolf Hitler, Judas Iscariot, and Nero. The priests were convicted of manslaughter, but they received a relatively light sentence—six months in jail (which was suspended) and three months probation. Later, a Vatican commission declared that Michel had been mentally ill and not possessed, but her grave still attracts pilgrims who believe that she was truly possessed.
The Verdict: The movie does take many details from Michel case, including claims that Alt and Renz made during trial. But this is likely just a tragic case of a young woman who suffered a neurological illness and suffered in her search for a spiritual solution.
The Strangers (2008)
What they claimed was real: The movie is centered around a young couple staying in a remote vacation cabin in the woods. But their night is interrupted when a pack of strangers with doll masks decide to invade their home and murder the unsuspecting couple. The trailer for this film stated that The Strangers was "Inspired By True Events."
The Facts: When asked about these "true events," the movie's writer/director Bryan Bertino elaborated in the production notes:
Bertino remembers, That part of the story came to me from a childhood memory. As a kid, I lived in a house on a street in the middle of nowhere. One night, while our parents were out, somebody knocked on the front door and my little sister answered it. At the door were some people asking for somebody that didn't live there. We later found out that these people were knocking on doors in the area and, if no one was home, breaking into the houses. In The Strangers, the fact that someone is at home does not deter the people who've knocked on the front door; it's the reverse.
So he could have just said, "No it's not based on true events at all."
Verdict: Not Real.
Fourth Kind (2009)
What they claimed was real: Oh god, this movie. Fourth Kind is the biggest sinner of the "no, no really, this is totally real," nonsense. At the start of the film, actress Milla Jovovich addresses the audience as Milla Jovovich, informing us all that what we're about to see is real is a side-by-side movie that recreates a real alien abduction. Sometimes the movie would switch to a split-screen, and on one side would be Jovovich in character as Psychologist Dr. Abigail Tyler from Nome, Alaska, and on the other side would be the real footage of Dr. Abigail Tyler from her many taped sessions with patients who claimed they were allegedly abducted by aliens. You see, Dr. Tyler is investigating a number of disappearances in her town and blames these mysterious disappearances on alien abduction. Dr. Tyler is later also exposed to this alien menace when the aliens steal her daughter and leave the good doctor paralyzed. The movie is relentless in trying to convince you that the footage you are seeing is 100% real.
The Facts: It is not. The "real" Dr. Tyler in the footage you see is played by actress Charlotte Milchard. It's on the movie's IMDB page. The studio even tried to set up website that credited Tyler's work, but it was revealed to be fake. The whole thing was a hoax. Crew members on set even told us that it was a hoax. The only factual thing in this whole movie was the fact that, yes, there was a string of disappearances in small town in Alaska in 2005. The FBI was brought in to investigate these missing persons, and according to the Anchorage Daily News [via CNN], "[The] FBI looked into about 20 cases, finding alcohol and frigid temperatures to be causes." So there you have it.
Open Water (2003)
What they claimed was real: The 2003 film Open Water followed an abandoned couple who had been left in the middle of the ocean on a scuba dive. Their vacation to the Bahamas goes dark very quickly as the two struggle to survive dehydration and the approaching sharks. Eventually, the husband succumbs to a shark bite, and his wife slips into the water presumably to drown. This whole tale was marketed as "based on true events."
Facts: In 1998 American Tourists Tom and Eileen Lonergan disappeared off Australia's Great Barrier Reef. It's pretty clear that this movie was based off of these tragic events (which are detailed in this Guardian story).
Verdict: Inspired by true events, yes. But no one can know what happened to the original victims in this tragedy.
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
What They Claimed Was Real: This movie was a pioneer of the "found footage" genre, which means lots, and lots of lying about the film. The film states that, "In October of 1994, three student filmmakers disappeared in the woods near Burkittsville, Maryland while shooting a documentary… A year later their footage was found." The footage shows three filmmakers in the woods making a documentary about the Blair Witch, and then the Blair Witch attacks and allegedly kills them. The studio went all out trying to persuade the public that this footage was the real deal. They even made missing signs.
The Facts: The whole thing was made up. The missing kids are actors. You know this, right?
Verdict: This shouldn't have to be said, but just for appearances, yes it's fake.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
What They Claimed Was Real: Tobe Hooper's film claimed to be based on real events. These real events are allegedly tied to the 1950s murderer Ed Gein.
The Facts: Ed Gein is a real person who did heinous acts. However, he didn't murder a bunch of Texas teens with a chainsaw. And he's from Wisconsin. That beings said he did wear human skin from his victims on his face and body, and tied up one of his victims in the same manner a hunter would dress a deer in a slaughter house. So you can see some similarities between the real life murderer and Leatherface. But not enough to credit it with being based on real events. Psycho and Silence of the Lambs would also claim to have been inspired by the horrendous acts of Gein.
The Verdict: Not real.
Fire In The Sky (1993)
What They Claimed Was Real: An Arizona logger disappeared for 5 days after being abducted in the middle of the night by an alien space craft. Inside the spaceship he was experimented on repeatedly, and then dropped back off on Earth.
The Facts: Travis Walton is a real person, and did a huge press tour for his book The Walton Experience and for the film. Fire in the Sky attracted a lot of "I want to believe" attention. Plus the nightmarish details of the alien inspection and classic beam of light abduction scene make it almost too good to be true. Geraldo Rivera even had Robert Patrick on his show and pressed him to confess if he was a believer or not. And Patrick quoted Carl Sagan back at him, which was just awesome.
The Verdict: Travis Walton and Rogers think it's true. And if the aliens are reading this right now, we do too.
The Possession (2012)
What They Claimed Was Real: This film claims it's "based on true events" which really means in this movie we have "Dybbuk Box" and that's a thing that might exist. A divorced Dad and his two daughters find a Dybbuk Box, one of his daughters becomes possessed by the thing and the Dad has to get Matisyahu to fight the demon. It all works out for everyone but Matisyahu.
The Facts: The haunted box found its fame thanks to the owner Kevin Mannis who found the item at an estate sale for a Polish Holocaust survivor named Havela. According to the legend that he tells, the woman who owned the box used to do seances and contacted an unfortunate spirit a "dybbuk." They then trapped the malevolent creature in this box. But this isn't the only box, there are lots of Dybbuk Boxes. And bad luck seems follows the owners of each. One owner who put their box up for auction on ebay claimed it made all their hair fall out, and gave them nightmares ever sense it was in their possession.
The Verdict: The boxes are real things, the story in the movie is not.
Sources: Ranker's 13 Horror Movies and the True Stories They're Based On and IGN's Mothman Article.