The world of horror cinema has long been a playground for spine-chilling tales that tap into our deepest fears and darkest imaginations. Yet, the scariest nightmares often find their roots in reality. The world of the scariest horror movies based on true stories has been haunting our dreams and leaving us with an unsettling sense of the unknown for years and years. And we’re here for more, much more.
1. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
This classic horror film is based on the crimes of Ed Gein, a Wisconsin serial killer who murdered and dismembered several people in the 1950s. If you haven’t ‘enjoyed’ this one, you absolutely have to.
2. The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)
Somewhat based on the real-life exorcism of Anneliese Michel. She died after undergoing 67 Catholic exorcism rites. She started experiencing seizures and hallucinations, being diagnosed with epileptic psychosis (temporal lobe epilepsy) for which she took medication which unfortunately did nothing to help her. This is a tough one…
3. Wolf Creek (2005)
Loosely inspired by the Backpacker Murders in Australia committed by Ivan Milat, the movie gained attention for its intense and graphic portrayal of violence, as well as its disturbing and brutal plotline, there’s a certain gritty realism to it. The plot is as follows: three backpackers get lost in the Australian outback and are hunted by a sadistic serial killer named Mick Taylor.
4. The Girl Next Door (2007)
A horror film based on the novel of the same name by Jack Ketchum which itself was inspired by the real-life murder of Sylvia Likens in Indianapolis in 1965. A teenage girl is sent to live with her aunt and her aunt’s teenage sons after her parents die in a car accident. Ruth is a sadistic woman who forces Meg to endure a series of horrific abuses.
5. The Conjuring (2013)
With the real case files of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren at its core, this is a rather classic scenario: a family moves into a secluded farmhouse that turns out to be haunted aka doors slam shut on their own, eerie stuff all around. The movie is the first installment in “The Conjuring” film series, which has since expanded into a successful horror franchise.
6. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
A classic supernatural horror film released in 1984, directed by Wes Craven, this one was partially inspired by real stories of mysterious deaths among Cambodian refugees who died in their sleep. The movie follows a group of teenagers haunted by a vengeful spirit named Freddy Krueger. Freddy kills them in their dreams, leading to real-life deaths. It became a landmark in the horror genre, creating an insanely popular franchise.
7. The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988)
Based on a book by ethnobotanist Wade Davis, a book that focuses on his investigation into Haitian voodoo and zombies, claiming to have experienced a poor guy being poisoned, buried alive, and then brought back to life. The film blends horror and psychological thriller elements, exploring themes of voodoo, zombies, and the power of the human mind.
8. The Hills Have Eyes (2006)
This one is inspired by the legend of Sawney Bean, a Scottish cannibal who lived in the 15th or 16th century. The story follows a family on a road trip through the desert who becomes stranded in a desolate area inhabited by a group of mutant cannibals. As they struggle to survive, they are hunted and terrorized by the depraved and violent mutants. The film is known for its intense and graphic violence, as well as its disturbing and unsettling atmosphere.
9. The Rite (2011)
Another movie based on a book that is itself based on the experiences of real-life exorcist Father Gary Thomas. We have a skeptical young seminary student who is sent to the Vatican to study exorcism. There, he meets Father Lucas Trevant (played by Anthony Hopkins), an experienced exorcist who challenges Michael’s beliefs. As Michael delves deeper into the world of demonic possession and exorcism, he confronts his own doubts and must grapple with the reality of evil.
10. The Zodiac (2007)
Based on the real-life unsolved case of the Zodiac Killer, who terrorized the San Francisco Bay Area. The film centers around Robert Graysmith, a newspaper cartoonist played by Justin Chambers, who becomes fixated on the case. As the Zodiac killer taunts the media and law enforcement with cryptic messages, Graysmith dives into his own investigation to decode the killer’s identity.
11. Compliance (2012)
This psychological thriller is based on a real-life incident in which a fast food restaurant manager was tricked – by a guy pretending to be a police officer – into thinking one of the employees stole from a client. As the caller’s instructions become increasingly invasive and abusive, subjecting the employee to a distressing and degrading ordeal. What follows is hard to believe it actually happened. But guess what? This one too was inspired from a real life event that took place in 2004 in Kentucky.
12. Rillington Place (1971)
A British crime drama directed by Richard Fleischer. The film is based on the real-life events surrounding the notorious British serial killer John Christie. Posing as a doctor, he convinced women to follow him home so he could treat them, only to murder and bury them in a makeshift graveyard.
Yes, sometimes reality can be far more terrifying than fiction. These scariest horror movies based on true stories prove it. These films have taken us on harrowing journeys through the minds of real-life monsters and the twisted events that shook the world. From malevolent spirits to sadistic killers, the true stories behind these horror movies remind us that darkness can lurk in unexpected places. So, the next time you sit down to watch a horror movie based on true events, remember that these stories are more than just entertainment. They are chilling echoes of the terrors that have walked among us.
Recommended reading next: 10 weirdest horror movies that will keep you awake at night
What is the name of the horror movie based on a true story?
There are a lot of horror movies that are based on true stories, some of them outlined above by us. Another one, that is more known would be “The Exorcist” from 1973.
Do horror movies exist in horror movies?
Yes. In some horror movies you can see characters actually watching another horror movie. There might be a movie by the same director/creator. Or just scenes from a movie that doesn’t exist to make people wonder what it could be.