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18 Horror Movies Based on True Stories You Have to See

Ancient Theory

Author: Ancient Theory

Published: February 22, 2023 / Updated: March 2, 2023

Horror movies based on true stories are considered the most frightening experiences for cinephiles, as the "it's just a story" argument is no longer applicable.

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18 Horror Movies Based on True Stories You Have to See

From haunted houses to serial killers and mysterious creatures, real-life events have inspired numerous horror films over the years. 

These films not only remind us of the dark world we live in but also that people themselves can sometimes be the most terrifying monsters of all. 

These horror movies based on true stories will leave you questioning the world we live in and remind you that sometimes reality is more frightening than fiction. 

Whether inspired by actual events or local myths and legends, these films will have you trembling in your seat.

Horror Movies Based on True Stories - The Exorcist (1973)

Directed by: William Friedkin

Cast: Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow, Linda Blair, Lee J. Cobb, Kitty Winn, Jack MacGowran, Jason Miller, and William O’Malley.

Our first film on the list of the best horror movies based on true stories is also considered one of the greatest horror films of all time. 

“The Exorcist” follows the story of an actress visiting Washington, D.C., who notices her 12-year-old daughter exhibiting strange behavior and physical changes. 

The mother suspects a malevolent entity to be responsible for her daughter’s condition and seeks the help of a young priest from Georgetown University. The priest, who is struggling with his faith due to his mother’s terminal illness, joins forces with an elderly preacher to save the child’s soul from the demonic entity. 

The film is inspired by the true case of a boy undergoing a brutal exorcism in 1949 in Germany.

The Amityville Horror (2005)

Directed by: Andrew Douglas

Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Melissa George, Jimmy Bennett, Jesse James, Chloë Grace Moretz, Rachel Nichols, and Philip Baker Hall.

This horror film is a remake of the 1979 classic and is based on real-life events. 

The movie follows the story of the Lutz family, who move into a residential neighborhood on Long Island, New York. However, they witness paranormal phenomena manifesting, and tragic events soon follow. 

The movie is based on the novel of the same name, which portrays the actions of Ronald J. DeFeo Jr., who, on November 13, 1974, killed his entire family and claimed to have been possessed by a demon during the trial.

Open Water (2003)

Directed by: Chris Kentis

Cast: Blanchard Ryan, Daniel Travis, and Saul Stein.

Open Water is a prime example of a horror film that doesn’t have to be about ghosts or monsters to be terrifying. 

The film tells the terrible story of a couple of scuba divers, Susan and Daniel, who are left behind during a dive in the waters around the Bahamas. 

The tragedy of their situation is compounded by the presence of a mysterious underwater hunter and the wrath of nature in the form of a storm at sea. 

This horror film is based on the true story of Tom and Eileen Lonergan, who were left behind during a diving expedition along the Great Barrier Reef.

Horror Movies Based on True Stories - Annabelle (2014)

Directed by: John R. Leonetti

Cast: Ward Horton, Annabelle Wallis, Alfre Woodard, Tony Amendola, Kerry O’Malley, and Brian Howe.

The movie “Annabelle” is set in “The Conjuring” universe of the Warren family – Ed and Lorraine Warren were two of the most famous paranormal investigators who, throughout their careers, were asked to investigate hundreds of hauntings and other supernatural manifestations.

In the film, John Form (played by Ward Horton) finds what he believes is the perfect gift for his wife Mia (played by Annabelle Wallis), a rare and old porcelain doll. 

However, Mia’s delight is short-lived when she discovers that the doll, Annabelle, is possessed by a demonic spirit that will stop at nothing to destroy those around her.

In reality, Annabelle is a Raggedy Anne doll that is believed to be haunted. Today, the doll is on display in a secondary room of the Warrens’ museum, along with other macabre and dangerous exhibits that Ed and Lorraine have encountered in their many paranormal investigations.

The doll was initially given to a medical student in 1970 and was responsible for several attacks, accidents, and suspicious deaths between 1970 and 2000.

Today, Annabelle is locked in a glass case with a warning left by Lorraine Warren that reads, “Warning! Do not open under any circumstances!” 

A priest is regularly called to bless the case and recite protective prayers.

The Conjuring (2013)

Produced by: James Wan

Cast: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Ron Livingston, Lili Taylor, Joey King, Shanley Caswell, Hayley McFarland, Mackenzie Foy, Kyla Deaver, and Sterling Jerins.

“The Conjuring” is a horror movie based on true events that presents one of the most terrifying cases of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren.

The Perron family called the Warrens to investigate a series of poltergeist-type manifestations. On the location, the Warrens confronted one of the most dangerous demons they had ever encountered.

Although the Warrens have been accused of fabricating some of their experiences, the case presented in “The Conjuring” was confirmed by the real Perron family. 

In an interview, Andrea Perron, the eldest daughter, said:

Both my mother and I would rather swallow our tongues than tell a lie. People are free to believe whatever they want to believe, but I know what I experienced.

The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)

Directed by: Scott Derrickson

Cast: Jennifer Carpenter, Tom Wilkinson, and Laura Linney.

“The Exorcism of Emily Rose” is based on one of the most shocking cases of exorcism in history and is one of the most terrifying horror films inspired by real events. 

The film is based on the true story of a young woman from Germany named Anneliese Michel. Unlike the actual case of demonic possession, the film takes place in the United States, where a priest is accused of negligence during a ritual of exorcism that results in the death of a young woman suspected of being possessed.

Emily Rose, a perfectly normal young college student at the University of New York, begins to have terrifying visions and hallucinations. 

As the symptoms become increasingly frequent and violent, she decides to seek the help of a priest from her parish, Father Richard Moore.

It should be noted that in 1999, the Vatican revised the official text of the exorcism ritual for the first time in 400 years, and the number of exorcists increased tenfold, from 30 to 300.

Horror Movies Based on True Stories - Winchester (2018)

Directed by: Michael Spierig și Peter Spierig.

Cast: Helen Mirren, Sarah Snook, and Jason Clarke.

The horror movie “Winchester” is based on true events and follows the story of Sarah Winchester, a wealthy widow who becomes convinced she is cursed after the sudden death of her husband and son. 

At the advice of a medium, she begins building the famous Winchester Mansion in San Jose, California.

The strange construction was worked on continuously for decades, with the builders receiving instructions directly from the widow for adding new rooms, hallways, halls, or inner and outer stairs connecting the stories. The result was chaos, a labyrinth built without any plan or logic.

But Sarah Winchester (played by Helen Mirren) is not building for herself, for her granddaughter Marion (Sarah Snook), or for the brilliant Dr. Eric Price (Jason Clarke), whom she called to the house.

She is building a prison, an asylum, for the hundreds of ghosts seeking to avenge the last living members of the Winchester clan.

The Stepfather (1987)

Directed by: Joseph Ruben

Cast: Stephen Shellen, Terry O’Quinn, Jill Schoelen, Shelley Hack, Stephen E. Miller, Robyn Stevan, and Jeff Schultz.

One of the most frightening horror movies inspired by true events is “The Stepfather.” 

Directed by Joseph Ruben, this chilling film is based on the story of criminal John List, who murdered his wife, mother, and three children before disappearing without a trace. 

He assumed a new identity as Bob Clark and settled in Denver, where he remarried. It wasn’t until almost 18 years later that List’s dark past was revealed on an episode of “America’s Most Wanted,” and he was finally apprehended. 

The real John List died in prison in 2008. In “The Stepfather,” the murderer Jerry Blake marries a widow with a teenage daughter, continuing the series of bloody crimes without remorse, unlike the real-life John List.

The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976)

Directed by: Charles B. Pierce

Cast: Ben Johnson, Andrew Prine, Dawn Wells, and Jimmy Clem

Another bone-chilling horror movie based on true events is “The Town That Dreaded Sundown.” 

The movie takes its inspiration from the “Phantom of Texarkana,” a serial killer who terrorized the Arkansas and Texas regions in the spring of 1946. 

For 10 weeks, this monster attacked eight people, killing five of them. 

The killings caused panic among the residents of the two cities and inspired the 1976 horror thriller “The Town That Dreaded Sundown.” 

Although the police suspected a young man named Youell Swinney, a lack of conclusive evidence prevented an arrest, and the killer was never officially identified.

Horror Movies Based on True Stories - Above Suspicion (2021)

Directed by: Phillip Noyce

Cast: Emilia Clarke, Jack Huston, Johnny Knoxville, Thora Birch, Kevin Dunn, and Sophie Lowe.

Although not necessarily a horror movie, the thriller “Above Suspicion” still manages to send shivers down the spine. 

Based on a true story, the movie follows a recently married FBI agent, Mark Putman (played by Jack Huston), who is assigned to a small mountain town in Kentucky. 

Once got there, the FBI agent starts building a network of informants and sets out to pursue a gang of bank robbers. 

However, the operation takes an unexpected turn when Putman begins a dangerous affair with Susan Smith (played by Emilia Clarke), a young woman with ties to the town’s organized crime, who becomes his most valuable informant.

Unfortunately, the affair ends in tragedy when Putman kills Susan to cover up his lies and protect his career. This scandal rocked the FBI, leading to the first conviction ever of an FBI agent for murder.

The Haunting in Connecticut (2009)

Directed by: Peter Cornwell

Cast: Virginia Madsen, Kyle Gallner, Amanda Crew, Elias Koteas, Martin Donovan, Ty Wood, Kellan Rhude, and Erik J. Berg.

This horror movie inspired by true events, tells the terrifying story of the Campbell family. 

When their teenage son, Matt, is diagnosed with cancer, they move to a home near the clinic where he will receive treatment. But their lives turn upside down as strange paranormal activity manifests in their new house.

Campbells soon discover that their new home had previously been used as a morgue, where multiple heinous crimes had taken place. 

Desperate for assistance, Sara seeks out the help of an enigmatic priest named Nicholas Popescu to exorcise the house of its ghosts, but their lives are suddenly and inexplicably put in great danger as Matt’s health takes a turn for the worse.

Horror Movies Based on True Stories - Things Heard & Seen (2021)

Directed by: Shari Springer Berman și Robert Pulcini

Cast: Amanda Seyfried, Natalia Dyer, Rhea Seehorn, James Norton, F. Murray Abraham, Karen Allen, and Michael O’Keefe.

“Things Heard & Seen” is a horror thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat. 

The movie follows a young woman (played by Amanda Seyfried) who moves to a small town with her husband, only to discover that their new home holds sinister secrets. 

Although the movie is based on the fictional novel “All Things Cease to Appear” by Elizabeth Brundage, the book was inspired by real-life events that Brundage experienced.

Silent Hill (2006)

Directed by: Christophe Gans

Cast: Radha Mitchell, Sean Bean, Jodelle Ferland, Deborah Kara Unger, Laurie Holden, and Kim Coates.

“Silent Hill” is a well-known horror film inspired by the famous video game produced by Konami and a series of strange events that took place in Centralia, Pennsylvania. 

Centralia, formerly a thriving mining town, became a ghost town after a mysterious fire in 1962 set the coal mines beneath the town ablaze. 

Along with the thick, suffocating smoke, the residents of Centralia faced a series of paranormal manifestations, leading them to abandon what they believed to be a cursed town.

Directed by Christophe Gans, “Silent Hill” follows the story of Rose and Christopher DaSilva, a couple unable to have children, so they adopted Sharon, a nine-year-old girl found at an orphanage. 

Sharon’s behavior becomes increasingly strange as she begins sleepwalking and speaking of a mysterious place called “Silent Hill.” 

One night, Rose decides to take Sharon to this town, even though it poses a risk of being poisoned by the smoke from the burning coal beneath the abandoned town.

Once they arrive in Silent Hill, their situation becomes even more complicated when their car is involved in an accident, and Sharon goes missing without a trace.

Horror Movies Based on True Stories - Changeling (2008)

Directed by: Clint Eastwood

Cast: Angelina Jolie, John Malkovich, Amy Ryan, Jeffrey Donovan, and Colm Feore.

“Changeling” is a movie inspired by the kidnappings and crimes that shook the legal system of California in the 1920s. 

Set in Los Angeles in 1928, the movie follows the story of Christine, a working-class woman whose life is turned upside down when her 9-year-old son goes missing.

Several months after the disappearance, the police bring her a boy they claim is her son, but Christine quickly realizes something is wrong, and the boy may not be her son.

The Black Dahlia (2006)

Directed by: Brian De Palma

Cast: Josh Hartnett, Scarlett Johansson, Hilary Swank, Mia Kirshner, Rose McGowan, Aaron Eckhart, and Rachel Miner.

Another horror thriller on our list of horror movies based on true events is “The Black Dahlia.” The movie is based on the 1947 murder and mutilation of aspiring actress Elizabeth Short, one of American history’s most famous unsolved crimes.

The Black Dahlia takes place in 1940s Los Angeles and follows the story of two police officers, Lee Blanchard and Bucky Bleichert, as they investigate the death of Elizabeth Short. 

Bucky soon discovers a connection between his girlfriend and the deceased, leading him to uncover conspiracies and corruption within the police department.

Silent House (2011)

Directed by: Chris Kentis și Laura Lau

Cast: Elizabeth Olsen, Adam Trese, Julia Taylor Ross, Eric Sheffer Stevens, and Haley Murphy.

Starring Elizabeth Olsen in the lead role, “Silent House” is a psychological horror movie based on real events. 

The movie is a remake of La Casa Muda (2010), a horror film inspired by a series of strange incidents and unsolved crimes in a small town in Uruguay in the 1940s.

Horror Movies Based on True Stories - The Quiet Ones (2014)

Directed by: John Pogue

Cast: Sam Claflin, Olivia Cooke, Jared Harris, Erin Richards, Laurie Calvert, and Max Pirkis.

The Quiet Ones tells the story of a university professor of physics who proposes a dangerous experiment to generate a poltergeist-type phenomenon. The experiment centers around a disturbed young woman whose negative energy influences the physical world.

The movie is based on the strange Philip Experiment, which took place in Toronto in 1972 and raises troubling questions about the supernatural, its source, and whether it truly exists.

Horror Movies Based on True Stories - From Hell (2001)

Directed by: Albert Hughes și Allen Hughes

Cast: Johnny Depp, Heather Graham, Robbie Coltrane, and Ian Holm.

“From Hell,” starring Johnny Depp and Heather Graham, concludes our list of 18 horror movies based on true events.

Set in the poverty-stricken Whitechapel district of London in 1888, the film follows the lives of Mary Kelly and her friends as they struggle to survive through prostitution while facing harassment from gangs.

Their situation takes a turn for the worse when a friend is kidnapped, and they find themselves amid a sinister conspiracy that reaches the highest levels of society as a mysterious murderer starts hunting and killing them one by one.

The gruesome crimes catch the attention of the police inspector Fred Abberline, a brilliant but troubled detective with psychic abilities. 

As he gets closer to the truth, Whitechapel becomes increasingly dangerous for both Abberline and the women. The person behind these terrible acts will not easily give up their secrets.

The movie is inspired by the infamous serial killer Jack the Ripper, who committed a series of brutal crimes in London over ten weeks in the autumn of 1888, causing widespread terror among the city’s inhabitants. 

Despite the notoriety of the case, the killer was never caught.

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