It seems like every time a new horror film hits theaters, it’s bragging about how it’s based on a true story. Problem is, we never know if it’s telling the truth. Does “based on a true story” mean that everything in the movie actually happened? Or does it mean that there was once a person in Cleveland who shared a name with the main character?
We found out. Below are 10 horror movies, some new, some classic, and the true story they’re based on. Just how accurate are they? Find out!
1. “The Exorcist”
Plot: “The Exorcist” is one of the greatest horror films of all time. In it, a mother notices her daughter doing strange things, like levitating, speaking in a guttural devil voice and spinning her head around her entire body. The mother hires a priest to perform an exorcism, and things get even stranger.
Inspiration: William Blatty’s book “The Exorcist” is based on the exorcism of Robbie Mannheim, which is the name given to an anonymous child (church law forbids revealing the real name). Mannheim spoke in a strange voice, the word “hell” appeared on his arm, and furniture moved around his room. He is, apparently, now a normal, married person.
Accuracy: The sex changed, and the film was wildly exaggerated, but all in all, it’s fairly close to the basic story. However, it’s pretty unlikely that any of actress Linda Blair’s amazingly NSFW quotes were ever spoken by Mannheim, and that’s too bad.
2. “Open Water”
Plot: A couple goes out for a scuba dive and is left behind in the water by the diving company. And then…shark attack!
Source: A scuba diving company in Australia abandoned Tom and Eileen Lonergan (by mistake) in 1998. They disappeared, and though some of their gear was later found, their bodies never were.
Accuracy: Accurate! At least the main plot was. Although various theories have floated up, the mystery of what happened to the Lonergans hasn’t been solved. So once they entered the water, no one, except the sharks, knows what happened.
3. “The Haunting in Connecticut”
Plot: The Campbell family moves into a new house in order to take better care of their son Matthew, who has cancer. The house is, of course, a former mortuary.
Source: The Snedeker family moved into a house in Connecticut in the ’80s and later found mortuary equipment in the basement. They also reported paranormal activity.
Accuracy: Besides changing the family’s name to the less frightening “Campbell,” it’s the same story. In stories like this, though, it’s important to remember that ghosts don’t actually exist.
Plot: You know the story: Norman Bates likes to dress up as his dead mother and stab pretty girls in the shower.
Source: Ed Gein! Horror dudes love to base movies on Ed Gein, including “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” among others. Ed Gein killed women, skinned them and tried to use their skin so he could be a woman. And he did it all because of his dead mother.
Accuracy: “Psycho” is one of the greatest films of all time (not just horror), so it doesn’t matter how accurate it is. Bates is an awful lot like Gein, though.
Plot: Crocodiles on the loose! Well, one. But this is a GIANT crocodile.
Source: This one is based on an actual crocodile in Burundi, the charmingly named Gustave. Gustave is 25 feet long, one ton, and is estimated to have eaten over 200 people. He’s also never been caught, and is thought to be about 65 years old.
Accuracy: The scary crocodile is real. The plot based around him is not.
6. “The Mothman Prophecies”
Plot: A reporter’s wife dies in a car accident. Shortly after, he finds strange drawings of a black-winged creature. This creature is the Mothman. He prophesizes bad events.
Source: It’s based on a “nonfiction” book by John Keel called, hilariously, “Visitors from Space.” Hey, it was the ’70s. The book talks about how the Mothman portends terror.
Accuracy: The movie reflects the book. The book, however, is ridiculous.
7. “The Amityville Horror”
Plot: One of the classic haunted house movies, it’s pretty much the template horror film story. The Lutz family moves into a house where a murder was once committed and begins to hear voices, see dripping slime, etc.
Source: In the early ’80s, “The Amityville Horror” was probably the most famous “true” horror film, based on the real-life Lutz family, who moved into a house where a mass murder was committed just like in the movie.
Accuracy: Accurate. But pretty much everything the Lutzes said happened, didn’t actually happen. So there you go.
8. “The Exorcism of Emily Rose”
Plot: Exorcism plots are all basically the same: A person starts saying crazy things in a funny devil voice (sometimes things they would have no way of knowing) and acting wild. This one is mostly based in a courtroom, where the state is fighting the priest who performed the exorcism.
Source: This movie is based on the case of Anneliese Michel, a German Catholic. She started hearing voices, acting strangely and having seizures. She was pretty much a typical epileptic and paranoid schizophrenic, and clearly not possessed by the devil.
Accuracy: The film is very exaggerated, borrowing only the courtroom setting from the original story. The original case is kind of boring though, so they did what they had to do.
9. “Dead Ringers”
Plot: A pair of gynecologist twins, Beverly and Elliot Mantle, seduce the women they treat. Beverly falls in love with one, which sends him into clinical depression, and it all starts getting very, very weird.
Source: This David Cronenberg weird-fest was based on a real set of gynecologist twins, Stewart and Cyril Marcus (you can’t make this stuff up, people), who were both found dead from drug withdrawal.
Accuracy: The twins existed but nobody knows what led to their death. It was almost certainly not the strangeness that Cronenberg cooked up though.
10. “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer”
Plot: Henry, as you may have gathered from the title, is a serial killer. He kills lots of people and, by the end of the film, is not caught.
Source: Henry Lee Lucas, a serial killer, is now in prison. The film is mostly based on the over 600 murders he confessed to in prison. These confessions were almost always found to be false.
Accuracy: It’s accurate in reflecting the paranoid bragging of a serial killer even though that bragging was sometimes over the top.