Whether or not you believe the events behind the upcoming film The Conjuring 2 were real, a lie, or a fever dream a screenwriter had while typing, the truth is that many horror movies were based on actual events. Here are a few films to help make reality just a bit scarier (some spoilers ahead).
Psycho/Texas Chainsaw Massacre/Silence of the Lambs
Movie: A hotel owner with a massive mother fixation and an eye for retro dresses goes on a killing rampage.
Reality: It takes a certain type of go-getter/multi-tasker/lunatic to inspire three of the most famous horror films of all time. But such was the case of Edward Gein. Ed was born in rural Wisconsin in 1906 to a fanatical Christian woman who never let the child leave her side (as in the backstory to Psycho), even as she repeatedly told him he wouldn’t amount to much. This, naturally, lead to some truly positive effects on Ed, who grew even stranger after his mother died. He was linked to the death of his older brother, who never liked their mom. Ed also closed off almost every room of the family house as a shrine to his dead mom, read up on head-shrinking, and admitted to digging up nine graves “in a daze”.
Ed would go on to wear the faces of the women he dug up, a twist that inspired both Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Buffalo Bill from The Silence of the Lambs. Eventually, the decapitated corpse of one Bernice Worden was found on Ed’s property, along with a wastebasket made from human skin, human skull bowls, and Bernice’s heart in a saucepan (another point of inspiration for Lambs). The report of the gruesome murder, and much of Ed’s story, would eventually inspire Psycho. Ed himself spent the rest of his life in an asylum.
Movie: A hotel owner (apparently a career that invites psychopaths) begins killing people and feeding their bodies to his pet Nile crocodile.
Reality: Back in the 1930s, a Texan named Joe Ball ran a bar with an alligator pit as an attraction (entertainment was hard to come by before the internet). When local women began to disappear, authorities suspected Joe of feeding their bodies to his gators. But when they arrived to confront him, Joe immediately shot himself dead in the head, which any lawyer will tell you did little to help his case.
Movie: A boy receives a Good Guy doll, only to discover it houses the soul of a serial killer.
Reality: That sailor made of cork and nightmares up there is Chucky’s real-life inspiration, Robert the Haunted Doll. The three-foot (!) doll was allegedly given to Robert Eugene Otto as a child by his family’s servant, who both despised his parents and had a degree in voodoo. Reports suggest the family often heard the doll having conversations with the child Robert. Years later, the doll would be locked away in the attic by the wife of the now-grown Robert (the person), only for it to while away its days supposedly rocking in a chair, laughing, and trying to kill everyone. The doll now resides in a glass box in a museum in Key West, where staff members claim it often changes position and somehow has yet to be thrown down a volcano.
Movie: Three college students celebrate their impending graduation by traveling to a small Mexican border town, only to come across an ancient blood cult.
Reality: Borderland is based on Adolfo de Jesús Constanzo, an America who apprenticed under a local drug lord/ cult leader/ serial killer as a teen (because that’s how varied job opportunities were in the ’70s). With his followers Los Narco-satanicos, Constanzo also ran a sideline business of “good luck” magic spells to help superstitious drug lords. He believed these spells required human bones, which he first got by raiding graveyards and then by sacrificing living people. This eventually led to the kidnapping and ritualistic murder of a pre-med student from Texas. By the time authorities raided the Constanzo compound, 15 mutilated corpses were found. Constanzo was found dead shortly thereafter.
A Nightmare on Elm Street
Movie: Teenagers are killed in their sleep by a monster because years before, their parents took their Neighborhood Watch duties to a scary place.
Reality: Creator Wes Craven says the story was inspired by a newspaper article about a Cambodian war refugee who died in his sleep, some believe from severe nightmares brought on by post-traumatic distress.
The Hills Have Eyes
Movie: A family road trip through Nevada is interrupted by another family. A family of cannibals.
Reality:In the 15th century, the legend of “Sawney Bean” was born. A Scotsman who lived in a cave with his wife, their 14 kids, and 23 grandkids (almost all the product of incest), Bean lead his feral clan in the dismemberment and eating of various unlucky travelers. This went on for 25 years before authorities found the family in their cave with countless remains/leftovers. The men of the Bean family were castrated before having their limbs severed. The women were burned to death. It should be noted, though, that many historians say this is all a myth (that was clearly not created by the Scottish Tourism Board.)
Movie: Another movie about a haunted doll proves that you should never, ever buy your children toys that look like people.
Reality: Those who saw Annabelle might be surprised to learn that the frightening toy is actually based on an ordinary-looking Raggedy Ann doll (unless you correctly thought Raggedy Ann looked demonic to begin with). Given to a girl named Donna in 1970, the doll supposedly moved around the house when no one was looking. Donna also found messages scrawled on parchment paper that read “Help me”, even though no parchment paper was ever in the house. Supposedly, red liquid dripped out of the doll’s hands and it began to move around the house even more. A childhood friend claimed that the doll tried to strangle him in his sleep and later slashed his chest repeatedly. A medium eventually claimed the doll was inhabited by the soul of a girl buried beneath Donna’s apartment building. The actual Annabelle now resides in Ed and Lorraine Warren’s collection a glass box encrusted with holy water — much like in The Conjuring.