TOP 15 HORROR MOVIES INSPIRED BY REAL PEOPLE
15. The Possession (2012)
This 2012 horror film is based on the haunted dybbuk box. In real life, the infamous dybbuk box was a wine cabinet which was allegedly haunted by an evil spirit. Legend has it that the box belonged to Havela, a Holocaust survivor who had bought it prior to immigrating to America. Kevin Mannis, who wrote a story about the incident, had bought the box from Havela’s family in an estate sale.
Learning that it was a family heirloom, he wanted to return the box, but Havela’s granddaughter said, “We don’t want it,” adding that a dybbuk haunted it. Inside the box, Mannis discovered an odd array of items: two pennies from the 1920s, a wine goblet made of gold, a candle holder with four stems shaped like octopus legs, a single dried rosebud, a tiny statue with the word “Shalom” engraved in it, and two locks of hair – one blonde, one black – each bound separately with cords.
The box has been owned by a number of individuals, and all have reported strange happenings occurring with its ownership. Many have said that a strong smell of jasmine flowers and cat urine emanate from the box, as well as nightmares that entail an old hag. Mannis, himself, reported that when people would stay with him while he owned the box, several of his visitors shared the same nightmares and, when he passed it off to his mother as a birthday gift, she suffered a stroke.
Other owners have claimed that they suffered health problems once they came into possession of the cursed box, including welts, coughing up blood, hair falling out, and hives. The last known owner bought the box off of eBay and, after speaking with Rabbis about how to seal the evil spirit inside the box, he did so and hid the dybbuk in an unmarked location.
The film follows a similar plot, where a girl called Em finds a strange wooden box, engraved with Hebrew, at a yard sale. Her father, Clyde, buys the box for her, and she starts to hear whispers coming from inside. Opening it, she discovers several odd items, including a dead moth and a ring. Once she starts wearing the ring, she begins acting strangely and violently, and odd things start to happen inside their home.
The dybbuk eventually possesses not just Em, but Clyde too. Exorcisms are performed, but once the box is gotten rid of, it is still cursed, claiming the lives of many throughout the film.
14. Eaten Alive (1980)
Based on a real-life psychopath, Eaten Alive is inspired by crazy man, Joe Ball, an American serial killer who may have fed up to twenty women to alligators in the 1930s. Ball served in the front lines in World War I before beginning his bootlegging career. Once Prohibition had ended, he continued his career in liquor by opening a saloon in Elmendorf, Texas. The Sociable Inn held a pond with six alligators.
He charged extra from his customers to view the monsters during their feeding time. He allegedly fed the alligators mainly cats and dogs. It didn’t take long for Ball to start murdering area women and adding them to alligators’meals. Barmaids, ex-girlfriends, and even his wife. When the last went missing in 1938, sheriff’s deputies came to interrogate him.
Apparently, Ball knew the jig was up and didn’t want to rot in prison, so he shot himself with a handgun he’d stashed away in the saloon’s cash register. Clifford Wheeler, Ball’s handyman, led officers to the decomposing bodies of two of the victims, Minnie Gotthard and Hazel Brown. Clifford had helped Ball try to dispose of them. Wheeler claimed that Ball had killed twenty or more women, all of whom he’d fed to the alligators. “The Alligator Man” is now a thing of Texas folklore. Makes you wonder what else lurks in them there swamps.
13. The Rite (2011)
Yet another exorcism movie, The Rite is based on the life of one of America’s most famous exorcists, Father Gary Thomas. The thriller follows experiences Thomas had when he was being trained as an exorcist. In the film, the son of a funeral home owner, Michael Kovak, hopes to earn a free college degree by entering a seminary school and renouncing his vows once he’s received his diploma. After Michael is ordained as deacon, he resigns, claiming his faith is lacking.
However, a chain of events leads Michael, still dressed in his clerical clothes, to give out the last rites to a fatally injured cyclist on the street. Upon absolving the girl of her sins, Michael returns to the church after Father Matthew convinces him to become an exorcist. He didn’t take much convincing, being that he was told that a resignation might lead to the Church turning his scholarship into a $100,000 student loan. He is then sent to the Vatican for exorcism classes with Father Xavier.
Michael soon finds himself alongside another senior exorcist, Father Lucas, in the home of a pregnant young girl named Rosaria, who was raped by her father, resulting in her being possessed by evil. The possession causes the girl to speak fluent English and cough up three nails. Eventually, Rosaria tries to drown herself and, while hospitalized, Father Lucas performs another exorcism upon her. However, that night, Rosaria dies from blood loss after a miscarriage.
It seems that the evil didn’t go far; Father Lucas begins showing signs of demonic possession. He, himself, knows that he is possessed, and asks Michael to find Father Xavier to perform an exorcism on him. Unable to contact him, Michael successfully performs the exorcism, himself. This experience returns Michael’s lost faith to him, and he stays with the priesthood. All of this, based upon the real-life experiences of Father Gary Thomas.
12. The Zodiac Killer (1971)
Most people have heard of the Zodiac Killer. This infamous serial killer committed the murders of three men and four women in San Francisco from December of 1968 to October of 1969. The 1971 film is loosely based on these events, though it names the killer, provides him a backstory, and fictionalizes the investigation.
In the film, the Zodiac Killer is a postal carrier. His friend is falsely named the Zodiac Killer after a series of events leads him to claim to be the murderer, and he is shot dead by police. This is when the real Zodiac Killer starts taunting the police and adding to his body count by killing several random people, as well as people he knows who start to mock his alter-ego or are not nice to him, personally. The film creates a motive for his crime spree through the man’s unhappy relationship with his father.
The real-life Zodiac Killer is a mystery to this day. His attacks included gunning down two high school lovers on their first date, shooting another couple near the site of the first murder (although the man survived the shooting), stabbing another couple (again, the male victim survived), and shooting a cabbie dead. Several more attacks have been attributed to the Zodiac Killer, including the kidnapping of a pregnant woman and her child (they managed to escape) and the stabbing of a young woman who was studying in the library.
As depicted in the film, the Zodiac Killer truly did taunt the police, sending letters that termed himself the ‘Zodiac,’ along with four cryptograms, only one of which has been solved.
The solved cipher reads: “I LIKE KILLING PEOPLE BECAUSE IT IS SO MUCH FUN IT IS MORE FUN THAN KILLING WILD GAME IN THE FORREST BECAUSE MAN IS THE MOST DANGEROUE ANAMAL OF ALL TO KILL SOMETHING GIVES ME THE MOST THRILLING EXPERENCE IT IS EVEN BETTER THAN GETTING YOUR ROCKS OFF WITH A GIRL THE BEST PART OF IT IS THAE WHEN I DIE I WILL BE REBORN IN PARADICE AND THEI HAVE KILLED WILL BECOME MY SLAVES I WILL NOT GIVE YOU MY NAME BECAUSE YOU WILL TRY TO SLOI DOWN OR ATOP MY COLLECTIOG OF SLAVES FOR MY AFTERLIFE EBEORIETEMETHHPITI.”
Some believed that the killer must have been involved in law enforcement at some point, because there was an utter lack of evidence each time he killed. Although suspects were named, the evidence was never conclusive for a conviction. The high-profile unsolved case was eventually closed, but as new technologies began to advance, the case was reopened in 2007. However, no new leads were drawn.
11. The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)
The Exorcism of Emily Rose is based on a series of real-life exorcisms performed on a young German woman, Anneliese Michel, which eventually led to her death. Anneliese had an epileptic seizure at 16 and was diagnosed with temporal lobe epilepsy. She also suffered from depression and was sent to a psychiatric hospital for treatment. This is where she started hearing voices and couldn’t stand to be around religious objects, like the crucifix.
By the age of twenty, she claimed she saw “devil faces” and began having other spiritual delusions, including hallucinating voices that would tell her to “rot in hell” and condemn her while she was praying. Soon, she became suicidal and, believing demons possessed their daughter, Michel’s parents sought help from a Catholic priest. At first, the priests refused, citing the need for a bishop’s permission to perform an exorcism.
But Michel’s condition worsened; she became more aggressive, started to eat insects, drank her own urine, and injured herself. In the end, two local priests sought permission from the bishop and, over a ten-month period, they performed exorcism rites on the young woman. Priest Arnold Renz performed the first exorcism in 1975, after which Michel’s parents ceased any and all medical treatment, relying solely on the exorcism to improve her condition. 67 sessions were performed, some lasting up to four hours.
Michel didn’t improve, saying her condition was a sacrifice, and claiming she was “dying to atone for the wayward youth of the day and the apostate priests of the modern church.” As she weakened, she refused to eat or drink and, on the 1st of July, 1976, she died from dehydration and malnutrition, weighing 68 pounds on her deathbed. Her autopsy showed that she had broken knees, resulting from her rigorous genuflections, she’d contracted pneumonia, and she’d been in a state of semi-starvation for the year the exorcism was performed.
Her exorcism became infamous. The rarely used 400-year-old rites of exorcism caught the eye of the media and the public and was strongly denounced. The Catholic Church had all but done away with exorcisms since the 18th century. The priests involved were found guilty of negligent homicide, as were Michel’s parents. They served a three-year probation sentence and paid a fine, but the case was highly charged as negligence and abuse, while also bringing religious hysteria and mental disorder to the fore.
10. The Strangers (2008)
The Strangers is a combination of real-life events and inspiration from the serial killer, Charles Manson. The director of the film, Bryan Bertino, drew from his own childhood. One night a stranger knocked at his door, asked if someone was home, and then walked away when he was told that this person didn’t live there. But Bertino later discovered that someone had broken into a number of homes in the neighborhood that night.
The movie mirrors this. In it, at 4 in the morning, a stranger knocks at the door of a summer home where a couple is staying. The woman asks for someone who isn’t there and then leaves. James, the man in the coupling, heads out for a bit, and the woman, Kristen, hears odd sounds coming from outside. She finds a man in a sack mask watching her from the backyard, and she hides from him until her boyfriend returns.
Kristen tells James what happened, after which he finds his car has been burglarized and the woman who had knocked earlier is watching him from a distance, wearing a doll mask. Through a series of events, James and Kristen eventually find themselves captured by the masked strangers, tied to chairs in their living room. “Why are you doing this?” Kristen asks the strangers.
The woman responds, “Because you were home.” The couple is then stabbed repeatedly by the strangers, and the movie ends with two young boys discovering their bodies. Bertino, the film’s director, cites Helter Skelter, a true crime book about the Manson Family murders, as a primary source of inspiration. Manson is known to have led a sort of cult commune in California in the late ‘60s, in which he preached “Helter Skelter,” a term taken from a song by the Beatles. Manson thought it meant an apocalyptic race war was approaching, and he thought murdering people would help begin that war. In the summer of ’69, the Manson Family murdered nine people, according to Charles Manson’s instructions.
9. The Haunting In Connecticut (2009)
Loosely based on real events that took place, this 2009 American psychological horror film is said to be about Carmen Snedeker and her family who lived in Southington, Connecticut in 1986. Famed paranormal investigators, Ed and Lorraine Warren, said that the Snedeker home served formerly as a funeral home. The morticians who worked there, the Warrens claimed, had committed necrophilia with the corpses.
An exorcism was performed in order to rid of the strong supernatural forces that had found a home there. Catholic exorcists were brought in to perform the exorcism. A wax effigy of the Virgin Mary used in the exorcism is now on display in Zaffis’ Museum of the Paranormal. The statue was disfigured during the rites. In the film, a similar supernatural force haunts the house of the Campbells’.
The Campbells had rented out a home that was closer to the hospital, as one of the film’s characters, Matthew, had cancer. Matt moves into the basement and finds a strange door there. He soon starts to have creepy visions, involving corpses and a bearded man. Peter discovers that the house used to be a funeral home, and the strange door was the entrance to the mortuary. Matt’s visions begin to become more traumatic, and his behavior strange.
At one point, the family finds he’s scratched at a wall until his fingers are bloody. The family starts to dig into the strange visions and behavior. They discover that a man called Ramsey Aickman used to run the funeral home and would conduct s?ances with a young man named Jonah, who Matt had envisioned. One of the s?ances led to multiple deaths, including that of Aickman, after which Jonah vanished.
Though many believe Jonah’s spirit to be the evil one, in the end, it turns out that Jonah was actually protecting them from the evil spirits – corpses that Aickman had hid in the walls of the house. Jonah had been cremated alive by them during the s?ance. When the family discovers this, they remove the corpses from the walls and Matt lights them and the room on fire. Luckily, Matt survives the fire and his cancer. And once the corpses are freed, the evil leaves the house as well…although it will likely hang about you long after the movie is over.
8. The Girl Next Door (2007)
In 1965, a truly evil crime unfolded in the state of Indiana. The Girl Next Door is loosely based on this crime. What ccurred in Indianapolis at the hands of Gertrude Baniszewski, her children, and some other neighborhood kids, can only be described as torture. For $20 per week, Baniszewski had been entrusted to take care of a 16-year-old girl, Sylvia Likens, along with her sister, Jenny.
Sylvia’s parents were carnival workers, and her father, Lester, boarded the two sisters with Baniszewski when their mother was put in jail for shoplifting. He asked Baniszewski to “straighten his daughters out.” Baniszewski “straightened them out” by beating them with paddles when she felt stressed or depressed. For some reason, she began zeroing in specifically on Sylvia, emotionally and physically abusing her and encouraging her children to do so as well.
The older children started beating her, pushing her down flights of stairs, and even kicking her in the genitals. Baniszewski called Sylvia a prostitute and would rant about how filthy she was. Soon, Stephanie Baniszewski’s boyfriend, Coy Hubbard, became involved in the physical abuse, along with the pair’s peers. They were, again, encouraged by Baniszewski to beat and torture her, tie her up, put out lit cigarettes on her, burn her with boiling water, make her eat feces, put salt in her open wounds, and sexually assault her.
The Likens girls tried to contact their parents and family members for help, but their letters went unanswered. Their older sister thought they were exaggerating and just wanted to get out of their situation. She did, however, visit the Baniszewski home and contacted social services when she’d learned from Gertrude that Sylvia had supposedly run away. The Likens parents completely ignored their cries for help. Eventually, Baniszewski would not allow Likens to go to school, locked her in the basement, made her bath in scalding water, rubbed salt in the burns, and deprived her of drinking water to the point that she was dehydrated.
Baniszewski took a burning hot needle and scratched into Sylvia’s abdomen: “I’m a prostitute and proud of it.” She then forced her to write a note to her parents, indicating that she had run away. Her plan was to have her children dump her withered body in a nearby forest to die. Sylvia tried to run away before they were able to achieve this, but she was caught and locked back in the basement where she was, again, tortured and died the next day of malnutrition, shock, and a brain hemorrhage at the age of 16.
Stephanie Baniszewski realized she was not breathing and asked Richard Hobbs to call the police. Gertrude gave the police the “runaway” letter she’d forced Sylvia to write. She told the police that Sylvia had agreed to prostitute herself to a group of boys, but the boys had taken her and tortured her. However, Jenny Likens asked to speak to the police in confidence before they left the house.
They found Sylvia’s body and, along with Jenny’s statement, brought the Baniszewski family and those neighborhood youths who were involved in the despicable torture and murder of Sylvia to trial. Gertrude and her daughter, Paula, were sentenced to life in prison. The neighborhood boys involved, and John Baniszewski, were convicted of manslaughter. The prosecutor described the case as “the most terrible crime ever committed in the state of Indiana.”
7. Child's Play (1988)
Believe it or not, the infamous Chucky doll is based on a true story. Author and painter, Robert Eugene Otto, claims that his nurse put a voodoo curse on one of his dolls, and the script of Child’s Play is based on this haunted doll. The real cursed doll, also known as Robert the Enchanted Doll or Robert the Haunted Doll, is at the center of ghost tours in the Key West region.
Robert has woolen or yarn hair and is dressed like an American sailor from the early 1900s. Although Chucky doesn’t at all resemble Robert, he is certainly equally as creepy. Child’s Play is the first installment in the series of slasher films, in which a mother gifts her son a doll which is possessed by the soul of a famed Chicago serial killer. The man’s evil soul enters the doll, after he is killed in a shootout with homicide detective, Mike Norris, in a toy shop.
When the doll is gifted to the boy, Andy, the boy’s babysitter is killed that night. She falls out a window after being slammed in the face with a hammer, and Andy is suspected by police. The next day, he is ordered by Chucky to go downtown, because the serial killer wants to pay a visit to Eddie, one of the serial killer’s “friends” who’d abandoned him. The doll turns up the gas on the stove and messes with Eddie until he takes a shot at the stove, causing an explosion.
Andy is, again, suspected of the murder and is put into a mental hospital. Through a series of events, Chucky discovers that he must escape the doll’s body and possess the first person who was told about him – Andy – while Mike and Andy’s mother discover that the serial killer’s soul can be destroyed via a fatal injury to the heart. After a lot of violence and many false death scenes, Mike finally shoots Chucky in the heart, killing the soul of the serial killer. …or so we’re led to believe, until the next installment comes out.
6. The Conjuring (2013)
Paranormal investigators, Ed and Lorraine Warren, are the witnesses of the real-life haunting that inspired The Conjuring. In the film, the Warrens, themselves, are represented, responding to the Perron family in 1971 Rhode Island. The family made claims about strange and volatile events occurring at their farmhouse, and the real-life Warrens say the case was one of the most difficult to address.
In the film adaptation, the Perrons move into the farmhouse with their five daughters and their dog, who won’t enter the home, perhaps suspecting what horrors await the family inside. One of the kids finds a cellar entrance that’s boarded up and, within a few days, a series of haunting events occur. The family dog is found dead, one of the daughters, Christine, feels an evil spirit pulling on her leg, and another of the girls, Carolyn, hears strange clapping in the hall.
She follows the noises to see where they’re coming from and ends up in the basement, where the spirit traps her. Simultaneously, two of the other girls are ambushed by another evil spirit living above the wardrobe. This is when the Warrens are called in for their expertise. Upon examination, the Warrens recommend an exorcism of the farmhouse. They must dig a little deeper to seek permission from the Catholic Church to go ahead with the exorcism.
What they find is deeply disturbing. The history of the house’s former occupant explains why evil resides here. An alleged witch, named Bathsheba, had sacrificed her baby to the devil. The baby had only been a week old. She then placed a curse on her land and those who would later reside there, after which she killed herself. Ever since that day in 1863, a number of murders and suicides had taken place on the property.
After further investigation, including installing bells and cameras throughout the house, the Perron family decides to stay at a hotel, while the Warrens appeal to the Church for an exorcist. But while they are waiting, it is discovered that Carolyn has been possessed by Bathsheba and attempts to kill Christine. Ed Warren decides to try and perform the exorcism, as there’s no time to wait for a priest. He is attacked by Bathsheba during the attempted exorcism. While Ed is incapacitated, Carolyn tries to kill April as well, but is distracted by Lorraine until the exorcism has been successfully performed, ridding of Bathsheba and her curse forevermore.
5. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
If gruesome scary movie murders with chainsaws don’t scare you enough, then perhaps knowing that some of the facts of this tale are based on true events might at least make your skin crawl. The concept for the 1974 horror film, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, is inspired by the real-life murderer, Ed Gein. Some minor plot details were based on his crimes, and the main villain, Leatherface, is reimagined from Ed Gein’s tendency to tan the skin of his victims and use it as clothing.
Ed Gein was a murderer and body snatcher who wreaked havoc in and around Plainfield, Wisconsin in the mid-to-late 1950s. He was found to have exhumed bodies from area cemeteries in order to build himself seriously creepy “trophies” from the skin and bones of the dead. He also confessed to murdering two women. Although he was diagnosed as legally insane, he was found guilty in 1968 for killing Bernice Worden, a hardware store owner.
When his beloved mother died, Gein lived on the family farm by himself. Completely alone in the world and quite mentally disturbed already, he began to read death-cult magazines, specifically ones that included cannibalism. When Gein was finally suspected of murdering Worden, having been the last customer to visit the store before she disappeared, nvestigators searched his property and found Worden’s body hanging upside down in his shed.
Gein had shot her, decapitated her and dressed out her torso “like a deer.” Investigators searched the rest of Gein’s house and made numerous blood-curdling discoveries, including skulls on his bedposts and items made out of human skulls and human skin, including bowls, chair seats, a lampshade, and a wastebasket. Additionally, he’d made clothing items out of human skin, including a corset, leggings, a belt, and face masks.
The movie took some of these ideas under consideration when creating their character, Leatherface, who picked off characters in the movie, one by one, in order to feed them to his cannibal family. His home – also a farmhouse, like Gein’s – is full of furniture made from human bones. Although these gory real-life details are dramatized in the film, this is one case where the dramatization of cinema pales in comparison to the gruesome nature of true events.
4. The Exorcist (1973)
The Catholic Church performed an exorcism on a 14-year-old American boy in the late ‘40s. The boy’s pseudonym in records that documented this exorcism was “Roland Doe,” and Raymond Bishop was the acting priest who alleged that Roland was possessed by a demon. The famous film, The Exorcist, is based on these real-life events. Roland didn’t have many friends as a child, and his adult family members were those he most often played with.
His Aunt Harriet particularly influenced him, pulling out the Ouija board whenever Roland wanted. When Aunt Harriet died, it’s alleged that strange things started to happen. Regular objects started levitating and flying across the room around the boy, furniture moved on its own, and strange noises were heard throughout the home. The family was Lutheran, and they asked their pastor to help.
After observing the boy in his own home, Pastor Luther Schulze advised that the family seek help from a Catholic priest. During the boy’s first exorcism, which took place at Georgetown University Hospital, Roland managed to pull one of his hands from the restraints that held him to the bed and wrench a bedspring from below the mattress, which he used to stab the priest’s arm. The boy was further observed to speak in a guttural voice and bow away from any sacred item.
Being that the first exorcism was cut short (literally), a second exorcism was performed on Roland, with a series of odd happenings occurring during the rite, including symbols and the words “hell” and “evil” appearing on the child’s body. The bed also shook vigorously, and Roland ended up breaking Father Walter H. Halloran’s nose. An author who investigated the incident, Thomas Allen, said that there was no “definitive proof” that the subject was possessed.
He may, instead, have been suffering from mental illness or abuse…or he may have made up the entire thing. Before his death, Halloran made a statement that he couldn’t go on record saying the boy was truly possessed. “I never made an absolute statement about the things,” he said, “because I didn’t feel I was qualified.” Demonic possession or not, the real-life events of this exorcism served as great plot fodder for a horror movie – hence, The Exorcist’s longstanding reputation as one of the top horror movies of all time.
3. The Amityville Horror (2005)
The story of the Lutz family’s paranormal experiences was first showcased in a book by Jay Anson, entitled The Amityville Horror. After the book came out, films under the same title were released, the most recent being in 2005. The Horror in question happened in 1974 in the neighborhood of Amityville. It was then and there that Ronald DeFeo, Jr. murdered six of his family members in their big Dutch Colonial house in Long Island.
The next year, when the Lutz family moved into the house, they were haunted by paranormal happenings and abandoned the dwelling after less than a month. Knowing that the gruesome murders had happened there, the Lutzes bought the large five-bedroom house at a bargain, including a large portion of the DeFoe’s furniture, which remained in the house. Acting upon the suggestion of a friend, George Lutz had the place blessed by a Catholic priest, named Father Mancuso.
As the Lutzes unpacked, Father Mancuso splashed holy water around the house while praying. This is when he heard a deep male voice command, “Get out!” The priest later warned the Lutzes not to enter the room on the second floor where he’d heard the voice. He also developed stigmatic blisters on his hands and a high fever. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary to the Lutzes at first…that is until odd sensations broke the family.
George woke up around 3:15AM every day, which he later found was the time DeFeo killed his family. Kathy started to have nightmares about the murders and claimed to have felt an “embrace” by an unseen force. Throughout the house, there were cold spots that went unexplained, odors of excrement and perfume, and swarms of flies, even though it was December. While all of these things could be explained away by the innate fear and paranoia one might feel in a house that was the scene of a killing spree, truly startling things began to happen.
George and Kathy both saw a demon’s image in the fire, after which the soot showed the half-blown out head in the fireplace. Their five-year-old daughter, Missy, suddenly found herself with an imaginary friend called Jodie, who she said was a piggy creature, with red ember eyes like a demon. George saw this creature in Missy’s bedroom window on Christmas morning, and when he raced to her room, she was sound asleep, though her rocking chair continued to rock.
And one night, Kathy levitated two feet high while in bed, and found her chest covered in red welts. These are just some of the bizarre events that occurred while the Lutzes resided in the haunted house. They ended up abandoning it, after a second blessing did not rid of the evil spirits that had taken over the space.
2. A Nightmare On Elm Street (2010)
This slasher film, which first premiered in 1984 and was revisited in 2010, is not so much based on a single real person, as it was on a group of people: Laotian refugees who mysteriously died in their sleep in the late ‘70s. The New York Times reported that 18 healthy refugees with no symptoms of disease or ill health had suddenly died, and that there seemed to be no foul play involved. The strange thing was that each of the refugees died in the same way – sleeping in their beds and crying out suddenly in terror.
Experts, at the time, diagnosed the fatalities as “nightmare death syndrome.” In essence, the otherwise healthy refugees had allegedly died from fatal night terrors. But another theory may better explain the sudden and mysterious deaths. After the hearts were examined by Dr. Robert Kirschner, he found what he’d hypothesized: the 18 refugees shared a genetic defect. The hearts of the victims were enlarged, and the fibers that carried electronic impulses from the brain to the heart had, essentially, short-circuited.
This defect, along with the stress of immigrating to a foreign country, triggered by intense nightmares, may have caused the victims’ hearts to fail. A Nightmare on Elm Street is somewhat inspired by this rare series of deaths, as the villain in the film, Freddy Krueger, murders teenagers in their own nightmares.
1. Psycho (1960)
The super creepy body snatcher, Ed Gein, makes another appearance on this list of scary movies inspired by real people. Not only did he inspire The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but his intensely creepy relationship with his mother also inspired the intensely creepy mother-son dynamic in the movie, Psycho. This oldschool horror flick pits a young man, dressed as his dead mother, against unsuspecting victims in his hotel.
To recap, Ed Gein was the mentally insane body snatcher who bedecked his home with the “trophies” of skin and bones that he’d exhumed from bodies he’d stolen from cemeteries, as well as from his own victims. But it was his disturbing relationship with his mother that inspired Psycho. Augusta, Ed Gein’s mother, deeply influenced her son, preaching to her boys that women were the devil’s instruments and that the world was inherently evil.
She’d frequently read graphic verses from the Bible, often those that involved murder and death. Her impact on Ed, in particular, frightened his brother, Henry, to the point that he tried to disparage their mother when she wasn’t around, in order to tap down Ed’s affection for her. This may be why Henry ended up dead while the pair burnt marsh vegetation on the property. Although some people suspected that Ed had murdered his brother, foul play was dismissed, and no charges were filed. When his mother grew sick, Ed took great care of her. She died of a stroke in 1945, after which Ed was alone.
This may be what led to his nocturnal visits to the graveyard to dig up middle-aged women who looked like Augusta. From the bodies, he extracted bones and tanned the skin to create his unsightly paraphernalia. He even built a “woman suit” in order to become his own mother. This real-life killer is not a far cry from Norman Bates, the lead in Psycho, who exhumes his mother’s corpse and dresses up as her, oscillating between his own persona and that of his mother’s, all the while killing the guests of his hotel. Fact, in the end, is often not stranger than fiction.