“Based on true events…” “Inspired by a true story…” However you phrase it, one key word always manages to make horror more horrific: true. Sit back and relax as we take a look at some movies based upon the strange, bizarre, and weird.
Sure, much horror carrying the “true story” tag is only loosely based on actual events. Just think of how many extremely different envisionings of the Ed Gein story there are. Everything from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre to The Silence of the Lambs and hundreds in-between trace their roots to that twisted Wisconsin deviant. But there’s just something about knowing even a modicum of the heinous tale unfolding on the screen before your eyes is true that makes it that much more chilling.
Now, say your film is not only based on a true story, but one which involves supernatural, unexplainable events. Now you’re really onto something. Everyone loves a good ghost story. Nothing gets the skin crawling faster than a haunted house. With the release of The Apparition on Friday, August 24, we’ve decided to look back at some of the best films based on actual hauntings and supernatural events. So sit back, strap in and prepare to look back on some horrific hauntings… based on true events!
The Haunting in Connecticut (2009)
One of the more recent haunted house films based on actual reports, The Haunting in Connecticut tells a very interesting story. The film is based on the story of Carmen Snedeker and her family, who were in the market for a home closer to the University of Connecticut’s Heath Center, where Carmen’s son was being treated for cancer. The house they settled upon turned out to have a very sordid past. The film goes into some of the history of the house, but not everything.
In the true story the family found mortuary equipment in the basement and realized they were living in a former funeral home. Now, stop right there… there has to be some kind of real estate ethics rule that says you’ve got to disclose the fact to a potential buyer that the former owner of a home had dead bodies on ice 24/7, right? Anyway, if that wasn’t bad enough, it turns out the owners of the mortuary were involved in necromancy (you can almost live with that one) and necrophilia (that’s where I’ve gotta draw the line). And the room where the Snedeker children were sleeping was once the coffin showroom. Yikes.
The film did have some intense moments, but the true strength of it may have been the questions as to where the haunting visions were coming from. Was it indeed a supernatural occurrence, or were they schizophrenic hallucinations. By embracing the questions as to the legitimacy of the events, the filmmakers actually ended up with a better movie, delivering a unique version of the traditional ghost story we’ve become accustomed to.
The Entity (1981)
The Entity is based on the story of Doris Bither. This is a sad story, paranormal involvement or not. On August 22, 1974, a paranormal investigation was opened on Bither and her family at 11547 Braddock Drive, Culver City, California. By the time the investigation was launched, the house was a dump, having been condemned by the city twice, and Bither herself was a disaster, covered in bruises. She had four children she was living with, a 6-year-old daughter and three sons, ages 10, 13 and 16, with whom she had a volatile relationship. Bither claimed the house was haunted, and the children, as well as other individuals outside the home, corroborated her story.
Bither informed the investigators that not only were spirits inhabiting her home, they were abusing her, physically and sexually. Now, Bither had a history of abuse by her parents and several men throughout her life, as well as a pretty rip-roaring case of alcoholism that may have contributed to the fact that she was experiencing such extreme visions. However, investigators were able to document some paranormal activity, the obligatory orbs et al, as well as a greenish, coiling mist which apparently formed the shape of a muscular man’s torso. Unfortunately, nothing but the orbs and a light arc were captured on film.
The Entity follows the story of Carla Moran, who is based on Bither. Barbara Hershey plays the role, which does include the history of abuse but doesn’t get into some of the other dark places in Bither’s life. The Entity, however, does feature the spectral rape of which Bither claimed she was a victim. Certainly a unique and disturbing ghost story.
An American Haunting (2005)
Although it took a pounding by critics and audience members alike, and crapped the bed at the box office, An American Haunting definitely belongs on this list. The film is based on the book The Bell Witch: An American Haunting by Brent Monahan.
The Bell Witch legend revolves around the Bell family of Adams, Tennessee, and it’s one of the most widely recognized cases of American poltergeist activity. The Bell Witch legend was also among the inspirations for The Blair Witch Project. In the late 1800’s the Bell family reported paranormal experiences. The incidents started with noises in the walls but grew to include strange sounds and people experiencing the sensation of being pinched, slapped, objects being thrown and the spirit (apparently named Kate) loudly cursing the family.
Most of the activity occurred around Betsy Bell, the family’s youngest daughter and apparently worsened after she became engaged to Joshua Gardner. Debunkers of the legend contest that a local schoolteacher, Richard Powell, jealous of Betsy’s fiancé, was responsible for the haunting, trying to scare Gardner away so he could have Betsy to himself. Now that’s romantic.
An American Haunting is centered around the Bell Witch legend but has a tie-in to modern times that involves a troubled girl and sexual abuse that was perpetrated upon her and (according to the film) Betsy Bell as well. In this case the film certainly gets a bit more brutal than the legend.
The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)
Before she was the brash Debra Morgan on “Dexter” or battling an apartment building full of baddies in Quarantine, Jennifer Carpenter channeled the spirit of German woman Anneliese Michel in The Exorcism of Emily Rose. Although marketed as a pure horror movie, the film was as much a courtroom drama as it was a horror flick as we follow the story of the priest who performed the exorcism which eventually killed Emily.
Anneliese Michel was a disturbed woman who suffered from depression throughout her life, and no type of medical attention could cure her. She was prescribed one medication after another with nothing changing her condition. Being a devout Catholic woman, Michel eventually began to consider the fact that she may be possessed by a demonic spirit. A request for an exorcism was submitted to the Church and eventually granted. The exorcism lasted through 67 sessions, one or two per week, for up to four hours for 10 months between 1975 and 1976. Eventually Michel began to talk about dying to atone for the behavior of the youth of the day and stopped eating and drinking. She eventually died of malnutrition and dehydration, weighing 68 pounds at the time of her death on July 1, 1976. The priest who performed the exorcism and Michel’s parents were convicted of manslaughter due to negligence and received prison terms; however, they were suspended.
In The Exorcism of Emily Rose, the exorcism itself is viewed through a series of flashbacks during the courtroom proceedings. Carpenter went above and beyond in the role, performing many of the painful looking bodily contortions without the aid of a stunt double or F/X. It touches a bit upon the fact that the victim of the supposed possession felt a larger obligation to society but does not venture into the starvation aspect of the story.
The Exorcist (1973)
So this is more inspired by a true story than actually based on one, but anything that can make The Exorcist even scarier needs to be addressed. And the story that inspired The Exorcist may be one of the few possession stories with a happy ending.
The film is based on the case of the exorcism of Roland Doe (a pseudonym given to him by the Church). It’s also known as the exorcism of Robbie Mannheim. William Peter Blatty, author of The Exorcist, read about this case in 1949 when he was a member of the Class of 1950 at Georgetown University. One of Roland’s favorite playmates in his youth was his Aunt Harriet, a spiritualist. She introduced him to the Ouija board. When Harriet died, it is believed the 13-year-old Roland tried to contact her using the board. That’s when the shit hit the fan.
The story of Roland Doe is one of typical possession symptoms. Nine priests and 39 witnesses signed the documents verifying his deteriorating condition. The details of the exorcism come mainly from notes kept by Raymond Bishop, an attendee of the events. Doe injured several members of the group performing the exorcism, including doling out a broken nose and a wound that required stitches. Everything from the welts and unexplainable writing on his flesh to the guttural voice (that goddamn guttural voice gets me every time!) were reported to have occurred.
The exorcism ceremony was performed approximately 30 times over several weeks with a very loud noise being heard at the end of the last one. Amazingly, after the exorcism was completed, the symptoms disappeared and Roland went on to lead a normal life, became a father and grandfather and had no recollection of his alleged possession.
As far as the film goes, I’m sure you’re all pretty much aware of how the events go down.
The Shining (1980)
There might not be a creepier haunting on film than that of The Shining. Stephen King visited The Stanley Hotel and stayed in the legendary Room 217 (yes, that of the waterlogged old lady) when the hotel was nearly deserted just before shutting down for an extended period of time. The result was The Overlook Hotel and The Shining, which Stanley Kubrick would turn into one of the most memorable horror films ever.
The Stanley Hotel was built by Freelan O. Stanley, who was co-inventor of the Stanley Steamer automobile, and many feel that his wife’s ghost is the one that can be heard playing piano. When individuals have investigated the sound, no one is sitting at the piano bench. The kitchen staff has reported hearing a party in the ballroom, only to check it out and find nothing. Guests have spoken of waking up to see ghostly figures standing in their room. Yikes! The Stanley Hotel was simply the original inspiration for the novel, and Kubrick actually filmed at a location entitled The Timberline Lodge in Oregon. In 1997 King returned to The Stanley Hotel to film the television mini-series version of The Shining.
Jack and the axe and Redrum are all images conjured up by King’s incredible imagination, not actual reports from the hotel. But if I’m waking up in a hotel and seeing a spectral figure standing in my room, I feel sorry for the cleaning staff because they are going to have some severely soiled sheets on their hands.
The Amityville Horror (1979)
This 1977 film was the first of 10 movies inspired by the house at 112 Ocean Avenue, the location of the infamous DeFeo murders. Ronald Joseph DeFeo, Jr., murdered the six members of his family at this location (that’s not a movie, that’s the real deal), creating the back story for one of the most famous hauntings in recent memory.
The film, which is, of course, based on the book The Amityville Horror: A True Story by Jay Anson, follows the story of the Lutz family, who moved into the former DeFeo home just 13 months after the murders. Nothing like letting the dead settle. It’s no wonder the house was talking to them and they had flies everywhere! I guess the housing market in 1975 wasn’t any better than it is today, and you’ve gotta jump on a deal…bloodstained carpets or not.
The Amityville Horror is the most recognizable and memorable reportedly true haunting that would go on to become a feature film as it was accompanied by a large amount of press disputing the claims as well as lawsuits alleging invasion of privacy and fraud, etc. In 1979 the homeowners George and Kathy Lutz took a lie detector test about the supernatural events in the home, and both passed. This story will go down as a true mystery, but, fact or fiction, we did get a kick-ass movie out of it.
There you have seven standout examples of documented real-life hauntings that have found their way to the big screen to help you get in the mood for The Apparition, hitting theaters on Friday, August 24.
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