Top 11 Horror Films Based on True Life Events

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The Town that Dreaded Sundown (review) has returned with a slick-looking new remake that hit digital and DVD on July 7th. In honor of this reimagining, we’ve recalled some of our favorite movies ripped from the headlines with the Top 11 Horror Films Based on True Life Events.

It can be argued that just about every movie has drawn some inspiration from real life events. Even the most outlandish story ever written had to be inspired by something that drew the writer’s eye. Something that got the wheels turning to help make that story come to life. But with horror, that’s sometimes a little different as the news stories that flash before our eyes on a daily basis provide plenty of inspiration for the next celluloid nightmare. And the funny thing about movies and life is just when you think you’ve seen the most outlandishly vile and horrible thing on the screen, real life always manages to top it, setting the groundwork for the next film “based on true life events.”

We tried to grab a nice cross-section of sub-genres of horror, hitting slashers, hauntings, alien encounters and whatever else we could lay our grubby little mitts on to help spice up the list. And with such a large number of true life stories inspiring films, we decided to lump some of the entries in together that were natural combinations. We categorized the honorable mentions, too. You’ve got your all-star serial killers who are highlighted in Gacy, Dahmer and Deranged. Exorcisms take top billing in The Exorcist and The Exorcism of Emily Rose; and if it’s true life hauntings you want, try The Haunting in Connecticut and The Entity. Even the legendary classic Dracula is inspired by an historical figure.

And now your Top 11 (or so) Horror Films Based on True Life Events

town that dreaded sundown blu ray s - Top 11 Horror Films Based on True Life Events

The Girl Next Door (2007)
This is one case where the actual film adaptation might have actually toned down what happened in the true crime case, and those who’ve seen The Girl Next Door know that it was pretty intense in its own right. Author Jack Ketchum adapted the case of Sylvia Likens, who was repeatedly tortured and eventually killed by her guardian, Gertrude Nadine Baniszewski, with the help of her children and a number of neighborhood kids. Helluva neighborhood to grow up in. Not only was Likens dumped off to this psycho guardian because her parents were traveling carnival workers, but then she became subjected to what one report called the “single worst crime perpetrated against an individual in Indiana’s history.” Ketchum captured the story brilliantly in The Girl Next Door, and Gregory M. Wilson directed the film adaptation that brought the horrific story to the big screen.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=typY725pjZ4&w=640&h=360]

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1990), Monster (2003), From Hell (2001)
Here’s a group we’ll call our Infamous Serial Killers. All three of these films involve serial killers that achieved some type widely recognized fame. Michael Rooker was outstanding in bringing killer Henry Lee Lucas to life in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. And the casting of Tom Towles as Henry’s partner, Ottis Toole, was fantastic considering the fact that Towles bore an uncanny resemblance to Toole.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IU3P6WXzvXU&w=640&h=360]

Charlize Theron turned Hollywood on its ear with her reverse makeover to play Aileen Wuornos, a killer convicted of six murders (accused of seven), in Monster. Theron raked in the awards for this one, including the Academy Award for Best Actress.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UH_mFlx9LHg&w=640&h=360]

And in From Hell filmmakers The Hughes Brothers adapted Alan Moore’s graphic novel based on the hunt for Jack the Ripper and recruited Johnny Depp and Heather Graham to help tell the tale.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3JCALbQ84RE&w=640&h=360]

Fire in the Sky (1993)
We’ve had a brutal torture film and a trio of infamous serial killers, so to continue to mix things up, we’ll discuss Fire in the Sky, a movie about an apparent alien abduction. The film tells the story of Travis Walton, a logger in Arizona who claimed to have been abducted by aliens. Walton disappeared for five days and could not be found after an exhaustive search. Walton eventually returned and had quite the tale to tell, and it was one of the most interesting, and difficult to disprove, stories of alien abduction ever. Walton wrote a book about his experiences entitled Fire in the Sky, which was adapted for the screen by Tracy Tormé and directed by Robert Lieberman. D.B. Sweeney brought Walton to life on the silver screen. Remember the wicked alien scene? Check it out again below.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wsjhdoWKtXM&w=640&h=360]

The Amityville Horror (1979), The Conjuring (2013)
We’re going to have to call this one the Warren Pair. And by that, of course, we refer to Ed and Lorraine Warren, two paranormal investigators who became quite famous for their work and, thanks to filmmaker James Wan, have been featured in some memorable horror films. Best known for investigating the home of George and Kathy Lutz in 1976, the Warrens were some of the first paranormal investigators on the scene of what would eventually become The Amityville Horror. The film would be an instant success and spawn 12 sequels and a remake.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9fSqS0MrOZ0&w=640&h=480]

Another of the more prominent Warren investigations was that of the Perron Family in 1971. The Conjuring was the cinematic retelling of that tale. Incidentally, Lorraine Warren was a consultant on The Conjuring and even appeared in a cameo role.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k10ETZ41q5o&w=640&h=360]

Stuck (2007)
Okay, you might not be overly familiar with this one, but it’s one of the more unique true crime stories to ever be adapted into a film. The story behind the movie goes like this…on October 26, 2001, Chante Jawan Mallard struck homeless pedestrian, Gregory Glen Biggs, with her car. The driver was allegedly intoxicated with a combination of marijuana, ecstasy and alcohol. Biggs became lodged in the windshield; and Mallard simply drove home, parked the car and left the guy to die there (thanks for the ride, lady) before trying to cover up the crime later. Stuck was one of three films to adapt the story, this one starred Mena Suvari as the driver and Stephen Rea as the… uh… drivee. The movie, directed by Stuart Gordon, indeed took liberties with the story, fleshing it out into something more of a survival tale for the unfortunate pedestrian, but it certainly managed to get the point across. And that point? Look both ways before you cross the street, especially if a potential driver may be hopped up on booze, weed and X.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L3VT9y49NbU&w=640&h=360]

Eaten Alive (1977)
So you say you like the crazy true crime stories? You think Stuck was a cool tale but wanna raise the bar? Say no more; we’ve got the perfect one for you. Thirty years before Stuck was released, there was an absolutely insane movie called Eaten Alive, which was an instruction manual on how to get rid of pesky, unwanted dead bodies. For his follow-up to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, director Tobe Hooper again teamed with Chain Saw co-writer Kim Henkel and actress Marilyn Burns to recreate an unbelievable tale (also a young Robert Englund was included in the cast). Eaten Alive told the story of Joe Ball (aka The Alligator Man, The Butcher of Elmendorf and Bluebeard). He killed somewhere between 2 and 20 victims and fed them to alligators he kept at his bar, the Sociable Inn, using them mainly as an attraction for customers. When confronted by police, Ball drew a gun and shot himself. An employee that claimed to have assisted Ball in several “clean ups” told the story of over 20 murders.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9cQGA5VRj50&w=640&h=480]

Open Water (2003)
There’s a real lesson to be learned from this film. If you are out swimming in the open ocean with some tour guide or other, make your presence known on the way out to the diving spot. You don’t have to be a jerk or anything, but tell a corny joke or do a card trick, wear a funny bathing suit or T-shirt… do anything that will get you noticed because, on the off chance you don’t get back onto the boat in time, someone will hopefully remember you and say, “Hey, where’s the guy with the Die, Die My Darling T-shirt who was telling the goofy knock-knock jokes.” It might just save your life. Open Water is based on the story of real life couple Tom and Eileen Lonergan, who went out on a scuba diving excursion and were left behind, never to be found. The names in Open Water have been changed from the original story, but the tale is indeed quite the same. So once again… be memorable, stay alive.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dWBRpZhk_vA&w=640&h=360]

Wolf Creek (2005)
John Jarratt created one of the most beloved serial killers in recent times when he hit the screen as Mick Taylor in Wolf Creek. However, the tale goes beyond the outstanding performance of Jarratt and hearkens back to “The Backpack Murders,” a series of murders committed by Ivan Milat in Australia. The bodies of seven victims were found partially buried. (Partially buried? Not really the time to be loafing around. If you’re burying murder victims, it’s best to see this job all the way through). Mick Taylor’s quarry site was actually filmed at the location of another actual murder, bringing even more reality to the film. And as a tip of the cap to the inspiration for the film, outside of Taylor’s mining site is a sign reading “Navithalim Mining Co.” Spell it backwards, Dreadies… Ivan Milaht… not perfect, but indeed a reference to the original crimes.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cm8duRDsS8E&w=640&h=360]

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), The Hills Have Eyes (1977)
The Wes Craven segment of our program has arrived, and it contains two films that you might be surprised to find out were inspired by true events. We start with A Nightmare on Elm Street, which you’d think has absolutely no basis in reality at all. And you’d be right. It doesn’t. However, Craven does tell that one of his inspirations for Nightmare came from a series of articles in the Los Angeles Times about three separate refugees fleeing Cambodia who refused to sleep after experiencing disturbing nightmares and died after eventually falling asleep.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jdb_HSvf2Zk&w=640&h=480]

As for The Hills Have Eyes, Craven goes back to the legend of Sawney Bean for this one. The original script for Hills (entitled Blood Relations: The Sun War) sticks a little closer to the Bean legend, with dozens of incestuous family members in the clan. The true life Sawney Bean story might be more gruesome than Hills as legend has it that over 1,000 people were killed and cannibalized by the clan.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=edn5EzHXVBU&w=640&h=360]

I Spit on Your Grave (1978)
Based on the sheer brutality of this film, it’s difficult to imagine this is based on a true story. But unfortunately, as we’ve said already, the horrors of real life often far surpass that what we see on the screen (unless Ryan Nicholson or Fred Vogel are behind the camera!!!) I Spit on Your Grave is not the exact retelling of a specific true crime incident, but it was actually a true crime incident that inspired the story. Writer/director Meir Zarchi went on to write the movie after he came to the aid of a girl who was raped in New York. Zarchi took the woman to the police station but was appalled by their treatment of her before bringing her to the hospital. Zarchi would go on to say that the violence of the film was not exploitative but necessary to convey the intensity of his experience with the real life victim.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UPTs4QiTgYc&w=640&h=360]

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), Psycho (1960), The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
And we conclude with an Ed Gein block. Gein has been loosely linked to all three of these classic films as well as numerous others. But Gein’s influence can be obviously seen in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre as the home décor of the Sawyer home seems to be very similar to some of the body part creations found in Gein’s home.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vs3981DoINw&w=640&h=480]

His overbearing mother is very evident when paralleled to Norman Bates in Psycho.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nv88ASiLmgk&w=640&h=360]

And Gein’s stamp can be seen in The Silence of the Lambs, but not in Hannibal Lecter, but “Buffalo Bill” Jame Gumb. That memorable dance routine that Buffalo Bill does while trying on his makeup and skin suit would have undoubtedly been a Gein favorite. Relive it below.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O0ilk2NfOyw&w=640&h=480]

The Town That Dreaded Sundown Release Details:
RLJ Entertainment, under the Image Entertainment brand, released the thriller THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN on DVD on July 7, 2015. The film is also now available on Blu-ray exclusively at Best Buy.

Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon (Me, Earl and The Dying Girl, “American Horror Story”), screenplay by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (Carrie, “Glee”), and based on the 1976 cult-classic film of the same title directed by Charles B. Pierce, THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN will be available on DVD for an SRP of $27.97.

Based on a terrifying true story, THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN picks up 65 years after a masked serial killer terrorized the small town of Texarkana, when the brutal “Moonlight Murders” suddenly begin again. While on a trip to Lovers’ Lane, 17-year-old Jami (Addison Timlin) watches as her date is brutally slain by a masked serial killer. Barely escaping with her life, Jami becomes obsessed with finding the killer referred to as “The Phantom.” As the body count mounts and the carnage comes closer, Jami delves deeper into the mystery with the help of the town archivist Nick (Travis Tope), following clues that point her toward the killer’s true identity.

The film stars Addison Timlin (“Californication,” That Awkward Moment), newcomer Travis Tope, Gary Cole (“Veep,” Office Space), Joshua Leonard (“Bates Hotel,” The Blair Witch Project), Anthony Anderson (“Black-ish,” The Departed), Denis O’Hare (“American Horror Story,” Dallas Buyers Club), Edward Herrmann (“The Good Wife,” “Gilmore Girls”), and Veronica Cartwright (The Birds, Alien). It is produced by Jason Blum (the Paranormal Activity franchise, Sinister) and Ryan Murphy (“American Horror Story,” “Glee”).

town that dreaded sundown blu ray - Top 11 Horror Films Based on True Life Events

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