The Last House on the Left had a marketing campaign that told viewers “it's only a movie.” However, can one take comfort in that statement if the movie is based on a true story?
This is a collection of creepy real life events that are the inspiration for some genuinely scary movies.
1Wolf Creek: A Serial Killer Who Roams the Australian Outback is Based on Multiple Murderer Ivan Milat
Wolf Creek is a gritty and dark Australian horror movie about three backpackers who cross paths with serial killer Mick Taylor (John Jarratt). He is a vicious monster who roams the Australian outback for victims to skin alive.
Pretty terrifying, huh?
Well, it turns out that Wolf Creek has its basis in real life; it's loosely based on the murders committed by Ivan Milat. Like his movie counterpart, Milat preyed on backpackers in the Australian outback. Having grown up there, he was into hunting and he used his skills to do gruesome and terrifying things to his victims.
Unlike Mick Taylor, Milat didn't skin his victims. However, he was no less brutal. Milat denied he was responsible for the murders, and when the bodies were found they were badly decomposed. No one really knows exactly what happened, but the forensic evidence found showed that his victims died horrible deaths.
Milat stabbed many of his victims at the base of the spine, so that they were paralyzed during the attack. After that they were shot, stabbed, beaten and/or decapitated and then their bodies were left in the desert. Milat killed at least seven people.
It wasn't until a British man named Paul Onions came forward and told the police about backpacking in the area where the bodies were found. He was hitchhiking and picked up by a man who said his name was “Bill." Once in the car, Bill attacked Onions, but he was able to escape. He identified that man as Ivan Milat from a line up.
On July 27, 1997, Milat was given seven consecutive life sentences plus 18 years.
2The Girl Next Door: A Film Based on the Torture and Murder of Sylvia Likens
Based on the novel by Jack Ketchum, The Girl Next Door is told from the point of view of David Moran (William Atherton), who as an adult is a Wall Street banker. In the novel, he reflects on a disturbing period during his childhood when he met two sisters, Meg (Blythe Auffarth) and Susan (Madeline Taylor). After losing their parents, they moved in with their aunt and three cousins, who lived in David's neighborhood.
The aunt, played by Blanche Baker, is a complete and utter psychopath who mentally, physically and sexually tortures Meg. Even worse, she encourages her other children and David to participate.
The film is loosely based on the real life murder of Sylvia Likens in Indianapolis, Indiana in 1965. Likens' parents, who were carnival workers, left Sylvia and her sister in the care of Gertrude Baniszewski for $20/week. However, after the first payment was late, Baniszewski snapped and started to make the girls' lives a living hell – Sylvia would receive the brunt of abuse.
Baniszewski encouraged her children and other kids from the neighborhood to torment Sylvia which included extinguishing their cigarettes on her skin. The bullying escalated to sexual abuse, and beatings. Eventually Sylvia was locked up in the house and never allowed to leave.
Sylvia overheard Baniszewski talking with a 14-year-old neighbor, Richard Hobbs, about how she planned to leave the girl in the forest blindfolded, so she tried to escape. They caught Sylvia and tied her up. Baniszewski then carved the letter “I” into Sylvia's stomach using a sewing needle. Then she gave the needle to Hobbs, who continued to carve “am a prostitute and proud of it!”
A blow to the head killed Sylvia on October 26, 1965. When the police arrived, they found her body on a dirty mattress. She had been starved, her body was covered in bruises and there were over 100 cigarette burn marks on her skin.
Baniszewski, her son John, her daughter Paula, Paula's boyfriend Coy Hubbard and Richard Hobbs were arrested for the murder. Baniszewski was convicted of first-degree murder. Paula was convicted of manslaughter. The boys were all convicted of manslaughter and their terms ranged from 2-21 years.
3The Exorcist: Regan's Exorcism is Based on the Exorcism of "Roland Doe"
One of the most infamous, shocking and genuinely scary movies is William Friedkin's The Exorcist. Released in 1973, the film follows a 12-year-old girl named Regan (Linda Blair), who is possessed by an ancient demon called Pazuzu. Two Catholic priests are called in to exorcise the demon from the girl.
The author of the novel got the idea for the story based on the case of a boy called “Roland Doe” or “Robbie Mannheim." Born around 1936, he lived in Maryland with his family, who started to notice weird, supernatural occurrences like pictures moving and scratching sounds around the boy.
In 1949, two Catholic priests in St. Louis performed a series of exorcisms on the boy. As they did, the boy started speaking Latin, even though he had never learned that language. He was also apparently spitting and a rash on his skin changed shape to spell out numbers and words.
Years later, Walter Halloran, the priest that assisted in the exorcism, said that the boy may have just repeated the Latin that a member of the clergy said to him. He did spit, but not much, and he had a red rash, but it did not take different shapes.
4The Mothman Prophecies: A Moth-like Creature Seen By Dozens of People in the 1960s – Was it There to Warn Them of Impending Doom?
In The Mothman Prophecies, reporter John Klein's (Richard Gere) life is thrown into turmoil when he and his wife are in a car accident. She is haunted by images of a large creature with big red eyes and moth-like wings that she saw before the crash. Later, John is driving and finds himself four hours away in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, with no recollection of how he got there. Once in town, he starts investigating other sightings of the creature his wife saw before the crash. Klein soon realizes that the sightings happen just before tragedy strikes.
Like the trailer suggests, The Mothman Prophecies is based on real events. Between November 15, 1966 and December 15, 1967, in Point Pleasant, dozens of people reported seeing a moth-like creature that was almost 7' tall, had a 10-foot-wing span and big red glowing eyes. The sightings were connected with the collapse of the Silver Bridge on December 15, 1967. It fell during rush hour traffic, killing 48 people. Some people believe the Mothman was there to warn them of impending disaster, because after the bridge collapsed there have been no confirmed sightings of the Mothman in Point Pleasant.
Interestingly enough, there have been other sightings of a flying-humanoid creature spotted before different tragedies. Some include the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown, an earthquake in Mexico City in 1985, and even the September 11th attacks in New York City.
5Child's Play: Chucky was Based on a Cursed Real Doll
Child's Play features horror icon Chucky the Good Guy Doll. In the film, a voodoo practicing serial killer named Charles Lee Ray (Brad Dourif), otherwise known as the Lakeshore Strangler, is killed in a toy store. He transfers his soul to a nearby doll which is then given to a 6-year-old boy, Andy. From there, the doll goes on a killing rampage and tries to put his soul into Andy's body.
As crazy as it sounds, Chucky is actually inspired by a real doll called Robert the Doll. In 1903, 3-year-old Robert Eugene Otto received the doll from a Bahamian servant. Otto named the doll after himself, and they were inseparable from there on; the doll had his own chair at the table and slept with Otto at night.
Shortly after receiving the doll, Otto's parents began to hear two voices coming from his bedroom. One would be Otto's voice, but the other was much different. Other times, they would go into a room and it would be in a disarray. Each time, Otto blamed it on Robert the Doll.
Otto grew up and married, but never got rid of the doll. It sat in a room in their house in West Keys, Florida. When walking by the house, children swore the doll was looking at them from the windows in the room, sometimes from different windows.
Otto and his wife died in the mid-70s and new people moved into the home where Robert remained. They claimed to hear giggles and at times, the face of the doll changed.
In 1994, Robert the Doll was given to Key West's Fort East Martello Museum, where it sits in a glass case.
6Open Water: The Terrifying Premise Based on the Terrible Fate of an American Couple
This micro-budget indie movie from 2003 has a terrifying premise. What if you were scuba diving out in a large body of water and the boat left you behind. What makes it even more terrifying is that it happened to a couple from Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
On January 25, 1998, 34-year-old Tom Lonergan and his 29-year-old wife, Eileen, were in a scuba diving group that was visiting St. Crispin's Reef in Australia's Great Barrier Reef. The boat had left for its next designation before the Lonergans had returned. No one noticed they were missing until two days later when their bag was found on the boat.
There was a massive search for the couple, but no trace of them has ever been found. It's believed that they drowned at sea.
7The Strangers: The Haunting Home Invasion Movie Based on an Unsolved Quadruple Murder
The Strangers is the quintessential home invasion movie. A young couple is in an isolated cabin and are terrorized by a group of masked strangers with murderous intentions.
The promotional material for the film, including the trailer, claimed that the film was based on true events. One of the events was the Manson family murders and the parallels are obvious. The Manson family brutally butchered seven people in two different home invasions.
However, another terrifying, lesser-known crime is also the basis for the movie; it is referred to as the Keddie Cabin Murders.
1981, in northern Sierra Nevada, California, Sue Sharp and her five children had been renting cabin 28 at the popular Keddie Resort for two months. On the morning of April 12th, Sue, her 16-year-old son and his 17-year-old friend were found bound with duct tape and wires. They had been stabbed and beaten. All the furniture in the room had been destroyed and blood covered the walls. Sue's 14-year-old daughter, who had slept over at another cabin on the night of the murder, found the bodies.
In another room, the three youngest Sharps and one of their friends were found unharmed. However, 13-year-old Tina was missing. Her skull wouldn't be found until three years later at a nearby campsite.
To date, the murders have never been solved, but it is believed that at least two people were involved in the quadruple murder.
8The Lost: A Film Based on the Life of Charismatic Serial Killer Charles Schmid
The second movie to be based off a Jack Ketchum novel is 2006's The Lost. The Lost tells the story of a psychopathic and charismatic teenager named Ray Pye (Marc Senter). Set in the early 60s, Pye is a short but handsome guy in his early 20s, and is popular with teenage girls. One night, while camping with his friend (sometimes with benefits), Jen (Shay Astar), and his hapless best pal, Tim (Alex Frost), Pye shoots two innocent girls at a nearby campsite while Tim and Jen watch and help him cover up the crime. A year later, the trio hasn't revealed anything about the murders, but Ray's psyche is starting to crumble in a terrifying way.
Ray Pye was based on Charles Schmid, a popular and rich 22-year-old, living in Tucson, Arizona in 1964. Schmid was a short man who stuffed his boots to make himself look taller. He also wore pancake makeup and painted a mole on his face.
On May 31, 1964, Schmid's girlfriend, Mary French, introduced 16-year-old Alleen Rowe to Schmid by setting up date for her with Schmid's best friend, John Saunders. Schmid then raped Rowe before beating her to death with a jagged rock. French, Saunders and Schmid all helped to bury the body.
A year later, Rowe's body still hadn't been found and there were no arrests in her disappearance, but Schmid confessed to a girlfriend, Gretchen Fritz, that he had murdered Rowe.
In August 1965, Schmid was ready to break up with Fritz, but when he tried to, Fritz said she would go to the police over the Rowe murder. Schmid strangled Fritz before killing her 13-year-old sister, Wendy. He buried their bodies in the desert.
Schmid showed the bodies to a friend, who was worried he would come after his girlfriend, so he went to the police. Schmid was given a life sentence and tried to escape three times. On March 20, 1970 at the age of 33, he was murdered in prison.
9The Town That Dreaded Sundown: The Real Life Story of the Unsolved Serial Killings That Haunted a Small Texas Town
The Town That Dreaded Sundown is a B-movie from 1976 that takes place in 1946, in a small town in Arkansas. The story follows a man wearing a white hood, who goes around shooting random people over a four-month span.
The Town That Dreaded Sundown is based on the Texarkana Moonlight Murders in 1946. In the span of 10 weeks, a man using a .32 caliber gun attacked eight people. Only three of the victims survived. Two of the surviving witnesses said that the “Phantom Killer” wore a white cloth mask with holes cut in it. The Phantom Killer has never been identified and the serial murders remain unsolved.
10The Conjuring: This Spooky Movie was Based on The Perron Family's Encounter With the Supernatural
One of the most critically acclaimed and financially successful ghost movies in recent memory is James Wan's The Conjuring. The movie tells the story of the Perron family whose house was being haunted in Harrisville, Rhode Island. Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) visited the family to investigate the strange phenomenon going on in the family home.
While the movie may get a bit too outrageous by the end, the film itself is based on actual events. Ed and Lorraine Warren were real paranormal researchers who investigated some of the most famous American hauntings, including the Amityville Horror.
Roger and Carolyn Perron, along with their five daughters moved into a large farmhouse just outside of Harrisville in 1971. Shortly after moving in, they were disturbed by awful, malevolent spirits that included an old woman in a gray dress who told Carolyn to leave the house. Other times there was a voice of a little child who would moan “mama.” Other weird incidents included an orange bleeding and doors would slam or wouldn't shut at all.
When asked about the Perron haunting, Lorraine Warren, who is now 87, says that it was a particularly bad haunting. Ed passed away in 2006, shortly before his 80th birthday.