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20 Horror Movies "Based on a True Story"

Fact vs. Fiction

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Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer
© MPI
The Movie Story: Henry is a serial killer who's killed hundreds of people, sometimes aided by his roommate, Otis. He finds some solace in Otis's sister, Becky.

The Real Story: Writer/director John McNaughton was inspired by serial killer Henry Lee Lucas, who had an accomplice named Ottis Toole and a romantic relationship with Otis' young relative (his niece, Frieda Powell). However, the movie's killing spree is based more on Lucas' confessions than on actual fact. Lucas confessed to 600 murders, in part because the confessions led police to offer him improved conditions in jail. Most of his confessions were disproved, but Lucas was still convicted of 11 murders, including that of Powell, and spent the rest of his life in prison.

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The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988)

Serpent and the Rainbow
© Universal
The Movie Story: American anthropologist Dennis Alan is hired by a pharmaceutical company to acquire a sample of a drug used in Haitian voodoo rituals, a paralyzing powder that simulates death.

The Real Story: The movie is an exaggerated adaptation of a 1985 book by Canadian scientist Wade Davis, a nonfiction account of his experiences with zombification in Haiti. He stated that a powder of natural toxins could be used to place a victim into a death-like state, to be resuscitated in a hypnotic trance by a controlling "master." One notable case referenced was that of Clairvius Narcisse, who reportedly served as a zombie for two years in the 1960s. There remains a debate over the veracity of Davis's claims.

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The Mothman Prophecies (2002)

Mothman Prophecies
© Sony
The Movie Story: Reporter John Klein gets lost while driving and ends up in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, where he encounters the so-called Mothman, a winged creature whose appearance seems to foretell disastrous events -- notably, the collapse of a bridge over the Ohio River leading to Point Pleasant.

The Real Story: Reports of sightings of a large, unidentified winged creature -- dubbed the Mothman -- occurred in Point Pleasant, West Virginia for 13 months between 1966 and 1967. Then, on December 15, 1967, the Silver Bridge, connecting Point Pleasant to Ohio over the Ohio River, collapsed, killing 46 people.

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Open Water (2004)

Open Water
© Lionsgate
The Movie Story: When unmarried couple Daniel and Susan take a group scuba diving trip, a mistake by the crew while taking a head count of the divers who return to the boat leaves the couple floating alone in the ocean, surrounded by sharks.

The Real Story: In January 1998, married couple Tom and Eileen Lonergan disappeared off Australia’s Great Barrier Reef after a diving company accidentally left them behind in the water. It took two days -- when a bag containing a wallet and passports was found -- for the crew to realize that they'd left the couple behind. A search was conducted, but their bodies were never found. Belongings discovered weeks later showed no signs of the violent shark attack that the film suggests.

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The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)

The Exorcism of Emily Rose
© Screen Gems
The Movie Story: A priest is on trial for the death of a young woman named Emily Rose, upon whom he had performed an exorcism. Through flashbacks, we see the tribulations that she suffered while possessed.

The Real Story: The film was inspired by Anneliese Michel, a 16-year-old German girl who, in 1968, began displaying symptoms of demonic possession. For years, she suffered paralysis, self-abuse, starvation and demonic visions until 1975, when two priests performed exorcisms of what was believed to be several demons over 10 months. During that time, Anneliese barely ate, and she died of starvation in July 1976. Her parents and the priests were tried and found guilty of manslaughter. They were sentenced to six months in jail.

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Wolf Creek (2005)

Wolf Creek
© The Weinstein Co.
The Movie Story: Two female British tourists and an Australian man venture into the Australian Outback to camp in Wolf Creek National Park. When their car breaks down, they’re rescued by a tow truck driver who ends up holding them captive and torturing them.

The Real Story: Greg McLean originally wrote the script as fiction, but upon learning of two real-life Australian killers who attacked travellers, he edited the story to reflect the real cases –- namely, Bradley John Murdoch, who killed a British tourist and tried to abduct another in July 2001, and Ivan Milat, who picked up hitchhikers and took them into the woods to torture and kill them during the '90s. Both Murdoch and Milat were captured and sentenced to life in prison.

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An American Haunting (2006)

An American Haunting
© Freestyle Releasing
The Movie Story: Nineteenth-century landowner John Bell and his family are tormented by an invisible entity, which targets his daughter Betsy in particular.

The Real Story: The movie is based on the legend of the Bell Witch, a tale that originated in Tennessee in the 1800s. It is believed by many to be a work of fiction, although the characters in the story were real. According to the tale, John Bell was poisoned by the ghost, and although the film's marketing declared that it is "validated by the State of Tennessee as the only case in US history where a spirit has caused the death of a human being," there is no such validation on record. Some claim that The Blair Witch Project was also influenced by the story.

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Primeval (2007)

Primeval DVD
© Buena Vista
The Movie Story: An American news crew travels to Burundi to chronicle the capture of a man-eating crocodile, which ends up being 30 feet long and responsible for over 300 deaths.

The Real Story: The story is based on Gustave, a 20-foot-long crocodile living in Burundi that is believed to be the largest crocodile on record on the African continent. It is rumored to have killed 300 people, although that number is almost certainly inflated. High-profile attempts to capture Gustave have failed, and the creature, believed to be over 65 years old, still lives in the Ruzizi River area of Burundi.

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Them (Ils) (2007)

The Ils DVD
© Dark Sky
The Movie Story: A young French couple are spending a weekend in a run-down, isolated mansion in the Romanian countryside when, at 3:00 AM one morning, they find themselves surrounded by unknown hooded assailants with murderous intentions.

The Real Story: Supposedly, the film is based on the "true story" of an Austrian couple who were murdered by three teenagers while vacationing in the Czech Republic, but no concrete evidence has emerged to prove this tale.

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The Haunting in Connecticut (2009)

'The Haunting in Connecticut' final poster.
© Lionsgate
The Movie Story: The Campbell family moves to Connecticut to be near the doctor caring for their ill son, Matt. They soon realize that their new home is a former mortuary haunted by a malevolent force.

The Real Story: The film's inspiration was the Parker family, who moved to Connecticut in 1986 to be close to the specialists treating their 14-year-old son, Paul, for cancer. In the basement, where Paul slept, they discovered embalming equipment that implied that the house had been a funeral home. They reported encountering unexplained phenomena, like bloody floors, disembodied voices and shadowy figures. Paul became possessed by a force that caused him to attack his family. Eventually, an exorcism was performed to cleanse the house.

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