The only thing more terrifying than a horror movie is real life, so what happens when the onscreen scares are inspired by true events?
Since horror became a genre, authors and directors have been claiming that their works were “based on a true story” to add a little extra color, but usually those claims aren’t backed up by a ton of facts.
For example, when The Texas Chain Saw Massacre debuted in 1974, producers tried to market it as a fictionalized retelling of something that really happened. The villain, Leatherface, was very loosely inspired by real-life serial killer Ed Gein, but the story was otherwise a complete fabrication. (Gein, one of the 20th century’s most notorious criminals, also provided inspiration for characters in The Silence of the Lambs, Psycho and American Horror Story: Asylum.)
All that said, there are a handful of horror films that go beyond the superficial details and depict things that really occurred — or at least did if you ask certain people.
The entire Conjuring universe draws inspiration from the lives of Ed and Lorraine Warren, two Connecticut paranormal investigators who died in 2006 and 2019, respectively. The couple first rose to prominence in 1975, when they looked into a case in Amityville, New York, involving the Lutz family.
“Amityville was horrible, honey,” Lorraine told Yahoo in 2013. “It was absolutely horrible. It followed us right straight across the country. I don’t even like to talk about it. I will never go in the Amityville house ever again. You don’t know how long my career is; that’s the only one.”
According to Amityville lore, the Lutzes claimed they were being tormented by some kind of paranormal entity in their new Long Island home, which they bought for a suspiciously low price. During their time there, they said they saw furniture moving by itself and red eyes peering out at them from corners, among other things. They moved out of the house after just 28 days.
While their claims were later disputed, one part of the story, at least, was true: previous resident Ronald DeFeo Jr. had murdered six members of his family in the house in 1974. He was convicted on six counts of second-degree murder and given a prison sentence of 25 years to life in December 1975 — the same month that the Lutzes moved in.
The Lutzes’ story first inspired a novel by Jay Anson titled The Amityville Horror, which became a movie of the same name in 1979. That was followed by Amityville II: The Possession in 1982, Amityville 3-D in 1983, Amityville 4: The Evil Escapes in 1989 and so on, all the way through 2021, which saw the release of the direct-to-video movie An Amityville Poltergeist — and that’s not even including the Conjuring films, which also reference Amityville.
Keep scrolling to find out which other horror classics are based on true events: