9 Horrific Movies with (Partially) True Backstories

Sometimes life imitates fiction, and other times, fiction imitates true life events, even when we wish they didn’t. True-to-life story plots are a common theme in movies, but what about when those movies fall into the horror genre? It’s the stuff nightmares are made of.

For me, nothing is worse than Stephen King’s Pennywise the Clown. And while he may not technically be based on a “true story”, I can definitely believe the concept of an evil, murderous clown who hangs out in storm drains because all clowns are beyond creepy, especially Pennywise from It.

But that might have something to do with this horror clown scene from Poltergeist being burned into my retinas and stuck on repeat at an impressionable age.

Never sleep with a clown in the room. Ever.

Beyond the firm belief that all clowns are indeed evil and nefarious, there are some pretty scary true life events that have inspired (at least loosely) some of your favorite horror movies.

9 Horror Movies Based (loosely) on True Events

1. THE BLOB (1958)

The Blob is an independently made 1958 American horror/science fiction film directed by Irvin Yeaworth. In the style of American International Pictures, Paramount Pictures released the film as a double feature with I Married a Monster from Outer Space. The film stars a 27-year old Steve McQueen in his debut leading role as a teenager, and Aneta Corsaut, as his co-star. The plot depicts a growing alien amoeba that crashes from outer space in a meteorite and eats and dissolves citizens at the small community of Downingtown, Pennsylvania. The origin of The Blob is never identified and the film ends with a question mark.

True Story Behind The Blob

The true story that inspired the movie comes directly from science. Meteoric jelly is apparently a commonly-found substance, referred to as ‘star jelly’. The Blob was inspired by an event in 1950, when Philadelphia cops discovered a massive glob of the jelly. It dissolved when they tried to move it. Which is preferable to being eaten by it, right?

2. OPEN WATER (2003)

Open Water is a 2003 drama psychological horror film loosely based on the true story of an American couple, Tom and Eileen Lonergan, who in 1998 went out with a scuba diving group, Outer Edge Dive Company, on the Great Barrier Reef, and were accidentally left behind because the dive-boat crew failed to take an accurate headcount. The film was financed by writer/director Chris Kentis and his wife, producer Laura Lau, both avid scuba divers. The film cost $130,000 to make and was bought by Lions Gate Entertainment for $2.5 million after its screening at the Sundance Film Festival. Lions Gate spent a further $8 million on distribution and marketing. The film ultimately grossed $55 million worldwide. Before filming began, the Lonergans’ experience was re-created for an episode of ABC’s 20/20, and the segment was repeated after the release of Open Water. Clips from the film were also featured on NBC in “Troubled Waters”, a Dateline episode with Matt Lauer interviewing two professional divers, Richard Neely and Ally Dalton, who were left adrift at the Great Barrier Reef by a dive boat on May 21, 2008

True Story Behind Open Water

The true story behind the movie goes something like this:

Tom and Eileen Lonergan disappeared near the Great Barrier Reef in January 1998 when a diving company left them behind by accident. Two days later, the company realised their mistake (sheesh) and manned a search, but the Lonergans were never found.


The Conjuring is a 2013 American supernatural horror film directed by James Wan. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga star as Ed and Lorraine Warren, who were American paranormal investigators and authors associated with prominent cases of haunting. Their reports inspired the Amityville Horror. The Warrens come to the assistance of the Perron family, who are experiencing increasingly disturbing events in their farmhouse in Rhode Island in 1971. The Conjuring was released in the United States and Canada on July 19, 2013, and in the United Kingdom and India on August 6, 2013. The film received very positive reviews and grossed over $300 million worldwide from its $20 million budget, making it one of the highest-grossing horror films of all time. It’s been considered by critics and audiences to be one of the scariest films since The Exorcist. A sequel to the film titled, The Conjuring: The Enfield Poltergeist is scheduled to be released on June 10, 2016

Read the true story behind The Conjuring’s plot.


The Girl Next Door is a 2007 American horror film adaptation of Jack Ketchum’s 1989 novel of the same name. The film is loosely based on true events surrounding the torture and murder of Sylvia Likens by Gertrude Baniszewski during the summer of 1965.

True Story Behind The Girl Next Door

The shocking events in The Girl Next Door were loosely inspired by the death of Sylvia Likens, who was tortured and eventually killed by Gertrude Baniszewski in 1965. She was just 16 years old at the time of her death. The crime was described as “the most terrible crime ever committed in the state of Indiana” by the prosecutor during the court case.

5. THE EXORCIST (1973)

The Exorcist is a 1973 American supernatural horror film directed by William Friedkin, adapted by William Peter Blatty from his 1971 novel of the same name. The book, inspired by the 1949 exorcism case of Roland Doe, deals with the demonic possession of a 12-year-old girl and her mother’s desperate attempts to win back her child through an exorcism conducted by two priests. The film features Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow, Jason Miller, Linda Blair, Lee J. Cobb, and Mercedes McCambridge. It is one of a cycle of “demonic child” films produced from the late 1960s to the mid-1970s, including Rosemary’s Baby and The Omen. The Exorcist was released theatrically in the United States by Warner Bros. on December 26, 1973. The film earned 10 Academy Award nominations, winning two, and losing Best Picture to The Sting. It became one of the highest-grossing films of all time, grossing over $441 million worldwide. It is also the first horror film to be nominated for Best Picture. The film has had a significant influence on popular culture

True Story Behind The Exorcist

The exorcism movie to end all exorcism movies. Based on William Peter Blatty’s novel, William Friedkin directs Linda Blair as the young girl who unleashes demonic forces with a Ouija board… and soon finds herself possessed by the devil himself. Blatty’s book was itself inspired by the cast of Roland Doe, the pseudonym given to a boy who was allegedly possessed in 1949. The Catholic Church was brought in to perform an exorcism.

6. PSYCHO (1960)

Psycho is a 1960 Psychological thriller and horror film written by Joseph Stefano and directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

True Story Behind Psycho

Robert Bloch based his novel, which the movie is based upon, very loosely on Ed Gein, the serial killer who murdered women in Wisconsin. Bloch didn’t use Gein as a template for his story, though. He started writing his novel at the time Gein was arrested. When the story hit the news, it sparked Bloch’s imagination, though he didn’t use any of the specifics of Gein’s case in his writing.


The Amityville Horror is a 2005 American horror film directed by Andrew Douglas. It is a remake of the 1979 film of the same name which itself was based on the novel of the same name by Jay Anson, which documents the alleged experiences of the Lutz family after they moved into a house on Long Island which had been the scene of a mass murder committed by Ronald DeFeo, Jr. who murdered six members of his family there in 1974.

Read the true story behind the Amityville Horror script.

8. CHILD’S PLAY (1988)

Child’s Play is a 1988 American horror film directed by Tom Holland. It is written by Tom Holland, Don Mancini, and John Lafia. It stars Catherine Hicks, Chris Sarandon, Alex Vincent, and Brad Dourif. The official taglines of the film are “You’ll wish it was only make-believe” and “Something’s moved in with the Barclay family, and so has terror.” The film was released on November 9, 1988 in 1,119 theatres and met with moderate success. It has since developed a cult following among fans of the horror genre. The film is the first in the Child’s Play film series, and is the first movie to feature the killer doll Chucky. It was the only film in the series released by MGM/UA, as the rights to the series were sold to Universal Studios in 1990, right before production on Child’s Play 2 started.

True Story Behind Child’s Play

Writer Don Mancini based the Child’s Play script on the case of a nurse who allegedly put a voodoo curse on the author Robert Eugene Otto, transforming one of his childhood dolls into a night-time menace.


A Nightmare on Elm Street is a 2010 American slasher film directed by Samuel Bayer and written by Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer as a remake of Wes Craven’s 1984 film of the same name, which revolves around a group of teenagers who are being stalked in their dreams by an enigmatic man named Freddy Krueger. Michael Bay and Platinum Dunes produced the remake for New Line Cinema, as an intention to reboot the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, with the cast of Jackie Earle Haley, Kyle Gallner, Rooney Mara, Katie Cassidy, Thomas Dekker and Kellan Lutz. This production makes it the ninth installment of the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. The film was released by Warner Bros. on April 30, 2010.

True Story Behind Nightmare on Elm Street

The plot is (very) loosely based on the supposedly true story of an LA Times article about a group of Cambodian immigrants who all died while in the throes of a nightmare.

Thanks to Games Radar for the true story details. You can read all 50 horror movies based on true stories here.

IMDb also has a nice list of true horror story movies if you still need more information to fuel your next nightmare, or you can just move a few clown dolls into your bedroom, visit the circus, and kiss you tookus goodbye.


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