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9 Horror Movies Inspired by Real-Life Events

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While most horror movies are complete works of fiction, the genre occasionally offers up stories that are based on terrifying and jaw-dropping real-life events, like the nine collected here.

1. A Nightmare on Elm Street

Premise: A supernatural killer stalks his prey while they dream during deep sleep. 

Real-Life Inspiration: Wes Craven based A Nightmare on Elm Street on a series of newspaper articles from the Los Angeles Times about a strange phenomenon where young Asian refugees would mysteriously die in their sleep. It was reported that many would refuse to sleep, citing terrifying nightmares that they feared would lead to death.

According to Craven, the paper "never correlated [the three articles], never said, ‘Hey, we’ve had another story like this'":

The third one was the son of a physician. He was about twenty-one; I’ve subsequently found out this is a phenomenon in Laos, Cambodia. Everybody in his family said almost exactly these lines: "You must sleep." He said, "No, you don’t understand; I’ve had nightmares before—this is different." He was given sleeping pills and told to take them and supposedly did, but he stayed up. I forget what the total days he stayed up was, but it was a phenomenal amount—something like six, seven days. Finally, he was watching television with the family, fell asleep on the couch, and everybody said, "Thank god." They literally carried him upstairs to bed; he was completely exhausted. Everybody went to bed, thinking it was all over. In the middle of the night, they heard screams and crashing. They ran into the room, and by the time they got to him he was dead. They had an autopsy performed, and there was no heart attack; he just had died for unexplained reasons. They found in his closet a Mr. Coffee maker, full of hot coffee that he had used to keep awake, and they also found all his sleeping pills that they thought he had taken; he had spit them back out and hidden them. It struck me as such an incredibly dramatic story that I was intrigued by it for a year, at least, before I finally thought I should write something about this kind of situation.

2. Child's Play

Premise: A serial killer's soul possesses a toy doll and wreaks havoc.

Real-Life Inspiration: In 1909, Key West painter and author Robert Eugene Otto claimed that one of his family's servants placed a voodoo curse on his childhood toy, Robert the Doll. Supposedly, the doll would mysteriously move from room to room, knock furniture over, and conduct conversations with Otto. Robert the Doll was left in the attic until Otto's death in 1974, when new owners moved into his Florida home. The new family also claimed mysterious activities would happen in the house connected to the doll. Today, Robert the Doll is on display at the Custom House and Old Post Office in Key West, Florida.

3. The Amityville Horror

Premise: A young family moves into a house where a murder was committed, and experiences strange and terrifying occurrences.

Real-Life Inspiration: Based on the book of the same name, The Amityville Horror follows the paranormal events that terrorized the Lutz family. In 1975, the family moved into 112 Ocean Avenue where, unbeknownst to them, Ronald DeFeo, Jr. had brutally murdered his family 13 months before they arrived. While in their new home, the family claimed that they saw green slime on the walls and red-eyed pigs staring into their kitchen and living room. After less than a month, the Lutz family moved out of the small town of Amityville, New York.

4. Psycho

Premise: A secretary goes on the run after she steals $40,000, only to wind up in a motel where the innkeeper and his mother are more than they appear to be.

Real-Life Inspiration: Psycho's Norman Bates is loosely based on convicted murderer and grave robber Ed Gein, who, during the late 1950s, killed women and unearthed corpses in Wisconsin. He also fashioned human skin into tiny keepsakes and knickknacks, such as face masks, belts, and chair coverings. Psycho's novelist Robert Bloch based Bates on Gein, but changed the character from a grave robber and murderer into a serial killer who dressed like his mother. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Silence of the Lambs also based their serial killers—Leatherface and Buffalo Bill, respectively—on Gein.

5. The Exorcist

Premise: Two Catholic priests perform an exorcism on a young girl who is possessed by the devil.

Real-Life Inspiration: The Exorcist's author and screenwriter William Peter Blatty based the novel and film on a Washington Post article from 1949 headlined, "Priest Frees Mt. Rainier Boy Reported Held in Devil's Grip." The article followed Jesuit priests William S. Bowdern, Edward Hughes, Raymond J. Bishop, and Walter H. Halloran participating in the rite of exorcism on a boy with the pseudonym "Roland Doe" in Maryland. According to the priests, they allegedly experienced the boy speaking in tongues, the bed shaking and hovering, and objects flying around during the ordeal. The exorcism was one of three official Catholic Church-sanctioned exorcisms in the United States at the time.

"Maybe one day they’ll discover the cause of what happened to that young man, but back then, it was only curable by an exorcism," William Friedkin, the director of The Exorcist, told Time Out. "His family weren’t even Catholics, they were Lutheran. They started with doctors and then psychiatrists and then psychologists and then they went to their minister who couldn’t help them. And they wound up with the Catholic church. The Washington Post article says that the boy was possessed and exorcised. That’s pretty out on a limb for a national newspaper to put on its front page ... But you’re not going to see that on the front page of an intelligent newspaper unless there’s something there."

6. The Girl Next Door

Premise: An aunt tortures and abuses her niece, and a neighborhood boy fails to alert the authorities.

Real-Life Inspiration: Based on Jack Ketchum's novel of the same name, The Girl Next Door is based on the murder of Sylvia Likens, a 16-year-old girl from Indiana in 1965. Sylvia and her sister Jenny were left in the care of Gertrude Baniszewski, a family friend, when their parents left town as traveling carnival workers. Baniszewski, along with her children and a few neighborhood kids, locked Sylvia in the basement, where they tortured and abused her until she died of a brain hemorrhage and malnutrition.

7. The Conjuring

Premise: Two paranormal investigators help a family who move into a secluded home plagued by weird events.

Real-Life Inspiration: The Conjuring is based on real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren and their experience with the Perrons, a family who moved into a Rhode Island farmhouse and experienced ghostly and terrifying occurrences in 1971.

"When Insidious came out and was successful the story about the Warrens came to me and I was like, 'Oh, my gosh, this is really cool,'” director James Wan told Entertainment Weekly in 2013. "But I didn’t just want to make another ghost story or another supernatural film. One thing I had never explored was the chance to tell a story that’s based on real-life characters, real-life people. So those were the things that led me to The Conjuring."

The Warrens also had a possessed Raggedy Ann doll that was the inspiration for the spin-off film Annabelle. Allegedly, a demon spirit possessed the Raggedy Ann doll, which is currently on display and under lock and key at the Warrens' Occult Museum in Monroe, Connecticut.

8. Open Water

Premise: Two scuba divers become stranded in shark-infested waters after their tour group accidentally leaves them behind.

Real-Life Inspiration: Open Water is based on American tourists Tom and Eileen Lonergan, a couple who were lost at sea when their tour group left them behind while scuba diving near the Great Barrier Reef in Australia in 1998. When the diving company realized the mistake two days later, they organized a search party, but the Lonergans were never found. The only thing that was found was a diver's slate (an underwater communication device) with a S.O.S. message on it that read, "[Mo]nday Jan 26; 1998 08am. To anyone [who] can help us: We have been abandoned on A[gin]court Reef by MV Outer Edge 25 Jan 98 3pm. Please help us [come] to rescue us before we die. Help!!!"

9. The Blob

Premise: A mysterious alien life-form terrorizes a small town and consumes everything in its path as it grows bigger and bigger.

Real-Life Inspiration: Believe it or not, The Blob is based on a New York Times article from 1950 titled, "A ‘Saucer’ Floats to Earth And a Theory Is Dished Up." The story followed four Philadelphia police officers who came into contact with a strange gooey material, which is now believed to be "Star Jelly," a transparent gelatinous substance. When one of the officers tried to move the goo, it started to dissolve and evaporate, so there was nothing to show the FBI when they arrived on the scene except a spot on the ground.

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12 Sharp Facts About Hellraiser
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In 1987, the New World Pictures released Hellraiser, a horror film about a family who opens a puzzle box and invites hell in their lives in the form of pleasure-pain creatures known as Cenobites, who are lead by Pinhead (played by Doug Bradley). Unlike many other horror films at the time, Hellraiser wasn’t a slasher film, and Pinhead wasn’t a boogeyman.

British novelist, playwright, and screenwriter Clive Barker wanted to direct a feature film, so he adapted his 1986 horror novella, The Hellbound Heart, into Hellraiser. Despite the graphic nature of the film, it’s really a love story between Julia Cotton and her demented—and skinless—lover Frank  ... whose relationship just so happens to revolve around sadistic torture.

Hellraiser was produced for around a $1 million and grossed $14 million, making it lucrative enough to spawn nine sequels, including this year’s Hellraiser: Judgment. (Bradley hasn’t starred in a Hellraiser film since 2011’s Hellraiser: Revelations, and Barker didn’t direct or write any of the sequels, most of which were direct-to-DVD releases.) As we near the 30th anniversary of its release, let's take a look back at this horror classic.

1. THE ORIGINS OF PINHEAD CAME FROM A 1973 PLAY.

Before Doug Bradley uttered the catchphrase “We’ll tear your soul apart,” Clive Barker directed him in a 1973 play called Hunters in the Snow, in which Bradley played the Dutchman, a torturer who would become the basis for Pinhead.

“The character I played in Hunters, the Dutchman, I can see echoes of later... Pinhead in Hellraiser," Bradley said. "This strange, strange character whose head was kind of empty but who conveyed all kinds of things.”

Barker’s mid-1980s short story “The Forbidden”—which was adapted into Candyman—from his "Books of Blood" series, featured the first incarnation of Pinhead’s nails. “One image I remember very strongly from 'The Forbidden' was that Clive had built what he called his nail-board, which was basically a block of wood which he’d squared off and then he’d banged six-inch nails in at the intersections of the squares,” Bradley said. “Of course, when I saw the first illustrations for [Pinhead], it rang a bell with me that here was Clive putting the ideas that he’d been playing around with the nail-board in 'The Forbidden,' now 10, 15 years later. He’d now put the image all over a human being’s face.”

2. CLIVE BARKER CAST “REAL ACTORS.”

Unlike many other horror movies of the time, which were more concerned with gore than great acting, Barker insisted that they look for real talent in the casting. “I’m not just taking the 12 most beautiful youths in California and murdering them,” Barker told The Washington Post in 1987. “I’ve got real actors, real performers—and then I’m murdering them.” The “real” refers to British theater actors like Bradley, Clare Higgins, and Andrew Robinson.

3. PINHEAD WASN’T SUPPOSED TO BE ON THE POSTER.

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Bradley said the filmmakers wanted skinned Frank to be on the poster, but the studio said no to the grotesque imagery, so Pinhead was used on the poster instead. “Maybe that came from Clive, because what we get in that image of Pinhead with the box is the heart of the Hellraiser mythology,” Bradley said. “If you put The Engineer or the skinned man on the poster, it’s an amazing image but it’s just an image, and it could come from any movie.” Bradley thought using Pinhead’s face made more sense. “The big success of Pinhead is because the image is so original, so startling. It is just an incredible image to look at, and that made a big difference in terms of the public's perception of the movie.”

4. NO ONE KNEW THAT DOUG BRADLEY WAS PINHEAD.

Bradley’s Pinhead mug was everywhere—on the cover of magazines and on the movie’s poster—but no one mentioned his name. “It was great to be so heavily featured, but there was no way to prove to anyone that it was actually me,” Bradley said. “Those who were following Hellraiser at the time were wondering where the guy with the pins was! Well I can tell you where I was—I was sitting at home in England, watching it all happen from the sidelines.”

5. THE CENOBITES' DESIGN WAS INSPIRED BY S&M CLUBS.

In the box set’s liner notes, Barker wrote that the Cenobites's “design was influenced amongst other things by punk, by Catholicism, and by the visits I would take to S&M clubs in New York and Amsterdam.” Costume designer Jane Wildgoose created the costumes, based on Barker’s instruction of “repulsive glamour.”

“The other notes that I made about what he wanted was that they should be ‘magnificent super-butchers,’” Wildgoose said.

As for Pinhead, Barker said he “had seen a book containing photographs of African fetishes: sculptures of human heads crudely carved from wood and then pierced with dozens, sometimes hundreds, of nails and spikes. They were images of rage, the text instructed.”

6. IT'S REALLY A LOVE STORY.

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Julia is forced to bring men back to her house and murder them for Frank so that he can replenish his flesh. Barker looked at Hellraiser as more of a love story, with Julia committing these heinous acts in the name of love, not just to be brutal for no reason.

“She’s not committing murder in the way that Jason in the Friday the 13th films commits murder—just for the sake of blood-letting —she’s doing it for love,” Barker told Samhain. “So there is a sympathetic quality about her, enhanced hugely in my estimation by the fact that Clare Higgins does it so well.”

7. BARKER’S GRANDFATHER INSPIRED THE PUZZLE BOX.

When a person twists the box, known as the Lament Configuration, it summons the Cenobites from the gates of hell into the individual's world. “I wanted to have access to hell in the book and in the first movie, explored by something rather different than drawing a circle on the floor with magical symbols around it,” Barker told WIRED. “That seemed rather stale and rather old.”

Barker explained his grandfather was a cook on ship and brought back a puzzle box from the Far East. “So when I went back to the problem of how to open the doors of hell, the idea of [using] a puzzle box seemed interesting to me. You know, the image of a cube is everywhere in world culture, whether it’s the Rubik’s Cube or the idea of the [Tesseract] in The Avengers movies. There’s a lot of places where the image of a cube as a thing of power is pertinent. I don’t know why that is, I don’t have any mythic explanation for it, but it seems to work for people.”

8. ROGER EBERT WASN'T A FAN OF THE FILM.

Roger Ebert gave Hellraiser just a half star when he reviewed it in 1987. “Who goes to see movies like this? This is a movie without wit, style, or reason,” he wrote, adding that, “I have seen the future of implausible plotting, and his name is Clive Barker.”

9. SOMEONE HAD THE JOB OF MAGGOT AND COCKROACH WRANGLER.

In England, there was a law in which cockroaches of both sexes weren’t allowed on set, because they could have mated and caused an infestation. So Barker had to hire someone to oversee the situation. “The wrangler, this is the honest truth, had to sex the roaches,” Barker told an audience at a Hellraiser screening. “They were all male. And we had a fridge. They move very fast, so the only way to slow them down was to chill them. We chilled the maggots and the roaches. We'd open it up and it was all reassuring. It was fun.”

10. BARKER PREFERS "HELL PRIEST" TO "PINHEAD."

In The Hellbound Heart, the Cenobite with pins sticking out of his head is called The Hell Priest. One of the special effects guys who worked on the movie gave the character his nickname. “I thought it was a rather undignified thing to call the monster, but once it stuck, it stuck,” Barker told Grantland.

In 2015, Barker published a sequel to The Hellbound Heart, The Scarlet Gospels, which features Pinhead getting annoyed when people call him that—as well as Pinhead’s demise. “He will not be coming back, by the way," Barker said. "That I promise you."

11. A HELLRAISER VS. HALLOWEEN MOVIE ALMOST HAPPENED.

In an interview with Game Radar, Bradley said the success of Freddy vs. Jason led Hellraiser distributor Dimension Films to flirt with a Hellraiser vs. Halloween film. “I was actually getting excited by the prospect of this because Clive said he would write it and John Carpenter said he would direct it,” Bradley said. “I actually spoke to Clive about it a couple of times and he was interested in finding the places where the Halloween and Hellraiser worlds intermeshed.” But Moustapha Akkad, who owned the rights to Halloween, extinguished the idea.

12. THE BRITISH BOARD OF FILM CLASSIFICATION HAD TO CHECK THAT NO RATS WERE HARMED IN THE MAKING OF THE MOVIE.

While the MPAA requested that a spanking scene be cut for its American release, England's BBFC agreed to release the movie as it was, if they were assured that the rats used in the film weren’t hurt. “I had to bring three remote-control rats into the censor’s office and make them wriggle about on the floor,” producer Christopher Figg told The Telegraph. “They wanted to be sure we hadn’t been cruel to them.”

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14 Not-So-Dirty Facts About Dirty Dancing
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Released on August 21, 1987, no one—not even stars Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey—could have predicted the phenomenon that Dirty Dancing would turn into. Today, 30 years later, we’re still talking about the dance-musical-romance’s sensual choreography, its oldies soundtrack, and not putting Baby in a corner. Here are some not-so-dirty facts about the iconic movie, which grossed nearly $215 million worldwide.

1. PATRICK SWAYZE BELIEVED DIRTY DANCING ENDURED BECAUSE OF ITS HEART.

In an interview with AFI, Swayze explained why he thought Dirty Dancing has stuck around for so long. “It’s got so much heart, to me,” he said. “It’s not about the sensuality; it’s really about people trying to find themselves—this young dance instructor feeling like he’s nothing but a product, and this young girl trying to find out who she is in a society of restrictions when she has such an amazing take on things. On a certain level, it’s really about the fabulous, funky little Jewish girl getting the guy because [of] what she’s got in her heart.”

2. THE FILM GAVE NEWMAN HIS FIRST BIG MOVIE ROLE.

Before starring as Stan, the resort’s social director, Wayne Knight had small roles in a few TV movies, including an uncredited role in the nuclear holocaust drama The Day After. Dirty Dancing showcased his talents, which in 1992 led him to be cast as Newman on Seinfeld.

3. BILL MEDLEY THOUGHT HE WAS BEING HIRED TO RECORD A SONG FOR A “BAD PORNO.”

Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes sang the vocals to the Oscar-winning song “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life.” Medley told Songfacts that Dirty Dancing music supervisor Jimmy Ienner called him and mentioned he was gathering music for the movie. “It sounds like a bad porno movie,” Medley said. Medley’s wife was expecting a baby, so he turned the song down. A few months later Ienner convinced him to do the song, even though Medley didn’t think the movie would be popular.

“We just went in to work together, to sing together, and little did we know it was going to be the biggest movie of the year. Just unbelievable,” Medley said. The song ended up selling more than 500,000 copies, and Medley ended up titling his own memoir The Time of My Life. (Note: The film was actually the 11th highest grossing film of the year; Three Men and a Baby took the top spot for 1987.)

4. PAUL FEIG STARRED IN A DIRTY DANCING TV SHOW SPINOFF.

Dirty Dancing the TV series lasted for only 11 episodes beginning in the fall of 1988, but it gave us then-unknown actors Paul Feig (creator of Freaks and Geeks and director of Bridesmaids) and Melora Hardin (Jan Levinson of The Office). Hardin played Baby but her last name on the show was Kellerman because her dad was Max Kellerman, not Dr. Houseman. CBS even used “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” for the show’s opening credits.

5. A DIRTY DANCING REALITY SHOW AIRED OVERSEAS.

For two seasons between 2007 and 2008, the UK’s Living network aired a reality show called Dirty Dancing: The Time of Your Life, in which groups of dancers competed for a year-long contract with Bloc, a Los Angeles-based dance agency. The series took place at Virginia’s Mountain Lake Lodge, where much of the original movie was filmed. Couples danced in front of three judges, including Miranda Garrison, who played Vivian Pressman in the movie and was also an assistant choreographer on the film.

6. MOUNTAIN LAKE LODGE REGULARLY HOSTS DIRTY DANCING WEEKENDS.

The Pembroke, Virginia resort where many of the Kellerman’s scenes were filmed hosts regular Dirty Dancing­-themed weekends a year. Dinners, a sock hop, a screening of the movie, a watermelon toss, group dance lessons, and a Dirty Dancing scavenger hunt are just some of the many activities on the agenda.

7. ELEANOR BERGSTEIN WROTE ANOTHER DANCE MOVIE AFTER DIRTY DANCING.

Bergstein wrote the script to Dirty Dancing, and in 1995 she had the opportunity to direct as well. She wrote and directed Let It Be Me, starring Jennifer Beals and Campbell Scott. To this day, she hasn’t written or directed any other movies, but she did adapt Dirty Dancing into a successful stage show.

8. ACCORDING TO BERGSTEIN, EASTERN EUROPE WATCHES A LOT OF DIRTY DANCING.

In a 2006 interview with The Guardian, Bergstein talked about the movie’s popularity with people in the former Eastern Bloc. “And in Russia, it’s policy in the battered women’s shelters, when a woman comes in for help. First, they wash and dress her wounds, then they give her soup. Then they sit her down and show her Dirty Dancing. When the Berlin Wall came down, there were all these pictures of kids wearing Dirty Dancing T-shirts; they were saying, ‘We want to have what they have in the West! We want Dirty Dancing!'”

9. PENNY BRIEFLY TRANSFORMED INTO A POP STAR IN THE LATE 1980s.

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Cynthia Rhodes made a name for herself as dancer Tina Tech in 1983’s Flashdance and starred as John Travolta’s dance partner/love interest in Staying Alive that same year. But it was her role as Johnny Castle’s dancing partner, Penny, that garnered her the most notice. A couple of years after Dirty Dancing, she married singer Richard Marx (they’ve since divorced), and she briefly filled in as the lead singer of L.A. pop group Animotion, known for their hits “Room to Move” and “Obsession.”

10. JENNIFER GREY PLAYED A VERSION OF HERSELF ON THE SITCOM IT’S LIKE, YOU KNOW...

The short-lived ABC sitcom (1999-2000) featured Grey as a member of a Seinfeld-like gang, except the show swapped out New York City for Los Angeles. She allowed herself to be self-deprecating, even poking fun at her nose job and her Dirty Dancing celebrity. Arthur (Chris Eigeman) meets “Jennifer Grey” and goes, “Oh, like the actress. Dirty Dancing. You spell it the same way as her?” “I am Jennifer Grey,” she responds, then she does a dance to prove it. “You look different,” he says. “Nose job!” She blurts. “Just one?” he retorts. (She had two of them.)

11. GREY WAS SHOCKED TO BE A PART OF THE MOVIE CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE.

During a scene in the 2012 rom-com Crazy, Stupid, Love., Ryan Gosling uses the famous Dirty Dancing lift to woo Emma Stone into bed with him. As she watched the movie, Grey got an unexpected surprise. “I’m such a fan of Ryan Gosling and all of a sudden he’s saying my name [in the movie],” she told Yahoo!. “I’m just in the theater with my husband and I look at him like, ‘Oh my God, Ryan Gosling just said my name. What’s going on?’ I was so scared. I was like, ‘Oh, no. What are they about to do?’ All of a sudden there I was, part of their movie.”

12. BORSCHT BELT RESORTS LIKE KELLERMAN’S ARE DISAPPEARING.

The area in the Catskills and upstate New York where many resorts like Kellerman’s were located is referred to as the Borscht Belt, because of the area’s popularity with Jewish-American families from the 1920s to the 1980s, with the height of their popularity being in the 1950s and ’60s. Comedians such as Joan Rivers and Jerry Seinfeld got their starts at these resorts. Since the 1990s, hundreds of these resorts have shuttered.

13. TWO FILMMAKERS PRODUCED A DOCUMENTARY ABOUT THE RESORT THAT SUPPOSEDLY INSPIRED KELLERMAN’S.  

For over 100 years, the Monticello, New York-based Kutsher’s Hotel and Country Club welcomed Jewish-American families every summer. Wilt Chamberlain worked there as a bellhop, and according to Caroline Laskow and Ian Rosenberg, the husband-and-wife filmmakers behind Welcome to Kutsher’s: The Last Catskills Resort, it’s also part of the inspiration behind Dirty Dancing.

“Perhaps Hollywood had taken sort of what was true for the Catskills and was using it for their own purposes, but ... [Hollywood] was just copying what was already here,” Rosenberg told ABC News. One of the last bastions of the Catskills’ Borscht Belt, Kutsher’s closed in 2013 and was sold to a billionaire who plans on replacing the resort with a $250 million yoga and wellness center. At least the doc acts as a relic to the halcyon days of dancing and escapism.

14. A DIRTY DANCING REMAKE WAS RELEASED EARLIER THIS YEAR.

Talk of a Dirty Dancing remake had been floating around Hollywood for a few years, and earlier this year it finally came to fruition. The film, which starred Abigail Breslin as Baby, was not met with great reviews. "Somehow, this earnest, anodyne remake has managed to surgically extract the magic—leaving the story and signature lines intact while suctioning out all the subtlety, charm, and lead chemistry that defined the iconic 1987 original," wrote Entertainment Weekly of the remake.

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