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The True Stories Behind 6 Haunted House Movies

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The latter part of the last century was rife with paranormal activity. Throughout the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, supposed supernatural incidents occurred in homes (and a hotel) across the globe and led to novels being written and filmmakers adapting those ghost stories into hit films. Though all of these stories have been debunked, there are those who still want to believe that these events really did happen. Regardless of which side you stand on, they make for some spooky tales. Here are the true stories behind six haunted house movies.


The 1979 film, starring Margot Kidder and James Brolin, was based on a book that chronicled the real-life paranormal activities of a Long Island home. After moving into the house, the Lutz family discovered that, a year prior, previous occupant Ronald DeFeo Jr. had killed six members of his family (including his parents) in the home. Some disturbances they experienced were: swarms of flies in the winter, strange odors of perfume wafting throughout the house, and sounds of the front door slamming. The Lutzes moved a month later, though successive residents of 112 Ocean Avenue have not reported anything abnormal. Several more books were published about the happenings, along with sequels to the film and a 2005 remake. Want to find out for yourself? The home, which is now officially 108 Ocean Avenue (a previous owner worked to have the infamous address changed), is currently on the market for $850,000.


One of the highest-grossing supernatural films of all time, James Wan's The Conjuring depicted the true story of the Perron family, who lived in a demon-filled Rhode Island farmhouse. Akin to the Amityville house, real-life paranormalists Ed and Lorraine Warren (depicted by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga in the film) visited the home and interviewed the family. Despite activity such as a séance causing the mom, Carolyn, to become possessed and speak a strange language, the family tolerated the home until 1980. Andrea, one of the daughters, published a book on the phenomenon, and told USA Today, “People are free to believe whatever they want to believe. But I know what we experienced."

3. THE CONJURING 2 (2016)

This 2016 sequel exchanges New England for Brimsdown, Enfield, England, where the Warrens investigate a case known as the Enfield Poltergeist. Peggy Hodgson’s daughters claimed they saw a chest of drawers slide and heard knocking, but experts think they made it up. Guy Lyon Playfair published a book on the matter in 1980 called This House is Haunted: The Amazing Inside Story of the Enfield Poltergeist.


Director Pat Holden’s 2012 British film about the Maynard family is based on his family’s story. His aunt, Jean Pritchard, and her family—who lived at 30 East Drive, Pontefract, West Yorkshire, England in 1966—experienced a poltergeist in their home that looked like a monk, a.k.a The Black Monk of Pontefract; they named it “Fred.” The not-so-friendly ghost smashed eggs, made banging noises, and dragged Holden’s cousin up the stairs. He was too young to visit the house, which is one reason he wanted to make the film.

“I’ve always had this feeling of never quite being in the zeitgeist,” Holden told The Guardian. “And I think it was a little bit like that with the ghost. My sister was allowed to see it. My mum got to see it. My dad wasn’t that interested. I felt like I’d missed out.” Recently, a resident at the same house captured a photo of what’s believed to be the Black Monk

5. THE ENTITY (1982)

In The Entity (based on Frank De Felitta's novel of the same name), Barbara Hershey plays Carla Moran, a fictionalized version of Doris Bither, a woman who claimed the spirits of three Asian men repeatedly assaulted her. The real-life events supposedly happened in Culver City, California, in 1974. Paranormal investigators Dr. Barry Taff and Kerry Gaynor visited Bither’s house, which had been condemned twice. At the house, the doctors witnessed “a green mist that formed the body of a man” and orbs over Bither’s body when photographed. Bither moved out of the house and claimed the entity continued to follow her around.


In 2009, the film version of the Snedeker family’s harrowing haunting was released, but according to Lorraine Warren, “The movie is very, very loosely based on the actual investigation.” Both the film and the true story involve a family in the 1980s who had a son stricken with cancer, so they moved into a house near the University of Connecticut hospital—but didn’t know that the house was a former mortuary.

While the family resided there, kids levitated and rosary beads pulled apart on their own. The Warrens invited priests over and held mass, but that wasn’t enough. Finally, an exorcist stopped by, and that seemed to calm the place. In 1992, Ray Garton wrote a book about the haunting, In a Dark Place: The Story of a True Haunting. But the book and the events have come under fire as being hoaxes.

A 2013 sequel to The Haunting in Connecticut, The Haunting in Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia, is also based on a real event—a child named Heidi Wyrick attracted spirits in her home in Georgia, not Connecticut.

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How Urban Legends Like 'The Licked Hand' Are Born
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If you compare the scary stories you heard as a kid with those of your friends—even those who grew up across the country from you—you’ll probably hear some familiar tales. Maybe you tried to summon Bloody Mary by chanting her name in front of the mirror three times in a dark bathroom. Maybe you learned never to wonder what’s under a woman’s neck ribbon. Maybe you heard the one about the girl who feels her dog lick her hand in the middle of the night, only to wake up to find him hanging dead from the shower nozzle, the words “humans can lick too” written on the wall in the dog’s blood.

These ubiquitous, spooky folk tales exist everywhere, and a lot of them take surprisingly similar forms. How does a single story like the one often called “Humans Can Lick Too” or "The Licked Hand" make its way into every slumber party in America? Thrillist recently investigated the question with a few experts, finding that most of these stories have very deep roots.

In the case of The Licked Hand, its origins go back more than a century. In the 1990s, Snopes found that a similar motif dates back to an Englishman’s diary entry from 1871. In it, the diary keeper, Dearman Birchall, retold a story he heard at a party of a man whose wife woke him up in the middle of the night, urging him to go investigate what sounded like burglars in their home. He told his wife that it was only the dog, reaching out his hand. He felt the dog lick his hand … but in the morning, all his valuables were gone: He had clearly been robbed.

A similar theme shows up in the short story “The Diary of Mr. Poynter,” published in 1919 by M.R. James. In it, a character dozes off in an armchair, and thinks that he is petting his dog. It turns out, it’s some kind of hairy human figure that he flees from. The story seems to have evolved from there into its presently popular form, picking up steam in the 1960s. As with any folk tale, its exact form changes depending on the teller: sometimes the main character is an old lady, other times it’s a young girl.

You’ll probably hear these stories in the context of happening to a “friend of a friend,” making you more likely to believe the tale. It practically happened to someone you know! Kind of! The setting, too, is probably somewhere nearby. It might be in your neighborhood, or down by the local railroad tracks.

Thrillist spoke to Dr. Joseph Stubbersfield, a researcher in the UK who studies urban legends, who says the kind of stories that spread widely contain both social information and emotional resonance. Meaning they contain a message—you never know who’s lurking in your house—and are evocative.

If something is super scary or gross, you want to share it. Stories tend to warn against something: A study of English-language urban legends circulating online found that most warned listeners about the hazards of life (poisonous plants, dangerous animals, dangerous humans) rather than any kind of opportunities. We like to warn each other of the dangers that could be lurking around every corner, which makes sense considering our proven propensity to focus on and learn from negative information. And yes, that means telling each other to watch out for who’s licking our hands in the middle of the night.

Just something to keep in mind as you eagerly await Jezebel’s annual scary story contest.

[h/t Thrillist]

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Live Smarter
How to Make Sure Your Child’s Halloween Costume is Safe
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For kids, Halloween is a time to let their imaginations run wild and offers them chance to inhabit some of their favorite characters. For parents, it’s a time to make sure their children don’t gorge on candy and that costumes don’t pose any unnecessary dangers. Owing to poor production quality or design, some outfits and masks hold the potential for tripping, skin irritation, or—very rarely—becoming a fire hazard, ABC News reports.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, there are a few ways to mitigate those risks. When shopping for costumes, look for nylon or polyester materials or tags that indicate the material is flame-resistant. Flimsy fabrics, particularly in outfits with long sleeves or big skirts, might brush up against candles and ignite.

Mobility is another concern: If a costume has a long skirt, it shouldn’t interfere with walking. Masks shouldn’t significantly obstruct vision and should provide ample ventilation; kids should be advised to lift them up when crossing streets to make sure they can see crossing traffic. For trick-or-treating after dark, reflective stripes on treat bags can help visibility for passing motorists.

Kids who get together to try on one another’s costumes pose a less serious, though potentially troublesome, hazard: head lice, which can be passed from sharing masks and costumes. If your child plans on exchanging disguises, sealing the costumes in plastic bags for 48 hours or drying them on high heat for 45 minutes should kill any pests.

[h/t ABC News]


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