10 Best Scary Movies Based On True Stories, According To Ranker

With February’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre reboot landing on Netflix to a tidal wave of bad reviews, “based on true events” horror has clearly seen better days.

This is hardly a surprise. Fans have made these movies a lot of money, regardless of quality, and so promotional materials hammer the message home. for some, fiction is scary enough. Filmmakers plunder the depths of the imagination to deprived audiences of a good night’s sleep. Stories based on reality, however, are effective for the exact opposite reason. No need for imagination when the facts are terrifying enough, and these 10 movies are, according to Ranker, the best examples of this.

Note: Ranker lists are live and continue to accrue votes, so some rankings may have changed after this publishing.


10 The Hills Have Eyes (1977)

Pluto looking up in The Hills Have Eyes.

The brainchild of horror legend Wes Craven, The Hills Have Eyes follows an unfortunate group of vacationers who, after crashing their car in the middle of nowhere, fall victim to a group of ravenous cannibals.

Related: 10 Times Wes Craven Advanced Horror

The movie was inspired by the legend of Alexander “Sawney” Bean, a cannibal who haunted the Scottish Highlands throughout the 16th century. He, alongside his clan, murdered and cannibalized over 1,000 people, until their hideout was discovered and they were rightly executed. With a sequel released in 1984, along with two reboots released in 2006 and 2007 respectively, fans kept the franchise alive for 30 years.

9 The Exorcism Of Emily Rose (2009)

Emily kneels and screams in agony in The Exorcism of Emily Rose

from Doctor Strange director Scott Derrickson, The Exorcism of Emily Rose follows Rev. Moore and his prosecution for the wrongful death of Emily Rose. Rose, thought to be under the grasp of a demon, died after Moore performed an exorcism on her.

The inspiration for the movie came from the story of Anneliese Michel. In 1968, the 16-year-old had a seizure and was diagnosed with psychosis. Over time, she became averse to certain religious iconography and claimed to hear voices, and, in the year of her death, underwent 67 exorcisms. Whilst it failed to get a sequel, the movie was a big success, earning over $144 million worldwide.

8 Jaws (1975)

jaws bruce first appearance

the original blockbuster, Jaws made a generation of teens (as well as adults) terrified of the ocean. The movie follows Chief Brody, the newly-assigned chief of police on Amity Island, who struggles to tackle the town’s latest problem: there’s a shark somewhere beneath the water, and it’s hungry.

Peter Benchley, who wrote the original novel of Jaws, found inspiration in a series of shark attacks that took place in 1916. The attacks occurred off the New Jersey shore in the summer of that year, and a total of five people were picked off by sharks. It made Steven Spielberg a household name, won him both critical and commercial praise, and spawned three sequels.

7 The Conjuring (2013)

Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga in The Conjuring

Bought to the Big Screen by James Wan The Conjuring follows paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine, who are called to the Perron household to find any supernatural happenings. While things start out easy for them, the house’s dark past comes back to haunt them.

The characters of Ed and Lorraine were fictionalized versions of the previously mentioned paranormal investigators, Ed and Lorraine Warren. In addition, the Perrons were a real family the Warrens investigated. While the film’s content is, of course, greatly exaggerated to increase the horror, the root of its terror is very real. One of Wan’s highest-rated movies, a series of sequels (and prequels) have followed in its wake, all of which were immensely profitable.

6 The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

Directed by the late, great Tobe Hooper, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre follows a group of friends who head out to investigate a grave robbery, to discover if their grandmother’s grave has been vandalized. Things go awry, however, when they disturb the chainsaw-wielding Leatherface and his family of cannibals.

Related: 10 Best Horror Movie Villains, According To Reddit

It was another movie inspired by the killings of Ed Gein. Gein was also known for trophies, fashioned of bones and skin, which he kept around his house. This aspect of Gein can be found in the character of Leatherface, who wore the face of a victim over his own. Banned in several countries upon release, due to its brutal aesthetic and extreme violence, the movie has persisted in pop culture, spawning sequels and reboots that have continued into the present day.

5 The Amityville Horror (1979)

James Brolin and Margot Kidder in The Amityville Horror.

With its $86 million in ticket sales, there’s no denying that The Amityville Horror was an enormous success. The plot follows the Lutz family, who move into a house where a mass murder was committed, and the strange happenings that occur inside the house.

The story was inspired by the investigation of the Lutz family household by Ed and Lorraine Warren, famed paranormal investigators. The family claimed that the house was haunted by a demonic presence. The presence was so great, in fact, that the Lutz’ fled from the house after just 28 days of living there. Critically derided upon release, it has since seen over a dozen sequels and several spin-offs, proving how wrong critics were about its chances.

4 Psycho (1960)

Marion dying in the shower in Psycho.

Known for its shocking character deaths, Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho follows Marion Crane, a beautiful young secretary, who steals $40,000 from her boss and plans to run away with her boyfriend, Sam Loomis. When she stops for the night at the Bates Motel, however, things get… complicated.

The film was based loosely on the serial killer Ed Gein. Known as the ‘Butcher of Plainfield’, Gein confessed to the murders of two women in his lifetime. His influence can be seen in the character of Norman Bates, motel owner and occasional taxidermist, who kept his mother’s corpse in the basement of his house. The popularity of his characters amongst fans ultimately led to three sequels being produced, with its first sequel released in 1983.

3 A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

A Nightmare On Elm Street follows a group of teenagers whose dreams turn into nightmares upon the arrival of Freddy Krueger, a sadistic killer who lurks in their dreamscapes. Wes Craven’s 80s classic, rife with darkly surreal imagery and an unforgettable villain with his iconic razor glove, petrified audiences the world over.

Unbelievable as it may sound, it was actually inspired by true events. Craven devised the premise after he read an LA Times article. It described a group of refugees who escaped to the US from war-torn countries, suffered haunting nightmares and refused to sleep. Did they dream of Freddy Krueger, too? Fans certainly did, as the Elm Street franchise has kept audiences up at night for nearly forty years.

2 The Exorcist (1973)

A critical and commercial smash upon release, The Exorcist sent chills through movie theaters. It follows a young girl, Regan, who begins acting strangely after playing with a Ouija board one evening, as well as the priests who attempt an exorcism.

Related: 10 Ways The Exorcist Still Holds Up Today

The movie was inspired by the alleged possession of Robbie Mannheim. In 1948, at the age of 13, Mannheim began to play with a Ouija board and, in the years that followed, changed from quiet to rageful. Priests then attempted, unsuccessfully, to perform an exorcism on him. Whilst the movie did get sequels, they were critically and commercially panned, so fans have returned time and time again to the original.

1 The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Based on Thomas Harris’ 1988 novel of the same name, this 1991 award-winner follows Clarice Starling, a top-grade trainee for the FBI, who engages the help of Hannibal ‘The Cannibal’ Lecter. Through him, she hopes to find the location of Buffalo Bill, a vile psychopath.

Inspiration for the story came from the real-life relationship between Ted Bundy, the notorious serial killer, and Joseph Keppel, that developed during the hunt for the ‘Green River Killer’. Bundy began to write letters to Keppel, with the desire to assist in the investigation. This back-and-forth led to interviews, in which Bundy confessed to his own crimes. The Silence of the Lambs is a true classic, and it goes perfectly with some fava beans and a nice chianti.

Next: 10 “Subtly” Scary Horror Movies For Horror Fans Sick Of Jump Scares

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