Every so often, a horror movie comes along that is so brutal it makes people believe that what they are seeing is reality, horribly unfolding before their eyes. Take the 1980 Italian horror film Cannibal Holocaust, one of the bloodiest horror movies of all time. After the film premiered in Italy, it was seized by a local magistrate, and director Ruggero Deodato was arrested on obscenity charges. He was later charged with making a snuff film due to rumors that claimed some actors were killed on camera. Though Deodato was cleared of charges, the film’s star Robert Kerman described the director as “a sadist,” and the movie remains banned in many countries due to the actual killings of eight animals onscreen.
Despite its realism and faux-documentary style, Cannibal Holocaust tells a tale that is 100 percent untrue. However, many horror movies exist that are, in fact, based in reality — often without the knowledge of the viewers. Here are 10 horror films you might be surprised to find out are rooted in true stories.
The Blob (1958, remade in 1988)
Has a mass of extraterrestrial goo ever consumed an entire town? No. That part is made up. However, The Blob was inspired by an instance in 1950 when several policemen in Philadelphia reported the discovery of “a domed disk of quivering jelly, six feet in diameter, one foot thick at the center, and an inch or two near the edge” that supposedly fell from the sky. When they tried to move it, it dissolved into an “odorless, sticky scum.” According to some reports, however, the officers stated that the blob emitted light, and was “oozing its way up a telephone pole.” Whether or not it fell from space will never be known — some believe it was simply industrial waste from the nearby Philadelphia Gas Works.
Though this story inspired The Blob, it is not the only instance where ooze has reportedly dropped from the sky. Some say the so-called “star jelly” is deposited to Earth during meteor showers, but there are a number of theories that state otherwise.
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)
The titular character of Henry is based on Henry Lee Lucas, a serial killer in the 1960s and ’70s who met an accomplice, Ottis Toole, in 1976, and engaged in a romantic relationship with Ottis’s young relative (his 12-year-old niece, Frieda Powell).
Henry Lee Lucas confessed, at various times, to anywhere from 350 to 600 murders. He was convicted to life in prison based on a total of 11 proven homicides — though the total could be much higher.
The Girl Next Door (2007)
Torture porn is tough to watch — and this film is almost impossible to sit through, due to the reality of what it depicts. Though based on Jack Ketchum’s 1989 novel of the same name, the story is alarmingly close to that of Sylvia Likens, a 16-year-old girl who was tortured to death in Indiana in 1965. The torture and murder were carried out by her caretaker, Gertrude Baniszewski, as well as Gertrude’s children and other young people from their neighborhood. Likens’ parents, who were carnival workers, had left Likens and her sister Jenny in the care of the Baniszewski family three months before her death in exchange for $20 a week.
For three months, Likens was verbally tormented, mutilated, scalded, cut, forced to eat her own feces, and sexually abused. She became incontinent toward the end of her life, and finally died due to internal bleeding, shock, and cerebral hemorrhaging. And, despite this — and being sentenced to life in prison — her tormentor, Baniszewski, was released on parole in 1985. She had been a model prisoner, and even gained the adorable nickname “Mom.”
The Hills Have Eyes (1977, remade in 2006)
In this Wes Craven film, a family becomes stranded in the Nevada desert after their vehicle breaks down. While no such clan ever existed in the Mojave, the movie is based upon the semi-mythical figure Alexander “Sawney” Bean, who many believe lived with his family in a cave in the Scottish Highlands in the 15th or 16th century.
Supposedly, Bean and his wife lived for 25 years in a deep coastal cave in Bennane Head with eight sons, six daughters, 18 grandsons, and 14 granddaughters — many of whom were the products of incest. The clan survived by ambushing individuals and small groups at night, bringing bodies back to the cave to be eaten or pickled for later consumption. There is no consensus among historians as to whether Bean and his family actually existed, but many believe the tale to be true.