10 Horror Movies Based on True Stories

Friday, October 18th, 2013

Eaten Alive (1977)

"Eaten Alive" (1977)

Like Sawney Bean, the existence of Texas serial killer Joe Ball has been debated for many years. However, unlike Bean, consensus seems to have shifted in favor of Ball’s existence — especially thanks to Michael Hall’s 2002 exposé on Ball in Texas Monthly.

A Tobe Hooper classic, Eaten Alive is about a psychotic motel owner, Judd, who feed guests to his pet crocodile. Ball, however, owned a saloon, located in Elmendorf, Texas — and behind the saloon he kept a pond containing five live alligators, which he charged people to view during feeding time (which consisted mainly of live dogs and cats. Who wouldn’t pay to see that?).

Eventually, women in the area began vanishing, including several barmaids employed by Ball, former girlfriends, and his wife. In 1938, when questioned by authorities about the missing people, Ball shot himself. However, his conspirator, Clifford Wheeler, showed police the remains of two of their victims. According to Wheeler, at least 20 other women were murdered, their remains consumed by the alligators.

Jaws (1975)

"Jaws" (1975)

In the entire world, only approximately 10 to 15 people are killed by sharks each year. Surprisingly, though, Jaws is based on the true story of the “Jersey Man-Eater.”

Over a two-week period in the summer of 1916, five people (four of whom would later die) were involved in shark attacks along the coast of New Jersey, from Beach Haven to Matawan. On July 14th, a seven-foot-long great white shark was killed, and its stomach was found to contain human remains.

Open Water (2003)

"Open Water" (2003)

Open Water tells a horrific story that is very close to true events. On January 25, 1998, a couple from Baton Rouge, Tom and Eileen Lonergan, went on a group scuba diving trip in the Coral Sea, near Australia. Thanks to an incorrect head count, the boat that had transported the group to the dive site departed from the location before the Lonergans returned from their dive. Nobody among the vessel’s crew or passengers noticed that the couple had not come back aboard — and it took two days for the diving company to realize they were stranded, when a bag containing their belongings was found on board the dive boat.

A three-day search for the couple was conducted, but their bodies were never found. However, fishermen later found a diver’s slate that reportedly 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!!!”

It is impossible to know whether the Lonergans were attacked by sharks (as depicted in Open Water), but that is irrelevant — the real-life story is far more chilling than any fictionalized version.

Psycho (1960, remade in 1998), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974, remade in 2003), and The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Norman Bates ("Psycho"), Leatherface ("The Texas Chainsaw Massacre"), and Buffalo Bill ("The Silence of the Lambs")

Leatherface, Norman Bates, and Buffalo Bill — three all-time classic characters inspired by the unfortunately true tale of killer and body snatcher Ed Gein. While the plots of these films all stray far from Ed Gein’s life story, it is true that he was schizophrenic and obsessed with his mother (Norman Bates), wore masks made from the faces of women (Leatherface), and even donned body suits made of skin (Buffalo Bill).

Upon his arrest in 1957, Gein’s home in Plainfield, Wisconsin was searched by police, who found a house of horrors that could have inspired any number of films. In their search, they found:

  • Four noses
  • Whole human bones and fragments
  • Nine masks of human skin
  • Bowls made from human skulls
  • Ten female heads with the tops sawed off
  • Human skin covering several chair seats
  • Mary Hogan’s head in a paper bag
  • Bernice Worden’s head in a burlap sack
  • Nine vulvae in a shoe box
  • A belt made from female human nipples
  • Skulls on his bedposts
  • A pair of lips on a drawstring for a window shade

In addition to the three aforementioned films, elements of Gein’s life have been adapted in many other horror movies and television series, including “American Horror Story,” Deranged (1974), In the Light of the Moon (2000, and Ed Gein: The Butcher of Plainfield (2007).

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