10 horror movies based on true stories

Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs
The Silence of the Lambs, one of two Anthony Hopkins horror movies on the list based on real stories

Everyone loves a good horror movie — but while many are fictional, some of the most terrifying are actually based on true stories.

The plots may have in some cases been embellished to bring the stories alive on screen, but the fact that the plots are based on real life will have you sleeping with the lights on.

From the devil to man-eating crocodiles, here are ten creepy-as-you-like movies based on true stories.

10 The Rite

The Rite

Tell me…does a thief or a burglar turn on the lights when he’s robbing your house? No. He prefers you to believe that he’s not there. Like the devil. He prefers you to believe that he doesn’t exist.
– Father Lucas

MOVIE: Released in 2011, this horror film stars Colin O’Donoghue, Anthony Hopkins, and Ciarán Hinds. The story is about Father Michael Kovak who attends a seminary as a way to pay for college.

However, before finishing the steps to priesthood, he decides to leave. That’s until he learns he will have to repay thousands of dollars in college loans if he does, so he reconsiders and decides to study exorcism at the Vatican.

Father Kovak then meets Father Lucas Trevant who is an experienced exorcist. Along with Father Trevant, Kovak is present for several horrifying exorcisms that cause him to falter back and forth between believing and doubting the existence of demons.

REAL LIFE: This story is based on events from the life of Catholic priest Father Gary Thomas. Fr. Thomas was consulted and served as an advisor on the film, with the movie’s plot loosely based on his own story.

Taking a course in Rome, he became qualified in the rite of exorcism. Through his experiences, he found a new strong belief in the existence of Satan and evil.

To read more about his life and education in exorcism, read the book The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist by Matt Baglio.

9 The Haunting in Connecticut

The Haunting In Connecticut

I have seen this kid almost every day since we’ve been here. I wake up in the middle of the night, and it feels like he’s been inside me, looking out through my eyes. – Matt Campbell

MOVIE: Released in 2009, this film stars Virginia Madsen, Martin Donovan, and Elias Koteas. The movie is about the Campbell family who move to an old Victorian home in Connecticut.

The son, Matt, has cancer and the family moves in order to have a shorter commute for his treatment. The home costs much less than would be expected and they find out the reason for the price later.

It had been a mortuary in the past. The home is full of horrifying supernatural phenomenon that focuses on the family’s teenage son.

REAL LIFE: The true story is of Al and Carmen Snedeker. They moved into a home in Connecticut that had also been a funeral home once.

After they move in, they found a graveyard in the backyard and items related to the death and corpses that had once been common there.

Infamous paranormal researchers Ed and Lorraine Warren were asked to come in and investigate the haunting.

8 Primeval


There are more than enough human beings on this planet. The crocodile is exceptional. A creature of far greater value. – Matthew Collins

MOVIE: Released in 2007, the movie stars Dominic Purcell, Orlando Jones, and Brooke Langton. In the movie, a New York journalist is sent to Burundi on an assignment.

His task is to investigate a crocodile that had been reported to have eaten hundreds of people.

However, it’s the death of an anthropologist that brings the massive crocodile into the public eye.

REAL LIFE: A crocodile called Gustave actually does live on an island in Burundi. Measuring almost 20ft long, he is believed to be one of the largest crocodiles ever recorded.

Residents of Burundi claim that the crocodile eats fishermen and swimmers in the area.

Some claim that he is able to eat 10-15 people on the riverbanks along where he travels.

7 Karla


Death is nothing to be afraid of. – Paul Bernardo

MOVIE: Released in 2006, the movie stars Laura Prepon, Misha Collins, and Patrick Bauchau.

The movie is about a couple (Karla Holmoka and Paul Kenneth Bernardo) with a horribly abusive and dysfunctional relationship.

The husband is a rapist and murderer and tries to get his wife to participate. The movie’s plot also details the husband’s videotaped rape of his wife’s sister.

At the end of the rape, the sister dies. Both husband and wife are sentenced to prison for their crimes.

REAL LIFE: This movie is actually very close to the real story. In fact, Paul Kenneth Bernardo was a Canadian serial killer who raped and killed young women in Scarborough, Ontario.

His wife, Karla Holmoka assisted him in the rapes and the murder of her sister.

He was sentenced to life in prison. Karla Holmoka received a sentence of 12 years in prison. She was released in July 2005.

6 The Exorcist

The Exorcist

Look, your daughter doesn’t say she’s a demon. She says she’s the devil himself. And if you’ve seen as many psychotics as I have, you’d know it’s like saying you’re Napoleon Bonaparte.
– Father Damien Karras

MOVIE: Released in 1973, the movie stars Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow, and Linda Blair. The story is about a girl who is possessed by the devil.

Terrified and desperate, her mother looks to two priests for help. As the priests fight to save the girl’s life and free her from possession, the demon fights back violently against them.

REAL LIFE: The true story that the movie is based on is about a boy, Roland Doe (pseudonym) who was allegedly possessed by the devil.

Father William Bowdern was called in by the Catholic Church to assist. He performed months of exorcism on the child in 1949.

5 Zodiac


If you go one mile east on Columbus Parkway to a public park, you’ll find kids in a brown car. They were shot with a 9mm Luger. I also killed those kids last year. – Zodiac

MOVIE: Released in 2007, Zodiac stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, and Robert Downey, Jr. The film tells the story of the hunt for a serial killer who named himself “Zodiac”.

The Zodiac killer shot and killed several people in the San Francisco area beginning in the late 1960s.

Although the police had a suspect, they were never able to gather enough evidence against him.

REAL LIFE: Zodiac actually was the name of a real killer in the San Francisco area in the late 1960s. He sent coded letters to the police department taunting them to capture him.

Although there were suspects, no one was ever captured for the crimes and the Zodiac killer’s true identity was never known.

4 Dahmer


I think you are. I think you act all sweet and innocent, but it’s only to cover up how you wanna kill people. – Jeffrey Dahmer

MOVIE: Released in 2002, the movie stars Jeremy Renner, Bruce Davison, and Artel Great.

The movie is about serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer who murdered 17 men, most of whom he picked up at bars and brought back to his apartment.

He would drug them, perform sexual acts on them, and then murder them. He would remove body parts and kept them in his refrigerator.

REAL LIFE: Jeffrey Dahmer was a real man who brought men back to his apartment and murdered them. He was also known to have other strange behaviors, including cannibalism.

He received a sentence of 957 years in prison on February 17, 1992. Some years later, Dahmer was killed in prison by another inmate.

3 Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer

Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer

Yeah. I killed my mama. One night. It was my 14th birthday. She was drunk, and we had an argument. She hit me with a whiskey bottle. I shot her. I shot her dead. – Henry

MOVIE: Released in 1986, the movie stars Michael Rooker, Tracy Arnold, and Tom Towles. The film is a portrayal of Henry Lee Lucas, one of the most infamous serial killers of our time.

The movie is an in-you-face representation of what life surrounding Lucas must have been like. Gruesome and horrifying.

REAL LIFE: Henry Lee Lucas came from a troubled home and had a difficult childhood. He was in and out of prison for various crimes including the murder of his own mother.

He claimed to have killed many people, but no evidence was shown to back up his exaggerated claims.

Lucas was sent to prison with a life sentence. He died behind bars on March 12, 2001.

2 Silence of the Lambs

Silence of the Lambs

A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.
– Hannibal Lecter

MOVIE: Released in 1991, the movie stars Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, and Lawrence A. Bonney.

The story is about an FBI agent in training (Clarice Starling) who is called upon by a superior to assist on a case.

Part of the investigation requires her to work with the incarcerated Hannibal Lecter, a brilliant killer.

Lecter is manipulative, yet charming, and has an incredibly sinister mind. With Lecter’s help, Starling is able to catch the killer before he murders his next victim.

REAL LIFE: The story of Hannibal Lecter is from a book by Thomas Harris. Harris created the killer, Buffalo Bill, based on several true life serial killers.

The killers used as inspiration for Buffalo Bill include Ed Gein. Gein would kill and then remove the skin of his victims and wear it.

Buffalo Bill is also based on Ted Bundy, who used his charm and sympathy from fake injuries to catch his victims.

1 The Conjuring

The Conjuring

Diabolical forces are formidable. These forces are eternal, and they exist today. The fairy tale is true. The devil exists. God exists. And for us, as people, our very destiny hinges upon which one we elect to follow. – Ed Warren

MOVIE: Released in 2013, the movie stars Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, and Ron Livingston. The story is about a family who move into a farmhouse and are terrorized by supernatural forces.

They enlist the help of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren to track down and rid their home of the evil source.

REAL LIFE: Ed and Lorraine Warren, the investigators in the movie, are actual people that do paranormal investigations.

For more than 50 years the couple investigated reports of supernatural occurrences. Details for the investigation of the Perron family are actually taken from events that the Warrens investigated.

The couple keep a storeroom of items acquired from their investigations, which are believed at one time to have been possessed by evil forces.

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