40 Most Terrifying Horror Movies Based On True Stories

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I love horror movies. In fact, the only form of media that I probably love even more is true crime stories. When those two come together in the form of horror movies based on true stories and actual crimes, I'm absolutely in seventh heaven (or is seventh Hell more appropriate?).

Every year, I put together a little horror film festival with the scariest movies to watch for my dearest friends. And this year, the theme is scary movies based on true stories. Because when you know it's real, it's that much scarier.

Below you'll find 40 of the best horror movies of all-time inspired by real events. Some of them are inspired by actual crimes, while others are inspired by events surrounding them, or the lives of the people involved in these haunting endeavors.

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These movies all have just one thing in common: they are terrifying. And what's worse, a little bit rooted in real life. So, try not to think too hard about that as you curl up and try to go sleep after watching them.

40 Best Horror Movies Based On True Stories

1. The Exorcist (1973)

Considered by many to be the scariest movie of all time, this flick tells the story of a little girl who becomes possessed and the priests who try to save her. The movie was based on a book with the same title that was directly inspired by a reported possession that took place in Maryland. The only difference? This one was a 13-year-old boy.

2. Deranged (1974)

In this movie, a man who is obsessed with corpses finally takes his obsession too far when he starts making his own corpses. You know, murder. Like many other movies on this list, the main baddie in this flick was inspired by killer Ed Gein.

3. Eaten Alive (1976)

You don't want to stay at this Texas hotel! The owner might seem friendly but he's going to kill you and feed you to his pet crocodiles. The movie is based on "croc killer" Joe Ball, who murdered two women who frequented the bar he owned in Texas. He was rumored to have disposed of their bodies by feeding them to his pet Crocs.

4. Psycho (1960)

This Alfred Hitchcock classic is ripped from the headlines. In the movie, the murderous Norman Bates slays those who stay at the family hotel while battling with some deeply rooted mommy issues.

The movie was based on a book of the same title that was largely inspired by the serial killer Ed Gein, who also had his share of issues where his mother was involved.

5. Audrey Rose (1977)

In this flick, a ridiculously young Anthony Hopkins becomes convinced that a young woman is his reincarnated daughter. It just gets worse from there. The movie was based on a book written by a man who began to believe in reincarnation when his young son began playing the piano out of nowhere with no training.

6. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

This movie has gained cult status among horror fans (like me). In it, a group of friends is terrorized in rural Texas by a family of incestuous cannibals.

The movie claimed to be based on real events, but that's only slightly true. The main villain, Leatherface, was based on the infamous killer Ed Gein, who also made masks and lampshades from his victim's flesh.

7. The Hills Have Eyes (1977)

People go to the desert and meet other people in the desert, only these other people are a cult of crazed cannibals. This movie was based on Sawney Bean, a legendary Scottish figure from the 16th Century who was said to have led his own tribe of cannibals.

8. Jaws (1975)

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, "Jaws" came along. This ain't your average horror movie — the bad guy is a killer shark. This movie (and book) were inspired by a string of 5 shark attacks that took place in 1916 on the coast of New Jersey.

9. The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976)

This movie takes a simple premise and makes it harrowing: a murderer wearing simply a sack over his head terrorizes a town in Texarkana. The movie was inspired by a similar string of murders that took place in Texarkana, where they actually went back and shot the film.

10. The Blob (1958)

In this camp horror classic from the 1950s, an alien blob of goop attacks a small town, swallowing people up one by one. The movie is actually inspired by a real news item. Philadelphia police officers reported seeing a giant "alien" blob fall from the sky. It was never identified, but it also never ate anyone.

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11. The Amityville Horror (1979)

This one you've got to watch. In it, a family moves into a house that proves to be exceptionally haunted. You can kind of guess where it goes from there based on the title alone.

The movie, like the book before it, was based on the house where Ronald J. DeFeo murdered his parents and all of his four siblings. People who moved into the house after the killings reported encounters of the ghostly variety.

12. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

Wes Craven's popular horror franchise is all about Freddy Kreuger, a knife-glove-wielding dead pedophile who murders people (usually children) in their dreams. Craven was inspired to write "Nightmare" after learning about a boy who had nightmares and ended up dying in his sleep.

13. Child's Play (1988)

The now-legendary Chucky doll is inhabited by the furious ghost of a murderous felon. The movie was inspired by a rumored real possessed doll named Robert. That doll still exists. It's in Florida, because of course it is.

14. Fire In The Sky (1993)

A group of friends is put on trial for the suspected murder of a dear friend who they claim was abducted by aliens. This is inspired by the reported alien abduction of Travis Walton in 1975. He was never able to confirm his experience.

15. Ravenous (1999)

Set during the Mexican-American war, a soldier is assigned to a remote fort where the only other person there... turns out to like to eat people. This movie was inspired by the Donner party and by a group of gold prospectors who were forced to eat each other to survive.

16. Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer (1986)

The movie, true to the title, follows one serial killer as he goes about what he does best: shoe shopping. Just kidding, it's serial killing. This horror classic was inspired by the real-life serial killer Henry Lee Lucas.

17. From Hell (2001)

In this movie, Johnny Depp stars as an inspector on the case to capture Jack The Ripper. The story of Jack the Ripper is a true-crime mystery for the ages that has inspired countless films, this being one of them.

18. The Serpent And The Rainbow (1988)

A botanist who studies how different cultures use plants in medicine discovers himself on the wrong side of a tribe that uses plants to create voodoo magic. The movie was inspired by a non-fiction book written by an actual botanist who in no way shape or form encountered real voodoo.

19. The Dentist (1996)

Got a dental phobia? Avoid this tale of a mad dentist who enjoys hallucinating under the influence and killing everyone who sits down in his chair.

This movie is rumored to be inspired by Missouri dentist Dr. Glennon Edward Engleman, who would seduce women, convince them to marry someone else, and then kill their new husbands for the insurance.

20. The Entity (1982)

This 1980s horror movie is deeply disturbing, perhaps now more than ever. A woman is repeatedly hunted down and assaulted by a ghostly force. The movie was inspired by the case of a woman from California who believed that she was being raped by ghosts.

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21. Dahmer (2002)

A young man named Jeffrey Dahmer hunted, killed, and ate a series of men in a bid to find forever love in a totally warped way. This absolutely happened, only it wasn't Jeremy Renner in a bad wig. Jeffrey Dahmer took dozens of lives.

22. The Mothman Prophecies (2002)

After the death of his wife, a reporter goes to West Virginia to examine a series of mysterious prophecies from a strange figure known as the Mothman. "The Mothman Prophecies" was based on a book by a real reporter who wrote up countless first-person interviews with people from West Virginia who claimed to have encountered this strange figure.

23. The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)

A priest was put on trial after an exorcism led to the death of a young woman. The film is told in flashbacks. This movie was inspired by the real case of Anneliese Michel, a woman who believed she was being possessed by demons. She died while being exorcized by a priest who would be found guilty of negligent homicide.

24. Wolf Creek (2005)

A group of friends is abducted and terrorized by a maniac in the Australian outback. This flick is based on three separate real-life Australian serial killers: Ivan Milat, who murdered backpackers in the 90s; Bradley Murdoch, who tried to kill women after killing their boyfriends; and the Snowtown Murders, a series of 11 grisly murders carried out by a group of people.

25. Them (2006)

A couple is stalked and terrorized by a group of teens and children, so maybe don't let your kids watch. This is allegedly based on the actual murder of an Austrian couple, but the details aren't exactly copious. Take from that what you will.

26. The Girl Next Door (2007)

This movie is brutal, brutal stuff. A young woman is methodically tortured, abused, and eventually killed by the family that was supposed to be taking care of her. Tragically, this is based on the real-life experience of Sylvia Likens. Do yourself a favor and do not Wikipedia this one.

27. Primeval (2007)

Yes, that infamous horror movie about a bunch of journalists who travel to Africa to pursue legends of a giant crocodile, it's made the list. Because it's totally true. Okay, not totally true — the real Croc, named Gustave, is not a mystery and killed more than 300 people.

28. The Haunting In Connecticut (2009)

A family moves into a super-cool new house. But there's a problem: it's an old mortuary. This is based on the experiences of the Reed family from Connecticut who claim their supernatural woes didn't end until the Catholic Church performed an exorcism.

29. Borderland (2007)

A group of college students on Spring Break accidentally wind up getting involved with a Mexican cult that's big on human sacrifice. This movie is based on a real guy, Adolfo Constanzo, a self-proclaimed witch doctor who worked with the Mexican drug cartels in the 1980s while killing American coeds who crossed the border as a hobby.

30. Open Water (2003)

A couple's romantic scuba trip takes a dark turn when they are lost at sea in shark-infested waters. This is based on the story of Tom and Eileen Lonergan, a couple who vanished while scuba diving when their tour guide failed to do a proper headcount. Their bodies were never found.

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31. The Conjuring (2013)

Based on the true events of Paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, watch as these investigators try to help an innocent family in their new home that has a few uninvited guests.

32. Scream (1996)

A classic serial killer movie with an antagonist who believed he was possessed by a demon. The film was heavily inspired by the Gainesville Ripper, aka Louisiana-born Danny Rolling, a real-life serial rapist and murderer.

33. Poltergeist (1982)

An 80s classic horror film that birthed a franchise of films. Follow the Freeling family who are being stalked and terrorized by a group of ghosts led by a demon known as the Beast. And all of them are attracted to the youngest daughter, Carol Anne.

It's based on the true events of the Hermann family who lived on Long Island, NY in the 1950s.

34. Zodiac (2007)

This movie follows the story of the infamous serial killer who was deemed the Zodiac Killer. It tells the story by following lead detectives and reporters as they attempt to find the Zodiac's identity before he kills again.

35. The Birds (1963)

Another Alfred Hitchcock classic, it was partly inspired by the true events of a mass bird attack on the seaside town of Capitola in California on August 18, 1961.

36. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Interview a brilliant cannibalist? Sure, let me just pencil that in right away. Must have been what Clarice Starling thought when her boss asked her to find out information from the violent Psychiatrist Dr. Hannibal Lecter.

In this film, though the story is fictional, the killer Dr. Hannibal Lecter was actually inspired by several real-life serial killers, including the infamous Ed Gein.

37. Annabelle (2014)

Haven't we all learned that getting creepy dolls is not a good idea? The film follows another psychotic doll as it wreaks havoc on an expecting couple. The film is based on a story about a doll named Annabelle that Ed and Lorraine Warren told.

38. Regression (2015)

"Regression" follows the story of a detective and a psychoanalyst who uncover evidence of a satanic cult while investigating the molestation of a teenager who has been traumatized to the extreme. The movie is loosely based on America's satanic ritual abuse panic in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

39. The Strangers (2008)

This film follows one couple who expected to have a nice relaxing vacation at a family home, but that is far from what they get. Instead, three masked strangers arrive and torment the couple. This movie is loosely based on the Manson Family and the home invasion of iconic actress, Sharon Tate.

40. Deliver Us From Evil (2014)

This movie is based on the non-fiction book "Beware The Night." It follows the investigations of an NYPD veteran who chronicled first hand witnesses of demonic possession and other totally creepy stuff.

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Rebecca Jane Stokes is an editor, freelance writer, former Senior Staff Writer for YourTango, and the former Senior Editor of Pop Culture at Newsweek. Her bylines have appeared in Fatherly, Gizmodo, Yahoo Life, Jezebel, Apartment Therapy, Bustle, Cosmopolitan, SheKnows, and many others.