10 Haunting Horror Films Based on True Events
If the run-of-the-mill horror movies aren't doing it for you, perhaps adding the tag "Based on True Events" might send an extra chill down your spine.
1. "The Mothman Prophecies" (2002)
Richard Gere in a horror film? Yes, that happened.
Based on John Keel's book of the same name, this supernatural thriller dives into the mysterious sightings of a cryptid creature known as Mothman in Point Pleasant, West Virginia. Gere plays a reporter whose wife sees the creature right before a tragic accident.
The movie intertwines eerie phone calls, psychic predictions, and the chilling 1967 Silver Bridge collapse. The real-life sightings of Mothman prior to the actual bridge collapse, which claimed 46 lives, make this one a uniquely haunting watch.
2. "The Town That Dreaded Sundown" (2014)
Set 65 years after the actual "Moonlight Murders" that took place in 1946 in Texarkana, this meta-sequel serves not only as a nod to the 1976 original but also expands on the unsolved mystery.
The actual killer, dubbed the "Phantom Killer," was never caught, which adds an extra layer of terror to the film. A unique blend of slasher and true crime, "The Town That Dreaded Sundown" offers an eerie depiction of a community haunted by its own history.
The film boasts a solid 66% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, not bad for a low-key horror flick.
3. "The Blackcoat's Daughter" (2015)
This slow-burn horror film might not be based on a singular true event, but director Oz Perkins (son of "Psycho" star Anthony Perkins) cited his personal experiences with school isolation as the inspiration for the sinister plot.
In the dead of winter, two girls stranded at their prep school experience odd, possibly supernatural occurrences. Kiernan Shipka's spectacularly unsettling performance combined with an atmosphere that oozes dread throughout, makes this film a chilling experience.
4. "Compliance" (2012)
Probably the least traditional "horror" film on the list, but "Compliance" is, without a doubt, horrifying.
Based on the true events of the strip-search prank call scam, the film explores how obedience can lead to horrifying outcomes. A prank caller pretends to be a police officer and convinces a fast-food restaurant manager to carry out invasive procedures on an employee.
What makes "Compliance" so chilling is the realization that all events happened in real life across 70 reported incidents. The film garnered quite a bit of controversy but also critical acclaim with an 89% Rotten Tomatoes rating.
5. "The Sacrament" (2013)
Directed by Ti West, "The Sacrament" is a found-footage style film that mirrors the real-life Jonestown Massacre of 1978. In the film, VICE journalists travel to a remote commune led by a charismatic yet sinister leader. As the journalists delve deeper, the veneer of utopia quickly fades to reveal a horrific reality.
The film's chilling climax recreates the tragic mass suicide/murder at Jonestown, where over 900 people lost their lives. Ti West specifically sought to recreate the eeriness of the actual audio recording of the Jonestown deaths, known as the "death tape," for the climax.
6. "A Dark Song" (2016)
This is a slow-burn horror film about a woman who hires an occultist in order to perform an arduous ritual that would supposedly allow her to talk to her deceased son. Director Liam Gavin based the Abramelin ritual shown in the movie on an actual ancient ritual documented in the 15th-century grimoire, "The Book of Abramelin."
The authenticity of the ritual's depiction, the gradual build-up of tension, and the brilliant performances by the two leads make it a haunting watch. Fun fact: The exact house used in the movie was chosen because it had a well, which was vital for one of the ritual's steps.
7. "The Poughkeepsie Tapes" (2007)
This mockumentary-style horror film explores a fictional serial killer's activities, but it's loosely based on several real-life serial killers, including Ted Bundy and Leonard Lake. The movie's unique selling point is its disturbing first-person perspective – it's made up entirely of 'home video footage' of the murderer's brutal crimes.
It's a deeply unsettling experience, made even more horrifying by its links to actual serial killers. Despite its 2007 release, the film wasn't widely available until a decade later, which unintentionally added to its mystique.
8. "The Last Exorcism" (2010)
Exorcism films have been a staple of horror cinema, and while "The Last Exorcism" isn't based on a specific event, it was inspired by multiple real-life accounts of exorcism and possession.
The film follows a disillusioned evangelical minister who agrees to let his last exorcism be filmed by a documentary crew. What starts as a critique of exploitative practices turns into an actual nightmare, blurring the line between faith, superstition, and reality.
9. "Wolf Creek" (2005)
This Australian horror film was inspired by the real-life crimes of Bradley John Murdoch and Ivan Milat, infamous Outback killers.
The movie follows three backpackers who find themselves held captive by a sadistic bushman in the remote Australian wilderness. It's a brutal film, unflinching in its depiction of violence and the terror of isolation.
The realization that the events are grounded in reality adds an extra layer of horror. Despite its disturbing nature, or perhaps because of it, "Wolf Creek" has a cult following and a respectable 6.2/10 on IMDb.
10. "The Strangers" (2008)
Based loosely on the real-life Keddie Cabin Murders and director Bryan Bertino's personal childhood experience, "The Strangers" taps into one of our most primal fears: home invasion. When a couple staying at an isolated vacation home are tormented by three masked strangers, the tension is palpable.
The movie's chilling tagline, "Because you were home," speaks volumes about the randomness of the violence, increasing the terror quotient. It's a masterpiece of sustained dread, with an impressive 48% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes.