While it’s true that many horror filmmakers have plastered the phony “true story” label on their movies in hopes of filling theater seats and winning box office gold, some scary movies have been inspired by real-life events. Tragic tales, actual murder cases, and dark memories are usually the basis for these films, proving that truth can be more terrifying than fiction. Most of us know the story behind famous fright films like The Exorcist, The Amityville Horror, or even Texas Chainsaw Massacre (serial killer Ed Gein has inspired dozens of movies thanks to his gruesome history), but we wanted to fill you in on several lesser-known, real-life plotlines that influenced popular works of horror. Test your knowledge past the break, and feel free to chat about any of your favorite true terror tales in the comments.
A story about a pizza-faced madman who terrorizes teens in their dreams doesn’t sound like it could possibly be based on a real-life story, but director Wes Craven was inspired to create the 1984 slasher classic after reading an article in the LA Times. The disturbing write-up detailed one man’s bizarre death. Craven explained more about the case behind A Nightmare on Elm Street in a 2008 interview:
“It was a series of articles in the LA Times, about men from South East Asia, who were from immigrant families and who had died in the middle of nightmares — and the paper never correlated them, never said, ‘Hey, we’ve had another story like this.’ The third one was the son of a physician. He was about twenty-one; I’ve subsequently found out this is a phenomenon in Laos, Cambodia. Everybody in his family said almost exactly these lines: ‘You must sleep.’ He said, ‘No, you don’t understand; I’ve had nightmares before — this is different.’ He was given sleeping pills and told to take them and supposedly did, but he stayed up. I forget what the total days he stayed up was, but it was a phenomenal amount — something like six, seven days. Finally, he was watching television with the family, fell asleep on the couch, and everybody said, ‘Thank god.’ They literally carried him upstairs to bed; he was completely exhausted. Everybody went to bed, thinking it was all over. In the middle of the night, they heard screams and crashing. They ran into the room, and by the time they got to him he was dead. They had an autopsy performed, and there was no heart attack; he just had died for unexplained reasons. They found in his closet a Mr. Coffee maker, full of hot coffee that he had used to keep awake, and they also found all his sleeping pills that they thought he had taken; he had spit them back out and hidden them. It struck me as such an incredibly dramatic story that I was intrigued by it for a year, at least, before I finally thought I should write something about this kind of situation.”