Despite their cheer definition of being horrific, not all horror movies send fear to the hearts of their viewers. However, horror movies that are based on true stories are entirely different. When watching any horror movie, regardless of how graphic and scary it may be, you can always chalk it up to fiction and feel perfectly safe. However, when watching a horror movie based on a true story, the reality of its plot is, on its own, more terrifying than the most gruesome fictional events.
There are a lot of horror movies based on or inspired by true stories; however, not all of them are executed well enough to do the original tale its justice. Luckily, the following list contains the best 15 horror movies based on true stories made over the decades.
1. The Texas Killing Fields (2011)
Directed by Ami Canaan Mann, this 2011 horror movie is based on true horrifying events that took place back in the 70s and 80s in League City, Texas, where several girls and women were abducted and viciously murdered. The victims’ bodies were later found mutilated in a ditch bordering a remote wooden area in League city known as ‘the Killing Fields‘.
The Texas Killing Fields follows the three detectives assigned to work on the gruesome League City murders, Mike Souder, Brian Heigh, and Pam Stall, while they try to find out who the killer is. The Texas Killing Fields is more than a horror picture; it is a gripping, bone-chilling experience film that will stay with you for a long time after the credits have rolled.
Starring: Sam Worthington, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Jessica Chastain, and Chloë Grace Moretz.
2. The Exorcist (1973)
Horror movies are designed to scare, startle, and captivate their audiences. Yet some horror movies are based on true stories, which can make them all the more chilling. The Exorcist, released in 1973, is one of those movies. The Exorcist is a supernatural horror movie based on a 1971 novel of the same name by William Peter Blatty, which was itself based on a true story.
The book and movie tell the story of the demonic possession of a young woman named Regan and the lengths her mother will go to save her, including seeking the help of two Catholic priests to perform an exorcism on her daughter.
While the movie deviates from the actual story in some ways, it captures the genuine terror that those involved experienced. The Exorcist remains one of the most influential and successful horror movies of all time. partially due to its basis in reality.
Starring: Ellen Burstyn, Linda Blair, Max von Sydow, Lee J. Cobb, Kitty Winn, Jack MacGowran, and Jason Miller.
3. Changeling (2008)
Changeling is a 2008 Horror film based on true events in the 1920s in Mira Loma, Los Angeles, California, more specifically, the Wineville Chicken Coop murders.
The story follows a mother in search of her missing son. However, when the police return a child, who is clearly not her missing son, and try to pass him off as her son, she begins to suspect something sinister. As she digs deeper, she uncovers a horrifying conspiracy involving corrupt police officers and missing children. Changeling is a terrifying movie that will leave you wondering how much of it is based on real life.
Starring: Angelina Jolie, John Malkovich, Michael Kelly, Jeffrey Donovan, Amy Ryan, and Colm Feore.
4. The Amityville Horror (1979)
The Amityville Horror is a 1979 supernatural horror film directed by Stuart Rosenberg and starring James Brolin and Margot Kidder as a young couple who purchase a home haunted by demonic forces. The screenplay by Sandor Stern was based on Jay Anson’s book, which was inspired by the real-life experiences of the Lutz family, who claimed to have been terrorised by paranormal activity after moving into their home in Amityville, New York, in 1975.
Although it is based on purported true events, many sceptics have questioned the story’s integrity over the years. However, despite the scepticism, The Amityville Horror remains one of the most popular and influential horror films of all time.
Despite its low budget, The Amityville Horror was a box-office success, grossing over $86 million worldwide. The film has also spawned several sequels and a remake, released in 2005.
Starring: James Brolin, Margot Kidder, Rod Steiger, Natasha Ryan, K. C. Martel, Meeno Peluce, Don Stroud, and Murray Hamilton.
5. The Conjuring (2013)
With a gripping, bone-chilling story, The Conjuring brought actual fear to its viewers’ hearts, leaving them unease after the credits rolled. The movie follows paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren as they investigate supernatural occurrences in a family’s Rhode Island farmhouse.
Thanks to how it seamlessly blended suspense with shock and perfectly reflected and told the horrifying real story, The Conjuring earned high praise and acclaim from critics. Since its release, the movie has continued to gain more success worldwide and spawned several sequels, which made it one of the most successful and renowned modern horror classics.
Starring: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Ron Livingston, and Lili Taylor.
6. Eden (2012)
Although it is not exactly categorised as a horror movie, Eden is a truly haunting and bone-chilling cinema experience. This 2012 American drama raised important and critical questions about the victimisation that Asian women faced in the past. By perfectly portraying the true-life events of Chong Kim, an 18-year-old Korean girl who was kidnapped and sold into prostitution in the mid-90s, Eden managed to accurately reflect, with startling accuracy, this horrific yet all too true tragedy which has sadly been experienced by countless people across continents.
Despite the limited release, Eden still managed to make its mark as one of the most emotionally moving films on human trafficking, lauded both for conveying real stories voiced through powerful performances and an inspiring narrative focusing on the struggle towards freedom. It undoubtedly stands out amongst other movies released during that time period.
Starring: Jamie Chung, Matt O’Leary, and Beau Bridges.
7. Annabelle (2014)
Annabelle, the eerily successful 2014 horror film based on the true story of the allegedly cursed doll, has become iconic in its genre. The movie follows paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren as they investigate supernatural activity surrounding the possessed item.
The way this haunting story was portrayed created gripping suspense that earned significant praise from audiences around the world. Its success spawned sequels which solidified Annabelle’s place in history among some of the most highly acclaimed horror films ever made – making it a classic must-watch on any horror fan’s to-watch list!
Starring: Annabelle Wallis, Ward Horton, and Alfre Woodard.
8. The Iceman (2012)
The Iceman is an award-winning biopic chronicling the incredible story of contract killer Richard Kuklinski. Viewers follow in awe as they witness his transformation from a young man to an infamous murderer while gaining insight into what drove him to commit over 100 murders in two decades.
This acclaimed crime drama brings its audience on a journey filled with tension and emotion – all without sacrificing accuracy or realism for entertainment value, showing that even stories about violence can be captivating when told properly!
Starring: Michael Shannon, Winona Ryder, James Franco, Ray Liotta, and Chris Evans.
9. Deliver Us From Evil (2014)
Deliver Us From Evil is a 2014 supernatural horror picture based on the 2001 Ralph Sarchire non-fiction book, Beware the Night. The film follows N.Y.P.D. officer Ralph Sarchie as he investigates multiple cases linked to demonic possession and other supernatural phenomena based on real-life events depicted in the book.
Deliver Us from Evil features intense action sequences and bone-chilling moments that leave audiences gripping their seats. The film was acclaimed for its stellar acting, directing, and cinematography, making it one of the most successful horror films of its era.
Starring: Eric Bana, Édgar Ramírez, Olivia Munn, Sean Harris, and Joel McHale.
10. The Rite (2011)
The Rite is a 2011 supernatural horror movie loosely based on Matt Baglio’s book, The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist, which recites true events that were encountered by Vatican-certified exorcist Father Gary Thomas.
The film follows Michael Kovak, a seminary student who attends a Vatican school of exorcism. Motivated by his scepticism, Michael decides to investigate the supernatural world of exorcisms. That is when Michael meets and begins training under Father Lucas, a veteran and unconventional priest, and together they explore the dark and mysterious world of demonic possession, leaving Michael questioning all his beliefs.
Featuring gripping performances from its cast, The Rite keeps audiences right on the edge of their seats as it delves into the frightening reality of demonology and exorcism. With its intense atmosphere and thrilling storyline, this movie is sure to have you questioning your beliefs in the paranormal.
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Colin O’Donoghue, Alice Braga, Ciarán Hinds, and Rutger Hauer.
11. Borderland (2007)
Borderland is a gripping American Mexican horror film that explores the disturbing world of Adolfo Constanzo – an infamous serial killer and cult leader who practised human sacrifices to gain power in Mexico City. Following three college friends’ ill-fated graduation trip, this intense thriller builds suspense as it reveals how they get caught up in dangerous rituals capable of chilling even the bravest soul.
Packed with eerie performances from its cast and unexpected twists, Borderland invites audiences into a shocking exploration of evil forces and their devastating consequences – sure to leave them questioning what lurks behind every corner!
Starring: Brian Presley, Jake Muxworthy, Rider Strong, Damián Alcázar, Sean Astin, Martha Higareda, Francesca Guillén, and Beto Cuevas.
12. Black Water (2007)
Black Water is a 2007 horror film inspired by the real-life crocodile attack that took place in Northern Australia back in December 2003. The Australian thriller follows three travellers who take an ill-fated boat ride through the mangrove swamps in Northern Australia only to find themselves fighting for their lives against a terrifying saltwater crocodile.
With intense action and nail-biting suspense, Black Water keeps audiences right on the edge of their seats as its characters confront death at the hands of one of nature’s most feared predators. An unsettling mix of fear and excitement, this movie will definitely leave you questioning what lurks beneath the surface of those seemingly peaceful waters.
Starring: Diana Glenn, Maeve Dermody, and Andy Rodoreda.
13. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Released in 1974, Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is loosely based on the life and crimes of American serial killer Ed Gein. Better known as “the Butcher of Plainfield” or “Plainfield Ghoul,” Gein committed some of the most gruesome and grisly murders in history. Hooper’s adaptation draws on Gein’s terrifying legacy, creating a horror classic that sends people flying out of their seats to this very day.
At its core, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is a timeless and seamless exploration of humanity and its darkest depths. The movie follows the story of a group of friends who travel to rural Texas only to be hunted down by a deranged family of cannibals with a chainsaw-wielding killer at its head. With its gritty realism and masterful use of tension and terror, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre helped revolutionise the horror genre and still stands out today as one of the most iconic slasher films ever made.
Starring: Marilyn Burns, Paul A. Partain, Edwin Neal, Jim Siedow, and Gunnar Hansen.
14. The Haunting in Connecticut (2009)
Peter Cornwell’s 2009 supernatural horror movie: The Haunting in Connecticut is reportedly based on the true story of the Snedeker family, who, in 1986, unknowingly moved into a former funeral parlour located in Southington, Connecticut. To their dismay, they experienced events that were inexplicably terrifying and inexplicable by natural means. After consulting with Ed and Lorraine Warren -noted demonologists- it was determined that this home had become overrun by malevolent forces beyond comprehension, in other words, demons.
The Haunting in Connecticut is a classic supernatural movie that still holds its place among the most influential horror films of all time. Viewers are brought into an eerie atmosphere filled with spine-tingling terror created by expert special effects and sound design, making it one of our generation’s defining examples of fear at its finest.
Starring: Virginia Madsen, Kyle Gallner, Martin Donovan, Amanda Crew, and Elias Koteas.
15. The Exorcism Of Emily Rose (2005)
The Exorcism of Emily Rose is a terrifying bone-chilling film based on the real-life story of Anneliese Michel, a young German student who goes through a series of intense exorcisms that eventually lead to her demise from malnutrition and dehydration. Anneliese Michel is portrayed in the movie by the lead character, Emily Rose, a young college student possessed by demonic forces so powerful that her exorcism took almost a whole year to accomplish.
From the moment viewers step into The Exorcism of Emily Rose, they are submerged in an eerie atmosphere and dark cinematography that make for a spine-tingling hard-to-forget horror experience.
Starring: Laura Linney, Tom Wilkinson, Campbell Scott, Colm Feore, Jennifer Carpenter, Mary Beth Hurt, Henry Czerny, and Shohreh Aghdashloo.
Although all the horror films we mentioned above are as enjoyable and thrilling as they are terrifying, horror movies inspired by true events are not for everybody. Sometimes, fiction is just what a viewer needs to be able to tolerate a gruesome horror film. So, viewers-discretion is highly recommended when attempting to watch any of the movies on our list.
For more suggestions for horror classics, check out our post on the most popular 25 Classic Halloween Movies of all time.