The Truth Behind “Based on a True Story”


If there is one thing that makes every horror movie out there even scarier, it is the simple phrase “based on a true story”. However, more often than not, the events the horror movies claim to be based on are unsurprisingly lackluster compared to their cinematic counterparts. Yet sometimes the roots of the story are just as terrifying as the story itself. So, in the spirit of Halloween, and the season of all things spooky, I aim to shed some light on the true stories that inspire some of today’s horror masterpieces.

Silence of the Lambs – This academy award winning crime/horror icon is unforgettable, mostly because of the chillingly brilliant performance of Anthony Hopkins. Hopkins played the infamous Hannibal Lecter, and although he was only in the movie for 16 minutes, he left a lasting impression with the audience, as well as the critics. However, Hopkins’ role was not based on reality. The main antagonist of the film, Buffalo Bill, was based on not one, but two serial killers: Jerry Brudos, and Ed Gein, who both shared a disturbing amount of similarities with Bill.

The Strangers – This is a rather new but nonetheless terrifying horror movie based on a group of strangers invading a couple’s home. Though the inspiration isn’t quite as chilling as the events in the movie itself, the true events are still very disturbing. Bryan Bertino drew inspiration from three events. The first was his own personal experience. When Bertino was a child, a group of people would go house to house, asking for a fake person, and if no one answered the door, they would rob the house. The second is the Keddie Cabin Murders, a case that still remains unsolved to this day. The third is the infamous Manson Murders. The fact that there is quite a sizable grain of truth in the story just makes the movie that much more terrifying.    

A Nightmare on Elm Street – Everybody knows this Wes Craven horror classic. The claim that it is based on true events is more than enough to make anybody lose some sleep. However, this is a case where the claim is, thankfully, strenuous at best. Wes Craven based Freddy Krueger’s reign of terror on a few unexplainable deaths. Craven heard of the inexplicable deaths of some Cambodian refugees. The refugees had no physical problems that anyone could discern, but died for no reason in their sleep. This is troubling, and a tragedy, but a far cry from a dream demon murdering teens in their sleep.

Some questions are best left unanswered. In the case of horror movies, this rings very true. The fact that humankind has committed such terrible things, is chilling. Yet sometimes, the claims of true inspiration are just that—claims.