A lot of movies begin with phrases like “based on a true story”. This gives the audience the impression that what they are about to witness genuinely happened, and when it’s a horror movie you are watching, the scares get all the more chilling. The truth is that they’re often not actually portraying real events, or they change what really happened so much that it barely resembles the truth anymore.
But among the falsehoods are some genuine tales of horror that are as terrifying as their cinematic counterparts. The following stories made it to the big screen, either closely resembling the real events or being heavily inspired by them. There is some safety in turning the TV off or leaving the theatre at the end of a horror film, but there isn’t much respite when you learn the chilling truths behind the fiction.
1. The Conjuring
This haunted house film is based on the case files and recordings of paranormal investigators Lorraine and Ed Warren, who were called in to help the Perron family, whose newly-purchased house was reportedly haunted. Lorraine acted as a consultant to the filmmakers, to ensure that they accurately portrayed what had happened.
Andrea, who was 12 years old when her family moved to the old Arnold estate, has written a book of her version of events called House of Darkness, House of Light. The rest of the family has put their support behind both this book and the film.
Bathsheba Sherman, who once lived in the house, was regarded as a witch by her neighbours, and was rumoured to have killed her infant son with a knitting needle. In 1971, when Carolyn Perron was lying down on the sofa, she felt a piercing pain in her calf and her muscle began to spasm. She looked to her foot, which was bleeding from a puncture in her leg. There was nothing nearby that could have caused it, and it was described by her daughter Andrea as a perfect circle, “as if a large sewing needle had impaled her skin”.
The town’s public records book reveals that the before the family moved in the residence was host to two suicides by hanging, one by poison, two drownings, four frozen to death, and the rape and murder of an eleven-year-old girl. The day the family moved in, the man who sold the house advised them to “leave the lights on at night”.
Beyond their own experience with rotten smells, levitating beds and spiritual possession, Andrea claims that the other tenants of the house have experienced the same thing. “the man who moved in to begin the restoration on the house when we sold it left screaming,” she explained, “without his car, without his tools, without his clothing”.
The current owner has said that she has heard the sounds of people talking in another room, and doors opening and closing, but is adamant that there are scientific explanations for the phenomena.
2. Open Water
Open Water is about a couple who go on a scuba-diving vacation together with a larger group. After separating from the group briefly, they reach the surface of the water only to realise that the boat has left without them. The headcount was taken wrongly, and they are left in the middle of the ocean, vulnerable to the sea and its inhabitants.
The film is based on the real-life tragedy of Tom and Eileen Lonergan, an American couple who were left behind in the same way. It was not until two days later that their bags were found on the boat, and a massive three-day air and sea search begun.
Their bodies were never found, but their diving gear was found washed up later on a beach miles away. Fishermen found a driver’s slate (a device used for underwater communication), which reportedly read: “To anyone who can help us: We have been abandoned on Agincourt Reef by MV Outer Edge. Please help to rescue us before we die. Help!!!”
The company was fined for negligence and went out of business. The government also introduced stiffer regulations, for instance requiring that captains and dive masters independently confirm each head count.