With every intent of successfully translating “true hauntings” onto the big screen, Hollywood has made its fair share of hits, despite a few misses along the way. The “inspired by true events” tagline offers audiences a chance to not only experience the terror for themselves, but propose a slight hint of authenticity that the threat could actually be real.
Hollywood continues to bring these mysterious hauntings to the big screen, even with the more recent The Curse of La Llorona. Also known as the “woman in white”, La Llorona has terrified generations of people. Even in my personal experience growing up in Mexico, La Llorona frightened me well into adulthood. Although La Llorona is a folktale, she was so frightening that she may as well have been real. Without further ado, here are five films inspired by real events, or hauntings, that are rooted in truly terrifying experiences.
5. The Changeling (1980)
A Canadian horror film released in 1980, The Changeling draws upon a well written script from alongside strong acting performances, in particular George C. Scott. The film follows New York city composer John Russell after the tragic death of his wife and daughter. In his grief, he relocates to Seattle, Washington in hopes of composing a new symphony to cope. Russell comes to rent a Victorian-esque style mansion, which according to the Seattle’s local historical society, had been vacant for many years. Not only accompanied with his grief, John Russell begins to notice that the old mansion might also harbour something dark. Experiencing unexplained occurrences and apparitions, Russell soon comes to find the house is in fact inhabited by the spirit of a young boy driven to revealing the nature of his demise.
The Changeling is based on co-writer Russell Hunter’s own experience, in which he claimed he claimed to be contacted by the spirit of a young boy during his stay at an old home in Denver, Colorado in the 1960’s. According to Russell, the spirit was revealed to him during a séance, directing him to uncover the true nature of his death. Upon further investigation, Russell claims he found the boy’s journal within a secret area of the house, detailing the life of a young disabled child who had been kept in isolation. In co-writing The Changeling, Russell attempted to maintain the bulk of his experiences and findings about the boy, preserving as much as he could for the film’s screenplay.
4. The Entity (1982)
Borrowing excerpts from the Doris Bither Case which occurred in 1974, The Entity offers a terrifying look into ghosts causing physical harm. Initially released in 1982, The Entity chronicles a woman’s torment and rape brought upon by supernatural assailants, or ghosts. Carla Moran, a single mother experiences repeated abuse with no hope in finding anyone who will believe her. Carla, played by Barbara Hershey (Insidious), is based on Doris Bither’s similar experiences in which she alleged the ghosts of three men were abusing her sexually.
Bither’s case was examined by Barry Taff and Kerry Gaynor, one of whom worked for UCLA’s parapsychology lab during the 1970’s. Eventually the case would inspire Frank De Felitta’s novelization of Bither’s account with the supernatural. It is Felitta’s novel The Entity, originally published in 1978, in which the film would base its entire premise. Frank De Felitta would also serve as the film’s primary screenwriter.
Following the success of the Spanish horror series, REC, writer/director Paco Plaza would soon find himself at the helm of a supernatural horror film based on a real event, titled Veronica. The film follows 15 year old, Veronica, who lives with her mother and three younger siblings. Veronica spends much of her time caring for her younger siblings meanwhile her mother works late nights; Veronica’s father had passed away recently, leaving her mother to carry the financial burden.
During a solar eclipse, Veronica and her friends decide to hide in their school’s attic to conduct a séance using a Quija; Veronica attempts to contact her late father. Following a blackout, Veronica soon finds herself a victim to an unseen force that’s hellbent on tormenting her at home. Experiencing paranormal occurrences, Veronica attempts another séance to rid the spirit, but instead makes matters only worse. Veronica is loosely based on an unsolved 1991 case taking place in Madrid, Spain. The titular character, Veronica, is based on Estefania Gutierrez Lazaro’s mysterious death and the unexplained events which occurred around her and her home.
2. The Amityville Horror
On the night of November 13th, 1974, Ronald DeFeo Jr. murdered his entire family in their colonial home located in Long Island, New York. The following year, one month after DeFeo was convicted of murder, George and Kathy Lutz moved into the DeFeo’s family colonial home. It is the events following which The Amityville Horror film are based on. In the film, originally released in 1979, the Lutz family are terrorized by supernatural forces while in their home, leading to their eventual abandonment of the house, as well as all their belongings, after roughly one month.
The Amityville Horror novel, which the film was wholly based on, was written by Jay Anson and released in 1977. The novel was the subject of much criticism and controversy due to its claims of being based on true events. Anson’s novel was based on many hours of tape recordings by the Lutz family, recollecting the haunting events that had taken place in the Amityville home.
1. The Conjuring
Based on real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, The Conjuring takes place in a Rhode Island farmhouse in 1971. Initially released in 2013, the film follows the Perron family’s encounter with violent supernatural forces that terrorize them relentlessly. Reaching out to Ed and Lorraine Warren, the history of the farmhouse begins to unfold as they uncover a satanic curse placed by a witch, commencing the string of terrifying events taking place. The film crew sought out Lorraine Warren who served as a consultant for the movie, as well as featured in a cameo. Known for their extensive knowledge with the paranormal, Ed and Lorraine Warren were involved in countless investigations involving the supernatural.
The “based on true events” tagline can be extremely decisive with audiences, heightening the fear for some, and provoking skeptics and criticism for others. What is your favorite ghost movie based on true events? Be sure to let us know on Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit! You can also subscribe to the NOFS Podcast for awesome horror commentary. Stay ghoulish, friends!