Stranger than Fiction – Horror Ripped from the Headlines

Episode 48 “Based on True Events” is Out Now

In Episode 48 we discuss how sometimes, all a writer needs to make a good horror flick is a terrifying real-life story.

The Episode spends most of its focus on the 1976 cult classic, “The Town that Dreaded Sundown”. The film was directed by Charles B. Pierce who also directed “The Legend of Boggy Creek” in 1972. The actual story gripped the town of Texarkana for months, causing people to finally lock their doors at night.

Certainly not the first

Below is a list of some of the more recognizable movie adaptations of real-life events that shocked cities, towns, and entire countries.

Psycho – 1960 // The Texas Chainsaw Massacre – 1974 // The Silence of the Lambs – 1991

The True Story

Ed Gein was a murderer and body snatcher from Plainfield, Wisconsin. In 1957 police found out that he was exhuming corpses from local graveyards and using the bones and skin to create trophies. He was suspected of nine murders but only two were confirmed. He also had an unhealthy obsession with his deceased mother.

The Birds -1963

The True Story

“The Birds” was a horror story written by the British writer Daphne du Maurier, first published in her 1952 collection The Apple Tree. After reading the story, Hitchcock also spotted an article in the news about thousands of birds turning up dead on the streets of Capitola, California.

“Residents, in the Capitola area, were awakened about 3 a.m. today by the rain of birds slamming against their homes.”

Dead and stunned seabirds littered the streets and roads in the foggy, early morning hours.

The Exorcist – 1973

The True Story

Author William Peter Blatty was a student at Georgetown Universty when he heard the story of a 14-year-old boy from Maryland. In 1949, a young man recieved a Ouija board from his aunt. After she passed away, their house became haunted and young man, possessed. The “Catholic Rite of Exorcism” was used and made him all better.

Jaws – 1975

The True Story

An Article from The Smithsonian will tell you that Peter Benchley wrote his novel, “Jaws” after learning of the ‘summer of 1916 shark attacks’. A rougue great white went up and down the eastern shoreline eating people. While the story of the shark attacks is true, Benchley denied the connection in 2001.

The story came about after learning of a man named Frank Mundus. Mundus was a fishing boat captain who once, reportedly, harpooned a 4,500-pound great white shark in 1964. The shark was too big to be weighed. Benchley created the character “Quint” around what he new of Mundus.

The Town that Dreaded Sundown – 1976

The True Story

Listen to Episode 48 if you want to know the whole story of Texarkana Moonlight Murders of 1946. Five people died, an entire town suffered and the “Phantom Killer” was never caught. The original movie stays fairly true to the actual events. The 2014 movie is a sequel of sorts.

The Amityville Horror – 1979

The True Story

In the Long Island town of Amityville, sits the house that in 1974, was the site of six murders. 23-year-old Ronald Defeo Jr. killed his parents and four siblings with a .35 Marlin rifle.

Thirteen months later, the Lutz family moved in, taking advantage of the drastically reduced price. 28 days later, they moved out, claiming that the entities that resided in the home were too much for them.

Poltergeist – 1982

The True Story

Between February and March of 1958, The Hermann family experienced bottle tops and lids exploding off of containers, ornaments flying, a heavy bookshelf falling over and a Virgin Mary figure flying through the air, smashing into a mirror 12 feet away.

A police officer was attacked by a globe and a reporter watched his flashbulbs lift off a table. Life Magazine even came and did a piece on the home and the Hermann Family.

The family eventually moved away and the story was credited as being the inspiration behind Poltergeist. The movie itself is said to be cursed.

A Nightmare on Elm Street – 1984

The True Story

From a New York Times article in 1981 –

The Federal Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta is conducting an intensive inquiry into the manner in which 18 apparently healthy Laotian refugees died mysteriously in their sleep in this country within the last four years. One possibility being explored is that they were frightened to death by nightmares.

The 17 men and a woman were members of a preliterate Laotion mountain society called the Hmong. About 35,000 Hmong are now living in the United States. Most of them fled their homeland after it was overrun in 1975 by the Pathet Lao.

Wes Craven read the articles and began crafting the idea for Freddy Kreuger.

Scream – 1996

The True Story

Wes Craven must have been an avid newspaper reader. Once again he turned to the news for inspiration with 1996’s Scream. The film that helped revitalize the slasher film genre was based on a string of 1990 murders carried out by Danny Rolling. Rolling killed at least five students at a local college and may have killed three more in a different state.

His actions earned him the moniker, The Gainesville Ripper.

Open Water – 2003

The True Story

2003’s “Open Water” centers on an American couple accidentally left behind after a scuba diving excursion while on vacation. The true story isn’t that much different. In 1998 Tom and Eileen Lonergan went out to explore the Great Barrier Reef with the Outer Edge Dive Company and were accidentally left behind because the dive-boat crew failed to take an accurate headcount.

It was two days before anyone realized what had happen. The couple were never found.

Wolf Creek – 2005

The True Story

Wolf Creek came about after the writer read stories of AustraIians Ivan Milat who killed at least seven tourists between 1989 and 1993 and Bradley John Murdoch who was found guilty for the murder of an English backpacker named Peter Falconio in the year 2005.

The main character, “Mick” Taylor is based on the above mentioned men.

Borderland – 2007

The True Story

“Borderlands” is based mostly on the real life story of Adolfo de Jesús Constanzo. Constanzo was a serial killer, drug dealer and cult leader who led an occult gang that the press named “Los Narcosatánicos”. In the mid-80’s Constanzo moved to Mexico City and quickly gathered a following. He ran a profitable business casting spells to bring good luck, using chickens, goats, snakes, zebras and lion cubs as ritual sacrifices.

Eventually the crew began grave robbing for human bones to add to their rituals. They soon realized however, that their power would grow even more with human sacrifices. The cult took the lives of over twenty victims in a span of three years. Constanzo’s final step was to secure the brain of an American student. A college student named Mark Kilroy was abducted and murdered during his Spring Break trip in 1989.

The Conjuring – 2013 // Annabelle – 2014

The True Story

The Conjuring Universe of films is the highest grossing horror franchise world wide. The franchise includes three Conjuring titles as part of the main series as well as three Annabelle films and 2019’s “The Curse of La Llorona, with more spin-offs planned.

The films were written around the real-life cases and experiences of the husband and wife paranormal investigative team of Ed and Lorraine Warren. The main series focuses on the Warren’s attempts at helping people possessed by demonic spirits. The spin-off movies focus on the origins of some of the strange entities that the Warrens have come across in their career.

The Warrens founded the New England Society for Psychic Research in 1952. After countless books written about their investigations, the couple were some of the first people to set foot in the aforementioned Amityville home. It was the case that really put them on the map while also making them a target for critics and non-believers.

The Annabelle series of films was written about a Raggedy Ann doll that the Warren’s came into contact with. In 1968, while investigating a possession, two roommates claimed their Raggedy Ann doll was possessed by the spirit of a young girl named Annabelle Higgins. The Warrens removed the doll from the home and secured it behind glass at the family’s Occult Museum.

Did we miss any? Let us know in the comments below or by emailing

Listen to episode 48 below or on any streaming service!

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