There are countless horror films from throughout history that profess to be based on true stories even though, in reality, every single element of the plot is made up. The Fourth Kind is just one example of that phenomenon.
Still, that isn’t to say that there aren’t any horror movies that are truly based on actual events. Granted, the films themselves usually take great liberties, but in a lot of cases, there’s still some nugget of truth at the center of the story.
If you’re in the mood to watch one of those films and realize that reality is scarier than fiction, here’s a look at some that are available for streaming.
The Conjuring (Netflix)
James Wan’s 2013 hit The Conjuring is arguably one of the finest horror films of the 2010s so far, and both this original film and its sequel are based in reality.
In the first installment, Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga play Ed and Lorraine Warren, two paranormal investigations who go to visit a family experiencing paranormal events at their farmhouse. Ed and Lorraine Warren really were two famous paranormal investigators who have been associated with a number of high-profile cases, including the Amityville Haunting.
The plot of this first film is based on a real Warren case from 1971, although the movie obviously takes great liberties. The opening scene also depicts the case of Annabelle, a supposedly haunted doll; this, too, is based on a real Warren case; the real Annabelle doll looked nothing like the one in the movie, however.
If you like The Conjuring, be sure to check out its sequel, The Conjuring 2, although that one isn’t available on Netflix as the original is.
The Disappointments Room (Netflix)
Believe it or not, The Disappointments Room is a horror film based on an episode of an HGTV show. Needless to say, there aren’t many other films that fall into that category.
The movie stars Kate Beckinsale as a mother who discovers the strange history behind a mysterious room in her new house. It’s based in part on an episode from the HGTV show If Walls Could Talk, in which a couple discovers a room in their new home with iron-barred windows that locks from the outside; they later conclude that the previous owner must have locked his daughter away in this “disappointments room.”
There’s quite a lot in the movie that was made up, though. The film also received pretty horrible reviews, so definitely keep your expectations in check if you’re going to watch this one. It’s available to stream on Netflix.
In this recent Spanish horror film, a teenager unleashes a demonic presence after attempting to use a Ouija board to summon her father’s spirit.
The movie is based on the true story of Estefania Gutierrez Lazaro, a real girl who died in 1992. She had supposedly used a Ouija board in an attempt to contact the spirit of her recently deceased boyfriend, and her friends say that she suffered seizures and hallucinations for months afterward. Her parents also claimed that their house was haunted.
Veronica received fairly positive reviews from critics, although some noted that it didn’t offer a whole lot new to the genre. The film is available to stream on Netflix.
Jaws (Amazon Prime)
Between July 1st and July 12th of 1916, four people were killed in a series of shark attacks that occurred along the coast of New Jersey. This incident would later serve as inspiration for the novel Jaws and subsequently the movie adaptation, and the film itself actually references the events as having occurred within the reality of the film.
In the scene where Brody is trying to convince the mayor to close the beach, he says, “It’s gonna happen again. It happened before! The Jersey beach! 1916! Five people chewed up on the surf in one week.”
Jaws is available to stream on Amazon Prime.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Shudder)
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre opens with a text crawl that claims all of the events that we’re about to see unfold are 100% real and that the film is based on “one of the most bizarre crimes in the annals of American history.” That’s all made up; the characters in this film are completely fictional, as are the vast majority of the events.
However, the story was, in fact, inspired by the real-life killer Ed Gein, who would dig up bodies from the local cemetery and use them to make household objects like bowels and lampshades. This is similar to what we see in the film, as at Leatherface’s house, furniture is made from human bones. Gein also inspired a number of other horror films, including Psycho and The Silence of the Lambs.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is available to stream on Shudder.
The Sacrament (Shudder)
In this 2013 film from Ti West, two journalists document their friend’s search for his missing sister, coming upon a religious community that they begin to realize is not what it seems.
Although it’s not meant to be a direct adaptation, the cult in the film is clearly modeled after Jonestown. Famously, over 900 members of the Peoples Temple died of cyanide poisoning in 1978 in what is still the largest loss of American life in a deliberate act in history outside of September 11th.
In an interview, director Ti West said that although the movie isn’t directly based on Jonestown, it was heavily inspired by it. He said, “I’m just using a real event as a framework to remind you that when you hear about these tragic things on the news- now be confronted with them so they’re not just throwaway, so they’re not just ‘drink the Kool-Aid.'”
The Amityville Horror (STARZ)
We mentioned the Amityville haunting while talking about Ed and Lorraine Warren, and, of course, that one real-life case has inspired a whole series of films. In real life, the Lutz family moved into a home on Long Island where a man had murdered his entire family, and after a month, they left, saying they had witnessed paranormal activity there (although major aspects of their story were later called into question).
This spawned a movie, The Amityville Horror, in 1979, which actually received pretty negative reviews at the time but that horror fans have gained more appreciation for in the years since. A sequel was released a few years later, followed by another one, and another one. Believe it or not, there are now a total of 18 films based on the Amityville haunting, although not all of them are part of the same series.
One of those films was a 2005 remake, which starred Ryan Reynolds in the lead role. It’s this remake, not the 1979 original, which is available to stream on STARZ. The most recent entry into the series, Amityville: The Awakening, is also available.