What’s one thing that can make a great horror movie even scarier? The idea that it could actually happen off-screen, in the real world. Most scary movies, while good for a scream or two, won’t give you nightmares due to their plausibility. But there are a select few that are made all the more terrifying because the stories are realistic.
Check out these six horror movies that could actually happen in real life.
1. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer
The 1986 psychological horror film, directed by John McNaughton, follows the random crime spree of a serial killer who seemingly operates with impunity. Though the movie was highly controversial (earning an “X” rating by the Motion Picture Association of America), it also received many positive reviews, with critics praising the film for dealing with the subject matter honestly and realistically, “instead of trying to sugar-coat the violence.”
It’s an effective and chilling profile of a murderer, made even more so by the fact that it wouldn’t be wholly unrealistic in real life. In fact, the movie was actually loosely inspired by Henry Lee Lucas, who was convicted of 11 murders but claimed to have committed over 600 slayings.
2. The Silence of the Lambs
Part of what makes this 1991 flick so scary is that it’s part horror film, part psychological study. It’s not like Hannibal Lecter is some inexplicable supernatural demon. He’s a highly brilliant, highly disturbed man who can’t stifle his urges to eat people.
That’s an entirely plausible character, given that cannibalism did and still does exist. Also, the movie’s other bad guy, Buffalo Bill, is a serial killer on the loose, which adds a whole new level of all-too-believable fear to the scenario.
3. The Strangers
This 2008 horror film stars Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman as a suburban couple terrorized by three masked assailants. The attackers break into their isolated summer home and destroy all means of escape or ability to call for help by destroying their car and all phone lines. But the truly scary part? While we never actually see their faces, the bad guys seem (relatively) normal.
They dress in regular clothes and they speak and interact like average humans — meaning we’re not dealing with zombies or anything extraordinary here, just a trio of terrifyingly warped people. It could literally be anyone beneath those masks, which reminds us that danger could be anywhere — and unfortunately, that’s all too true outside of the big screen as well.
4. The Crazies
The 1973 horror action film (and the 2010 remake) focuses on the aftermath of a government-created biological weapon that accidentally crash lands in a small town’s water supply, infecting it with a virus, code-named Trixie. The virus causes some people to go into homicidal rages. Meanwhile, the government attempts to cover the story up and quarantine the entire town. When that doesn’t work, they even talk about nuking the city altogether.
In terms of real-life plausibility, the movie hits on some pretty scary possibilities. A virus in a town’s water supply would spread quickly and very likely require a quarantine. As for how the government would react … well, let’s just hope it never comes to nuking.
5. The Birds
Leave it to Alfred Hitchcock to make birds terrifying. This 1963 horror film focuses on a series of sudden and unexplained violent bird attacks on the people of Bodega Bay, California over the course of a few days. While back then, that may have seemed completely out of the realm of possibility, it’s not so crazy anymore.
Global warming trends have thrown the flight paths of migratory birds off-course, driving them away from southern climates and further north. Case in point? In 2013, millions of blackbirds descended upon a small Kentucky city in winter. They didn’t attack residents, but their excessive droppings did pose a serious health hazard.
This 2010 thriller isn’t a horror flick in the blood-and-gore sense of the word, but it is horrifying in plenty of other, more realistic ways. The movie chronicles the worldwide outbreak of a deadly virus passed via skin-to-skin contact or contact with an item that an afflicted person has touched. As it spreads quickly and threatens to kill the entire human population, the government scrambles to figure out a cause and come up with a solution.
It’s arguably a scarier scenario than that of more traditional horror films, just because it’s so plausible. In fact, when it first came out, the CDC said the film, while not without its flaws, was highly accurate in capturing the super contagious nature of such a disease.
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