Would you believe that some of your favorite horror movies are based on real events, terrifying true-life stories? While Hollywood has been known to embellish a bit, sometimes the truth is even more disturbing than the cinematic representation of it. To wit, the following films:
Ed Gein inspired the Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Psycho
Ed Gein was… troubled. He was the kind of guy who, if you were somehow invited to his house for a nice dinner and you asked him, “My, where did you get such a lovely lampshade?” you would instantly regret being polite. His exploits were, at the time, in a more sheltered America, something completely unheard of, and the possibilities of depravity portrayed in horror were forever changed.
Two of, somewhat arguably, the best horror movies of each respective decade (the 60s and 70s) were inspired directly by his legend: Psycho and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (that’s Chain and Saw as two separate words, the GOOD version of the movie!). Cannibalism, the hoarding and collecting from gravedigging—things that were considered far, far, far too taboo—were now thrust into the mainstream where it could haunt our dreams for nights to come.
Just like poor, tortured Norman Bates, ol’ Ed Gein had something of a mommy issue, and instead of working through it like most folks tend to do, he decided to become the weirdest neighbor ever.
Silence of the Lambs was a crash course of serial killer profiles
In 1984 Ted Bundy, a psychopathic killer who escaped from prison and was too stupid to lay low and continued to kill (because, hey, why not?), helped law-enforcement officer Robert Keppel in his search for the at-large Greenway killer. Sound familiar? Thomas Harris adapted that relationship between law enforcer and murderer for his novel Red Dragon and then further elaborated on it in The Silence of the Lambs, which was adapted into one of the very best horror films of all time. Keppel was like the prototype of Will Graham and then eventually Clarice Starling.
Hannibal Lecter was clearly much more charming and manipulative than his counterpart in reality, Ted Bundy, but Bundy was no fool. He knew how to play the game and receive special treatment.
But that’s not where the real-life inspiration ends. Buffalo Bill, the killer of women in the novel and film, was modeled after Gary Heidnik, who had a basement pit and everything. Seriously… there’s no way you’re going to have access to something like that and NOT be a serial killer. Don’t trust a guy with a murder pit, is what I’m saying.
Terrifying, literally lethal nightmares inspired A Nightmare on Elm Street
Brugada syndrome is the major cause of something called Sudden Unexplained Death Syndrome (SUNDS). And, for the life of me, I can’t imagine a more terrifying anything than something called Sudden Unexplained Death Syndrome, because it’s exactly how it sounds. Oh, well, you’re dead and… that was crazy. Sorry about that.
Cambodian refugees, suffering from vivid, PTSD-invoked nightmares after they survived bombings refused to sleep, and after succumbing to the need, died in their sleep shortly after. Wes Craven was so taken by this phenomenon and crafted a story around it, in which the refusal to sleep and the dreamworld deaths were caused by a singular entity—a force of pure evil named Freddy Krueger. And the terror could take place anywhere, even in your own neighborhood, so he titled it A Nightmare on Elm Street.
Freddy himself was a composite of fear that Wes Craven had known in real life. According to legend, Fred Krueger was the name of a kid who has bullied Craven when he was a child, so he named him appropriately. Craven’s father was also a man that he had feared, so much of the inherent horror than he emanated was based on his rocky relationship he had with the paterfamilias.
There’s something about Freddy that struck a chord with audiences worldwide. He is at once your schoolyard bully and also a tyrannical father, but taken to the next logical extreme and given homicidal tendencies that can’t be stopped because they transcend reality.
The Stanley Hotel was the original Overlook
The Shining, the novel and The Shining, the film, are completely different. To this day, there is a subject of much debate as to which work is better. Some prefer Stephen King’s take on a man struggling with his sanity, and others prefer Stanley Kubrick’s visceral journey into madness. But, fear not, there is no wrong answer because both works has their strengths and faults, but both are completely, completely brilliant and stand as some of the best work either artist is responsible for.
Whichever work you prefer, the one thing they have in common is the Overlook Hotel, the purely evil, seemingly alive location that the action takes place in. It has a history that has turned it and its property into unhallowed ground, where things go bump in the night and turn people against each other.
The Overlook is modeled after the Stanley Hotel in Colorado. A series of accidents that involve explosions and deadly falls have garnered the hotel with a reputation that it is haunted, a hot spot for spiritual activity. People have told tales of a deceased chambermaid’s spirit climbing into bed with an unmarried couple to try to force them apart. The ghosts of Freelan Stanley, the long-dead man who built the hotel, has been reported as being seen, along with his wife, dressed in formal attire, atop a set of stairs on certain occasions.
And speaking of hotels…
A History of Horror at the Cecil Hotel in Los Angeles
Years ago, on vacation, I had the distinct, ah, pleasure? Is pleasure the word I’m looking for? Probably not. I had the distinct, uh, OPPORTUNITY, I guess, of having stayed at the Cecil Hotel in downtown LA with my girlfriend. It was forty bucks a night, smelled weird, but gave us a place to lay our heads at night.
Maybe a month or two later, Elisa Lam checked in and never checked out. What exactly was responsible for her death is the subject of much debate, but last time I checked, perhaps as a result of what happened, the Cecil had totally reinvented itself into some sort of bizarre hostel-type situation as opposed to a hotel.
One of the Cecil’s most famous guests was a Mr. Richard Ramirez, aka the Night Stalker, aka the Reason I Lock My Doors and Windows at Night. He said if he found a door or window unlocked, it was like an invitation to come in and have all kinds of fun. So, you know, it takes like two seconds so I’ll just latch my entryways, thanks.
Unlike the Stanley, the Cecil isn’t some posh place where rich people hang their coats. It’s in a place I’d colorfully refer to as The Rat’s Nest. It’s where serial killers hang their, ah, whatever the hell it is they hang. Knives? Part of its charm is its total sleaziness, which is why it’s so ideal for inspiration.
The newest season of American Horror Story is somewhat based on it, as is Nicolas Winding Refn’s upcoming The Neon Demon. It stars Keanu Reeves and Christina Hendricks, so even if the movie ends up being terrible (and I hope it isn’t), it’s worth seeing based on that aspect alone.
The Exorcism of real-life Emily Rose, Anneliese Michel, was super depressing
Like the film The Exorcism of Emily Rose, a young girl died of malnourishment and a trial was underway, looking to bring justice to those responsible for her death. In both film and reality, she was believed to have been possessed by a demonic entity.
Whatever the cause may have been—mental illness, something intangible and indefinable and evil, the poor girl suffered until her death. Anneliese Michel was only 23 when she died, and what happened to her has been cited as a textbook case of misdiagnosed mental illness. Her parents had completely stopped giving her any medical attention and, instead, relied solely on exorcism rituals. Because she had stopped receiving medical attention, the inevitable happened, and should have been considered a no-brainer, but those involved were positively shocked that she passed away.
Anneliese Michel has been kept in a semi-starved condition during the exorcism rites for almost an entire year. The amount of time that she had the misery inflicted upon her as something I can’t even imagine accurately. I’ve been miserable and cold and in pain and hurt, but I’ve never had something attack my psyche and my very soul for such a period of time. All I can hope is that she found some peace in the end.
Those accused of wrongdoing in the death of Anneliese were found guilty and sentenced to prison… for 6 months.