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Reality’s A Killer: 7 Horror Movies Inspired By True Events
July 22, 2013
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A scene from 'The Conjuring' (Photo: AP)

"Based on a true story."

Many films have made that claim, including the haunted-house creep-out 'The Conjuring', which topped the weekend box-office.

According to Box Office Mojo, a site that tracks the financial performance of movies, the impressive debut of 'The Conjuring' can in part be attributed to its based-on-true-case-files angle.

Although 'The Conjuring' is far from being the first horror flick with some basis in reality. In fact, each of these celebrated fright-fests lays claims (sometimes vaguely) to be connected with real-life events.

true-life-horror-movies-dead-ringers.jpgMovie: Dead Ringers
Degree of Truth: Based on real people. Just add David Cronenberg's imagination

The Story: In 1988, Canadian director David Cronenberg released the psychological thriller 'Dead Ringers', loosely based on a best-selling novel called 'Twins', which itself was based on real-life twin gynecologists Stewart and Cyril Marcus.

The Marcus brothers were found dead in a New York apartment, where they had apparently died due to withdrawal from barbiturate addiction. The novel details the crimes and obsessions of the twin doctors.

But when Cronenberg gets involved, things tend to take a turn for the surreal. Bizarre gynecological tools, drug addictions, and murder ensues.

true-life-horror-movies-haunting.jpgMovie: The Haunting in Connecticut
Degree of Truth: Based on a book that's based on a true story that the author later said wasn't true

The Story: The movie is loosely based on the 1992 book 'In A Dark Place: The Story of a True Haunting' (another tale that involves the Warrens, the supernatural investigators who feature in 'The Conjuring'). Both book and movie tell the story of a family that moves into a mortuary to be closer to the hospital where their cancer-stricken child is receiving treatments.

Naturally, the mortuary is a very, scary place and bad things happen, as they did in the book, which purported to tell the story of a girl named Carmen Snedeker and her family.

But the book's author, Ray Garton, has since said the events he wrote about in the book didn't happen as he described them - he now believes
the family was lying about many aspects of their story.

true-life-horror-movies-jaws.jpgMovie: Jaws
Degree of Truth: Four people really were killed by shark attacks on the Jersey Shore back in 1916

The Story: The movie 'Jaws' is based on Peter Benchley's novel of the same name, which he says was inspired both by the story of a fisherman catching a 4,550-pound (2,060-kilo) great white shark off Long Island and the story of the Jersey Shore shark attacks.

Back in 1916, over the course of 12 days, four people were killed and one was injured in shark attacks on the Jersey Shore. To this day, no one knows exactly what type of shark - or how many of them - committed the attacks.

Two days after the last attack, however, a seven-foot-long (2.1 metre-long) great white shark was caught and killed. Human remains were found in its stomach, but to this day, scientists disagree as to whether it was the true culprit.

Either way, it's been almost 100 years since the attacks. Hopefully it's safe to get back in the water.

true-life-horror-movies-nightmare.jpgMovie: A Nightmare on Elm Street
Degree of Truth: Hard to say - but it's based on a disturbing story

The Story: It's pretty hard to believe that a movie about a man with a burned face who haunts people's dreams could have any basis in reality - but the idea came to director Wes Craven after reading a series of LA Times stories about Cambodian immigrants who died in their sleep.

One of those stories was about a young man who was terrified of going to sleep. His family urged him to rest, but he refused. They even gave him sleeping pills, but he spent days awake before finally falling asleep on the couch while watching TV.

His family took him to his bedroom, pleased that he was finally resting. A while later, they heard horrible screams coming from his room. By the time they got inside, he had passed away. The room was in complete disarray, and they found the sleeping pills he claimed to have taken scattered all over the floor.

Apparently he suffered from a condition called Sudden Unexplained Death Syndrome. But Craven took the incident as a jumping-off point to create Freddy Krueger, and launch Johnny Depp's movie career.

true-life-horror-movies-audrey-rose.jpgMovie: Audrey Rose
Degree of Truth: It's all based on a kid playing piano

The Story: 'Audrey Rose' is a fairly surreal horror movie from 1977 about a young girl who starts acting strangely, and whose parents become convinced that the soul of another girl (that would be Audrey) has inhabited her body.

Frank De Felitta wrote both the book and the screenplay for 'Audrey Rose', and he got the idea after he heard his son Raymond, who was six at the time, playing piano perfectly. The twist? The boy had never had a music lesson.

De Felitta consulted an occultist, who claimed Raymond's talent was an "incarnation leak": the young boy had already lived many lifetimes, he said, and his ability to play piano was from a former existence. 'Audrey Rose' was a darker interpretation of the idea.

true-life-horror-movies-psycho.jpgMovie: Psycho
Degree of Truth: The motel is invented. The mom-fixated killer? That's based on reality.

The Story: Like some other horror films and thrillers ('The Texas Chainsaw Massacre', 'The Silence of the Lambs'), Alfred Hitchcock's 'Psycho' is loosely based on the crimes of Ed Gein, a Wisconsin man who confessed in 1957 to the killing of two women.

Police discovered he had also exhumed corpses from local graveyards.

The character of Norman Bates, who runs the Bates Motel in the movie, is partly inspired by Gein.

Spoiler Alert Below

And, like the real-life Gein, Bates ends up caught and in an institution.

true-life-horror-movies-exorcism-emily.jpgMovie: The Exorcism of Emily Rose
Degree of Truth: Based on a series of exorcisms that took place in Germany

The Story: The movie tells the story of a priest on trial for the death of a young woman named Emily Rose, on whom he had performed an exorcism.

It's based on a case from Germany: Annaliese Michel, a German girl said to have displayed symptoms of so-called demonic possession in. She suffered paralysis, self-abuse, starvation, and visions until 1975, when two priests performed exorcisms over the course of 10 months.

In July 1976, Michel died of starvation. Both her parents and the priests were tried and found guilty of manslaughter, and sentenced to six months in jail.

Horror director Eli Roth ('Hostel', 'Cabin Fever') is in the red chair tomorrow, Tuesday July 23 at 7 pm on CBC.

Luckily for world travellers and cabin-lovers alike, his movies aren't based on true stories. But they definitely have a powerful effect on audiences.

He'll also get into his latest acting gig, in 'Aftershock', and talk about portraying the Bear Jew in Quentin Tarantino's 'Inglourious Basterds'.


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