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Not all scary movies are fake. Many popular horror films are based on crimes that actually happened, taking real world evil and making viewers come face-to-face with it. The plots in horror movies are often true stories showing you what your fellow man is truly capable of: violence, malice, serial killing and hatred.

This list contains horror movies that were based on real-life atrocities. These true stories shook the very core of the towns they took place in, and some remain unsolved to this very day. Warning: some of the images are very graphic. This list contains actual crime scene photos that are highly disturbing and not for the faint of heart.

 

Keddie Murders / ‘The Strangers’

Photo:  The Strangers (2008) – Focus Features/via Amazon/Fair Use

In 1981, between the evening of April 11 and into the morning of April 12, a triple murder occurred in Cabin 28 at the Keddie Resort in California. Multiple unidentified assailants stabbed, bludgeoned, and strangled Sue Sharp, a 36-year-old mother of five, her 15-year-old son John, and his 17-year-old friend Dana Wingate.

Sharp’s 14-year-old daughter Sheila discovered the bodies, finding her mother and brother bound with electrical wire and medical tape. They had been repeatedly stabbed with knives and beaten with multiple hammers. Examiners report only Dana died from strangulation. In the next room of the cabin, investigators found Sharp’s two youngest sons, 5 and 10, and their friend unharmed. The three boys were still asleep. Plumas County police determined Sharp’s daughter Tina, 12, was missing. In 1984, on the anniversary of the murders, authorities uncovered Tina’s remains approximately 50 miles away.

The murders remain unsolved, and many accused the police of covering up the crime. The new sheriff, Greg Hagwood, reopened the case in 2013. As of 2018, investigators are examining new DNA evidence from the scene. The murders inspired the 2008 film The Strangers.

Actors: Liv Tyler, Scott Speedman

Released: 2008

Directed by: Bryan Bertino

 

DeFeo Murders / ‘The Amityville Horror’

Photo:  The Amityville Horror (1979) – American International Pictures/via Amazon/Fair Use

On November 13, 1974, Ronald “Butch” Defeo Jr. stalked the halls of his own home in a Long Island suburb. Armed with a .35 Marlin rifle, he shot both of his parents, his two brothers, and his two sisters. Reportedly, Defeo went to work following the murders. Defeo confessed, yet investigators speculate DeFeo didn’t act alone.

Although he later claimed demons “possessed” him, Defeo initially told police the house spoke to him and instructed him to kill his family. The courts convicted him of murder and sentenced him to six consecutive life sentences in a New York prison.

In 1975, George and Kathy Lutz moved into the Amityville home and reported strange paranormal behavior. This was the basis for Jay Anson’s 1977 book The Amityville Horror, which the Lutzs hired him to write. The Lutzs also agreed to the 1979 movie based on the book – The Amityville Horror. Soon, tales of the Amityville home became a pop culture phenomenon. There have been countless documentaries, TV shows, books, and movies written about both families and the mystery surrounding the house.

Actors: James Brolin, Margot Kidder, Rod Steiger, Murray Hamilton, Helen Shaver, + more

Released: 1979

Directed by: Stuart Rosenberg

 

The Torture Of Sylvia Likens / ‘The Girl Next Door’

Photo:  The Girl Next Door (2007) – Starz Home Entertainment/via Amazon/Fair Use

The Girl Next Door is a 2007 film adaptation of the 1989 true crime book of the same title. Both are based on the true story of the torture and murder of a 16-year-old girl in Indianapolis, IN. Media and locals consider Sylvia Likens’s death as “the most terrible crime ever committed” in the state.

In 1965, the migrant Likens parents left Sylvia and her sister, Jenny, in the care of Gertrude Baniszewski. Baniszewski, along with her children and some neighborhood boys, reportedly tied Sylvia up, scalded her with boiling water, put out cigarettes on her, and on at least two occasions, sexually brutalized her with objects like soda bottles.

Baniszewski told Sylvia’s parents the teen had run away, so police officers came to investigate the alleged runaway. Once in the safety of police custody, Jenny revealed the abuse at the boarding home. On October 26, 1965, police found Sylvia’s body. The medical examiners determined the official cause of death as brain swelling, brain hemorrhaging, and shock from the prolonged damage done to her body. The autopsy revealed approximately 150 wounds to the teen’s body. Jenny later testified against her sister’s killers.

The courts sentenced Baniszewski to life in prison and released her on parole in 1985, despite public outcry. She died of lung cancer in 1990. Authorities charged three of Baniszewski’s four children in the torture and murder of Sylvia. The eldest, 17, served seven years, while the 12-year-old served two. Two of the neighborhood boys also served two years for torture and manslaughter.

Actors: Catherine Mary Stewart, William Atherton, Mark Margolis, Jack Ketchum, Michael Zegen, + more

Released: 2007

Directed by: Gregory Wilson

 

The Unsolved Murder Of Elizabeth Short / ‘The Black Dahlia’

Photo:  The Black Dahlia (2006) – Universal Pictures/via Amazon/Fair Use

In January 1947, a Los Angeles pedestrian discovered a mutilated body in the Leimert Park neighborhood. The LAPD, in conjunction with the FBI, swiftly identified the victim as 22-year-old Elizabeth Short. An unknown assailant sliced Short’s face from ear to ear, then severed the body at the waist with “medical precision.” Medical examiners reported Short died of hemorrhaging from the lacerations.

The unsolved murder of the aspiring actress gained media attention. Short’s case is referred to as “The Black Dahlia,” and the 2006 film of the same name is based on her murder and the alleged conspiracies surrounding her death.

Most of the books and movies following Short’s death focus on who may be responsible for her murder. In 2017, author Piu Eatwell released Black Dahlia, Red Rose: The Crime, Corruption, and Cover-Up of America’s Greatest Unsolved Murder, which maintains initial suspect Leslie Dillon killed Short in a conspiracy involving corrupt LAPD officers and notorious LA gang members.

Actors: Scarlett Johansson, Rose McGowan, Hilary Swank, Josh Hartnett, k.d. lang, + more

Released: 2006

Directed by: Brian De Palma

 

Ed Gein / ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’

Photo: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) – Vortex/via Amazon/Fair Use

Ed Gein, known as “The Butcher of Plainfield,” robbed graves for female body parts. After Gein’s mother died in 1945, he began stealing female corpses from a local cemetery and stripping them of their skin and hair. In 1957, he confessed to the murder of Bernice Worden, whom he claimed to kill for “raw material.”

When police searched the remote Wisconsin farmhouse, they found – in addition to missing person Mary Hogan’s head – clothing, masks, and a “suit” made from female skin. Authorities uncovered boxes of human bones, household items fashioned from the skins, and a refrigerator full of severed body parts.

The courts initially found Gein unfit to stand trial on the grounds of mental insanity. In 1968, Wisconsin authorities tried Gein and sentenced him to life in a psychiatric facility. Gein is the inspiration behind Leatherface, the masked killer in Tobe Hooper’s 1974 The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

Actors: Gunnar Hansen, Marilyn Burns, Edwin Neal, John Henry Faulk, Jim Siedow, + more

Released: 1974

Directed by: Tobe Hooper

 

Phantom Killer / ‘The Town That Dreaded Sundown’

Photo: The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976) – American International Pictures/via Amazon/Fair Use

The 1976 film The Town That Dreaded Sundown brought mainstream attention to Texarkana, a small town located between Texas and Arkansas. The film is based on the true unsolved case of the “Texarkana Moonlight Murders.” Referred to as the “Phantom Killer,” a masked man terrorized Texarkana for almost three months in 1946.

The unknown assailant attacked couples who were out at night in isolated areas. Reportedly, an armed man wearing a crude white sack over his head with eye-holes cut out attacked the unsuspecting couples. Police departments on both sides of the state line investigated the four attacks – of which three people survived and five died. With no conclusive evidence, authorities never arrested any suspects for the murders.

Actors: Dawn Wells, Ben Johnson, Andrew Prine

Released: 1976

Directed by: Charles B. Pierce

 

Joe Ball / ‘Eaten Alive’

Photo: Eaten Alive (1977) – Mars Productions Corporation/via Amazon/Fair Use

Tobe Hooper’s 1977 horror film Eaten Alive is based on the crimes of Joe Ball. Ball – later referred to as “The Butcher of Elmendorf” – was a bootlegger, gambler, and bar owner in Bexar County, TX, back in the 1930s. He had an alligator pond in the back of his bar and allegedly would make a spectacle out of feeding them live puppies and cats for his bar patrons’ entertainment.

Reportedly, Ball was romantically involved with his waitresses and barmaids – many of whom later went missing. Ex-girlfriends, wives, and female employees vanish around Ball. In 1938, two Bexar County Sheriff’s deputies questioned Ball. He immediately pulled out a gun from his register and shot himself.

After Ball’s death, a handyman named Clifford Wheeler confessed to helping Ball hide two bodies and led police to Hazel Brown and Minnie Gotthard. Ball dismembered his other victims and fed their remains to his alligators. Wheeler also informed police he believed his former employer killed somewhere around 20 women.

Actors: Kyle Richards, Robert Englund, Carolyn Jones, Mel Ferrer, Stuart Whitman, + more

Released: 1977

Directed by: Tobe Hooper

The Backpack Killer / ‘Wolf Creek’

Photo: Wolf Creek (2005) – The Australian Film Finance Corporation/via Amazon/Fair Use

The 2005 Australian horror film Wolf Creek is loosely based on the “Backpacker murders,” which occurred around the Belanglo State Forest from 1989 through 1992. Serial killer Ivan Milat murdered seven people, targeting out-of-town backpackers in New South Wales. He stabbed, shot, strangled, and beat his victims. Reportedly, he used at least one victim’s decapitated head for “target practice.” He disposed of their bodies in Belanglo State Forest at a site known as Executioner’s Drop.

In September 1992, runners discovered a decomposing body in the woods. Through November 1993, Police unearthed several more bodies. After hearing about the Backpacker murders on television, a British man named Paul Onions recalled an encounter he had while hitchhiking near Sydney. The driver of a car pulled a gun on him, and when Onions took off, the man shot at him.

Onions gave police a description matching Milat, who already had a record for sexual assault. Police found the packs and personal items of the victims at Milat’s house. In 1996, the courts convicted Milat of seven murders. Police suspect he had more victims that were never recovered.

Actors: Teresa Palmer, John Jarratt, Kestie Morassi, Nathan Phillips, Cassandra Magrath, + more

Released: 2005

Directed by: Greg McLean

 

Henry Lee Lucas / ‘Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer’

Photo: Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986) – Maljack Productions/via Amazon/Fair Use

Texas courts charged Henry Lee Lucas for the murder of his mother in 1960 and sentenced him to 40 years in a psychiatric facility. Released after a decade, Lucas then sexually assaulted two teens, and the courts re-incarcerated him. In 1975, Lucas, a free man, met Ottis Toole. Reportedly, the two lovers conducted a notorious cross-country “killing spree” for the next seven years.

Authorities speculate the duo killed between 69 and 81 people. The courts charged them for less than a dozen murders, although they allege to killing over 100 people. Toole also alleged both men participated in necrophilia, although Lucas did not share Toole’s penchant for cannibalism.

Michael Rooker portrayed Lucas in the 1986 crime drama Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.

Actors: Michael Rooker, Tom Towles, Tracy Arnold

Released: 1986

Directed by: John McNaughton

 

Adolfo De Jesús Constanzo / ‘Borderland’

Photo: Borderland (2007) – After Dark Films/via Amazon/Fair Use

The 2007 horror film Borderland is loosely based on the story of cult leader Adolfo de Jesús Constanzo. A practitioner of dark magic, Constanzo became a mythical adviser to drug dealers. He would offer his services and perform rituals for his clients, including human sacrifice. His followers helped him find victims and dismember them.

In 1989, after Constanzo and his cult kidnapped Mark Kilroy – an American citizen and University of Texas student – for one of their rituals, the US intervened and asked the Mexican government to solve these ongoing cult-related crimes.

Police raided Constanzo’s ranch and discovered the remains of 15 people on the property, including Kilroy. Constanzo ordered his followers to kill him in a “suicide pact” so that he wouldn’t face jail time.

Actors: Sean Astin, Mircea Monroe, Martha Higareda, Rider Strong, Beto Cuevas, + more

Released: 2007

Directed by: Zev Berman

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