17 Unsettling True Stories That Were So Messed Up They Became Movies

We asked the BuzzFeed Community to tell us the scariest movies that were based on true events. Here are the terrifying results.


When a Stranger Calls (1979, 2006)

Columbia Pictures, Gulp Pictures / The Columbia Tribune

In 1950, 13-year-old Janett Christman was babysitting a little boy in Missouri, but when his parents returned home they found a broken window and Janett’s lifeless body covered in a pool of her own blood. This unsolved murder was so gruesome that it inspired an urban legend called “the babysitter and the man upstairs,” which has since been adapted into several stories, including When a Stranger Calls.

—Hayden Thomas Veach, Facebook


The Conjuring (2013)

Warner Bros. Pictures

In 1971, a couple moved into an old farmhouse in Rhode Island with their five daughters. Spooky things started to occur, including several ghostly encounters and even a possession. The family was haunted for nine freaking years, which sparked interest from two real-life paranormal investigators, Ed and Lorraine Warren, with whom The Conjuring follows. In fact, the real Lorraine Warren was actually a consultant on the film, so you KNOW the adaptation is both accurate and scary as hell.



Scream (1996)

Dimension Films

Danny Rolling, aka the Gainesville Ripper, murdered five students in their apartments over a four-day period in 1990. His weapon of choice? Always a knife. These gruesome attacks were the inspiration for Scream, introducing the world to one of the creepiest movie villains of all time.



Zodiac (2007)

Paramount Pictures, Public Domain / en.wikipedia.org

The Zodiac Killer terrorized the world after murdering several people in Northern California in the ’60s and ’70s, even sending cryptic messages to the police as a way to taunt them. This thriller follows one man as he tries to solve the case, which is still unsolved to this day. Absolutely terrifying.



In Cold Blood (1967)

Columbia Pictures

This movie was based on Truman Capote’s book of the same name, which recounted the real and brutal murders of four members of the Herbert Clutter family in Kansas in 1959. The movie may not be particularly scary, but knowing that an entire family was murdered for no reason at all is absolutely terrifying.



The Strangers (2008)

Universal Pictures / Wikipedia Commons / Public Domain

A quadruple homicide in a cabin in the woods of rural California was part of the inspiration for The Strangers. And why not? There’s nothing scarier than thinking you’re safe and alone but quickly realizing you’re not – that’s why the Keddie Murders is one of the creepiest unsolved crimes ever.



The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

Bryanston Pictures, Fair Use / en.wikipedia.org

Ed Gein, also known as The Butcher of Plainfield, was the inspiration for this movie’s terrifying villain, Leatherface. Gein killed two women and dismembered their bodies (as well as several bodies he exhumed from graveyards) and used their skin and bones to furnish his house, including a wastebasket made from human skin, bowls made from skulls, and a belt made of human nipples.



The Exorcist (1973)

Warner Bros.

In the 1940s, Roland Doe was 14 years old when he allegedly became possessed. Claw marks would randomly appear on his body and objects would be moved across the room by an unknown force. He and his family tried moving away, but the supernatural being followed. These accounts were documented by a priest, and several exorcisms were performed on Roland, which led to the novel that inspired a movie of the same name: The Exorcist.



Annabelle (2014)

New Line Cinema, instagram.com

Remember Ed and Lorraine Warren, the paranormal investigators who helped inspire the movie The Conjuring? Well, they also examined a seemingly-possessed doll that apparently levitated and “even attempted strangulation on a family friend.” That doll, Annabelle, is currently kept in a glass box in a museum. But don’t worry about it escaping: the box is secured with ritualistic prayers.



The Possession (2012)


There are several legends and horror stories involving dybbuk boxes, i.e. containers which are said to contain evil spirits. But in 2001, Kevin Mannis bought one, and verrrrrry strange things started to happen. Those events inspired the movie The Possession.



Silent Hill (2006)

Metropolitan Filmexport

A 1962 coal mine fire ~underneath~ the borough of Centralia, Pennsylvania, is literally still burning to this day, over 45 years later. The city is practically a ghost town now, though some people view it as a tourist attraction. This nearly-abandoned area inspired screenwriter Roger Avary’s depiction of the spooky village in Silent Hill.



Jaws (1975)

Universal Pictures, The Philadelphia Inquirer

In 1916, several people were attacked and killed from shark attacks off the Jersey Shore. The killings led to shark hunts and the closings of beaches up and down the coast, until one man ultimately killed the shark as it attacked his boat. The novel Jaws was released in 1974, and Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster was released a year later.



A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

New Line Cinema

“Sudden unexpected death syndrome” is a very rare but real thing. After Wes Craven read a newspaper article about people who literally died of fright because of how scary their dreams were, he created the premise for A Nightmare on Elm Street. Good luck falling asleep tonight.

—Katie May, Facebook


Deliver Us from Evil (2004)

Screen Gems

Ralph Sarchie was both an NYPD Sergeant and a demonologist who participated in dozens of exorcisms. His memoir Beware the Night outlined several of his supernatural and spooky encounters, which inspired the movie Deliver Us from Evil.



The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)

Screen Gems, Fair Use / en.wikipedia.org

The Exorcism of Emily Rose was based on the true story of Anneliese Michel, who lived until the mid-1970s. Michel had a seizure when she was 16, which ultimately resulted in temporal lobe epilepsy. After several years of hearing voices and being depressed – none of which were cured by psychiatric medications – her family became convinced that she was possessed by a demon. Her parents got priests to perform 67 exorcisms on her within a 10-month period. Michel later died, and her parents and the priests were found guilty of negligent homicide.



House of 1000 Corpses (2003)

Universal Pictures

The Bloody Benders were a family of serial killers who murdered 11 people (but possibly more) in the early 1870s. These heinous crimes loosely served as inspiration to the movie House of 1000 Corpses. So freaking creepy.

—Bj Sanders-Lunsford, Facebook


And The Girl Next Door (2007)

Starz Home Entertainment, Indiana Department of Corrections / Fair Use

The torture and murder of 16-year-old Sylvia Likens in 1965 was considered “the most terrible crime ever committed in the state of Indiana.” She was tortured in unspeakable ways for three months by the Baniszewski family while she lived with them (to be honest, I felt physically ill while reading about the things they did to her). These horrifying events have inspired several books and movies, including Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door, which was later adapted to a film of the same name.


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