Not all the movies on this list are, strictly speaking, crime films. Not in the sense that The Departed or The French Connection are crime dramas. However, these movies all have their roots in real crimes or bizarre cases, such as The Exorcism of Emily Rose, in which priests and a girl's parents may have been responsible for her death.
Some of the films draw from news stories, and others are adaptations of novels based on notorious killers. While Freddy Krueger wasn’t actually a real person who attacked teenagers in their sleep, the premise of A Nightmare on Elm Street was based on the story of a perfectly healthy young Cambodian refugee who was having terrible nightmares before finally dying in his sleep. Infamous killer and grave robber Ed Gein inspired some of the most iconic film characters in the history cinema: Norman Bates from Psycho, Buffalo Bill from The Silence of the Lambs, and Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Some of the films based on true stories from this list are more factual than others. For example, Dahmer and Monster are not horror films inspired by actual murders, they are biopics of the real murderers. While the films take a poetic license, they tell the stories of Jeffrey Dahmer’s and Aileen Wuornos’s lives. Check out these 20 films inspired by true stories.
One of Wes Craven's earliest films, The Hills Have Eyes (1977), follows a family whose car breaks down in the middle of the Nevada desert. The family then encounters a savage clan of mutants. Craven based his script on the 15th-century legend of Alexander "Sawney" Bean, who lived with his family in a cave in Bennane Head, Scotland.
According to legend, Sawney had 14 children and 32 grandchildren, most of whom were products of incest. The clan lived in a cave and emerged at night to rob and murder travelers, whose bodies they would bring back to their cave to eat. This lasted for about 25 years until locals finally figured out why people kept disappearing, and why random body parts would wash up on the shore.
It's difficult to determine how historically accurate Hostel is, in part because the series' infamous "Elite Hunting" organization might actually still exist. In an interview, director Eli Roth claimed that an organization based in Thailand lets members shoot people in the head for the price of $10,000. Allegedly, impoverished family members sell the victims to the organization.
While there's no evidence online to confirm the existence of such a group, theorists speculate that a real-life Elite Hunting organization could exist within the country.
Director Gregory Wilson's thriller The Girl Next Door was an adaptation of Jack Ketchum's 1989 novel of the same name, which was inspired by real-life events. In 1965, boarding house owner Gertrude Baniszewski tortured and killed 16-year-old Sylvia Likens. Baniszewski assaulted the teen over a period of time with the help of her six children as well as neighborhood kids.
The prosecutor called the case "the most terrible crime ever committed in the state of Indiana," and even Stephen King regarded the 2007 adaptation as "authentically shocking."
#64 on The Goriest Movies Ever Made
A Nightmare on Elm Street, released in 1984, was indirectly based on a true story. The narrative device of Wes Craven's slasher film - in which knife-for-fingers Freddy Krueger, played by Robert Englund, kills innocent teenagers in their sleep - is entirely fictionalized. However, Craven based the movie on a Los Angeles Times article he read.
Craven described the idea for the premise of A Nightmare on Elm Street:
I’d read an article in the LA Times about a family who had escaped the Killing Fields in Cambodia and managed to get to the U.S. Things were fine, and then suddenly the young son was having very disturbing nightmares. He told his parents he was afraid that if he slept, the thing chasing him would get him, so he tried to stay awake for days at a time. When he finally fell asleep, his parents thought this crisis was over. Then they heard screams in the middle of the night. By the time they got to him, he was dead. He died in the middle of a nightmare. Here was a youngster having a vision of a horror that everyone older was denying. That became the central line of Nightmare on Elm Street.
#8 on The Best Movies of 1984