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20 Horrifying Crime Movies Whose True Stories Are Way More Terrifying

Updated December 26, 2019 128.2k votes 23.2k voters 2.5m views20 items

List RulesVote up the scariest movies with the creepiest real-life stories behind them.

Not all the movies on this list are, strictly speaking, crime films. However, these movies all have their roots in real transgressions or bizarre cases , such as The Exorcism of Emily Rose , in which priests and a girl's parents may have been responsible for her demise.

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 went after 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 passing in his sleep. Infamous slayer 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 culprits. 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.

  • The Hills Have Eyes
    Photo: Vanguard

    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 inbreeding. The clan lived in a cave and emerged at night to rob and off travelers, whose remains 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.

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  • 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 tormented 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."

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  • 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 targets 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. 

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  • In The Strangers, three masked lunatics terrorize a young couple, played by Scott Speedman and Liv Tyler. The 2008 film's writer-director, Bryan Bertino, revealed that the home invasion premise was inspired by a time during his childhood when a stranger knocked on his door and asked for someone who wasn't there.

    The director later found out that a series of break-ins had occurred in his neighborhood. The culprits would knock front doors and, if no one was home, enter the house. The Manson Family book Helter Skelter also inspired Bertino.

    The film opens with the following narration:

    What you are about to see is inspired by true events. According to the FBI, there are an estimated 1.4 million violent crimes in America each year. On the night of February 11, 2005, Kristen McKay and James Hoyt left a friend's wedding reception and returned to the Hoyt summer home. The brutal events that took place there are still not entirely known.

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