The movie you are about to see is true, except for all the parts that aren't.
We all know by now that the words "based on a true story" help sell movies, and that there are plenty of movies based on true stories that are false, or disputed, or are at best half-true. But do you know which movies are legit and which played extremely fast and loose with that "inspired by real events" tag? This list is here to help, with a number of famous true-story movies that lied, some of them more than others.
Maybe they just distorted facts to make the story more cinematic, or maybe nothing like that ever really happened at all. In some cases, the events of the movie have been made up whole-cloth and just given set dressing to make them seem real, while in others, real stories have been given so much Hollywood treatment that there's almost nothing left of the truth. Whatever the case, these "true-story" movies aren't as true as the marketing might have you believe...
There have been more than a few movies inspired by the macabre deeds of Wisconsin serial killer and grave robber Ed Gein, including Psycho and The Silence of the Lambs. Perhaps the most notorious, however, is Tobe Hooper's 1974 film The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, which opens with the words, "The film which you are about to see is an account of the tragedy which befell a group of five youths," and featured claims that it was "based on a true incident" on VHS covers.
How closely do the events of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre mirror the particulars in the case of Ed Gein? Not very, according to Snopes. For one thing, it didn't take place in Texas, there weren't any chainsaws, and Gein may have been more ghoul than killer, though he did confess to being responsible for the demise of at least two women. What they did have in common, according to Gunnar Hansen, the actor who played Leatherface, was "the skin masks, the furniture made from bones, the possibility of cannibalism. But that's all. The story itself is entirely made up."
- Photo: MGM
"This is a true story." They're the first words we see at the beginning of Fargo, an affectation that has been picked up and repeated by every season of the hit series that has spun off from the film. Here's the thing, though: It really isn't.
"We wanted to make a movie just in the genre of a true story movie," Ethan Coen told HuffPost. "You don't have to have a true story to make a true story movie." That doesn't mean there's nothing real behind the movie, though. The Coen Brothers also revealed that certain events in the film were inspired by true stories - specifically, a GM salesperson who did, in fact, defraud the company by tampering with serial numbers, and a homicide case that gave rise to the film's infamous wood chipper scene. The latter, inspired by the sad fate of Helle Crafts, actually took place in Connecticut.
In an ironic case of life imitating art imitating life, the movie Fargo is rumored to have contributed to the demise of Takako Konishi, a woman who perished near Detroit Lakes, MI, in 2001. When she was found in a snowy field, her last intelligible word was "Fargo," which led some people to conclude that she had taken the film's "true-story" conceit literally and was looking for the suitcase of cash buried by Steve Buscemi's character. In fact, this interpretation of her story became the inspiration for the 2014 film Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter.
Of all the various horror movies that have claimed to be based on a true story over the years, perhaps no other film is as famously wrapped up in its real-world bonafides as The Amityville Horror. Adapted from the book of the same name by Jay Anson - which adds "A True Story" right onto its title - The Amityville Horror seems to find its way onto cinema screens in one form or another every few years, including a recent appearance in the opening moments of The Conjuring 2, which similarly purports to be based on actual events.
So is The Amityville Horror - maybe the most famous "true" horror story of them all - actually true? The verdict at Snopes doesn't beat around the bush - it offers a great big, boldface "False" next to a red stop sign. How did such a famous story turn out to be a hoax? Well, it started with a bit of real horror, as Ronald DeFeo Jr. took the lives of six members of his family in what would become the infamous "Amityville house" in Long Island.
Anson's book is supposedly drawn from the experiences of the Lutzes, the family that moved into the house following the grisly crime. According to them, they experienced all sorts of demonic activity in the home - just about everything you see on-screen and then some, from swarms of insects to gigantic faces peering in windows. And plenty of "experts" later verified their reports, including Ed and Lorraine Warren, the protagonists of the Conjuring franchise.
The problem is that Ronald DeFeo Jr.'s lawyer later admitted to making up the whole thing along with the Lutzes, hoping to get fame and fortune and a new trial for DeFeo.
- Photo: Artisan Entertainment
The casting notice for The Blair Witch Project warns, in all caps, that these will be "EXTREMELY CHALLENGING ROLES," which will be filmed under "very difficult conditions." This is because filmmakers Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myrick had hit upon the idea of hiring unknown actors and sending them out into the Maryland woods to essentially improv a horror movie. Today, this background is almost as legendary as the film itself. For those of us who saw The Blair Witch Project in theaters back in 1999, we may remember its viral marketing campaign, which posited it as a true story - an actual document left behind by student filmmakers who had disappeared.
While there's no actual Blair Witch legend - either in the (real) town of Burkittsville, MD, or anyplace else - that doesn't mean the story behind The Blair Witch Project was quite conjured from whole cloth. The filmmakers took partial inspiration from the real legend of the Bell Witch, which dates back to the 1800s in Tennessee. The Bell Witch - who we would describe as more like a ghost or poltergeist today - afflicted the Bell family and was observed by historical figures including Andrew Jackson. It also inspired other films, including 2005's An American Haunting, which starred Donald Sutherland, Sissy Spacek, James D'Arcy, and Rachel Hurd-Wood.