12 Horror Movies That Got People Jailed, Punished, or Officially Investigated

Gruesome murder. Illegal trespassing. Moral indecency. Child Endangerment. Animal cruelty. What sound like plot points for a slasher flick or the rap sheet of a fledgling serial killer are actually some of the accusations made against those who make and show horror films. Regardless of whether the alleged perpetrators were proven innocent or guilty, a number of people have suffered serious consequences for involvement with scary movies. 

More than any other genre, scary movies have a way of getting under your skin, because they explore humanity's evil instincts and taboo desires. They cause controversy and tension wherever they film and whenever they air. But what happens when the separation between real and reel gets hazy? For some, involvement with film's most notorious genre meant jail time, convictions, and punishments. After all, if there's one thing Scream 3 revealed to us (other than how thankful we should be for Scream and Scream 2), it's that sometimes the weirdest and wildest things happen after the director yells cut.

Read on to learn about the most controversial horror movies, and, in some cases, horror movies that resulted in jail time for those involved. 

Photo: The Walter Reade Organization

  • Cannibal Holocaust has two claims to fame. First, it was one of the first found footage horror films. Second, it is consistently ranked as one of the most controversial films of all time. These two elements came together to create a firestorm for the film's director. Released in 1980, Cannibal Holocaust contained images so gruesome and realistic the Italian government tried director Ruggero Deodato for the murder of his lead actress, based on the footage.

    It was only when the stars of the film to plead Deodato's case (and prove they were alive) that the charges were dropped. The controversy surrounding Cannibal Holocaust has eclipsed the movie itself, and made it the most obvious choice for inclusion on this list. 

    See the creepy house where this all went down here.

  • When Italian director Lucio Fulci recruited Carlo Rambaldi in 1971 for his horror film A Lizard in a Woman's Skin, he never could have guessed Rambaldi's models would look so real the filmmakers would be brought to court. That's just what happened when Italian authorities caught wind of the film and, specifically, a scene depicting the violent death of a number of dogs.

    When the filmmakers were accused of animal cruelty, Rambaldi had to bring the fake dogs to court to avoid conviction. Rambaldi went on to do special effects for King Kong, design the head of the monster in Alien, and create E.T. for Steven Spielberg. 

  • Mark Twitchell's House of Cards

    You've heard this one before: a sadistic moviegoer is inspired by his favorite horror film and carries out copycat crimes and violence in the real world. In the case of Canadian filmmaker Mark Twitchell, it wasn't life imitating art. Rather, in Twitchell's sadistic mind, it was the other way around

    In 2008, Twitchell wrote and directed low budget horror film House of Cards, which included a scene in which a man is lured into a kill room and murdered. Weeks later, Twitchell recreated the scene from his script in real life, murdering Johnny Altinger in the same room used in the film. Police believe Twitchell wrote the script in an attempt to play out his murderous fantasies.

    Twitchell, now serving a life sentence in jail, maintains he didn't kill Altinger, and continues to fight for control of thousands of hours of footage seized by the police, so that he can someday edit his film and release it to the public.

  • Marla Mae

    For independent horror film Marla Mae, the truth behind the scenes was stranger than the fiction on screen. In 2015, an uneventful filming process in Washington State concluded with an interview with filmmakers and cast in a local paper. This article alerted federal agents that Jason Sange, a man convicted of armed robbery, had nabbed a lead role in the production.

    Stange used his own name during auditions, won the role, and went on to play a major part in the film, all of this after violating parole by abandoning his halfway house. The police re-arrested him after seeing his name and photo in the paper. Sometimes when that acting bug bites you, it sucks out your sense of reason. 

  • Guinea Pig: Flowers of Flesh and Blood

    What do you get when you mix Charlie Sheen and a guinea pig? An FBI investigation. In what sounds like a surreal, drug-addled joke, in 1991, Sheen watched a horror film so gruesomely realistic he believed it was a snuff film and called the FBI. The film, Guinea Pig: Flowers of Flesh and Blood, is a Japanese movie with extremely graphic violence, blood, and gore. Sheen turned his copy over to authorities, convinced a woman was actually murdered on screen. The filmmakers were forced to release a documentary, The Making of Guinea Pig, to prove it was all just special effects.

    Note to the squeamish: DO NOT image search this movie. Unless you wanna see a guy in a samurai helmet covered in blood licking a severed head. Which is the least disturbing thing about the film. 

  • When making a horror movie, that old phrase rings true: nothing is certain but death and taxes. Every horror film has death and every production has taxes. When the maker of low-budget horror-comedy Eldorado tried to film the death without paying the taxes, he got himself in a lot of trouble with the British government.

    Producer Roger Driscoll falsified forms to inflate the budget of his film, claiming it cost £9 million ($13.8 million), which qualified it for £1.5 million ($2.3 million) in tax rebates and government funds. In fact, the film cost less to produce than the £1.5 Driscoll got back. Along with four conspirators, the producer forged documents and invoices to inflate expenses. He pocketed the money, spending it on crucial horror-related projects like his a hair transplant. Driscoll, whose entire professional life is a bizarre, sordid affair, was found guilty in 2013.

    Apparently the movie's not very good, either. According to UK paper The Telegraph, "Eldorado, you see, is weapons-grade awful. By turns toe-curling and wholly baffling, this is 116 minutes of laughable prosthetics, shifting sets and appalling CGI.