Most horror movies based on true stories star murderers or serial killers, but the horror movies purportedly based on true stories here feature stars of the supernatural kind. Of course these horror movies based on “true” ghost stories are most likely completely fictional, but they can all at least claim to be based on true stories and legends told by the living. So from haunted houses to witches and reincarnation, feed your inner skeptic with these horror movies based on “true” ghost stories (warning: there are major spoilers here):
The Amityville Horror (2005)
We’ll start out with one of the most well-known “true” ghost stories of all time, one that is at least based on real people and places. This is one of the horror movies here that has been remade and re-hashed many times (there are sequels and even an 80’s 3D version), but I’ll stick with this one since it stars Ryan Reynolds and Chloe Moretz. In the movie, the Lutz family moves into their dream home in Amityville, New York, despite learning that it was the site of the brutal DeFeo family murder. Dad starts hearing voices; his daughter befriends a ghostly young girl; household items rearrange themselves; blood seeps from walls; and the family dog won’t stop barking. In other words, this film follows the same formula as many horror movies about ghosts haunting houses before it. Research into the history of the house reveals that it once belonged to a cult preacher named Father Ketcham who tortured and killed Native Americans, and things get really scary when daddy Lutz finds a secret room and gets all homicidal on his family with a shotgun. Fortunately, they do escape the house of horrors and history doesn’t repeat itself in the end.
The Amityville Horror “True” Story
When it comes to horror movies based on true stories, this one is by far one of the most frightening. As this Trutv.com article relates, this is because the DeFeo family really was murdered in the Amityville house by one of it’s own members. Ronald DeFeo, Jr. (a.k.a. “Butch”), was a burly young man prone to drug abuse and bizarre, frightening behavior, such as pointing his shotgun at people. He took money pretty much as he pleased from his father, who was a somewhat abusive type that Butch often got in all-out brawls with. However, it wasn’t enough for the brute, and he decided to defraud his family by staging a robbery with a friend in order to procure a lot more cash (his story was that he had been robbed at gunpoint while delivering checks from his grandfather’s Buick dealership where he worked to the bank). When his father began to suspect what had really happened, it led to a confrontation that would end in bloodshed.
On November 14, 1974, Butch silently killed each one of his family members while they slept. He grabbed a gun from the many in his room and entered his parents’ room first, firing multiple shots at his father and mother. Next he killed his two younger brothers that shared a room, followed by his two sisters in their room. After cleaning himself up, he reported to work the next day as if nothing had happened. He would later tell police that a mafia hit man with a grudge had murdered his family, but his story began to unravel after the cardboard box the gun used for the crime came in was found in his bedroom, and he eventually confessed.
Later the Lutz family would move into the Amityville house, where they would, indeed, find a secret room, but this is where the provable part of this horror story ends. After the Lutz family allegedly fled the house in terror, the book ‘The Amityville Horror’ became a best seller. George Lutz alleged that most of the events in the book upon which the many subsequent horror movies are based are mostly true, but there will likely never be definitive proof that this is the case.
However, this is one of the horror movies based on true ghost stories here that can be in part debunked; the Father Ketcham referenced in the movie whose ghost is supposedly responsible for driving Butch DeFeo and George Lutz mad is a fictional character, and the movie’s claim that DeFeo killed his family after hearing voices in the house telling him to do so is also untrue (he tried to plead insanity, but there’s no mention of him stating that he heard voices). The Lutzes have also never stated that George Lutz chased his family with a shotgun the night they left the house for good. But according to this article, George Lutz was still holding fast to the family’s claim that the house was haunted a year before he died in 2006, relating stories of seeing his wife rapidly age; hearing extremely loud noises; smelling strange perfume; and feeling cold spots over the 28 days they lived there. He was also very unhappy about the 2005 movie remake and was not consulted about it, despite the movie’s claims that it had uncovered new research about what the Lutz family had encountered in Amityville.
So while this is one of the horror movies based on true ghost stories here that there is some horrifying real history behind, we will never know for sure whether or not the frightening spirits allegedly residing there are the real deal. After all, the ghosts in the Lutz’ former home don’t seem as interested in its subsequent residents.
Audrey Rose (1977)
This is one of the horror movies based on true ghost stories here that is very loosely based on an allegedly true event, but more on that later. The movie is the tale of a girl named Ivy whose family is being stalked by a mysterious man. However, he’s no child predator; he believes that Ivy is a reincarnation of his daughter, Audrey Rose, who died in a fiery car accident just minutes before Ivy was born (he bases his claims on information from two psychics).
What follows are a series of strange events (some quite similar to those in ‘The Exorcist’), including Ivy having horrible nightmares and burning her hands on a window (as if she was suddenly transformed into Audrey Rose in the burning car in which she died). After Audrey’s father abducts Ivy, he goes to trial to prove that his dead daughter has been reincarnated as Ivy. But when Ivy’s father has her hypnotized to prove that she is not Audrey Rose, the result is deadly. Sounds like one of the horror movies based on true ghost stories here that’s too strange to be the real deal, right? Well, the truth here isn’t stranger than fiction, but it’s still quite odd.
The Audrey Rose “True” Story
Before it was a movie, ‘Audrey Rose’ was based on a book by author Frank De Felitta, and the whole story was actually spawned from a very strange occurrence with one of his own children, as referenced in this People magazine article. Evidently he and his wife were relaxing outside their home one evening when they heard music in the style of Fats Waller (a jazz pianist popular during the 20’s and 30’s) coming from inside the house. To their amazement, they found their son Raymond banging away on the ivories, informing his parents that his fingers were moving by themselves. He was six years old and had never displayed any kind of musical talent before that moment. De Felitta later consulted an occultist who said Raymond was a soul who had lived many past lives and had experienced a “reincarnation leak”, temporarily picking up where he left off in a past life. Raymond De Felitta today actually is a jazz pianist (maybe he was just naturally talented?) and a director, his most recent film being ‘City Island’.
So this is definitely one of the horror movies here that is only loosely tied to the true story on which it is based, but you’ve got to appreciate it for exploring a whole different kind of haunting: one that starts in the womb and stays with you until the bitter and violent end.
The Entity (1981)
This is one of the weirdest horror movies based on allegedly true ghost stories on this list, as it focuses on a ghost quite unlike those we’re used to seeing in horror movies. Barbara Hershey stars as Carla Moran, a mother who lives with her teenage son and two young daughters. Poor Carla is raped by a very powerful ghost in her home multiple times (and other people actually witness this); the ghost takes control of her car at one point; it constantly ransacks her house; and scientists actually manage to temporarily freeze the gigantic “entity” with liquid helium in a school gym at one point. Carla and her kids eventually leave their home behind, but the attacks don’t cease (although they aren’t quite as bad after she leaves, as the end of the movie states). Frank De Felitta also wrote the book upon which the movie is based as well as its screenplay.
The Entity “True” Story
The tale behind one of the strangest horror movies you’ll ever see is also one of the craziest allegedly true ghost stories you’ll ever read. Doris Bither was the name of the woman who reportedly experienced these violent paranormal events, and GhostTheory.com actually has published an interview with one of her three sons, Brian Harris. He states that much of what happened in the movie was the real deal, including the “spectral rape” that left his mother’s thighs covered in bruises. Harris divulges that his home was not a happy one and that he and his siblings felt very isolated. His mother also had gone through numerous failed relationships, and each of her four children (she also had a daughter) were fathered by different men.
Harris alleges that there were four entities in the home who would manifest themselves as foggy silhouettes, and that they were sometimes able to make out a little of the figures’ features. They named one of these entities “Mr. Whose-it”, and Harris believed then that the ghost was that of his grandfather (he says the spirit told him this and actually looked like his grandfather). Family members were pushed, bitten, and scratched, and items were thrown around the house. He also states that he could hear his mother being attacked, slapped, and beaten in her room, and the family sometimes even saw this happen before their very eyes.
Researchers really did investigate his mother’s case, although Harris doesn’t agree with all their published findings and no useful evidence was recorded, save a few photographs showing orb phenomena. Harris also says that the spirits seemed to become extremely angry and even more active after the research team left. He does seem to believe that his mother could have used some kind of psychic energy to create the poltergeist herself and that he and his siblings all possess a degree of psychic ability (he, like his mother, also experienced paranormal activity even after moving out of their Culver City home).
So is this family’s tale one of the strangest true ghost stories out there, or is it an elaborate hoax? Was this family haunted, or did they all possess some sort of strange psychic power giving them the ability to make these entities manifest? Whatever the case, their story makes for one of the strangest horror movies you’ll ever see (albeit one that could have been made much better).
The Haunting in Connecticut (2009)
This is another of the horror movies based on allegedly true ghost stories here focusing on a family living in a haunted house, as the parents of a cancer-stricken son named Matt move into a new home to be closer the hospital where he is undergoing treatment. His mother finds an alarming set of photographs in the home indicating that it was once a funeral parlor, but chooses not to reveal this to her family. Matt, who seems to be having grotesque hallucinations due to his treatment (including seeing a man carving symbols into dead bodies) eventually opens a door in the basement where he discovers the mortuary, complete with tools and a table. Despite the house’s creepy past being revealed to the whole family, they all decide to stay. However, Matt’s visions of corpses, a man he dubs “Jonah”, and other nightmarish things become worse, and he starts to behave in a manner that frightens his family.
Photos found in the attic and research into the history of the house reveals that séances were held there, and all the members of one such séance were found dead, while the mysterious Jonah, who was the medium during the séances, disappeared. It’s also discovered that many of the coffins buried in a cemetery near the house were missing their bodies when they were exhumed to make way for a new road.
Matt invites a man named Reverend Nicholas he met earlier at the hospital to help him rid the house of spirits, believed to be bound to the home by the man who ran the funeral home and practiced necromancy there. However, his mother comes home and makes the stranger leave, but soon the whole family experiences more ghastly, ghostly activity, prompting them to call on Nicholas once more.
Nicholas finds Jonah’s remains in the furnace and removes them, believing this will make the activity stop. However, Matt awakens with symbols carved in his flesh; is taken to the hospital; and has a vision of Jonah’s last séance. Despite the fact that his cancer has become so bad that he shouldn’t be alive, Matt flees the hospital and uses an axe to break down a wall in the basement, revealing the corpses stored there. He sets the room on fire, but is saved by his mother and a firefighter. While he’s being resuscitated, Matt has a vision implying that the house’s hell is over, and, miraculously, he awakens to see his cancer disappear.
So is this one of the horror movies based on true ghost stories that’s too outrageous to be the real deal?
The Haunting in Connecticut “True” Story
‘The Haunting in Connecticut’ is one of the horror movies based on true ghost stories here where the alleged truth is actually, in some ways, worse than what the movie portrays.
According to this CNN interview of Carmen Reed (then Snedeker), she ended up putting her son, who was reporting seeing visions of a man with long, jet-black hair, in a mental institution for 45 days. Her son was, indeed, undergoing cancer treatments, and his behavior was becoming bizarre and frightening, as he became “darker and darker”, as Carmen describes it. And when he attacked her niece, that’s when she decided he needed to be committed.
Carmen also reports seeing an invisible hand grab her niece and mop water turning blood red. She said mattresses would “breathe” and she would her knocks on the wall and a deep, gravelly voice.
However, in this interview with The-Trades.com, Carmen reports that quite a bit of what went on in the movie was fictionalized, including corpses being found in the walls. The evil funeral director and Jonah were also fictional characters, and the stories of séances being held there were added for the movie (although the house actually was a funeral parlor before her family moved in).
In this People.com interview, Carmen reveals that forces in the house groped, threatened, and slapped family members. She said the man with long black hair would sometimes threaten her son. Her son’s behavior changes included a cruel streak where he did things like locking his little brother in a chest and forgetting about him. He also alleged that he was hearing voices and was diagnosed with schizophrenia, but the voices reportedly stopped when he was removed from the home (and, just like in the movie, his cancer did go into remission). The house was also never burned down like it was in the movie, and its new owners don’t report any kind of paranormal activity.
So why did Carmen think the house was haunted? According to her website, there was a bit of evidence indicating necrophilia might have been the problem. She also reveals on her website that morgue tools were, indeed, found in the basement and that the entity in the house would follow her in her car and even terrorize her at work.
According to this LiveScience.com article, Ray Garton, who penned a book about the family entitled ‘In a Dark Place: The Story of a True Haunting’, revealed that there were many inconsistencies in the Snedeker family stories about what they were going through. He even divulged that Ed Warren, one of the “demonologists” hired to investigate the house, outright told him that the family was crazy and just to use what he could get from them and make up the rest of the story.
So this is one of the horror movies based on true ghost stories here that there’s quite a bit of controversy surrounding and, like most of the other ghost stories here, there isn’t much proof that anything supernatural took place at this homey little funeral parlor (it still makes for one hell of a story, though).
An American Haunting (2005)
‘An American Haunting’ is one of the many modern horror movies here purportedly based on true ghost stories, with this one focusing on a ghostly witch from long ago. However, the movie starts out in modern times, with a mother finding an old journal from the 1800s when she comes to wake her daughter up from a nightmare. The letters warn that something terrible has come to pass if they are being read.
The movie then cuts to the 1800s, where John Bell is accused of stealing land from a woman named Kate Batts, infamous for her practice of witchcraft. After this incident, he starts seeing a rabid black wolf and his daughter Betsy starts hearing strange noises. She also has nightmares about an evil entity that comes into her room during the night.
Betsy’s attacks get worse, and when the whole family witnesses her levitating, John Bell believes that he’s been cursed by Kate Batts. Betsy starts finding blood on her dress and is even raped by the unseen entity. Meanwhile, her father seems to be getting very ill, and heads to Kate Batts’ home with a gun to ask her to kill him. However, she does not, and the gun doesn’t work when he tries to commit suicide.
Finally Betsy has a revelation and realizes that the being attacking her is one she somehow created herself and that it’s reason for existing is to remind her of something that happened that she and her mother both suppressed: her father had sexually abused her. Betsy is later shown giving her father what seems to be cough medicine as her mother watches. He chokes and dies, and the haunting ends.
Back in the present-day setting, we learn that the mother found the journal about this incident for a purpose: the blood-stained apparition of Betsy appears and tells her to help her daughter, who is about to leave with her ex-husband. The mother realizes that history is repeating itself, but her daughter is already in the car and it is driving away by the time she makes it outside. So is this one of the horror movies based on true ghost stories here that is complete hogwash, or is there more than a touch of truth to it?
An American Haunting “True” Story
The Bell Witch legend is an interesting one, however, it’s impossible to prove just how much of this happened (at least there are records that the Bell family did exist). According to this article, an accounting of the Bell Witch was written by a historian in 1886’s ‘History of Tennessee’. It relates how, in 1804, people would come from miles around to witness the Bell Witch’s black magic at the Bell family home. Apparently the Bell Witch was an invisible entity capable of holding conversations with people; shaking hands; and tormenting the family by stealing sugar, knocking over containers of milk, and pinching the family members, among other things.
The most popular version of where the Bell Witch came from seems to be that she was the spirit of Kate Batts (of the movie fame). She swore on her deathbed she would get back at John Bell, whom she felt cheated her in a land purchase, and did so as the spirit that would become known as the Bell Witch. 1933’s ‘Guidebook for Tennessee’ recounts how Kate Batts’ ghost would torment John and his daughter Betsy, poking them with needles, snatching food from their mouths, and throwing dishes at them. As the story goes, the Bell Witch legend was so popular at the time that future president Andrew Jackson even visited to investigate.
According to reports, he and his party encountered some paranormal activity, including their wagon seeming to be stuck in place and hearing a strange voice that seemed to come from nowhere.
But the darkest tale of the Bell Witch has to do with something that happens in the movie: the poisoning of John Bell. In the legend, Betsy doesn’t do her father in; the Bell witch claims responsibility for replacing his medicine with poison. After his grave was filled, the witch was said to sing joyously.
There’s never any mention in the legend of John Bell abusing his daughter in any way, although one of the characters in the movie, Betsy’s schoolteacher Richard Powell, could explain its existence.
Richard Powell was a real person, and it seems that the schoolteacher was very interested in marrying his pupil. However, Betsy was in love with a fellow classmate. Oddly enough, the witch allegedly told Betsy many times not to marry the man she loved, making it seem as Richard Powell could have staged the haunting to scare away Betsy’s suitor (it worked).
Whatever the case, this is yet another of the horror movies based on true ghost stories here that twists the original tale, and, once again, the “truth” is almost impossible to prove.
So while you might enjoy trying to convince yourself that the horror movies based on true ghost stories here are the real deal, it looks like they’re all lacking proof of their claims, and I guess all that hardcore believers can do are hope that they’ll have their own movie-worthy paranormal experience someday.