Ed and Lorraine Warren

Stranger Than Fiction? Horror films based on true stories

Join Fiona Dodwell as she delves into the chilling world of horror films based on true stories


Ardent horror fans are delighted when a new scary blockbuster hits the cinema or streaming services – most of us can never quite get enough.

Whether it’s revisiting the old classics such as The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby, or more modern offerings such as Hereditary and Insidious, our hunger for horror is never fully quenched.

For many there is a safety in the fact that the majority of films are entirely made-up; products of imaginative scriptwriters and visionary directors. This isn’t always the case, though, according to some, and it’s actually quite mind-blowing when we take a look at some of the most frightening films out there and realise they are apparently based on true events.

Horror Films based on True Stories

For those with a fascination for the paranormal, it’s eye-opening to examine how many frightening films allegedly aren’t fiction at all. Take, for instance, Haunting In Connecticut which was released in 2009. This unsettling film tells the true story of  the Snedeker family who, in 1986, moved to Connecticut to help their son who was undergoing cancer treatment.

In the new property, they experienced a terrifying haunting that resulted in them contacting infamous demonologists, Ed and Lorraine Warren who took on the case. The family undertook several interviews in the media and eventually a book was written and released by Ray Garton. They insisted that the experiences depicted in the book and film were genuine and the story has become legendary in the paranormal world.

Demons, possession and demonology are part of the make-up of many paranormal films. With Ed and Lorraine Warren being part of the Connecticut case (and a great many other horror film titles), the sub-genre has become hugely popular.

We see this in the praise and attention that The Rite received – a film about demons that was released in 2011, starring Anthony Hopkins. It is said to be based on genuine testimony of a priest called Father Gary Thomas.

Before the movie, a book was actually released first, in 2009. It was entitled The Rite: The Making of A Modern Day Exorcist, and was written by journalist Matt Baglio.

Admittedly, the movie is different in several ways from the book release, yet both focus significantly on learning about the sacrament of exorcism and contain in-depth explorations of true-life exorcism cases.

Father Gary Thomas’ experiences are highlighted and portrayed in the movie brilliantly. It certainly makes for unsettling viewing when one keeps in mind the truth that actually inspired it.

It’s creepy to note how many of the demonically themed films are said to be rooted in fact. In the movie, The Possession, released in 2012, we see things not from a Christian viewpoint but from a Jewish, highlighting the fact that evil and negative entities are part of every religion and culture.

The Possession is about something called a Dybbuk Box – an item said to contain a trapped demon/entity. This is quite a famous tale now, in the paranormal world, and many insist it’s all true.

The box was originally sold on Ebay and it contained hair, a dried flower, pennies, a slab of granite and a cup. The buyer, who won the auction on the website, began to experience strange and frightening experiences after taking the item into his home.

It was soon revealed that the seller had had scary experiences of his own and had sold it to get rid of the haunted object. One woman had a stroke after touching the box, it is reported.

The Dybbuk Box

The Devil Made Me Do It is one of the movies from the Conjuring world, but what is not known by everyone is that this is based on an alleged true case of demonic possession which resulted in murder and a real court case. The account of this movie is traced back to the 80s, where the Glatzel family became convinced that their son, David, was being tormented by a demonic entity.

Ed and Lorraine Warren were called in and set about helping the family as events became too frightening for all involved. This case is is also explored in an in-depth documentary which is currently streaming on Discovery Plus. The trial which is explored in the film tells us how it was the first ever time in history that someone pleaded innocent based on being demonically possessed.

The amazing thing is, there are many more paranormal and horror films said to be inspired by real life events. As with anything in the movie world, we have to accept that there is a lot of poetic license and dramatisation involved in film-making, but even if only a small percentage of events depicted in these films are true, then it’s a frightening concept.

Popular and much loved productions like The Exorcist, Deliver Us From Evil, The Exorcism of Emily Rose and The Conjuring are but a few more films that are linked to the real world.

For students of the paranormal, or those who like to explore the weird side of life, these films are a fun – if freaky – place to start. They serve as a reminder that some horrors are all too real, and that truth is sometimes stranger than fiction.

If you have enjoyed this article, you may want to check out Fiona’s article on the scariest non-fiction paranormal books!

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