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Horror movies based on true events (and the stories behind them)

At Puzzle Box Horror one of our main goals is finding all the real-life horror stories that inspire the horror movies we all love. From hauntings to possessions there is a long history of true events that have inspired some truly terrifying supernatural horror movies. Please enjoy this ever-growing list of horror films based on real supernatural events and true stories.

Amityville Horror Movie Poster

The Amityville Horror – 2005

The Amityville Horror begins with married couple George and Kathy Lutz finding a beautiful home in upstate New York. While they’re suspicious about the oddly low price, they still decide to move in with their three kids. However, a series of paranormal events begin to take place, such as strange noises and one of the children making an “imaginary friend” named Jodie. The Lutz family soon discovers that their new home was the site of a brutal mass murder just one year prior, when Ronald DeFeo Jr. murdered his family after claiming he was possessed by the devil. Horrified at the discovery, the Lutz’s enlist the help of a priest to cleanse their home of evil spirits.

The Real Events Behind The Amityville Horror

Amityville has become known not just as a small town in upstate New York, but the site of one of the most famous mass murders in pop culture. The Amityville Horror franchise features numerous books and films that tell the story of the fateful night in 1974 that Ronald DeFeo, Jr. murdered his entire family, and the paranormal entities that have supposedly haunted the house ever since.

When 23-year old DeFeo Jr. was asked why he took a rifle and fatally shot his parents and four siblings in their home, he didn’t really have an answer. His story changed multiple times – from claiming that the murders were committed by a mafia hitman, to admitting to killing his family because the “voices” made him, to a chain reaction of family murders that didn’t even make sense. He was sent to the Sullivan Correctional Facility in New York, where he remains today.
And then there’s the Lutzes. The young couple lasted just 28 days in their new “dream home” before running out. George claimed that he would wake up around 3:15AM every single day – also known as the “devil’s hour” – while they felt cold spots around the home and even claimed to have levitated above their beds. When a priest came by to bless the home, a demonic voice told him to “get out!” They have declined to explain the final straw that made them leave the house, but they grabbed just a few things and never looked back.

Of course, there’s always the skeptics. While George and Kathy Lutz stood by their paranormal encounters until their deaths in the early 2000’s, many have questioned the validity of their claims. The Amityville home has had multiple other tenants since the Lutz family vacated, most of whom claim that they experienced little to no ghostly activity. Paranormal researchers have also weighed in on the topic… inspiring a 2002 ABC documentary called “Amityville Horror: Horror or Hoax?”

Renowned paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren backed up the Lutz’s story, saying that the Amityville home was “a 10 on a 1-10 haunting scale.” George and Kathy also reportedly passed lie detector tests to verify their claims. The couple may be gone, but the legendary horror house still stands today… and people actually live in it!

Annabelle Horror Movie Poster

 Annabelle – 2014

Annabelle—written by Gary Dauberman and directed by John R. Leonetti is about a couple tormented by a malevolent spirit inhabiting a vintage doll. The film opens the Gordons, a young and happy couple. Evil descends on them when their neighbor’s daughter returns after joining a satanic cult. The daughter kills her parents and then tries to kill the couple. The police kill her. Mia Gordon gives birth to a daughter and throws away the doll, but Annabelle finds her way back into the apartment. With the supernatural activity at an all-time high, Mia befriends a bookstore owner who tries to help her overcome the evil plaguing her family.

The True Paranormal Story Behind Annabelle

The real doll is a Raggedy Ann doll with red yarn hair. Annabelle was gifted to a 27-year-old nurse in the 1970s by her mother. Soon after receiving the doll, strange things started happening in her apartment. She noticed the doll would change positions even though she didn’t touch it. Then she and her roommate found handwritten notes on the floor asking for help. The doll appeared in different rooms and would attack guests. One male guest fell asleep on the sofa and woke to Annabelle staring at him. He also felt like something was choking him.

The girls decided to have a seance and learned that a spirit named Annabelle was playing with the doll. The medium told the girls that Annabelle was a seven-year-old girl that died on the property, and she just wanted to be loved. She wanted permission to enter the doll which the girls granted. This did not make things any better. The paranormal activity got worse.
Ed and Lorraine Warren were intrigued by the doll and went to speak to the girls. The girls were afraid and eager for any help they could get. The Warrens were convinced the spirit inside the doll was not a seven-year-old girl, but a demon. The demon had come to them as an innocent girl so they would let their guard down and let it in. The doll host would be temporary until it could inhabit one of the girls. Ed and Loraine took the doll with them. On their ride home, they had to sprinkle the doll with Holy water so they could get there safely. Annabelle was placed in a glass cage in their museum filled with other supernatural artifacts. Annabelle is blessed often.

Read More about the Haunted Annabelle Doll on Puzzle Box Horror

an American Haunting Movie Poster

 An American Haunting – 2005

An American Haunting is a 2005 horror film based on a real haunting that was written and directed by Courtney Solomon. Loosely based on the haunting of John Bell and his family. John Bell believes his neighbor Kate Batts put a curse on him, causing a spirit to torment the Bell family. His daughter, Betsy Bell, is both haunted and physically abused by the entity. The film takes some creative license when it reveals Betsy’s innocence as the entity. Her father had been sexually abusing her. When she and her mother remember this, Betsy poisons her father and the haunting stops.

The Ghost Story Behind An American Haunting

The Bell Witch haunting is one of the most well-known hauntings in America. According to the legend, John Bell was walking through his farm when he saw a strange animal in the middle of a cornrow. He took a few shots at it and the animal disappeared. That night strange things started to happen in the Bell household. The Bell family was plagued with strange noises.

The Bell children’s bedsheets were removed from their beds and their pillows were thrown about the room. The strange noises turned into whispers and singing. Hair pulling and physical abuse were inflicted on Betsy Bell.

John Bell eventually told his neighbor what was happening. His neighbors stayed at the Bell home and experienced what the Bells had been going through firsthand. As time went on, the voice was no longer a whisper. Loudly the voice would quote scripture, sing hymns and have intelligent conversations with the residents. The malevolent entity had a severe disdain for John Bell. It even proclaimed that it would be the death of him.

John’s health started to decline until he could no longer leave the house. He died on December 20, 1820. When his family started going through the cupboards, they found an unidentifiable liquid. John Bell Jr. gave some to a cat and the cat died immediately. At the moment the spirit announced loudly that it gave John Bell some of that liquid the night before. This is the first paranormal case where a spirit is believed to be responsible for a person’s death. The validity of this story has been disputed but if you visit northern Robertson County, Tennessee, almost everyone you meet has a story about the Bell Witch. To this day people visit the Bell farm looking for the Bell Witch.

Childs Play Horror Movie Poster

Child’s Play – 1988 

Child’s Play, co-written by Tom Holland and produced by David Kirschner from a story by Don Mancini, is the first movie in the franchise about horror legend Chucky. The film opens as fugitive and serial killer Charles Lee Ray is chased by police into a toy shop after being shot multiple times. As he slowly dies, the criminal performs a Haitian Vodou spell to transfer his soul into a popular children’s doll. That doll, named Chucky, is purchased by widow Karen Barclay and gifted to her six-year-old son Andy. A series of mysterious and violent murders take place after Chucky comes into their lives… with Andy deemed as the primary suspect, but it’s up to Karen to prove the murderous doll’s intentions before he claims his next victim.

Story of Robert the Doll that Inspired Child’s Play

Believe it or not, the doll that Chucky is based on is creepier than he is. Much creepier. Robert the Doll is a straw-stuffed toy dressed in a sailor suit, with black button eyes and a smirk that says he’s up to something. And he is… because he’s supposedly one of the most haunted dolls in American history.

The doll was originally owned by Robert “Gene” Otto, who named the toy after himself after he received it as a gift as a child. There is debate on who gave Gene the doll, but the most common story is that it was a present from one of the Otto family servants, a mistreated woman who was skilled in the art of voodoo.

Gene loved Robert and took him everywhere, developing a bond so deep that he even began whispering to the doll and telling secrets. His parents only became concerned when they heard a deep voice answering Gene back… which soon became loud, violent arguments. However, as soon as Gene’s parents would enter his bedroom upon hearing a commotion, they would find Gene alone with Robert, cowering in terror. It wasn’t long before Gene’s other toys were ripped apart, furniture overturned, and his parents saw glimpses of a small figure running around the house out of the corner of their eye. Gene’s response? “Robert did it.”

However, as Gene grew up, got married and began his career – he took Robert with him. The doll was said to have a stronghold on him, placing demands on Gene such as a “spot with a view of the street.” Gene obliged and propped Robert up in a window of his house, with numerous reports from people walking by that they would notice Robert making frightening faces or vanish before their eyes. Of course, Gene didn’t listen to them – not even his wife, who hated Robert – and kept the doll in his care until his death in 1974.

Myrtle Reuter bought Gene’s house after his death, and donated Robert to the Fort East Martello Museum in Key West, FL – where he has been an exhibit since 1994. Despite being behind a glass case, he wreaks more havoc than ever before. Hundreds of people visit him every single week and are required to ask Robert’s permission before snapping a photo of him. Those who don’t have reported terrible misfortune that includes car accidents, breakups, and health scares – leading them to write an apology letter to Robert. Don’t believe it? The wall is filled with hundreds of letters that questioned the power of one of the most haunted dolls in America – and the inspiration for a horror icon.

For the real life story behind a dozen more horror films, see the full post at Puzzle Box Horror

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