No matter how scary a film might seem, it becomes exceedingly more terrifying when it’s rooted in actual events. “Based on a true story” horror films might not always get it right – as you’ll see with some of the Shudder offerings below – because they are under no obligation to tell the real story of what happened. In most cases, though, they’ll give you just enough to know something terrible actually happened.
1. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer
Before he made waves on The Walking Dead, Michael Rooker (aka Merle Dixon) struck fear into the hearts of many with his portrayal in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. The movie really didn’t excite the censors of the day, and you can learn more about the film’s journey to release by watching Joe Bob’s presentation of it on The Last Drive-in.
While being a based on a true story horror film might be a huge draw today, the devastating acts portrayed in the movie made many people uneasy at the time. Undeterred by this fact, the creators weren’t shy about letting the audience know that these were true events. The characters Henry and Otis are even based on Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole, pictured below.
Yeah, the two guys look a bit creepy. Lucas killed his mother in 1960, and he was eventually convicted of killing 11 others. Toole was convicted of killing six people altogether. Both of them confessed to numerous other murders they didn’t commit – which led to continued anguish for families who had lost loved ones.
So yeah, they were creeps. Here’s the trailer of the film if you haven’t seen it:
2. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
If you knew that one of these based on a true story horror offerings on Shudder was “based on actual events,” it was likely The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. What you may not know is just how far from an actual true story it is. Leatherface is based on a guy named Ed Gein – a loner in rural Wisconsin who likely dismembered bodies with everything except a chainsaw.
Ed Gein had no family such as the one portrayed around Leatherface. And unlike the massive killing spree portrayed in the film, Gein only had two confirmed victims. He did dig up several bodies from the local cemetery, though, and he was suspected in several other crimes that he never faced justice for.
How is the film related to Gein? Well, he made human skin masks using the many bodies he had laying around the house. He also had bowls made out of skulls along with epidermis upholstery and other sickening items, but that really doesn’t fall in line with Leatherface. The similarities essentially stop with the wearing of human skin.
It’s worth noting that Psycho and Buffalo Bill from The Silence of the Lambs are also loosely based on Gein. He’s long been dead, but thanks to movie magic and directors’ looseness with the truth, his crimes will likely live on forever. If you somehow haven’t seen The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, here’s your trailer:
This Austrian based on a true story horror film tells the story of a psychopath that returns to his former ways after being released from prison. This film has a 7.3 on IMDb, so it’s definitely worth a watch. The story is loosely based on Werner Kniesek – a mass murderer who tortured and killed a family of three after securing early release from prison following a conviction for shooting a 73-year-old woman.
In 1983, the movie was banned throughout much of Europe due to the portrayed extreme violence. Considering many of the films that came from the continent during that time, though, this might be another instance where censors simply weren’t comfortable with a story that so closely resembled life.
The film has remained relatively obscure, but thanks to Shudder’s offering of based on a true story horror films, you can watch it whenever you please. Check out the trailer below:
4. The Hills Have Eyes
If you’ve ever seen The Hills Have Eyes, it may be a bit unsettling to learn that it’s based on a true story. Well, sort of. When discussing the film, Wes Craven stated that it was based on the story of Sawney Bean. Sawney is said to have headed up a 45-member Scottish clan back in the 16th century. People tell of how the group killed and cannibalized more than 1,000 people before being caught.
King James VI is credited with capturing the Bean clan and ending their reign of terror via a little killing of his own. The only problem is that there’s a bit of debate over whether Sawney even existed. If he did, his group would ambush, rob and murder people at night before dismembering them and consuming their bodies. As with most tales that have made it into folklore, though, there are several iterations of the story.
If the possibility that this story could be folklore doesn’t satiate your based on a true story horror appetite, don’t be too disappointed. There are plenty of stories about serial killer families – such as The Bloody Benders – you can pretend this film is based on. Here’s the trailer from the original Wes Craven classic:
5. Shudder Based on a True Story Shows
Rather than devoting this entire list of Shudder’s based on a true story horror to its film offerings, I figure we’d touch base on a few of the shows that offer a healthy dose of terrifying reality. The following shows either document reported experiences or dramatize real-life events.
This three-part miniseries tells the story of John Christie, a serial killer and necrophile who killed at least eight people. He actually hid the bodies in and around the house – and then moved. Seriously, who does that? Imagine being the new homeowner who found those unfortunate souls.
Are you enjoying that new Shudder exclusive, Monstrum? Great – because it’s another based on a true story horror show. It tells the story of a brutal leader in Ancient Korea – Yeonsangun – who is overthrown and replaced with his half-brother. That much of the story is true, but the added elements in this show really just make it more exciting.
If you haven’t seen Cursed Films, now is the time to check it out. This show presents episodes in a documentary format which dives into true stories of films that experienced such unfortunate events that they’ve been labeled “cursed.”
True Horror is in the same vein as some segments of Unsolved Mysteries. Each episode tells a horror story that supposedly actually took place. Through interviews and scripted reenactments, this show puts us in the driver’s seat of some of the most unsettling occurrences to ever allegedly occur.
What’s Your Favorite Based on a True Story Horror Flick?
Shudder has no shortage of awesome offerings, but if you’re in the mood for some as-close-to-real-life terror as you’re ever going to find, these popular flicks are the way to go. Did we miss any of your favorite based on a true story horror films on Shudder – or any streaming service, for that matter? Tell us in the comments!