The horror genre is filled with stories that can terrify you, from the supernatural to brutal slayings to cheesy monster flicks that are fun to watch with a family.
However, what truly makes this genre so amazing is the number of films that are either completed based on true events or at least somewhat draw from a real-life true story.
These stories exist across every subgenre of the horror genre, but they are most prevalent in slashers and other films that feature a serial killer.
So, if you love to learn about serial killers, you will love this list.
And for those not too keen on that type of content, some supernatural films and even a few monster flicks make your blood run cold.
Now, without further ado, let’s look at the 40 best horror movies based on true stories!
Make sure to also check out this one on famous couples from horror movies.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
If you did not already know, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, specifically Leather Face, is based on the Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein.
He would rob graves and use the bodies to make everything from lamps and window shades to gloves and a wallet made entirely of human leather.
What inspired TCM was the multiple human masks that Ed Gein had in his home.
He was trying to remake his mother, who had died, and thought he could become closer to her again after death by wearing a suit of skin that looked like her.
And wouldn’t you know it, TCM has Leatherface dressing up as a woman in multiple scenes, and it is clear that each outfit has a particular role for him.
Also, check out this article on the best movies with masked killers.
The Exorcist (1973)
The Exorcist forever takes first place in some of the most intense exorcism movies. Not only was it a defining film for the entire horror genre, but it also held onto the terror it instilled in viewers back in 1973 when it was released in theaters.
It is based on the true story of a young boy, Roland Doe, allegedly possessed by demons in 1949. Whether or not you believe in demons, the real-life story is a terrifying one that has spawned multiple eye-witness books and a horror franchise that has been one of the most defining of all time.
The Girl Next Door (2007)
The Girl Next Door is a 2007 horror film based on one of the most brutal, violent acts the state of Indiana has ever seen. A teenage girl, Sylvie Likens, suffered incredible abuse at the hands of her caregivers, which lasted over three months, at the end of which she finally passed away.
While the movie does not show all the same content that happened to Sylvie, it is still a cruel reminder that people are willing to brutalize society’s future. It is an intense film; if you are sensitive to abuse, do not watch it.
If creepy children and heartbreaking stories aren’t your thing, you may enjoy this 1999 film, Ravenous.
Based on the stories of the Colorado Cannibal, Alfred Packer, it shows the horrifying reality of when you are stuck in the mountains, the cold everlasting, no food, and five companions who start looking tasty.
It is one of the best cannibal films out there, and while it has pre-2000s effects quality, you’ll find the gore starts to get to you by the end of it.
The Strangers (2008)
The ultimate home invasion film, The Strangers, is loosely based on the Charles Manson murders.
While the Charles Manson murders were horrific, what sells this movie is the fact there is no happy ending, and the brutalities performed are simply because the main characters were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Home invasion films became popular in 2008, and they are still a relevant subgenre, as it is a never-ending paranoia amongst homeowners.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
You may be surprised to learn, but Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street is based somewhat on a true story.
During the 1970s, several newspapers were released about a strange affliction that only afflicted a small group of Hmong male refugees fleeing war in their previous homes.
They said that nightmares haunted them, and many men refused to sleep as the nightmares worsened. The truly terrifying part of the story is that some of the refugees died in their sleep, allegedly from the nightmares.
Maybe that is how Freddy Krueger found his way to America to start killing teens in their homes.
If you’re into classic horror films, check out this list of some of the best that have ever been made.
The Amityville Horror (2005)
The Amityville Horror is based on one of the most famous haunted houses of all time, and while the existence of ghosts is dubious, it makes for an amazing watch.
In 1975, a family moved into a home in Amityville, and while everything started alright, it didn’t take long for whatever lived there to start throwing a fit.
After weeks of supernatural assault, the family left, and to this day, it remains a popular case amongst paranormal researchers.
The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)
Another creepy exorcism movie, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, is based on the true story of the life of a tormented girl named Anneliese Michael.
She was allegedly possessed by demons so strong that she underwent exorcisms that lasted over a year, which is insane.
In total, she underwent 67 exorcisms during that one year before dying of malnutrition as she was starved. It is a tough watch, but incredibly worth it if you can stomach it and the truth behind this sad story.
The Conjuring (2013)
The Conjuring franchise is one of the most popular franchises about paranormal activity in homes and various dolls and is based on Warren and Lorraine Warren.
In the movies, the couple is shown to be quite loyal and loving towards one another, but the truth has come to light in the last several years as of this writing.
Not only were many investigations of the Warrens complete frauds, but neither were very good people, with Warren especially abusive.
It gives the Conjuring films a new light; watching them and knowing the idyllic couple on the screen is based on a couple who were frauds and hated each other.
Wolf Creek (2005)
Wolf Creek is an incredibly brutal horror movie based on a pair of backpack murders in Australia that would torture and murder backpackers in the Outback.
It is a chilling tale reminder never to trust people you have randomly met out in the woods because they might be serial killers.
247 Degrees (2012)
247 Degrees is based on a group of friends locked inside a sauna when their other friend went off and forgot they were there.
Prepare for a lot of sweating and see what happens to the human body in hot environments for long periods without protection.
The Golden Glove (2019)
The Golden Glove brings the gruesome crimes of serial killer Fritz Honka to life.
He was a murderer who operated in the red district in Hamberg during the 1970s, and this film does a great job showing the brutality and depravity he possessed during his real life.
Eaten Alive (1980)
Eaten Alive is the perfect movie for you if you want some alligator horror.
It is based on the true story of a man named Joe Bell, who murdered over twenty young women and fed their bodies to his alligators.
For an 80s film, it is pretty heavy on the gore, so be prepared for that.
Borderland tells the story of a cult leader, Adolfo de Jesús Constanzo, who decided that human sacrifice must be an important part of his and his followers’ beliefs.
This film is one long trigger warning of drugs, human sacrifice, and some of the most vile acts you can imagine. It is also super heavy on gore, so don’t watch this movie if you are easily sickened by it.
Another film in the Conjuring universe, Annabelle, is one of the best demonic possession films out there and is well worth the watch.
It is based on the story of a Raggedy Ann doll named Annabelle, who is supposedly possessed by an evil spirit, and thus, it is kept securely locked behind a glass case.
Just remember to be respectful towards her, lest you find yourself cursed.
The Dentist (1996)
While you may already have a lot of anxiety about visiting the dentist, here is some extra anxiety about visiting one.
The Dentist is loosely based on a dentist in Missouri who would convince women to marry men before he murdered the men, and he and the woman would split the insurance money.
It was a devious plan, and it succeeded for decades.
The Craigslist Killer (2011)
Craigslist has long been the home for less savory people, and there have been plenty of cases of killers using Craigslist to get victims.
The Craigslist Killer, though, is based on these various instances to combine them into one singular movie of terror where a medico lures people into his home before killing them.
10 Rillington Place (1971)
10 Rillington Place is based on a prolific serial killer and necrophile, John Christie, who committed his crimes at, you guessed it, 10 Rillington Place.
He went undetected for a long time because no one suspected him, as he was nice and had a calming demeanor, which is a reminder that you never know who may be a serial killer.
Snowtown is the name of the murders committed by three people in Australia over seven years, and it is a poignant and powerful film.
It leans heavily into the true crimes committed by those individuals and will leave you wondering whether or not humanity is more good than evil.
Dead Ringers (1988)
If you were looking for one of the scariest horror movies ever, look no further than Dead Ringers.
It is based on the story of twin gynecologists who work together, and when a patient seeks to deceive one of the brothers, they slip into madness, causing a whole slew of horrors.
It is a great movie and makes for a fun time.
Black Christmas (1974)
Black Christmas is one of the first slasher films that affected the United States horror genre; it is easy to see why.
The film is a great watch based on the real events of a serial killer in Montreal, Canada, and the legend of the man who calls from upstairs to the babysitter at home with several kids.
My Friend Dahmer (2017)
My Friend Dahmer is easily one of the best horror movies of all time on this list, and that is because it is based on an actual person, the brutal serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, who committed his crimes in the Milwaukee area.
This movie delves more into his childhood and is adapted from a comic book created by one of Dahmer’s childhood friends who knew him growing up.
It’s an intense movie and will make you feel deeply uncomfortable the entire time, so maybe don’t watch this during your next family movie night.
The Sacrament (2014)
The Sacrament is another cult movie, but this one takes a lot of inspiration from the Jonestown Massacre, all the way down to how the cult members commit suicide at the end.
It is a hard watch, shot heavily like a mockumentary, making it feel even more real.
If you’re into mockumentary-style horror movies, check out this article on the best found-footage horror movies.
Based on the horrific story of the murders of over 20 young boys, this movie decides to go more like a supernatural horror film.
It tells the story of a mother who thought her son had been murdered, but when the police return him, it is painfully obvious that her son is not actually her son anymore.
If you’re into supernatural horror, check out this one on astral projection horror movies.
If you did not get enough exorcism movies based on Anneliese Michael, then here is a German film that is also based on the true story of Anneliese.
However, this one is much darker and explores the horrors of what she suffered much better than many of the other horror movies based on her exorcisms.
The Hills Have Eyes (1977)
The Hills Have Eyes is one of the most famous classic horror movies, especially the first film, but not many people know its truth.
It is actually based on the story of a Scottish family that lived in a series of caves for decades and would kill and eat people who went by their area.
It is a truly interesting story, and this movie gives you an insight into how it might have been.
The Birds (1963)
The Birds is easily one of modern horror’s forefathers and the most iconic Alfred Hitchcock movie ever.
Surprisingly, it does have a true story behind it, as there was a small period in California where, for some reason, people experienced sudden and violent attacks by the hordes of seabirds in the area.
If you think birds are scary, check out bears in horror movies!
The Photographer of Mauthausen (2018)
If you were looking for a story to make you cry, The Photographer of Mauthausen will do that for you.
It is based on the inspiring story of a French photographer who, after being exiled, was captured by the Nazis and sent to the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp.
His photos became pivotal in taking down Nazi leaders during their trials.
Silent Hill (2006)
If you have never heard of the real-life Silent Hill, then you are about to be enlightened.
While Silent Hill is an amazing horror game, the movie brings to life the creepy atmosphere that Silent Hill is known for.
That environment, a town perpetually on fire, is real and is called Centralia in Pennsylvania, which has been burning for 60 years now and has no sign of slowing down.
The Texas Killing Fields (2011)
Texas is known for many things, and when it comes to the horror genre, plenty of films are based in Texas.
One of the movies on this list of scary movies from Texas is the Texas Killing Fields, which is based on the unsolved crimes of a field where dozens of bodies have been found.
Theories abound that maybe it is a serial killer dumping ground, a mob dumping ground, or maybe even a popular place for killers to get rid of evidence.
Whatever the true reason, this movie is a must-watch.
The Watcher (2017)
Stalking is an all too real occurrence in the modern era, and The Watcher brings to light one of the stories where this happened to a young couple who had just purchased a new home.
After moving in, they found themselves the target of a stalker who started only making strange noises and slowly ramping up what he did.
The Zodiac Killer is one of the greatest unsolved serial killer cases of all time, and Zodiac is an intense thriller movie based on those murders.
It brings the crimes to life and makes you wonder who the actual Zodiac Killer was.
Lizzie is another sad story based on the real-life incident of a young woman, Lizzie Borden, whom her father and step-mother abused for years.
Lizzie finally snapped and killed them in a brutal axe slaying that would put even the intense horror villain to shame.
Murder by Numbers (2002)
For every perfect crime, there is a perfect flaw, and this 2002 film, Murder by Numbers, pits Sandra Bulluck and Ryan Gosling against two teens who kidnapped a young child to commit the perfect crime.
Both the movie and the real-life case are incredibly sad, so be prepared to watch a young child be murdered.
Aileen Wuornos is quite possibly the most famous female serial killer of all time, and the film Monster is based on the crimes she committed during her killing spree.
It is a high-stakes, action-pumping film that will leave you somewhat impressed by her and wondering what can push someone to such depravity.
Winchester is based on the story of Sarah Winchester, who allegedly built her home over 30 years according to the directions of the ghosts of the people killed by her husband’s guns.
It’s a great ghost horror film and should be on everyone’s watch list.
The Town That Dreaded Sundown (2014)
The Town That Dreaded Sundown tells the story of a bizarre murder spree, where five people were brutalized and murdered in Arkansas and then simply vanished, never to be heard of since then.
It has since become a tradition to watch this film during the time of the year this crime happened.
From Hell (2001)
A Jack the Ripper movie starring Johnny Depp, From Hell, recreates the crimes of Jack the Ripper, notorious for the gruesome murders he committed in the Whitechapel area of London.
You already know the film will be great because of Jonny Depp, and the fact it is about Jack the Ripper only makes it that much better.
Open Water (2003)
Scuba Diving can be a dangerous activity, and for a young couple seeking to better their marriage, it would lead to their death when they were stranded alone with no way to return home.
Open Water is a great water-based horror that will make you think twice about swimming.
To end this long list of horror movies based on true stories, Primeval is another crocodile horror film based on a massive crocodile who hunted people for fun.
He is reportedly over 60 years old, 20 feet long, and with a body count of more than 300 people, making him one of the deadliest creatures on this earth.
There you have it: 40 horror movies based on real life that can be great for scaring you when you are looking for your next horror movie.
If you enjoyed this article, check out this one about the best horror movies you can watch for free on the Internet.
Until next time, stay safe out there!