10 Best Horror Movies and TV Shows Based on True Stories

From romantic comedies to legal and medical dramas, superhero and adventure films; there are dozens of thematic categories for motion pictures. Among them all, the horror genre stands out for its quest to induce fear in viewers. Since the advent of cinematography, thousands of such projects have been produced and for some people, the best horror movies and TV shows are those based on true stories. Vampires, zombies, and werewolves are all cool but are at best regarded as an overlap of the thriller, fantasy, and supernatural fiction genres with what is considered as “real horror” in some quarters.

Understandably, some people find the idea of being scared for entertainment foolish and quite repulsive. But then, psychologists have maintained that people have a natural appetite for controlled fear. A study that extensively reviewed empirical researches on the psychological responses to horror films, among other things, concluded that there is a positive relationship between sensation-seeking and horror enjoyment. It was also found that males are more likely to watch, enjoy, and seek out horror. More than explaining why people like scary movies, some reports have claimed that there are benefits attached to it and it ranges from boosting the immune system to relieving depression and what have you.

Best Horror Movies and TV Shows Derived from Real Life Events 

1. The Exorcist (1973)

  • Release Date: December 26, 1973
  • IMDB Rating: 8.0/10
  • Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 83%
  • Metacritic Rating: 81

An American supernatural horror film directed by William Friedkin, The Exorcist is based on a 1971 novel of the same title by the late American writer, William Peter Blatty. The horror novel relates the demonic possession of Regan MacNeil, an eleven-year-old daughter of a popular actress, and the attempt made by two priests to evict the demon. Blatty based the novel on a real-life story of exorcisms priests of the Roman Catholic Church carried out on a boy who was allegedly possessed through an Ouija board.

Reports have it that several movie theaters banned the original trailer of the movie because it was considered to be too frightening. Amid stories that it had people fainting and suffering heart attacks in cinemas in the United States, people protested against it in other countries, especially in the United Kingdom after it was released in London in March 1974. A Christian group known as the Nationwide Festival of Light championed the protests. Because of this, the movie was banned from exhibition in some counties. Given its historic significance, it is no surprise that The Exorcist is still counted among the best horror movies and TV shows ever produced.

2. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

  • Release Date: October 11, 1974
  • IMDB Rating: 7.5/10
  • Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 89%
  • Metacritic Rating: 78

Some story details and the Leatherface character of this slasher film co-produced by Tobe Hooper and Kim Henkel were based on the crimes of Edward Theodore Gein. Ed was infamous as the Butcher of Plainfield. The late American convicted body snatcher and murderer killed and mutilated the bodies of at least two women, Bernice Worden and Mary Hogan, in the most despicable manner one could think of. Bernice’s heart was found in a plastic bag and her head in a sack when his home was searched. He made a mask out of Mary’s face and her skull was found in a box. Also, it was uncovered that exhumed corpses from graves to make trophies out of them. He owned things like bowls made from human skulls, a basket made of human skin, and a belt made from female nipples.

Even though the plot of this film is mostly fictional, it was heavily marketed as a production based on real-life events. Tobe Hooper who directed the film had a hard time finding a distributor because of the movie’s violent content. Several countries banned the film but it only helped it attract a wider audience as people got curious about the whole buzz surrounding it. Today, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is regarded as one of the most influential horror movies that defined the slasher genre.

3. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)

  • Release Date: January 5, 1990
  • IMDB Rating: 7.0/10
  • Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 87%
  • Metacritic Rating: 80

For a movie shot on 16mm with a budget of $110,000, it is very remarkable that this 1986 American psychological horror crime film grossed $613,865 at the box office. The first and most popular film of John McNaughton, the movie stars Michael Rooker, Tom Towles, and Tracy Arnold. The characters that Rooker and Towles portrayed are respectively, loosely based on Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole, both of whom were convicted serial killers in real life.

Lucas and Toole had a rough childhood that possibly contributed to the atrocities they committed. While the former had a prostitute for a mom who forced him to watch her have sex with her clients, the latter had abusive parents and was a victim of incest and sexual assault when he was young. When the two became friends, what followed was a murder spree.

Although the movie premiered at the Chicago International Film Festival in 1986, the extreme violence it portrayed made it difficult for its producers to find a distributor and it delayed its release until 1990. Nevertheless, it received positive reviews and is considered to be one of the best horror movies and TV shows ever made.

4. The Girl Next Door (2007)

  • Release Date: October 3, 2007
  • IMDB Rating: 6.6/10
  • Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 67%
  • Metacritic Rating: 29

This horror movie directed by Gregory M. Wilson stars Blanche Baker, Daniel Manche, and Blythe Auffarth. It was based on a 1989 novel of Jack Ketchum also titled The Girl Next Door, which was loosely inspired by the murder of Sylvia Likens. She was an American teenager who was tortured by her caregiver for three months and ultimately murdered in what was considered to be the worst crime ever committed in Indianapolis, Indiana. Sylvia was beaten, starved, and sexually humiliated by Gertrude Baniszewski and her kids alongside their neighborhood friends.

The movie dedicated to Sylvia received mixed reviews. For instance, a New York Times review faulted its narrative device but reckoned that it would make one wish to rinse his/her brain in bleach to wash and get rid of the movie from memory. Also, Stephen King, an authority in the genre, reportedly described it as an “authentically shocking American film” for anyone “prepared for a long look into hell”.

 5. The Conjuring (2013)

  • Release Date: July 15, 2013
  • IMDB Rating: 7.5/10
  • Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 86%
  • Metacritic Rating: 68

Many people would be outraged if this 2013 American supernatural horror film fails to make any list of the best horror movies and TV shows. The inaugural film of what has become known as the Conjuring Universe franchise, the movie directed by James Wan is based on the works of Ed and Lorraine Warren who were paranormal investigators. The American couple devoted their lives to studying demons and investigating allegedly haunted locations. Apart from The Conjuring which grossed over $317.7 million at the box office on a budget of $20 million, their exploit inspired other films like The Amityville Horror, The Haunted, and The Haunting in Connecticut.

Starring Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Ron Livingston, and Lili Taylor, the movie revolves around a family that moved into a farmhouse in Harrisville, Rhode Island. They witnessed a series of paranormal events and invited a demonologist couple who uncovered that the house was owned by a witch that sacrificed her newborn to the devil. In between that, the events that unfold are interesting and thrilling as much as they are scary. The Conjuring was released to mostly positive reviews.

6. Hannibal (2013 – 2015)

  • Release Date: April 4, 2013 – August 29, 2015
  • IMDB Rating: 8.5/10
  • Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 92%
  • Metacritic Rating: 77

This psychological horror-thriller television series was developed for NBC by Bryan Fuller and based on characters from novels like Red Dragon, Hannibal, and Hannibal Rising; all of which were written by Thomas Harris. Harris is mostly known for the Dr. Hannibal Lecter character of his books which was inspired by a real-life Mexican doctor, Alfredo Balli Trevino. Reports have it that Trevino was the last criminal that Mexico sentenced to death. This was for the murder of his friend and romantic partner, Jesus Castillo Rangel. He was also suspected to have killed and dismembered several hitchhikers but his sentence was commuted to 20 years after which he resumed working as a medical practitioner until he passed in 2009.

The Hannibal series revolves around the relationship between Dr. Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham. While the latter is a criminal profiler, the former is an intelligent and polished forensic psychiatrist with a dark secret: he is also a cannibalistic serial killer. His fascination with Graham’s empathetic nature towards psychopathic killers pushes him towards tempting his fate as he cunningly attempts to make a killer out of the FBI profiler who hunts serial killers. It’d be an unpardonable sin to exclude Hannibal from any list of the best horror movies and TV shows; it is often counted among the greatest TV series of all time.

7. Wolf Creek (2016 – 2017)

  • Release Date: May 12, 2016 – December 15, 2017
  • IMDB Rating: 7.2/10
  • Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 77%
  • Metacritic Rating: TBD

Wolf Creek is an Australian horror web television series that spun off a 2005 Greg McLean-directed Australian horror film of the same title. The movie promoted as a production based on true events derived elements of its plot from an incident that has been documented in history as the backpacker murders. Between 1989 and 1993, Ivan Milat targeted hitchhikers, most of whom were foreign backpackers, at the Hume Freeway. He would offer to transport them to New South Wales but would take them to the Belanglo State Forest where he would incapacitate, murder, and bury them in shallow graves.

The horror series consists of two seasons and a total of 12 episodes, six for each. The first season was released on the 12th of May 2016 and it revolves around a teenage American tourist named Eve. Portrayed by Lucy Fry, Eve Thorogood survives an attack from a serial killer, Mick Taylor, and thereafter embarks on a revenge mission. The second season was released on the 15th of December 2017 to positive reviews like the first season.

8. Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction (1997 – 2002)

  • Release Date: May 25, 1997 – September 5, 2002
  • IMDB Rating: 8.0/10
  • Rotten Tomatoes Rating: N/A
  • Metacritic Rating: TBD

An American television anthology series created by Lynn Lehmann, Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction aired on Fox from May 1997 to September 2002, spewing a total of 45 episodes across four seasons. The first season has a total of six episodes whereas the others have 13 episodes each. Each of the 45 episodes features five stories that defy logical explanation, some of which were based on real-life events.

Viewers are tasked to decide which of the stories are true and would get to learn if they got it right at the end of the show. Beyond Belief captures a wide range of the most horrific and disturbing events that have happened. More so, it features many fictional scary tales, all of which have earned it a place among the best horror movies and TV shows.

9. Ghost Adventures (2008 – Present)

  • Release Date: October 17, 2008 – present
  • IMDB Rating: 7.5/10
  • Rotten Tomatoes Rating: N/A
  • Metacritic Rating: TBD

Ghost Adventures is a show you would recommend for anyone who believes in ghosts or wants to be convinced about their existence. The American paranormal and reality television series follows a group of ghost hunters who have dedicated their lives to investigating allegedly haunted locations across the globe.

It premiered on the 17th of October 2008 and is currently on its 22nd season. With over 200 episodes aired, the adventure of Zak Bagans and his colleague continues to command the interest of many viewers. Although there are claims that some of the paranormal encounters were staged, one can’t deny it is a spooky show.

10. Psychic Kids: Children of the Paranormal (2008 – Present)

  • Release Date: June 16, 2008 – November 28, 2010; August 21, 2019 – Present
  • IMDB Rating: 6.3/10
  • Rotten Tomatoes Rating: N/A
  • Metacritic Rating: TBD

You can love horror all you want but you would be disturbed if your child claims s/he talks with the dead, has a past life, or that there is a ghost roaming your home. Tales of that sort are what you get from Psychic Kids. The paranormal reality television series revolves around kids who are said to possess various psychic abilities and the efforts made to help them and members of their families cope with the challenges that come with that.

The series premiered on the 16th of June 2008 and ran for three seasons through 21 episodes to the 28th of November 2010. It was revived in 2019 by the A&E network. Its peculiarity (dedication to kids) is what makes it one of the best horror movies and TV shows.


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