Art Imitating Life: Horror Movies Based on Real Events Part One
Horror movies have a way of making our toes curl, and our hair stand on end. While not loved by all, horror movies have a special way of comforting us. Maybe because the serial killer is only on the screen and not in our living rooms, there is safety in horror movies because the terror isn’t real, and we can continue on with our normal lives after the ending credits roll. However, what happens when the psycho killer is real, or at the very least, based on real people? What reality inspired these directors to make something almost as twisted as the true event itself?
The Amityville Horror
A young newlywed couple and their children move into their dream home with a twisted past and experience supernatural terrors that drive them to the brink of insanity.
A classic and the most obvious on this list. Remade several times, everyone knows the basics of the story behind this home. The Amityville Horror is loosely based on the supernatural events that occurred over the course of twenty-eight days to the Lutz family after moving into their home that was the scene of a grizzly crime.
Before the Lutz family, there was the DeFeo family, where the eldest son, Ronald DeFeo Jr, took a shotgun and killed his parents and four siblings. The massacre seemed to come out of nowhere, but there were rumors of demonic possession leading up to the murders. To this day, Ronald still serves time in prison and claims that he heard voices in his head telling him to kill his family.
When the Lutz family first moved in, they had the house blessed, and the priest who oversaw the blessing recounted that he heard a disembodied voice tell him to get out after saying a prayer. From there, the Lutz family reported paranormal activities such as green ooze coming out of the walls, hoof prints in the snow, cold spots in the house, members of the family levitating off their beds, and a pig-like creature watching George Lutz and his son throughout the house. George would also claim that he woke up every night at 3:15 a.m., which is said to be when Ronald killed his family and is also the witching hour when paranormal activity is at its highest.
Many claimed that the haunting was fabricated and that the Lutzs made it up to sell the story and make money in order to help with their financial troubles. Ed and Lorraine Warren (paranormal investigators and demon experts whose cases inspired The Conjuring and Annabel) investigated the home after the Lutz’z moved out. While their search turned up nothing, the Lutz family did take a polygraph test about their experiences and were found to be truthful about the events that took place in their home.
Whether people believe the Lutzs or not, their story has made for a classic ghost story movie.
The Strangers (2008)
An estranged couple hope for a weekend away to work on their relationship and are interrupted by mysterious and homicidal intruders.
Everyone knows you shouldn’t open the door for people that you don’t know, but what happens when they enter anyway?
This is an interesting movie on the list since it was inspired by true events and a personal event in director Bryan Bertino’s childhood. When Bertino was a child, there were a series of break-ins in his neighborhood by a group that was never caught. The group would go door to door asking for someone who didn’t live there, entering houses when no one was home.
While this may not sound so bad, the other inspirations for this movie were a bit more terrifying. One of the true crime stories that fueled this movie was the well-known killer Manson Family and the massacre of Sharon Tate and her family in 1969. While this took place in the 60s, this event was far from the idea of love and peace as one could be. On the night of the murder, several young people who were brainwashed by Charles Manson to commit the crime broke into the Tate house and killed every person in the house as brutally as they could. Unfortunately, at the time, Sharon Tate was eight months pregnant. It’s not entirely clear why Manson ordered this hit. Some believe it’s because he wanted a target whose death would make the most impact in the public eye, or it could have been because the house’s former tenant was a man who rejected giving Manson a music deal. The victims in the house were shot, stabbed, or strangled to death before a member of the Manson Family cult used their blood to write “pig” on the door. It is believed that they used this word in order to incite a race war in the nation.
Another inspiration for the movie is a lesser-known case often called the Keddie Cabin murders. Committed in 1981 in the resort town of Keddie, California, these murders were never officially solved, and it’s not clear if this was due to insufficient evidence or a cleanup.
The four victims of this massacre were Sue Sharp, her daughter Tina Sharp, her son John Sharp, and their family friend Dana Wingate. The Sharp family had been living in the small cabin for a year at the time of the murders. Sue had gotten out of a bad marriage with her children’s father, and it was reported at the time that she was happy with her new life and that the children were also thriving.
The bloodied bodies were discovered by daughter Sheila Sharp, who was away at a sleepover on the night of the attack. Upon arriving home, Sheila found her mother, brother, and Dana bound by a combination of medical and electrical tape. The three of them had been strangled, stabbed and bludgeoned. Sue’s body had been partially covered by a blanket, indicating to detectives that her killers probably knew her personally. Sue was naked from the waist down, with defensive wounds on her arms and her underwear stuffed into her mouth. Blood was everywhere in the cabin, leading police to believe that there was a struggle and that the bodies were more than likely moved and rearranged after the murders. After seeing her dead family, Sheila ran back to the cabin where she had her sleepover and had her friend’s parents phone the police.
Once the police entered the cabin, they found that the youngest children in the home, Rickey and Greg Sharp, and family friend Justin Smartt were unharmed and had somehow managed to sleep through the murders. Tina Sharp was missing from the scene, forcing the FBI to step in in order to find the missing child.
Unfortunately, Tina was not able to escape that night with her life. Her body was found three years later, about thirty miles away from Keddie. Detectives found a child’s blanket, jacket, pair of jeans and an empty surgical tape dispenser near her skull.
It’s not understood how the three youngest boys did not hear the crime taking place when neighbors from the next cabin over had reported hearing muffled screams in the night. They could confirm, however, seeing Sue with two men that night.
Based on the description the boys gave detectives and the group Sue was known to socialize with, the top suspects in the case were Martin Smartt (Justin’s father) and John Boudebe. At the time of the murders, Smartt and Boudebe were thought to be involved in organized crime. Boudebe, in particular, was believed by authorities to be a mobster. Looking deeper into their lives, it was revealed that Sue and Martin were having an affair. Sue, Martin, and Martin’s wife Marilyn were in a love triangle, with Sue actually advising Marilyn to leave Martin.
It’s believed that once Martin heard that Sue was trying to break up his marriage, he enlisted the help of Boudebe to kill her. During the investigation, Smartt claimed that he had a hammer that went missing after the murders, and shortly after, Marilyn ended up leaving Martin. Marilyn admitted she did believe that Martin and John were responsible for the murders. This would explain why the younger boys were spared from being killed along with, the older members of the cabin. It’s believed that Sue was originally the only target for that night. Martin and John were not expecting the young men to be home then and took them out.
In a letter Martin wrote to Marilyn, he mentioned: “I’ve paid the price of your love, and now that I’ve bought it with four people’s lives, you tell me we are through. Great! What else do you want?”
Even with this evidence taken to the DOJ, it was never considered a confession. Martin Smartt and John Boudebe are dead now and can never be convicted for the crime.
Wolves at the Door
Close friends come together to celebrate life in a beautiful home together, only to be picked off by a group of young individuals with killer intentions.
Not as well known as other titles on this list, this movie is based on the murders of the Charles Manson Family. As stated earlier in this article, Sharon Tate was not the real target of Manson’s madness. His purpose was to target a person with enough influence that their death would tattle the nation, and it just so happened that Sharon Tate was also living in the home where Terry Melcher, the famous music producer, used to live. Melcher rejected Manson for a music deal, and since Manson was a sociopath, this rejection was unacceptable. Members of the Manson Family stated in court that Manson was aware at the time of the murders that Melcher no longer lived in the home.
Charles Manson was a homeless ex-con drifting around the country gathering misfits who would become his “family.” The “family” members were young, impressionable youths who were swept up by Manson’s larger-than-life personality and the drugs they would use almost nightly. Unfortunately, despite Charles Manson’s horrendous misuse of people and his methodology, Manson died peacefully in prison in 2017 due to a heart attack. A fate far kinder than what befell Tate and her friends.
Tate was eight months pregnant at the time of the murder, adding another horror element to this twisted tale. The other victims of that tragic night were Jay Sebring (celebrity hairdresser), Wojtek Frykowski (a Playboy model), Steve Parent (a friend of the housekeeper who was in the wrong place at the wrong time), and Abigail Folger (coffee empire heiress).
The bodies of the poor victims were found in the early morning by a maid on August 9th, 1969. While the Manson Family members who committed the murders were high on acid then, it didn’t mean they lacked forethought in their actions for the night. The young members scaled the embankment around the property to avoid the locked security gate, and they even cut the phone lines from the telephone poles along the streets to prevent help from coming.
The victims were not killed quickly. The innocent group of socialites was killed by a combination of stabbing and gunshots. Steve Parent just so happened to be leaving the home at the time when the Family members entered the estate. Once the druggies came across Parent, they slashed up his body and shot him four times in the face before moving on to the rest of their prey inside.
Manson Family members’ second victim of the night was Jay Sebring. Sebring was shot, causing everyone else in the home to scatter. Wojtek Frykowski died very violently, having been stabbed fifty-one times and bludgeoned over twelve times with a pistol. Abigail Folger could make it to the lawn before being caught and stabbed twenty-one times. Folder’s dress, which was originally white, was stained red from blood loss. When she was found, she was in a pool of blood bigger than her body. Tate and Sebring were tied together by their necks with white cords. Sebring was shot in the face, and both Tate and Sebring were stabbed to death.
After the murders, the influenced murderers wrote the word “Pig” on the door in order to initiate some race war in the United States.
They often say that people are often influenced by art, but there are some events and people so profound, whether better or worse, that can inspire the greatest of works. Truth is stranger than fiction, and truth can be crazier than most creative Hollywood artists’ scripts.