In 1998, Tom and Eileen Lonergan headed to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia with a scuba diving group. The couple from Baton Rouge was accidentally left behind, missed during a shoddy headcount. The Lonergans were never found. It’s believed they died at sea (from dehydration or sharks), although conspiracy theories abound about their disappearance. “[Tom] hopes to die a quick and painly [sic] death, and he hopes it happens soon. Tom’s not suicidal, but he’s got a death wish that could lead him to what he desires and I could get caught in that,” Eileen wrote in her diary only two weeks before their trip. This led to theories about a murder-suicide. Those claims were eventually ruled out, and the skipper of the dive boat was charged with their killing, only to be later found not guilty. Chris Kentis’ 2003 film Open Water, filmed with live sharks and relocated to the Atlantic Ocean, was inspired by the haunting story.
The Girl Next Door
Based on Jack Ketchum’s 1989 novel of the same name, The Girl Next Door restaged the harrowing events that led to the 1965 torture and murder of Sylvia Likens in Indianapolis. That year, carnival workers Lester and Betty Likens paid Gertrude Baniszewski meager wages to care for their teenage daughters, Sylvia and Jenny. The troubled and disgruntled Baniszewski targeted Sylvia with verbal and physical abuse, encouraging her children and the neighborhood kids to join in. Sylvia was later confined to the basement, tortured, and murdered. The 2007 film adaptation of her story is chilling — even for Stephen King who said: “The first authentically shocking American film I’ve seen since Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer over 20 years ago. If you are easily disturbed, you should not watch this movie. If, on the other hand, you are prepared for a long look into hell, suburban style, The Girl Next Door will not disappoint. This is the dark-side-of-the-moon version of Stand by Me.”
In Sidney J. Furie’s Satanic Panic-era film The Entity, Barbara Hershey starred as the real-life single mom of four from Culver City, California who claimed to be a victim of demonic rape. The film is based on Frank De Felitta’s 1978 bestseller, about the spectral torment of Carla Moran. The terrifying incidents Moran experienced proved too much for Hollywood. A disturbing dream sequence involving references to incest (the real-life Carla stated these thoughts were forced on her by the demon) was cut. Entity star David Labiosa, who played Carla’s son in the film, broke his arm during the shoot in the same manner that Carla’s real-life son broke his arm. The movie concludes with an epilogue that isn’t exactly true — at least according to paranormal researchers. IMDb confirms:
The film’s closing epilogue states: “The film you have just seen is a fictionalized account of a true incident which took place in Los Angeles, California, in October 1976. It is considered by psychic researchers to be one of the most extraordinary cases in the history of parapsychology. The real Carla Moran is today living in Texas with her children. The attacks, though decreased in both frequency and intensity…continue”. According to an update by the Conneticut Paranormal Research Society web-page article The Carla Moran Story – “The Entity”, “The woman [Carla Moran] moved five times, but the attacking entity followed her. She eventually moved further away. As she moved…the phenomena diminished, and after about two years the attacks stopped altogether.”
During the 1990s, serial killer Ivan Milat abducted, raped, and murdered multiple backpackers in Australia. Greg McLean based his 2005 Aussie horror film Wolf Creek on the backpacker murders, but the movie didn’t start out that way. McLean intended to make a simple slasher film. As the Milat case took over the media, he shifted his focus to a killer inspired by Milat — a seemingly helpful character who is secretly a murderer. During the film’s release, the courts didn’t want McLean’s movie to have any influence over the trial, so an injunction was placed against the movie to delay screenings. Wolf Creek was also inspired by the murder case surrounding killer Bradley John Murdoch, whose victim’s body was never found.
The Exorcism of Emily Rose
Anneliese Michel died at only 23 years old. The young German woman experienced years of torment, convinced she was possessed by demons. She was malnourished and dehydrated at the end of her life, leading to a media-hyped court case against her parents and the priests who performed a Catholic exorcism on Anneliese (finding the parents and two priests guilty of manslaughter, though the sentencing was later suspended). While supposedly possessed, Michel ate spiders and coal, bit the head off a dead bird, drank her own urine, performed hundreds of squats a day, and tore her clothes off. She heard voices, saw the devil’s face everywhere, and couldn’t stand the sight of a crucifix. Medical intervention only seemed to make the problems worse, so the devout Catholic turned to the church for help. Scott Derrickson’s The Exorcism of Emily Rose is based on the Michel case, and presents different sides to the supernatural argument. Today, Catholics make pilgrimages to Michel’s grave.
The Hills Have Eyes
Horrormeister Wes Craven’s 1977 film The Hills Have Eyes was inspired by the legend of the feral and incestuous Sawney Beane clan, who ambushed the Scottish highlands, robbing, murdering,and eventually eating their victims. Many argue that the 15th/16th-century legend is no myth, while others insist the Sawney Beane stories were just that — even if they were perhaps inspired by real-life incidents of cannibalism during that period. The Beane clan was supposedly captured by King James, who ordered the family to be tortured and mutilated before execution. Craven’s film sets the story in modern-day Nevada, starring the imposing Michael Berryman as one of the savages who torments the Carter family after their car breaks down in the middle of nowhere. The Hills Have Eyes was so disturbing to the MPAA that the board initially gave it an X rating.
Read about the horrific true story of a crocodile attack in Australia’s Northern Territory in December 2003 that left one man killed and his friends stranded in a tree:
The two survivors described the crocodile as “big, black and aggressive” and around four metres long. Five minutes later, it returned and remained at the foot of the tree, bobbing up intermittently. The traumatised teenagers spent the night in the tree, keeping each other awake. Shaun was in the second fork of the tree, Ashley in the third. Just on nightfall, Shaun tried to move higher up and, in a heart-stopping moment, fell into the water. Terrified, he scrambled out again within seconds.
The Quiet Ones
The case of the Philip experiment, a parapsychology experiment that took place in Toronto in 1972, is the focus of the British horror film The Quiet Ones. Paranormal.about.com describes the bizarre experiment as an “experiment in which a group of people attempted to re-create the effects of a séance by inventing an imaginary ghost. And it worked, resulting in psychokinetic and other unexplained phenomena.” The website also explains: “This is one of the most fascinating — and possibly one of the most important — experiments in parapsychology. Its effect could provide insight into the nature of poltergeist and haunting activity. Actual footage from the experiment is included.” The below video from a documentary provides more information.
Bryan Bertino’s The Strangers, starring Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman as a couple terrorized by a mysterious trio of murderous stalkers in masks, was inspired by several real-life incidents. The Manson murders (described in the popular true-crime book Helter Skelter by Charles Manson prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi) and the Keddie murders, a series of unsolved killings during the 1980s that took place in cabin 28 located in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, were two prime influences on Bertino. But the director also wrote the movie, set at a remote vacation house, from a personal perspective:
As with most great scares, pieces of the writer/director’s script were based in reality. Bertino remembers, “That part of the story came to me from a childhood memory. As a kid, I lived in a house on a street in the middle of nowhere. One night, while our parents were out, somebody knocked on the front door and my little sister answered it. At the door were some people asking for somebody that didn’t live there. We later found out that these people were knocking on doors in the area and, if no one was home, breaking into the houses. In The Strangers, the fact that someone is at home does not deter the people who’ve knocked on the front door; it’s the reverse.”
Fire in the Sky
Robert Lieberman’s 1993 film Fire in the Sky could be described as a science-fiction drama, but the movie about an extraterrestrial encounter based on real-life abductee Travis Walton’s testimony contains some of the most terrifying scenes ever put to screen. Walton claimed to be taken by a UFO while working as a logger in Arizona. He was missing for five days before found. The seven-man crew working with Walton claimed to watch the whole thing go down. The case created a media frenzy. Walton has since become somewhat of a celebrity in believer circles, having written a book about his troubling experience. The film version of Walton’s abduction contains a medical exam scene and other abduction scenes that you won’t soon forget.