February 21, 2024

The horrors of our reality have produced several films based on these events. The Amityville Horror, Open Water, of the zodiacand Fire in the Sky they are just a few that aim to be close to accurate depictions of real and supposedly true stories. While there are good examples, the number of great horror films that are more grounded in the source material is limited. It’s a struggle for a filmmaker to make a film based on a completely true story because it requires sticking to those boundaries. They have to keep the plot focused on what actually happened, without going off their own dramatic direction.


Some horror films begin with a true event before expanding into fiction

Jodie Foster: Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Image via Orion Pictures

It is much more common to find horror films inspired through a true story, where a screenwriter or director is influenced by something they read or heard, but then uses that information to go in their own direction. For example, serial killer Ed Gein committed a crime spree in the 1950s where he not only murdered his victims, but also dressed their skins and made household items out of their bones. That real-life nightmare inspired everything psychoto Texas Chain Saw Massacreto The silence of the lambs, but none of those movies were about Ed Gein. The filmmakers instead took that terrifying feeling and tried to replicate it in a film with their imagination rather than being burdened with hard facts. Ed Gein may be scary in real life, but in a movie he couldn’t compete with Norman Bates, Leatherface or Hannibal Lector. These criminals work not only for their crimes, but also for the non-threatening charm of Norman Bates, the very menacing brutality of Leatheface and the cool charisma of Hannibal Lector.

Ed Gein is not the only example. Kevin Williamson he was encouraged to write Shout After watching a news story about serial killer Daniel Rolling. While what Rolling did in Florida in 1990 was almost unspeakable, it wasn’t wearing a Halloween mask or prank calling his victims with movie oddities. Williamson took a cue from the fear he found in the truth, then let it spill over into his new story. Also, as we are mentioning Shouthis director, Wes Cravenwas inspired to create A nightmare on Zumar street after reading a Los Angeles Times article about men who refused to sleep because of nightmares about their deaths. When they finally fell asleep, 26 died in their sleep. It’s an absolutely terrifying story, but that’s just it. There is no drama, no suspense, no fluid plot to work our emotions, and there was certainly no Freddy Krueger. A movie about people dying in their sleep would be scary, but a movie about a burned-faced man with knives for fingers is another horror.

That is, while there is a lot of fear in reality, and as much as those real-life scary stories can grab our attention, it’s not enough to stick with it and make a great movie. Cinema adds drama and tension, engaging our emotions in a way only fiction can. It’s a rollercoaster of ups and downs, hitting familiar beats while trying to build suspense and surprise us. You may watch a TV series or movie based on Ted Bundy or Jeffrey Dahmer, but most of us know how those stories go and end. It’s like making a movie based on a book you’ve already read. You can admire a performance and feel uncomfortable in its portrayal, but a movie or series based so deeply on true events cannot horrify you the way a purposefully crafted piece of fiction can.

Having our shared primal fears turned against us is always scarier than real life

The best horror movies don’t come from a true story at all. Instead, they are based on a primal fear that we all share. Even though they tried hard to convince me that it was real, The Blair Witch Project it was a complete work of fiction. Its premise works because we have this collective fear of going into the woods, of getting lost, of having to spend the night in the dark where anything might be lurking, and then never being able to get out. This idea, however, is not enough. The world of Blair Witch must be fleshed out with the intriguing backstories that are explored. We get to meet the characters, see them interact and create drama. Real life isn’t always like that. Most of our conversations are not that interesting and there is no drama brewing at every moment. A movie gives us that. Even a horror movie knows how to tell a story in three acts, take us to the top of the roller coaster and take us down. What if, inside The Blair Witch Project, the house found at the end, which is the perfect last chance, was found in thirty minutes because the events were based on a true story that had to be respected? That would have been less effective.

This is another perfect example of this John Carpenter‘s Halloween. It works so well because it feels real. Our greatest fear is being in our own home, where we feel safest, and a faceless madman staring at us and breaking in to kill us. It’s the stuff of nightmares. But for that man to be someone in a white mask who never speaks, for that man to escape from a mental hospital on Halloween every night, and for that man to be an almost supernaturally immortal boogeyman, it goes beyond that. the tragedies of reality. Camera shots, music, lighting, everything is used to get a high out of us.

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Fictional fear is not limited by reality

Ben died in the night of the living
Image via Continental Distributing

There are countless examples of films born out of our realistic collective fears. Also, while the horrors of reality are fortunately limited in how far they can go, for fiction, this is not the case. Anything we can understand can happen. Hollywood is fear without limits. alien, Ring, the gremlins, Children’s Play, Godzilla, Cloverfield, Night of the Living Dead, none of which can ever be a true story. That’s why those movies work. They are terrifying beyond comprehension, the suspense raised even higher by the fact that these worlds are so different from our own. You would never want to run into Ed Gein, Ted Bundy or Jeffrey Dahmer, but imagine being chased by an alien, a giant monster, a doll or the living dead.

True horror stories will always come our way. News and Netflix documentaries thrive. But that’s why we also go to the cinema. We want to be scared without being sad or depressed. Horror should be fun and scary. Nothing achieves this better than the limitless scope of imagination in the right hands.

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