Hollywood horror stories have always borrowed from real life, whether using “based on” as a disclaimer or a warning for audiences. And let’s face it; there is nothing more terrifying than the possibility of silver screen psychopaths invading the everyday. Take this summer’s long anticipated paranormal thriller, Deliver Us From Evil, which reminds us of how horrifying reality can be. Portraying the uncomfortably authentic story of Ralph Sarchie, an NYPD demonologist, the movie focus on Sarchie’s experience as a cop dealing with the paranormal in New York City. While Deliver Us From Evil stays close to the real-life story of Sarchie, plenty of Hollywood’s famous horror films have taken liberties when translating reality into movie magic.
The Conjuring, for one, a movie based on the case files of well-known paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, parallels the Warren’s best-known cases. The film focus on the couple’s investigation of a farmhouse that, according to the Warrens, was haunted by demons because of a curse that, ex-resident and witch, Bathsheba Sherman placed on the home. The film takes its cues directly from the Warrens’ testimonies and their consultation during production, as well as Andrea Perron’s book, House of Darkness House of Light. Despite making an effort to stick to the story, the film incorporated an element that did not belong to the Perron’s experience. The Conjuring’s demon possessed doll, Annabelle, was not related to the Perron family haunting. However Annabelle wasn’t entirely fictional. Annabelle was borrowed from a case the Warrens worked involving a possessed Raggedy Anne doll. Today, the real Annabelle is a star attraction in the Warren’s Occult Museum where she permanently rests in case labeled "Warning: Positively do not open."
Hollywood’s fascination with the Warrens’ investigations was established long before The Conjuring, and remains intact through the story of Sarchie who was trained under both Ed and Lorraine’s expertise. The original 1979 film, The Amityville Horror, also shared ties with the Warrens. The horror flick was based on the book of the same name, and inspired by the Lutz Family’s experiences living in a house infested with inhumane spirits—a diagnosis confirmed by the Warrens. Controversy surrounded the Amityville case, and the Warren’s analysis, but despite the critics the film attempted to reflect the stories collected by members of the family. However the filmmakers did take a few liberties, and exaggerated most of the external damage that took place during the haunting. Christopher Lutz, who was a kid when his family moved into the Amityville home, clarified one of the film’s dramatic scenes in a 30 Odd Minute Interview, saying, “That window opened many times, but rather than display it like it happened, they showed it absolutely shattering. It didn't shatter the glass. The window opened. The thing swung open." Fortunately for the Lutz family, their real home, unlike the film’s portrayal, remained free of mysterious black sludge and doors flying off hinges.
Perhaps the most frightening horror movies inspired by real events is The Exorcism of Emily Rose, directed and co-written by Deliver Us From Evil’s director, Scott Derrickson. The plot surrounds the trial of a young girl who died shortly after a priest performed an exorcism on her. Although Emily Rose does not exist, Derrickson based the film on Felicitas Goodman’s book The Exorcism of Anneliese Michel. The book follows the tragic true story of a German Catholic woman who lost her life after an unsuccessful exorcism. Michel’s parents, and the priests that performed the exorcism, were sent to trail and eventually found guilty of negligent homicide.
Though Hollywood often obscures the facts that create some of the best horror films, a few remain true to their real-life counter parts. For another film based on reality, check out Deliver Us From Evil.