Even the greatest movie directors and writers often turn to real life horror stories for horror movie inspiration. Some of the most memorable films were based of infamous American murderers. If you’ve ever wondered about the non fictional tales behind our favorite movies like Amityville Horror or The Silence of The Lambs, read on!

1. The Exorcist

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The Movie: A pair of priests attempt to exorcise a demon that has possessed a 12-year-old girl living in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, DC.

The Real Story: Inspired by an exorcism performed on a 13-year-old boy in Mount Rainier, Maryland in 1949. The story’s details have been muddled through the years — in order to protect the family — but the boy’s actual home lay in Cottage City, Maryland, and the exorcism was performed in St. Louis. Evidence points to the boy’s behavior not being nearly as outrageous or supernatural as was portrayed in the film.

2. Amityville Horror

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The Movie: The Lutz family moves into a riverside house, the site of a mass murder the year before. They encounter a series of malevolent paranormal events that drive them out of the house after only 28 days.

The Real Story: George and Kathy Lutz experienced disembodied voices, cold spots, demonic imagery, inverted crucifixes and walls “bleeding” green slime. Most, if not all, of the events portrayed in both the book and the movie have been called into question by investigators, and it is widely believed that the entire incident was a hoax.

3. Texas Chainsaw Massacre

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The Movie: A group of friends passing through are stalked and hunted down by a deformed killer with a chainsaw in order to sustain his poor family who can only afford to eat what they kill.

The Real Story: The real Ed Gein did wear a human’s scalp and face. The real Ed Gein did this however, to help quell his desire to be a woman, not because of a skin disease as with Leatherface in the film. Also included in his uniform, Ed Gein wore a vest of skin complete with breasts and female genitalia strapped above his own.

4. An American Haunting

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The Movie: Nineteenth-century landowner John Bell and his family are tormented by an invisible entity, which targets his daughter Betsy in particular.

The Real Story: The movie is based on the legend of the Bell Witch, a tale that originated in Tennessee in the 1800s. It is believed by many to be a work of fiction, although the characters in the story were real. According to the tale, John Bell was poisoned by the ghost, and although the film’s marketing declared that it is “validated by the State of Tennessee as the only case in US history where a spirit has caused the death of a human being,” there is no such validation on record. Some claim that The Blair Witch Project was also influenced by the story.

4. The Silence of The Lambs

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The Movie: A young FBI cadet must confide in an incarcerated and manipulative killer to receive his help on catching another serial killer who skins his victims.

The Real Story: The movie famed killer from The Silence of the Lambs, Buffalo Bill, perhaps most closely resembles famed murderer Ed Gein who also inspired Leatherface (see Texas Chainsaw Massacre). The character Buffalo Bill as well desired to be a woman, and he displayed actions that could categorize him as a transvestite. They both skinned their victims and enjoyed parading around in garments of flesh. They both also preyed on women. However, Buffalo Bill chose somewhat younger women for his victims than Ed Gein did.

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