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Halloween is always a time for horror movies and nothing makes a scary film even scarier than knowing that there is a true story behind it. ‘Based on a true story’ has always been a great hook for any movie, and the stories that inspired movies such as The Amityville Horror and The Exorcist are well known, but the actual, or reported, events portrayed in these three famous flicks are less talked about, but just as disturbing:
Celebrated horror movie director Wes Craven is best known for his 1984 film A Nightmare on Elm Street. Most people are familiar with the story; a group of young people are terrorized, in their dreams, by a sadistic and almost demonic child-killer. Craven formulated the idea from three articles in the LA Times, each of which told the story of men in South East Asia who had each died in their sleep or – more poignantly – during their nightmares. One such article described the trials of a young physician in Laos who drove his family to despair with his refusal to sleep. “No, you don’t understand,” he said, when family members urged him to sleep, “I’ve had nightmares before – this is different.” He was given sleeping pills but only pretended to take them. One evening, after he had been awake for many days, the young man finally fell asleep while watching television. Family members carried him to bed and then retired for the night, until they were awoken later by his screams and crashing sounds coming from his room. According to the article, when family members rushed to his room, he was dead. An autopsy found no ascertainable cause of death.
John McNaughton, who wrote and directed the 1986 movie Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, took his inspiration from the confessions of Henry Lee Lucas, who claimed to have killed at least 600 people. Even though many of these claims were disproved – and he later recanted many of his confessions – Lucas was connected, with certainty, to three murders. In 1960, when he was 24 years old, Lucas stabbed his mother to death. He was convicted of the crime later that year and sentenced to 20 to 40 years. He was paroled after 10 years, most of which he spent in a mental hospital after attempting suicide whilst in prison. Sometime after his release, Lucas was again sent to prison after trying to kidnap a 15-year-old girl. By 1975, he was on the street once more. As reflected in the movie, Lucas began to associate with a petty criminal who, like himself, had a violent and sexually sadistic streak. Lucas, Ottis Toole and Toole’s niece, Becky Powell, drifted together for four years and, according to Lucas, he and Powell conducted a romantic relationship, of sorts.
!n 1981, a six-year-old boy way abducted from a department store in Hollywood, Florida. The child’s decapitated body was found sometime later and Ottis Toole later claimed to have killed him. Toole was never convicted of the killing, however, and later recanted his confession. The murdered boy was Adam Walsh and his father, John, went on to take up the cause of crime victim advocacy, becoming the host of the popular television show America’s Most Wanted.
In 1982, Henry Lee Lucas killed and dismembered Powell, following an argument. He also claimed to have had sex with her corpse before chopping her into several pieces. A few weeks later, he murdered Kate Rich, with whom he and Becky Powell had stayed for a time. In June of the following year, Lucas was arrested for illegal possession of a firearm but, once in custody, began to confess numerous murders. The exact number of his victims remains open to speculation, but he was sentenced to death, although he died in prison in Texas, after his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.
The 2009 horror film, The Haunting in Connecticut, appears to follow a familiar theme; a family moves into a new house that harbors a dark history and terrifying mayhem ensues. The little known story behind this movie centered around the Snedeker family; parents Allen and Carmen, their three sons and one daughter. The Snedekers rented a house in Southington, Connecticut, in 1986, only to discover, later, that it had previously served as a mortuary. Their ordeal began when their eldest son started to have frightening visions and gradually progressed to acts of extreme violence, supposedly carried out by some demonic presence. After two years of, apparently, unspeakable torment and abuse, at the hands of the demons, the family moved away.
The intriguing thing about the possibly true stories behind horror movies, of course, is that the apparent truth is not always what it seems. Wes Craven could find no corroborating accounts of the tale of the young man whose nightmare supposedly killed him; the ordeal of the Snedeker family has been called into question and even the gruesome exploits of Henry Lee Lucas – a real serial killer – are largely based upon his own confessions. Sometimes, truth is actually stranger than fiction and, sometimes, the real truth remains a mystery.
Opinion by Graham J Noble