In the Season 2 Premiere of Eli Roth's History of Horror, director Eli Roth is joined by Stephen King, Rob Zombie, Scott Derrickson, Joe Hill, and a host of other horror creators to examine one of the horror genre's creepiest settings: the unassuming family home. Roth breaks down famous horror films like The Amityville Horror, House of 1000 Corpses, Misery, and more to get to the heart of why audiences are so afraid of the mystery of what goes on behind a white picket fence. After all, as guest Chris Hardwick says in the episode, "A house can just be a labyrinth of death and you would never know from the outside."
Even more frightening: sometimes the horror is real. In these movies featuring terrifying homes and families, real-life terror plagued innocent victims who thought they were in safe hands. Discover the real stories behind the dark forces in onscreen houses of hell below, if you dare...
The True Story Behind The Amityville Horror
The Amityville Horror is one of the most notorious "based on a true story" fables found in horror movies. The film is an adaptation of the novel by Jay Anson, which chronicles the paranormal events reported by the Lutz family after they moved into the unassuming house on 112 Ocean Avenue in Amityville, Long Island. A year earlier, the home had been the site of a very real gruesome mass murder.
On November 13, 1974, 23-year-old Ronald J. DeFeo, Jr. murdered his entire family with a .35 caliber rifle while they were sleeping. His mother, father, and four siblings were all found face down in their beds with no sign of struggle. Since confessing to the crimes shortly after being discovered, DeFeo has offered multiple versions of how events unfolded in the house. He's stated that he heard voices in his head telling him to perpetrate the crimes, and even posited that he wasn't the one in control of his behavior. DeFeo was sentenced to six concurrent sentences of 25 years to life, and is currently still in Sullivan Correctional Facility in Fallsburg, New York serving out his time.
Despite the very real horror of the DeFeo mass murder, the Amityville home is more widely known for what allegedly happened after the real-life violence. Just over a year after the DeFeo family was murdered, George and Kathy Lutz and their three children moved into the infamous house on 112 Ocean Avenue after purchasing the house for a mere $80,000. They barely lasted long enough in the home to unpack. After just 28 days, the Lutz family fled from the home in the night, leaving all of their possessions behind. In 45 hours of recorded testimony about their experiences in the house, they alleged experiencing terrifying paranormal phenomena that forced them to flee for their lives. The tapes eventually made their way to author Jay Anson, who popularized their chilling account in his The Amityville Horror novel.
In their account, the Lutz family declares they smelled strange odors, and saw green slime oozing out of the walls and keyholes. They felt bone chilling cold spots throughout the house, unexplained and with no discernible source. George Lutz claimed he would wake up at 3:15 a.m. each night -- exactly when the DeFeo family was killed. When the Lutz family called in a priest to bless the house, the priest heard a dark voice scream, "Get out!" The paranormal activity escalated into knives being knocked around the kitchen, George describing a pig-like creature with red eyes that peered at him through the windows, and George seeing Kathy and sons Daniel and Christopher all levitating from their beds during the night. It all became too much, and the Lutz's did what horror audiences have always said is the right move when faced with a haunted house: they got the heck out of there.
Of course, they didn't exactly leave quietly. The sensationalized story of the Lutz's account caused a bit of a media circus, and accusations that the family made everything up for financial gain have abounded. The Lutz's passed a lie detector test while regaling the inexplicable events from their time in the house, but a significant amount of research has gone into disproving their supernatural claims. Still, part of the appeal of the Amityville tale is the lingering mystery -- what if it was real? This is only bolstered by the indisputable fact that six people lost their lives in the home to an act of senseless violence, giving a real chill to the nagging thought that even the worst can happen to you when you're safe in bed at home.
The True Story Behind House of 1000 Corpses/The Devil's Rejects
Rob Zombie's Firefly clan, the infamous movie family of heinous serial killers, made their onscreen debut in the black horror comedy House of 1000 Corpses. Zombie was heavily influenced by 1970s horror films The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes when he first came up with the idea, which was originally the basis of a haunted house attraction Zombie created for Universal Studios Hollywood. In House of 1000 Corpses, the Firefly family lure a group of roadtripping twenty-somethings to their house of horror by pretending to be hospitable locals. Once the travelers feel a false sense of security, the sadistic family subjects their guests to gruesome torture for their sick delight. In Zombie's pseudo-sequel film, The Devil's Rejects, the Firefly family star as the main characters -- and that just gave Zombie more opportunities to chronicle their psychopathic whims on unsuspecting victims.
The Firefly family's reign of terror isn't directly based on real life events, but Zombie clearly borrows heavily from real life families of fear. In the Devil's Rejects, before Otis Driftwood (Bill Moseley) ruthlessly dispatches some of his victims, he says "I am the Devil, and I am here to do the Devil's work." Those familiar with the Manson Family murders of the late 60s may recognize this chilling line as belonging to Charles "Tex" Watson, Charles Manson's right-hand-man, before he commenced with the infamous and grisly Tate murders. Like Otis, Watson was one of the main executors of the family's violence, acting as "the main hit man" for the Manson tribe, according to Deputy Dist. Atty. Patrick Sequeira at Watson's 2011 parole hearing.
The Mansons are hardly the only family of serial killers to share similarities with Rob Zombie's Firefly clan. In the 1870s, life was a far cry from "idyllic" in dusty Kansas after the devastating toll of the Civil War. Pioneering through the West was a hard enough life for travelers, fraught with danger from outlaws, disease, the harsh elements, and wildlife. But there was another, more insidious threat: an unassuming family of spiritualists called the Benders. After establishing their homestead along the Osage Trail, the Bender family home was a frequent stop for travelers through the Midwest, since part of their one-room home was an inn and grocery. The home was divided in two with a canvas curtain, and the family's private quarters were hidden from view. It's presumed that when guests dined with the family, they were seated at the head of the table with their back to the curtain. One of the Benders would distract the guest—probably Kate, the young, attractive daughter—while head of house, John Bender, or his son, John Bender, Jr., would sneak out from behind the curtain and strike the guest with a hammer, knocking them unconscious. The person's throat was slit to ensure they were dead before the body was dropped into a trap door behind the canvas curtain. They were then pilfered through for valuables and buried in secret on the Benders' large property. Of course, most of the passersby on the Osage Trail rarely had anything of value, so historians surmise the Benders continued their murder spree for the sheer thrill of the kill.
While the trail was notorious for being dangerous, it became a suspicious pattern that people would go missing around the area of the Bender family homestead. Soon enough, detectives came calling for long-missing victims. But before they could make any arrests, the Benders fled into outlaw country, never to be seen again.
Watch The Devil's Rejects on amc.com, the AMC apps, and on AMC+ through AMC FearFest.
The True Story Behind Misery
Stephen King has often said that his iconic Misery villain, Annie Wilkes, is based less on a person than on a concept: his desperate addiction to cocaine. King has said, "Annie was my drug problem, and she was my number one fan. God, she never wanted to leave." Annie's character was a means to explore the seductive trap of addiction, how it can motivate you to create, and how it can completely hobble your whole life.
But in the novel, before she keeps bedbound author Paul Sheldon prisoner in her isolated cabin in the woods, Annie Wilkes was a true blue serial killer. She had claimed the lives of family, friends, unfortunate strangers, and several patients who were under her care as a nurse. This is a direct parallel to real life serial killer Genene Anne Jones, who was responsible for the deaths of up to 60 children, infants among them, while she was working as a licensed nurse in the pediatric intensive care units in various hospitals in Texas. The exact number of deaths victims remains unclear, both because of the surreptitious methods used by Jones, but also because of "misplaced" and destroyed records by the hospitals to avoid litigation for her crimes. Rob Reiner, who directed the Misery film adaptation, confirmed that Jones was a source of inspiration for Wilkes's character.
Watch Misery on amc.com, the AMC apps, and on AMC+ through AMC FearFest.
The True Story Behind The Conjuring
The Amityville mansion isn't the only famous real-life haunted house. Nestled in the suburbs of Harrisville, Rhode Island, stands another home with a purportedly terrifying history. In 1971, the Perron family moved into their new serene farmhouse... but it wasn't long before they started experiencing nagging, inexplicable events in their new home. The family alleges they experienced strange, pungent smells, like rotting flesh. Their beds shook in the night, cold spots plagued the house, and the children even reported seeing flashes of human-shaped spirits wandering the halls.
Soon, the paranormal activity took on a more violent, angry nature. Objects flew across the room and smashed into walls, doors slammed in the night, and wife Carolyn even reported that she once felt a piercing pain in her leg and found a wound similar to as if she had been stabbed with a large needle.
The Perron family decided to call in famous paranormal experts and researchers, Ed and Lorraine Warren, to investigate the house and possibly drive the dark energy out of the home. The Warrens were also notably involved in investigating the Amityville house and the infamous Annabelle doll, among thousands of other allegedly supernatural cases.
When the Warrens initiated a séance in the house, the paranormal activity went through the roof -- almost literally. Carolyn Perron seemed to become possessed by spirits, suddenly speaking in tongues and rising into the air. Speaking with USA Today, eldest daughter Andrea Perron explains how she witnessed the séance unfold. "I thought I was going to pass out," she recalls. "My mother began to speak in a language not of this world in a voice not her own. Her chair levitated and she was thrown across the room." Lorraine Warren also attests that the events featured in the film are largely true and unexaggerated -- even the angry spirit of Bathsheba who torments the family in The Conjuring film. A woman named Bathsheba Sherman lived in the Perron's farmhouse in the 1800s, and she's buried close to the home in Harrisville Cemetery. Andrea Perron says, "Whoever the spirit was, she perceived herself to be the mistress of the house, and she resented the competition my mother posed for that position."
Even The Conjuring director James Wan (Saw, Insidious) didn't want anything to do with the real life home. Wan spoke to Entertainment Weekly about his excitement around creating a horror movie based on real events. "I didn't just want to make another ghost story or another supernatural film. One thing I had never explored was the chance to tell a story that's based on real-life characters, real-life people. So those were the things that led me to The Conjuring," Wan explains. But Wan was not interested in dabbling in the paranormal activity of the home himself. When given the chance to visit the real farmhouse where the events of the movie allegedly took place, Wan gave a hard 'no.'
"Just because I make movies in the scary world doesn't mean I want to visit scary worlds. I am such a chicken. I believe in these movies, I believe in ghosts, and the supernatural, and the spiritual world. But I don't want to go there," he said.
After all, haunts and horror are best experienced in the movies.
Watch The Conjuring on amc.com, the AMC apps, and on AMC+ through AMC FearFest.
Explore more onscreen houses of hell in the History of Horror Season 2 Premiere now on amc.com. The latest full episode is also available to watch on the AMC apps for mobile and devices, and AMC+, the company's premium subscription bundle (currently available to Comcast Xfinity, DISH and Sling TV customers).
Eli Roth chats with AMC.com in this Q&A about what fans can expect from the latest season, the scariest movie he's recently seen, who he would interview for the show if he had a time machine, and more.
Want even more horror movies? AMC's annual horror movie spectacular, FearFest is underway now, all through October until Halloween. Check the on-air schedule here, and see what's streaming here on amc.com, the AMC apps and AMC+.
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