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How True Are Horror Movies Based on Real-Life Events?

Blogger Stacie Ponder’s horror columns appear every Wednesday.

There’s been much ado over the fact that The Strangers, which opened last week, is purportedly “inspired by true events.” What true events? Did a trio of weirdos in super-creepy masks really decide to terrorize a good-looking young couple one night simply because they were home? Well, yes… but mostly, no. Read a few interviews with writer/director Bryan Bertino and you’ll discover that once, when he was young, someone knocked on his door… and there were a bunch of robberies in his neighborhood… and, uh, he read Helter Skelter.  So, you see, in a way the film is inspired by true events — but as to the actual plot? Nah. Never happened.

Does it matter whether or not it’s a true story? To me, it makes little to no difference in terms of my enjoyment of the film. The Strangers (or any other horror film) isn’t any more or less scary if the plot is “ripped from the headlines.” I can see how folks might get antsy knowing that there really are mask-n-knife wielding cuckoo nutsos out there, but, slap my face and call me Fox Mulder: I’ll believe just about anything. As a kid, I imagined a backyard full of zombies often enough that Night of the Living Dead could very well have been based on a true story as far as I was concerned, whether Romero said it was or not.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Of course, the “true story” angle, when used, is generally anything but — stories are distorted beyond recognition or the disclaimer is simply a big fat lie. Did I enjoy Fargo any less when I discovered that the Coen Brothers lied to me and Marge Gunderson doesn’t really exist? Not a bit. How about the famous opening voiceover of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, wherein John Larroquette informs the audience that the events they’re about to see really did take place on a particularly unfortunate summer day in Texas? The film is very loosely based on the crimes of Ed Gein, the infamous grave-robber and human-furniture maker, but the wacky Leatherface family is strictly a figment of Tobe Hooper’s and Kim Henkel’s imaginations. Not so long ago I took a vacation in the desert and lemme tell ya, I drove by enough desolate gas stations and abandoned-looking properties with crazy crap all over the yard to bring TCM to mind and make me put the pedal ever-so-slightly more to the metal. Just because it didn’t happen doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen, you know?

Silent Hill
Sometimes real-life events can act as a springboard for a film and be re-appropriated for a different story altogether. Such is the
case with Silent Hill, one of the better video game adaptations
to come down the pike. In the game, there are three “worlds,” like
layers or dimensions, in the town of Silent Hill: The normal, quaint
resort town, the world of darkness, and the world that is constantly
enveloped in a thick fog. In the 2006 movie, writer Roger Avary and director
Christophe Gans attempted to make the explanations a little
less convoluted, so the “thick fog,” at least, has its roots in
reality. Rather than fog, the cinematic Silent Hill is covered in ash
that constantly falls from the sky, the result of an underground mine
fire. Gans and Avary found inspiration for this idea in the story of
Centralia, a town in eastern Pennsylvania that has been virtually
abandoned due to the mine fire that has been burning underground there
since 1962. Pictures of Centralia are creepy: The roads are buckled,
there are large fissures in the earth and smoke rises from cemeteries.
If Silent Hill existed in our world, it would most likely be there, and
I’m tempted to go check it out — I live on the edge!

The Amityville Horror
Then there’s the “No really, we swear, this is a totally true story!” movie, a la The Amityville Horror
There’s no denying that some bad juju went down at 112 Ocean Avenue:
Ronald DeFeo did, in fact, kill six of his family members in the house.
It’s what came after those horrible murders that has made the
Amityville house so famous, though: To put it succinctly, lots of crazy
supernatural crap went down — or at least it did according to George
and Kathy Lutz, who moved in a year after the DeFeo murders. According
to the Lutzes, everything experienced by their on-screen counterparts
(James Brolin and Margot Kidder) actually happened to them: The flies
swarmed, the giant purple pig appeared, there were cold spots, stinky
spots, oozy spots, and a hidden “red room” in the basement. In a
positively shocking turn of events, none of this has ever been reliably
corroborated by anyone; in fact, most of it can be explained away —
the “red room”, for example, was just a l’il closet of which previous
owners were well aware. No one who’s lived at 112 Ocean Avenue since
the Lutzes split has reported any supernatural shenanigans. So is The Amityville Horror a true story or not?

We’ll never really know. But again, does it matter? Would Stuart Rosenberg’s enjoyable
shlockfest suddenly become something more frightening and meaningful if
it was proven, once and for all, that the house really did tell people
to “Get out”? I seriously doubt it. All I know is, I’m gonna choose to
believe that it all happened, that Amityville is a true story. You can call me crazy, but life is much more fun if
you’re open to these things… and I want to live in a world where
evil, super-sized, purple, demonic pigs with glowing red eyes actually

sp.jpgA fan of horror movies and scary stuff, Stacie Ponder started her blog Final Girl so she’d have a platform from which she could tell everyone that, say, Friday the 13th, Part 2 rules. She leads a glamorous life, walking on the razor’s edge of danger and intrigue.

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