Top 10 Real Events that Inspired Scary Movies


The term “horror movie” first appeared in the writings of critics in response to the release of Universal’s Dracula (1931) and Frankenstein (1931).  The term has since come to describe any film that strives to elicit the emotion of fear, disgust, and shock.  A large collection of classic scary movies have screenplays that are based on real life events.  Some of the most popular fictional serial killers and horror movie franchises have been inspired by people.  This article will examine ten historic events that were used in scary movies.

10. Sawney Bean

Sawney Bean

Inspired: The Hills Have Eyes

Sawney Bean was the head of a 48-member clan that lived in Scotland during the 15th or 16th century.  He was reportedly executed for the mass murder and cannibalization of over 1,000 people.  The story of Sawney Bean appears in The Newgate Calendar, a crime catalogue of the Newgate Prison in London.  Legend says that the family came to include eight sons, six daughters, eighteen grandsons and fourteen granddaughters.  The group lived in the mountains and thrived on ambushes and murder.  The victims were brought back to their cave, dismembered, and cannibalized.

One evening, the clan ambushed a married couple and the man was able to fight off the group with a sword and pistol.  He escaped and reported the events to the authorities.  It wasn’t long before King James VI of Scotland (later James I of England) led a manhunt into the area with a team of 400 men.  The group discovered the Beans’ cave in Bannane Head.  It was rife with human remains, having been the scene of hundreds of murders and cannibalistic acts.  The clan was captured alive and taken in chains to the Tolbooth Jail in Edinburgh, then transferred to Glasgow where they were promptly executed without a trial.  Some historians look back on the story and believe Sawney Bean never existed.

The Movie

The Hills Have Eyes

In 1977, Wes Craven directed a horror film titled The Hills Have Eyes.  The movie tells the story of a large family on a road trip that becomes stranded in the Nevada desert.  After meeting a group of people, the family is hunted by a clan of deformed cannibals in the surrounding hills.  Craven wrote the screenplay based on the legendary tale of Sawney Bean.  He decided to place the clan in the American desert and made them into a cult.  In the movie the killers include dozens of incestuous family members, similar to the Sawney Bean story.

9. Star Jelly

Star Jelly

Inspired: The Blob

Star jelly is a gelatinous substance, which, according to reports, is deposited on the Earth during some meteor showers.  It is described as a translucent or grayish white gelatin which tends to evaporate shortly after having fallen.  Explanations for star jelly have ranged from a natural byproduct to a paranormal substance.  Since the 14th century, star jelly has been reported in various locations around the world.  Ancient civilizations used it as a medicine.  Star jelly doesn’t have a scientific classification.  However, one possible explanation is slime moulds, which appear suddenly and exhibit a gelatinous appearance.

The Movie

The Blob

In 1950, four Philadelphia, Pennsylvania policemen reported the discovery of “a domed disk of quivering jelly, 6 feet in diameter and one foot thick at the center.”  When the men touched the substance it dissolved into an “odorless, sticky scum.”  In 1958, the story inspired a collection of filmmakers to develop an independent movie named The BlobThe Blob is a horror/science-fiction film that depicts a giant amoeba-like alien that terrorizes the small community of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania.  Irvine H. Millgate is credited with the story.  Millgate was a friend of producer Jack H. Harris.  He was inspired after reading a 1950 article about the Philadelphia star jelly incident.

The Blob (1958) was Steve McQueen’s debut leading role and also starred Aneta Corsaut.  The movie was a box office success and earned $4 million on an $110,000 budget.  The film has had a lasting impact on the genre of science fiction and cult horror.  A number of great storytellers have identified The Blob as an inspiration for their work.  A comedy sequel to the movie was made in 1972, titled Beware! The Blob, directed by Larry Hagman.  In 1988, a remake was released directed by Chuck Russell.  Star jelly is also thought to have inspired themes in the film Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978).  In the movie, alien spores fall to Earth in a rain shower and form blobs of jelly that produce alien seed pods.

8. Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate

Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate

Inspired: Natural Born Killers

Charles Starkweather was born and raised in Lincoln, Nebraska.  At the age of 18 Charles was introduced to a 13-year-old girl named Caril Ann Fugate.  The following year he entered the Crest Service Station in Lincoln, Nebraska, robbed the store, took the clerk hostage, and executed him in a remote area outside the city.  On January 21, 1958, Starkweather murdered Fugate’s mother, stepfather, and 2-year-old sister.  According to the testimony given at Fugate’s trial, she did not take part in the murder of her family, but did help bury the bodies around the house.  After hiding for a week, the couple went on a killing spree across Nebraska.  Starkweather and Fugate murdered eleven people in a two-month span.  They were eventually captured in Douglas, Wyoming in early 1958.

Upon their arrest, Starkweather claimed that Fugate had nothing to do with the murder spree.  However, he later changed his story and testified against her.  Starkweather said that Fugate committed half of the murders.  He accused her of having a happy trigger finger.  In 1958, Charles Starkweather received the death penalty for the murder of Robert Jensen.  Fugate received a life sentence for her role in the crimes.  Caril’s jail time was eventually commuted, which allowed her to be paroled in June 1976.  She remains the youngest female in United States history to have been tried for first-degree murder.  Charles Starkweather was executed by way of the electric chair in Lincoln, Nebraska, on June 25, 1959.

The Movie 

Natural Born Killers

Since his death, a collection of films have been inspired by the Starkweather-Fugate murder spree, including The Sadist (1963), Badlands (1973), and Natural Born Killers (1994).  Natural Born Killers is a movie directed by Oliver Stone.  It tells the story of two traumatized children who become psychopathic serial killers.  The film is notorious for its violence and was named the 8th most controversial movie of all time by Entertainment WeeklyNatural Born Killers was promoted with the tagline: “A bold new film that takes a look at a country seduced by fame, obsessed by crime, and consumed by the media.”

7. Robert the Doll

Robert the Doll

Inspired: Child’s Play

Robert the doll is a toy once owned by the Key West painter and author Robert Eugene Otto.  The doll was given to Robert in 1904 by a Jamaican nurse who was skilled in black magic and voodoo.  She was displeased with her role in the Otto family.  After the doll was created, it soon became evident that it was cursed.  The family reported that Robert would have conversations with Eugene Otto when he was a child.  Neighbors claimed to see the doll moving from window to window when the family was out.  They said that Robert would emit a terrifying giggle.

While he slept, Eugene Otto would often scream for help.  When his parents came into the room they would find furniture knocked over and Robert sitting close by.  When Eugene died in 1974, the doll was left in the attic of his house until it was sold.  The new family included a ten-year-old girl, who became the doll’s new owner.  It wasn’t long before the girl began to talk with Robert.  She would often scream in the middle of the night and claimed that the doll moved about the room and even attempted to attack her on multiple occasions.  More than thirty years later, the woman still says that Robert was alive and wanted to kill her.

Today, the doll can be found in the Fort East Martello Museum in Key West.  Robert is featured in a number of ghost tours.  He is dressed in an early 20th century white officer sailor suit and clutches a stuffed lion.  If you wish to take a picture with Robert, according to legend, the person must ask the doll politely, and if he doesn’t agree (by tipping his head to one side) then you must pass by.  If you don’t, the doll will curse your family.

The Movie   

Childs Play

In 1988, the first Child’s Play horror film was released.  The movie was written by Don Mancini and was inspired by the story of Robert the Doll.  The film features a killer doll named Chucky.  Chucky is a Good Guy Doll that is given the soul of a serial killer named Charles Lee Ray.  The movie has spawned a series of sequels and has been successful at the box office.  Similar to Robert the Doll, the character of Chucky can move and talk.  Chucky is a popular fictional serial killer and has scared millions of children around the world.  Sources have indicated that a remake of the original Child’s Play film might be released in 2012.

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  1. Reading at night and scared the heck out of me. Good thing those babes in the ads above are hot!

  2. As to Starkweather….don’t forget Badlands with Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek which in turn inspried Springsteen’s Nebraska album.

  3. Speaking of Dolls with “Robert The Doll” and its inspiration for “Child’s Play” and “Chucky The Doll”, I remember the made for television movie entitled “Trilogy Of Terror” back in the mid 70’s starring Karen Black when I was in grade school and the third part of the movie (the movie was in three parts, all three being different stories). The name of the story was “Amelia” and Karen Black purchases a voodoo doll for her boyfriend. She goes to draw a bath for herself when suddenly the Doll comes to life and the Doll’s “powers” lock up the apartment she is in, while wielding a butcher’s knife and viciously attacking her. She tries desperately to destroy the Doll in every way that she can and finally puts the Doll in her kitchen oven and turns it on which ultimate destroys the Doll, but in turn she becomes the doll at the very end. Still to this day that portion of the movie still scares me.

    • I love that movie too!
      I used to watch the remake straight after the original.
      There is also -Dolly Dearest, Dolls, and not to mention heaps from “Full moon pictures”, honestly Robert the doll must have inspired a lot of films!

  4. The Essex (Whaleship)
    sound a lot like an inspiration for ORCA: (1977) THE KILLER WHALE..
    (one of my fav’s)

  5. Good list but you left out Hillary Clinton being the inspiration for “Night Of The Living Dead”.

  6. I heard they’re making a movie inspired by the King novel “Cujo”. They’re calling it “Pelosi On Elm Street”.

  7. Starkweather should have been the inspiration behind the Chucky doll. Charlie was short, 5 foot 5, had red hair, nickname was Chuck, and he murdered 11 people.