Despite being a genre that’s definitely not for everybody, if there’s one thing that everyone can agree on about horror movies, it’s that they definitely give us some of the most memorable villains in history. Whether they’re supernatural creatures haunting us from beyond the grave, or twisted people with a knack for murder, these characters continue to haunt our nightmares to this day.
However, life can often be just as scary as fiction, and in the case of these 10 villains, there’s actually a true story behind them.
One of the most iconic slasher villains in horror history was based on a real-life horror villain; serial killer Ed Gein. Gein would famously craft things around his house from human remains, including drying some of the victims’ faces into dry, leathery masks.
The most famous vampire in all of fiction actually has his roots in a very real person; Count Vlad Tepes III, the ruler of the Romanian region of Wallachia in the late 1400s. Better-known as Vlad The Impaler, he was famous for his cruelty, and held off both the Hungarian Empire and the Ottoman Empire by lining the roads into Wallachia with thousands of prisoners of war who were impaled on spikes. As far as we know though, he never did drink blood.
Relax; there isn’t actually a demon that comes back every 27 years to kill the children of a small town in Maine (or at least not that we know of). Instead, Pennywise’s clown design is inspired by real-life serial killer John Wayne Gacy, who often lured children to their deaths by dressing as a clown.
It’s been speculated for years that the most famous cannibal of all time was based on a real person, and in 2013, creator Thomas Harris revealed he was based on real-life physician and murderer Alfredo Ballí Treviño, who Harris actually interviewed while writing his books. Treviño was convicted of murdering his lover and mutilating the body, and was implicated in the disappearance of several hitchhikers.
The stories get even crazier from here…
I’m as surprised about this one as you are, but it’s true; Chucky is based on a real-life doll. Robert Eugene Otto, a painter and writer from the early 20th Century, had claimed that one of his servants had placed a voodoo curse on the doll, named Robert, which began to move between rooms, knock things over, and talk to him. Robert the Doll is now on display at the Custom House and Old Post Office in Key West, Florida.
While never confirmed by Stephen King himself, the story of Misery‘s obsessive nurse Annie is very likely based on the then-recent story of Genene Jones, a pediatric nurse responsible for the deaths of up to 46 infants under her care (just like Annie). Jones would apparently inject a paralytic into the infants, with the intention of “reviving” them to earn praise from the parents and the hospital.
The most unassuming yet terrifying hotel attendant in horror history is another character based on Ed Gein (clearly he was a big deal). Like Bates, Gein lived in isolation along with his family, and his mother, a fanatical Lutheran, preached to her boys about the innate immorality of the world, the evil of drinking, and the belief that all women were naturally prostitutes and instruments of the devil.
This is a strange one; in 1950, the New York Times ran a story about “four Philadelphia police officers who came into contact with a strange gooey material, which is now believed to be “Star Jelly,” a transparent gelatinous substance. When one of the officers tried to move the goo, it started to dissolve and evaporate, so there was nothing to show the FBI when they arrived on the scene except a spot on the ground.”
This was used as an inspiration for the movie’s titular alien goo.
The marketing for both the book and the movie of The Exorcist insist that the story is based on true events, specifically an exorcism performed in 1949 by Catholic priests William S. Bowdern, Edward Hughes, Raymond J. Bishop, and Walter H. Halloran, on a young boy. To this day the church insists that the priests found the boy “speaking in tongues, the bed shaking and hovering, and objects flying around during the ordeal.”
Wes Craven’s most famous horror creation was based on real-world events, specifically a series of newspaper articles from the Los Angeles Times about a strange phenomenon where young Asian refugees would mysteriously die in their sleep. The children all refused to sleep when told to go to bed, all saying that they were having horrible nightmares that made them afraid for their lives.