15 Supernatural Movies Based On Real Ghost Stories

October 29, 2019 6:00 AM ‐ MoviesParanormalLong Reads

This article is more than four years old.

Annabelle The Doll
There are countless movies about ghosts, demons and the supernatural, but the ones that terrify audiences the most are those which are based on true stories of real hauntings.

Below are 15 examples of times when the paranormal activity in a movie has been more than just fiction. Find out the true inspiration behind some of the most famous and scariest paranormal movies of all time.

1. The Conjuring

The Conjuring

The first film in James Wan's Conjuring series, the 2013 movie is based on the case files of two of the most famous paranormal investigators of all time, Ed and Lorraine Warren.

Ed died at the age of 79 in 2006, but Lorraine was a consultant during the movie's production. She remained an active member of the paranormal community and even continued to run an occult museum from her home in Connecticut until her death earlier this year.

The movie starts with an introduction to the Warrens, who in the movie are played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga. The story of 'The Conjuring' revolves around the real life story of the Perrons who lived in a farmhouse in Harrisville, Rhode Island. Carolyn and Roger moved into the house in 1971 with their five daughters Andrea, Nancy, Christine, Cindy, and April.

The family start to experience paranormal activity and eventually discover that it is haunted by a former resident named Bathsheba Sherman, who was born in 1812. Local legend states that she was a witch and Satanist and that she laid down a curse that anyone who lives on her land in the future would die a terrible death.

2. The Conjuring 2

The Conjuring 2

The Warrens return for the sequel, 'The Conjuring 2'. This time around the movie is based on one of the most famous poltergeist cases of all time. A case which took place in the London suburb of Enfield in 1977 and involved the Hodgson family who are being plagued by poltergeist activity in their council home.

A local paranormal investigator by the name of Maurice Grosse had already taken on the case and was helping Peggy and her four children deal with the disturbing supernatural phenomenon. As 'The Conjuring 2' primarily revolves around the work of the Warrens, the story is told from their perspective.

Ed once said, "by far, though, the most compelling aspect to this case is the physicalised voice manifestations that occur in the house." The voices Ed is talking about are what make the Enfield case so famous and memorable. They started a few months into the haunting when Maurice challenged the poltergeist to speak. A gruff, male voice responded, coming from the youngest daughter.

3. When The Lights Went Out

When The Lights Went Out

The 2012 movie 'When The Lights Went Out' is based on the real life story of a poltergeist case which took place at 30 East Drive in Pontefract. The movie is written and directed by Pat Holden, the nephew of the family who were at the centre of the haunting. In fact his mother, Rene, spent a lot of time at the house during the case. Pat Holden stated that he embellished the story to make it fit into a horror movie template.

The family involved in the actual case were Jean and Joe Pritchard. They lived in the council house in Pontefract with their 15-year-old daughter Dianne, and a son named Philip who was 12 at the time of the haunting.

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4. Annabelle

Annabelle - The Conjuring 2014

Unlike the first two movies in 'The Conjuring' series, 'Annabelle' isn't directly based on a true story throughout. In fact it's only the start of the movie that mirrors real life.

The film opens with Ed and Lorraine Warren, who viewers will be familiar with from 'The Conjuring', helping two young student nurses, Debbie and Camilla, and Camila's partner, Rick, who are being tormented by a doll with a demonic attachment.

In the real life case this is Deirdre Bernard, her roommate Lara Clifton and her fiancée Cal Randell. We hear Deirdre, or in the movie's reality, Debbie, telling the self-proclaimed demonologists about the haunting, which has grown in intensity since she received the doll as a gift for her birthday.

5. The Nun

The Nun 2018

The 2018 movie 'The Nun' serves as a prequel to the other movies in the 'Conjuring' franchise, but the plot isn't directly based on any of the Warrens' case files, but elements of it are based on their experiences.

The movie follows Father Burke, a Roman Catholic priest and a nun named Sister Irene who are sent to the Abbey of St. Carta in Romania to investigate reports that the two nuns living there had been attacked by a supernatural force. They slowly discover that the evil force behind the incident is a demonic nun.

Although the storyline is fictional, the Romanian monastery at the centre of the movie is based on a real place. The sinister nun, known as Valak, is based on several encounters that the Warrens had.

The idea of a ghostly nun comes from the ghost hunting duo's investigation of Borley church during a trip to England where they caught an apparition of a nun on camera. The nun in the movie gets her name from a real demon, whose existence is well documented and dates back hundreds of years.

6. The Exorcism Of Emily Rose

The Exorcism Of Emily Rose

Directed by Scott Derrickson and starring Laura Linney and Tom Wilkinson, the film is unique as the only supernatural horror that is also a courtroom drama. The story is based on the real-life legal battle that followed the death of a young German girl named Anneliese Michel in 1976.

Anneliese's name has been changed in the movie version to Emily Rose, the title character, and the movie is set in America. There's a few other little tweaks, and some of the paranormal activity that takes place during the exorcism is exaggerated, but other than that the movie quite closely mirrors reality.

» Read more about the true story of 'The Exorcism Of Emily Rose'

7. The Haunting In Connecticut

The Haunting In Connecticut

Of all the movies in this list, this Peter Cornwell film is the most far fetched and the hardest to pick out any obvious trace of a true haunting in. Although not part of the Conjuring series, the film is based on one of Ed and Lorraine Warren's cases, but they don't feature as characters in the movie.

The Campbells' story is based on the real life case of Allen and Carmen Snedeker who, like in the movie, moved into a rented house with their four children in 1986. It's claimed that the house's basement was used as a mortuary, something that was mirrored in the film.

The family claim that they were victim to a violent haunting that focussed on their eldest son, but spread to other family members. Most disturbing of all is the claim that both parents were physically assaulted by the evil presence that lingered in the house.

8. The Exorcist

The Exorcist

It may come as little surprise to most of you that the 1973 film 'The Exorcist' is based on the 1971 novel of the same name written by William Peter Blatty. The book is based on the true story of a 14 year old boy, who is believed to have been called Ronald Hunkeler, but was subsequently referred to pseudonymously as 'Ronald Doe'. He reported strange things happening in his bedroom. Specifically, odd noises, scratches, and perhaps most relevant here, his mattress moving of its own accord.

These events were reported shortly after his aunt had died, an aunt who was a spiritualist and had taught him how to use a Ouija board. A series of exorcisms were performed on the boy. Allegedly, during one of the exorcisms the bed was seen to shake, the boy spoke in a strange low voice, and obtained a bedspring from the mattress with which he attacked the priest.

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9. The Amityville Horror

The Amityville Horror

'The Amityville Horror' was released in the summer of 1979 and is one of the highest grossing independent pictures ever made. Its success may well be because it's based on a true story.

The basic plot of the film is that multiple murders had been carried out at an address in the village of Amityville, in New York State. A short while later a family move into the house and suffer all manner of strange events which are believed to be related to the murders, the family are eventually driven from the house.

The family at the centre of the haunting submitted over 45 hours of tape recordings of their experiences in their house to author Jay Anson, who wrote up their story as The Amityville Horror, a book which was eventually given a film adaptation.

10. A Nightmare On Elm Street

A Nightmare On Elm Street

It might not be obvious that the terrifying 'Nightmare On Elm Street' franchise was inspired by a true story, but the movie's writer, Wes Craven, said in an interview that the basis of the story came from a newspaper article about a family of Cambodian refugees with a young son who reported haunting nightmares. Craven said, "he told his parents he was afraid that if he slept, the thing chasing him would get him, so he tried to stay awake for days at a time."

Sadly, the boy at the centre of the story eventually died in his sleep according to Craven, "when he finally fell asleep, his parents thought this crisis was over. Then they heard screams in the middle of the night. By the time they got to him, he was dead. He died in the middle of a nightmare. Here was a youngster having a vision of a horror that everyone older was denying. That became the central line of Nightmare on Elm Street."

11. Poltergeist


The iconic 80s supernatural flick about a family whose daughter is abducted by the ghosts that have invaded their home. The story was inspired by the real life supernatural experiences of the Hermanns' home in Seaford, New York. The real haunting took place in 1958 and was blamed for paranormal activity that included unexplained noises and moving objects.

12. The Rite

The Rite

Michael, an American student and son of a funeral director, travels to Italy to take an exorcism course. On his way to the course completion, he is overwhelmed by a strong lack of faith.

The movie was based on the life of a real exorcist, Father Gary Thomas, whose work was the focus of journalist Matt Baglio's book 'The Rite: The Making of an Exorcist'. The movie's director, Mikael Håfström, attended exorcisms to prepare for directing the film. He was not allowed to witness them, but he could hear what was happening from outside the door.

13. Winchester


The 2018 movie stars Helen Mirren, her role is based on a real-life haunting victim, Sarah Winchester, a famous firearm manufacturer's widow. In the movie version Sarah believes she is being haunted by the spirits of those who were killed by the rifles her husband's company manufactured. The strange mansion she lived in, known as the "Winchester Mystery House" is a real place, that the real Sarah spent 38 years constructing and renovating. It's said that her inspiration for changes to the property came directly from the spirit world.

14. The Entity

The Entity

In 1982 Hollywood released the film 'The Entity' that was said to be based on true events of a poltergeist haunting. The film follows Carla Moran, a single mother who is attacked in a poltergeist haunting case, which resulted in her fleeing to Texas. The real woman that the story is based on is Doris Bither and revolves around her reports of a haunting that unfolded in 1974 in California.

15. Ghostbusters


Of course the 1984 classic 'Ghostbusters' isn't based on a true story, but many of today's paranormal investigators credit the film as the thing that first got them interested in the paranormal, perhaps because much of the supernatural jargon in the film is based on real life parapsychology.

The movie was written by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis. While Harold was a complete non-believer, Dan is very interested and well-read in the paranormal, and it was his vast knowledge of things that go bump in the night that fleshed out the paranormal elements of the film.


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