With the recent bout of mainstream horror novels hitting the shelves, the general populace seems to again have picked up an interest in the darker sides of storytelling. Devil’s Knot is one of the more recent stories to make the jump to film, which has helped reinvigorate the horror/mystery genre, proving that one doesn’t have to love gore and slasher films to partake in a well-done mystery or eerie tale. It’s also true that filmmakers and novelists alike have rediscovered the fear that can shake nearly everyone – true stories. Like Devil’s Knot, which follows the murders of three young boys and the mishandled trial of their accused killers, that unique sense of fear a true story creates is something fiction can’t fully accomplish. It might be exactly why the tales listed below are still pinpointed as some of the most chilling today:
This novel by Jack Ketchum and the subsequent film were based loosely on the true tale of a young girl from Indiana, Sylvia Likens. Sylvia’s parents worked for a traveling circus, leaving Sylvia and her young sister with a temporary caregiver until their return. While there, Sylvia became the victim of her guardian Gertrude Baniszewski’s abuse, which then led to Baniszewski’s children being encouraged to also torment, physically harm, and even sexually assault Sylvia. She was found on October 26th, 1965, with evidence of multiple beatings, burnings, scalding baths, and further torture, which her body could no longer withstand. She is said to have died specifically from a brain hemorrhage, shock, and malnutrition.
The film, and the novel it was based on; The Amityville Horror: A True Story by Jay Anson, tell the story of the real-life paranormal experiences of the Lutz family – though the truthfulness of the tale is still widely debated. The family, headed by George and Kathy Lutz, claim to have moved into 112 Ocean Avenue, a home in the idyllic town of Amityville, New York which had previously been the home of the DeFeo family, and the scene of Ronald DeFeo’s tragic and ruthless slaughter of six of his own family members. The Lutz family claims to have experienced swarms of flies, vivid nightmares, furniture moving, doors slamming, physical wounds, and demonic sightings among other things during their brief time living in the home. There have been two film versions made, one in 1979 and one in 2005 (as well as a slew of spin-off films). Both are equally as chilling but versions of the 2005 film are more readily available for viewing on Netflix and DirecTV (click here).
David Cronenberg’s film following two twin brothers who succumb to drugs and depression was influenced largely by the novel, Twins, by Bari Wood. The novel itself was based on the real-life story of identical twin gynecologists in New York City, Stewart and Cyril Marcus, who shared everything from women to addiction to drugs. In 1975, their bodies were found in their East Side apartment. Both the novel and film explore their shared journey into madness, and then their final death, which they could not do apart. Lucky for those interested, Amazon Prime has the full video available to stream.
The story of a possessed girl, before it was a horror film icon, was actually a novel of the same name by William Peter Blatty. Blatty was inspired by the exorcism case of Roland Doe, a false name given to the victim who was left anonymous for his own privacy. An attending priest present at the exorcisms, Fr. Raymond Bishop, diligently tracked the happenings of Doe’s possession in a diary. His writings, along with the testimony of Fr. Walter Halloran, who was one of the last surviving eyewitnesses to the events and a participant in the exorcisms, described the horrors of Doe’s affliction. Furniture moved of its own accord, the boy would respond to questions in Latin (a language he did not know) claiming to be the devil, and of course, he had seizure-like body movements. Perhaps the only story on this list with a happy ending, Roland Doe was cured, of possession or whatever else might have ailed him, and went on to begin a family of his own.
Elizabeth Eckhart is an entertainment writer and blogger born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. She has a penchant for high fantasy, and loves anything that involves an epic battle of some sort. She can be followed on Twitter at @elizeckhart.