We all want a little bit of entertainment and a brief wander through the fictional world. But be careful which of those worlds you choose to spend time in, for many of them hide troubling real histories. Here are 10 Scary TV Shows Based on True Events.
1. Stranger Things
Stranger Things is the highly successful TV show combining the nostalgia of the early ’80s with the horror and science fiction tropes of John Carpenter and Stephen King. But while the show is clearly influenced by those iconic figures, it can claim an even more frightening heritage than that.
Stranger Things was in fact inspired by a real event. Known as the Montauk Project, this rumored US government program involved developing new forms of weaponry at a facility in Montauk, Long Island. Researchers claim that the Montauk Project experimented with telepathy, time travel, and the ability to move objects with the mind. All of these elements have been included in Stranger Things to great effect. But some believe the real events behind the show were even more bizarre and frightening than we can possibly imagine.
2. Twin Peaks
When David Lynch and Mark Frost created Twin Peaks, they succeeded in turning the murder mystery genre on its head. The audience followed religiously as Agent Dale Cooper attempted to find out who killed high school student Laura Palmer. While Twin Peaks infuses murder mystery with the supernatural, the murder of Laura Palmer herself was inspired by a real event.
In New York, back in 1908, the body of Hazel Drew was discovered. The person responsible was never caught. But the story was used by locals to scare their children and grandchildren.
Mark Frost grew up in the area and heard Hazel Drew’s story numerous times as a cautionary tale about not going into the woods at night. This story was made all the more frightening as Helen Drew’s ghost is still said to haunt the scene of her death.
Dexter ran from 2006 to 2013, and it presented a unique spin on the modern crime drama. It followed a serial killer who killed other murderers. This twisted form of vigilante justice proved popular with audiences. But one real-life crime has some eerie parallels with the show. In fact, it may have inspired it.
Manuel Pardo was arrested in 1986 after going on a murder spree. Like Dexter, Pardo had been at one time involved with the right side of the law. While Dexter was a forensic technician and blood spatter expert who used his skills to identify his next target, Manuel Pardo had been a police officer.
When Pardo was caught, he claimed all of his victims were involved in horrible crimes. The prosecutors, however, saw him as a cold-blooded murderer, regardless of his motives.
Hannibal Lecter is one of the most famous characters in all of the horror, having appeared in a variety of films and even having his own TV series, Hannibal. While Anthony Hopkins is most famous for playing the cannibal psychopath, Mads Mikkelsen’s performance in the TV show is equally as captivating.
Regardless of which incarnation you prefer, the character himself is based on a real person. The author of the original books, Thomas Harris, based Hannibal Lecter on an incarcerated surgeon named Alfredo Balli Trevino. This doctor had committed a gruesome crime, using his surgeon skills to kill his lover.
What fascinated Harris about Trevino was despite his brutal crimes, how intelligent he was and how elegantly he spoke, a character trait taken on by all those who have portrayed Hannibal Lecter.
5. Kolchak: The Night Stalker
As played by Darren McGavin, the wisecracking investigative news reporters Carl Kolchak did battle with the supernatural across two made-for-TV movies and one season of his TV show The Night Stalker.
While Kolchak even faced off with Jack the Ripper, it’s the original story that may have been influenced more so by a real event. In the first TV movie, Kolchak chases down a serial killer in Las Vegas. The killer’s revealed to be a vampire who traveled from Europe to the United States, evading capture.
The story of Bela Kiss, the Hungarian serial killer who disappeared and was rumored to be a vampire herself, is clearly the inspiration for this. Bela Kiss evaded capture in Europe, was spotted in the US in the 1930s, and some still believe that he’s walking around, stalking right now.
6. Bates Motel
Much like Hannibal Lecter, a number of people have played the character, Norman Bates. While the psychopath with the split personality was most famously the central character of the film Psycho by Alfred Hitchcock, the television series has hit fans as well. In the series, we get to see the debilitating and twisted influence on a young Norman because of his domineering and abusive mother.
These experiences fracture Norman’s mind. And when his mother passes away, he takes on her personality whenever he’s attracted to a woman, with deadly consequences. All of this was put into the character by writer Robert Bloch, who drew heavily from the killer Ed Gein. And just like Norman, when she died, he dressed in her clothes and committed murder.
7. The X-Files
The real-life events which led to the X-Files creation are captivating. In 1948, ’49, and 1952, the US government-funded systematic investigations into UFO phenomena. They were called Project Sign, Project Grudge, and Project Blue Book, respectively. Each one sent out investigators to interview witnesses and gather any evidence for the existence of UFOs. While the projects were shut down, there are reports that the gathering of information continued on secretly.
This, along with the Roswell UFO crash and other anomalies, was pivotal in the creation of the X-Files two main characters, the believer Mulder and the skeptic Scully, federal agents who attempt to uncover the truth behind UFOs, just like those involved with Project Blue Book. Some even suggest investigators today have definitive proof of alien visitations.
8. The Twilight Zone
The Twilight Zone was an anthology science fiction and dark fantasy series from the 1960s. Each week, the show explored important social themes through the guise of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Many episodes dealt with the horrors of war and violence, something that had particularly affected the show’s creator, Rod Serling, being a veteran from World War II.
Several episodes were based on real events. But it’s the episode Nightmare at 20,000 Feet which revolves around one of the most terrifying concepts. In it, a passenger on a plane watches in horror as a distorted humanoid figure clamors over one of the wings, tearing at the engine. What makes the episode even more frightening is that it’s based on a very real experience of World War II pilots who claimed to see such creatures in the skies during combat.
9. American Horror Story
American Horror Story has been one of the more popular horror TV shows in recent years, with each season dealing with a new scary story. But what makes the show truly menacing is that many of its plotlines are drawn from real life. For example, elements from the first season were based around the killer Richard Speck, who killed eight nurses in 1966. In season two, elements from the real-life alien abduction of Barney and Betty Hill were included.
Then in season four, the character Twisty the Clown was based on John Wayne Gacy, a notorious serial killer who also dressed up as a clown. Finally, season six explored the real-life setting of the colony of Roanoke, which mysteriously disappeared in the 16th century. There are plenty of other real-life influences on the series, showing once again that truth is stranger than fiction.
10. The Haunting of Hill House
Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House has wowed audiences with its creepy storyline about the Crain family and their time living in a space filled with evil spirits. Like all good horror, there’s a thread of truth that runs through it. The TV series is loosely based on the iconic novel of the same name by Shirley Jackson. In researching the novel, Jackson became obsessed with real-life haunted houses.
She collected historical accounts of hauntings, and particularly took influence from the Winchester Mystery House, the house which was designed with fake rooms and corridors leading nowhere, because the owner of the place, Sarah Winchester, believed her family were haunted by spirits and that the strange construction of the house would stop them from finding her as she slept alone at night.