Thursday, June 17, 2010

Based on True Events (Or Something Like It)

We all know what happens when we see a familiar sentence splashed across our TV screens. "Inspired by true events" or "based on a true story"--as long as the word "true" is in there, we find that our levels of fear are significantly raised and that our heads start spinning our own versions of what we think may have happened. Movies that tell us that what you are about to see is true, instantly have that power to draw us in, closer than we ever thought possible. Even if the story is as impossible as an ancient dinosaur destroying New York City, or an alien sighting in Michigan, we find that the closer a story is to truth, the more it terrifies us. This is of course because a "true story" means that there is a chance it could have happened to you or worse--that it can happen to you. Many of us went into the Blair Witch Project thinking it was real, and many of us still believe that the events that enfold in The Strangers are the real deal. But what separates a good marketing ploy from the truth? In all actuality--the "true story" that the movie is based on is often an iota of the story we see on the screen. Then again, there are those rare instances where the incident that happened correlates strongly to the film and in more startling cases--is more horrific than the film.

As I sit here watching The Mothman Prophecies and investigating further and further into the truths of the matter, I find myself wondering just how true, are these so called true events that we see so often as part of the movie poster? Below are some claims and truths to some of the movies we found terrifying simply because of those opening sentences of terror.

The Mothman Prophecies

Based on the book by John Keel, The Mothman Prophecies is based on the events that took place in Point Pleasant West Virginia, between November 12, 1966 to December 1967, culminating in the devastating collapse of the Silver Bridge. It's tough to bring to light what actually happened in that year, especially if you are a skeptic of the supernatural. In his book, Keel claims that the Mothman was sighted by several townspeople before the eventual collapse of the bridge, suggesting that the Mothman is associated with future great disasters. The conspiracy is built around precognition, aliens and entities not of this world. While the movie really only delves into the precognition aspect of it--much of what we see in the film is true to Keel's book. Whether or not you choose to believe Keel's words or what the townspeople claim is up to you, so as I said it remains a difficult task to deduce the truth. One thing is for certain is that the events that take place in both the book and film are unnerving to say the least, but there are a few notable differences.

For one- the movie for some strange reason changes the number of those killed by a mere 10 people. I haven't found any info on why exactly that is but by all accounts, 46 people died in real life and 36 died in the movie. I'm also not sure if the townspeople had precognitions about disasters happening in places other than Point Pleasant. It seems to me like the sightings and visions were kept to just the town but the film depicts some characters as having visions of disasters happening as far away as Ecuador. The circumstances are of course puzzling--but if you are going by Keel's book, The Mothman Prophecies is a pretty accurate depiction of the events that took place during that time. And this "true story" may have more truth than we thought. Meaning that these people probably did see something but whether or not they weren't just crazy or that they didn't just seem some weird bird instead of a Mothman remains to be seem. All we know is that the concept of a Mothman is pretty frightening and although he hasn't been sighted since the bridge's collapse, Point Pleasant will never escape his legacy.

The Strangers

This is my favorite true story to dissect because it really disappoints those that were utterly convinced of it's truth. In the film, a woman knocks on the door of a couple's secluded home in the woods and asks for a person that they do not know. Later the woman and two other masked assailants harass and break into the home, eventually killing the couple for no good reason at all. What really made this film harder to swallow was the fact that "inspired by true events" teased us before hand. Because this sentence was a vital part of the trailer, people began immediately concluding that the entire movie was the true event. Sure home invasion stories are plentiful these days, but a home invasion story as creepy and unsettling as this is hard to come by.

As it turns out, the "true events" that inspired this was an incident that happened to the film's director when he was a young child. One night a woman came knocking and asked for someone that wasn't there and then left. Later on, the director discovered that several homes had been broken into that same night.....whomp whomp. No murders, no scary masks, no terrifying people with knives. Although one could make the better argument that the film is actually inspired by the Manson murders, but any unwarranted home invasion murder story could easily play that card. Still, it is kind of creepy to get a knock on your door at night....

Ils (Them)

In a similar manner done to The Strangers, The french film Ils features a couple whose lives get turned upside down after a home invasion and murder culminating in the reveal that the captors are merely just children. Murdering children who have no motive except maybe to keep themselves entertained-laugh, run through the woods and catch a school bus after presumably murdering this couple with their own hands. The "true event" that this film is inspired by is about an Austrian couple who were murdered in their home by a group of three teenagers. This true event is actually quite faithful to the film in that it features the brutality and unrelenting capabilities of what are just---kids. Why are kids suddenly capable of murdering people without any cause? This true event certainly takes the fear factor cake in my book.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Perhaps the most famous supposed "true events" story of all time--The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is actually the film with the least amount of truth. The film goes so far as to open with a message about the truth, even giving a date that it happened. Unfortunately it claims that the events took place after the film was shot--which makes the actuality of the events impossible to have taken place. This was in fact a way to respond to the ways in which the Nixon administration often lied. Which I suppose validates those opening statements but they are still responsible for one of the most common misconceptions in the horror world. The "truth" in the matter merely comes from that fact that the murders were based on Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein,

famous for digging up dead bodies and using their body parts as keepsakes for his own home.
Fire in the Sky

Based on the reported alien encounter of Travis Walton, Fire in the Sky was often the cause of many nightmares to young children who were unfortunate enough to catch glimpses of the film when it played on TV. Most of what is in the movie is directly related to what Travis Walton claims happened to him. But the question remains; just how many supposed alien abductions have we heard about? And how many of them are from loony hicks? No offense to Travis Walton--but when only one persons account is taken, it is often difficult to remain convinced. What is startling though is the eye witness account of Walton's friends, who all claim to have seen a silver disc in the sky, with bright lights before Travis's brief disappearance. Their account although very stereotypical and reeking of a cover up is still a bit alarming. Walton's story remains one of the most controversial alien abduction stories but the film will survive was one of the more creepier and unsettling accounts of aliens that we have.

The Exorcism of Emily Rose

Loosely based on the case of Anneliese Michels, The Exorcism of Emily Rose claims to have been inspired by one of the most famous exorcism cases of our time. Anneliese's case is a curious one--which at times suggest more evidence for a psychological disorder than it does exorcism, but then again what exorcism story doesn't? By the time she was 16, Anneliese began suffering from convulsions and epileptic attacks. She would hallucinate while praying and claimed to have heard voices saying that she was damned. After numerous medical treatments failed, the family turned to exorcism--forcing Anneliese to undergo a startling number of 67 exorcisms. In 1976, Anneliese died in her sleep, apparently due to malnutrition and dehydration that resulted during the times of the exorcisms. The film version certainly glorifies the exorcism piece, and thanks to films like The Exorcist--are the main driving point of the film. I have not seen the film Requiem, also based on this incident but I have had it recommended to me and look forward to one day seeing it.

I find it very funny how much the film version really delves into the exorcism aspect of the case and am even more startled to find out the truth about how Anneliese really died. The movie also concentrates a lot more on the court case of the incident, when judging by the actual events also seems like a moot point. Anneliese was suffering from an illness that we just didn't understand at that time and her death was due to hopelessness and fear. Or MAYBE demons.

The Haunting in Connecticut

The Haunting in Connecticut was met with a strong amount of hatred upon it's release, mostly having to do with the presence of CGI and a boring storyline. The story is about a family who moves into a house which used to be a former mortuary in order to be closer to treatment facilities, since their son suffers from cancer. During their time in the house, the son experiences ghosts and soon unveils the true nature of the house blah blah- BAD THINGS happened. You know the drill.

The funny thing is that if you investigate this "true story" it all becomes very....silly. The film is based on the accounts of the Snedeker family who moved into said house and also had a son that was ill. The man who wrote the book, Ray Garton claims that he was only allowed to speak to the son on phone calls and with the presence of the mother near by. In one instance, the son remarked how he used to see things but now that he takes medication he hasn't seen anything in awhile. This instantly prompted the mother to end the phone call. According to the family's other accounts, they saw several not just ghosts--but demons. A psychic claimed that the sound of coffins being raised by a chain could be heard echoing at night. The landlady thought differently however, exclaiming the story to be ridiculous and pointed out that no families before or after the Snedeker reported anything unusual AND that the family chose to live there for 2 more years after coming out about these "demons".

Hmmmm sounds a little fishy to me.

The Girl Next Door

For many, the film The Girl Next Door based on the novel of the same name by Jack Ketchum--was a little too uncomfortable to withstand. The film is based on the torture and murder of Slyvia Likens by the woman she was staying with, Gertrude Baniszewski as well as other children in the neighborhood. The terrifying thing is that most of what happens in the film is true- and to make matters worse, the actual events are even worse and far surpass the terror that we see in the movie. The sexual torture, the physical torture of branding, and tying Slyvia up with only crackers to eat is explained in some gruesome detail in descriptions about the murder and trial in the above link. Slyvia died of brain hemorrhages, shock and malnutrition after being tied in the basement. Apparently the film An American Crime is a much truer to the actual events- for anyone interested in knowing what really happened.

Yes there are certainly other true events to be explored--but perhaps we'll save those for another day. And to be honest I haven't even seen The Amityville Horror which is one I'm very curious to investigate- so...all in good time my friends.


The Mike said...

Whoa, I just posted on Fire in the Sky. Great minds, as they say.

I still love the fact that Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Psycho are actually based on the same case. Goes to show how crazy Hollywood can be.

Chris H said...

Excellent post, Andre! You did a lot of hard work here. Nice follow up to your opening comments for the Cropsey screening.

Rabid Fox said...

Very good post. Just seeing titles of some of these movies brings back memories, both good and not-so-good.

Haven't seen The Girl Next Door yet, but I read the novel and that was a gut-punch of a book. Can't recommend it highly enough.

deaner said...

Where's The Amityville Horror? One of the original "True Events" horror movies & books.

Andre said...

Come on deaner read the post.

I had a disclaimer at the end saying that I have not seen The Amityville horror and would like to before investigating further.
: )

Anonymous said...

I have often wondered about movies based on true events, maybe they are or they are not.

It doesn't have to be something that everyone knows about like a high profile murder case (don't know how to quite word it at the moment). It can also be something to what affect the filmmaker in their life.

Another thing to keep in my mind, a film would show based on true events to give film more hype. They could it as a seller's pitch.

Anonymous said...

I need to correct my last sentence.

They could use it as a seller's pitch.

Andre Dumas said...

Oh I definitely agree. Movies like The Strangers benefit greatly by adding that inspired by true events sentence. I know I would never have been as scared of the trailer if I didn't think it wasn't based on a true event. I would have thought OH another one of these movies? But no, instead I thought, "this really happened?!!" terrifying.

Anonymous said...

I guess there's a lot of movies we watch that could be based on true events.

A filmmaker could be making movie and not realise that he or she is basing it on true event(s).

Anonymous said...

That's the most horrible and tragic thing I've heard, the story behind The Girl Next Door. I wanted to let people know Ellen Page plays Likens in An American Crime. So if you wouldn't want to watch the darling girl from Juno being tortured, I'd avoid that version.

deadlydolls said...

Mike & Andre: I JUST watched Fire In the Sky too, proving there is indeed something viral in the air.

I usually find the "based on a true story" tag so disappointing; either the film has nothing to actually do with real events and is tehrefore cheating, or it finds itself forced to follow the events too closely and ends up too dull (my ultimate issue with FItS). Still, great work here Andre.

Andre Dumas said...

Thanks Violetyoshi I did know Ellen Page had that role, but since I don't really like her I figured what the hey! JK. That movie will be brutal no matter what, but I'm still anxious to see it.

You are SO right about Fire in The Sky. I tried to watch it but was snoring halfway in.