5 Horror Movies Based on Real Life on HBO Max (March 2024)

Movies have contributed a lot towards showcasing humanity’s relationship with the supernatural or the metaphysical. Needless to say, horror films are the primary genre to have done this. Moreover, horror movies based on true stories pick at our interest just as much as they poke at our courage quotient by giving us a taste of how it would feel to be haunted. Here, we bring you the best horror movies based on real-life stories on HBO Max, which pull off the feat expertly.

5. Shirley (2020)

A semi-biographical drama based on the 2014 novel of the same name by Susan Scarf Merrell, ‘Shirley’ follows a young woman named Rose Nemser and her unlikely relationship, underscored by deception and libido-propelled flirtation, with American novelist Shirley Jackson known for her horror works. It is Jackson’s behavior that earns this film a spot on this list. Jackson is married to literary critic Stanley Hyman (Michael Stuhlbarg) and is working on her now-immensely popular gothic novel ‘Hangsaman’ which was inspired by the real-life disappearance of Paula Jean Welden, a student of Bennington College, in 1946. Welden went for an afternoon walk along Vermont’s Long Trail, never to return. Her body too wasn’t found.

While the story is a work of fiction, the film itself incorporates many real aspects of Shirley Jackson’s life and that of her husband Hyman. This includes Hyman’s affairs, Jackson’s mental health issues, and her agoraphobia (anxiety resulting from the fear of one’s current environment being unsafe) which led to her use of sedatives and smoking. Directed by Josephine Decker and executive produced by Martin Scorsese, ‘Shirley’ can be watched right here.

4. The Honeymoon Killers (1969)

Directed by Leonard Kastle, this crime film follows Raymond (Tony Lo Bianco), a con man, and Martha (Shirley Stoler), a nurse, who is seduced by him and joins him on an adventure to con women after which they kill them. All the while, Raymond tells Martha that he only loves her although he breaks the promise multiple times by marrying other women. Their killings ended when Martha, fed up with Raymond’s lies, informed the police. The duo is ultimately executed.

The film is based on real-life American serial killer couple Raymond Fernandez and Martha Beck who are suspected of killing as many as 20 women between 1947 and 1949. Looking up their victims via ‘lonely hearts’ ads, the duo earned the name Lonely Hearts Killers. In fact, Raymond met Martha after answering an ad she posted in the ‘lonely hearts’ column in 1947 after taking to romance novels and movies. This was after she became a single mother of two children belonging to two different fathers. Raymond and Martha were arrested and put in an electric chair in 1951. You can watch ‘The Honeymoon Killers’ here.

3. The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (2021)

Directed by Michael Chaves, this ‘Conjuring’ installment follows Arne Cheyenne Johnson (Ruairi O’Connor) who murders his landlord and upon being questioned in court states that it was the devil who made him commit the murder. This happens after he is possessed by a dark spirit that was exorcised out of an 8-year-old kid by a father in the presence of the Warrens. The Warrens (played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) track the possession to a curse by a woman named Isla, an occultist.

The events in the film are based on the 1981 Trial of Arne Cheyenne Johnson, for killing his landlord, which took place in Connecticut, and the book ‘The Devil In Connecticut’ by Gerald Brittle, which also documents the events that precede the trial by months. These events include the exorcism of 12-year-old David Glatzel which went on for many days and ended with the demon leaving David’s body and entering Arne’s. The exorcism was aided by the Warrens and the Catholic Church. You can watch ‘The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It’ here.

2. The Amityville Horror (1979)

Directed by Stuart Rosenberg, this film follows a middle-class Lutz family of five (George (James Brolin) and Kathy (Margot Kidder) and their three children from Kathy’s previous marriage) that move into a haunted house in Amityville, New York and are subjected to unexplained events that compromise their domestic life and mutual relationships big time. The wife digs into the house’s past and discovers that it is built on top of a burial ground and was once home to a worshipper of Satan. She also finds out about Ronald DeFeo Jr. (Brian Bruderlin) who killed his whole family living in the very house a year ago (1974). The film ends with the Lutz abandoning the house and their belongings forever.

The horrifying case of Ronald DeFeo Jr. is what made its way to Jay Anson’s 1977 ‘The Amityville Horror’ that inspired the film that has today become a whole franchise. On the night of November 13, 1974, DeFeo Jr. killed all six members of his family in their sleep using a rifle. They included his parents and his siblings. As to why he killed them, the answers have changed from time to time, including how he heard voices that led him to kill, and other family members aiding him. DeFeo was given six 25-year prison sentences on December 4, 1975. He died at the Sullivan Correctional Facility in Fallsburg, New York, on March 12, 2021. To this day, no one knows why he killed them. The Lutz family moved into the house in 1975 and started having paranormal experiences (the house staying cold at all times despite heating, bad smells, and more) and left within a month. You can watch ‘The Amityville Horror’ here.

1. The Conjuring (2013)

Directed by James Wann, this film single-handedly upped the ante of horror movies in the 21st century. The film is set in 1971 and follows the Perron family (husband Roger (Ron Livingston), wife Carolyn (Lili Taylor), and five daughters) whose new house in Harrisville, Rhode Island, is revealed to be haunted by a witch named Bathsheba Sherman who sacrificed her baby and killed herself near the house after declaring her love for Satan, in 1863. This and much other information was dug up by Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) after they were contacted by Carolyn who contacted them and told them that something in her house wanted to hurt her family. How the Warrens help the Perrons get rid of Bathsheba’s dark spirit that goes on to possess Carolyn is what we find out in this movie.

The film is based on the real Perron family who faced paranormal events during their stay in the Rhode Island farmhouse from 1971 to 1980. What began with sounds took the shape of spirits rather quickly and among all of them was that of Bathsheba Sherman who lived in that house during the mid-1800s. She was rumored to have killed a kid in the neighborhood. The house had been home to the same family for 8 generations and had seen the death of many children. As per the eldest Perron daughter Andrea, the spirit of Bathsheba didn’t want Carolyn to take on the former’s role as the mistress of the house. During a séance carried out by Lorraine Warren, Carolyn was even possessed, spoke in different languages, and started levitating in her chair. The film too ends by showing real pictures of the haunting. You can watch ‘The Conjuring’ here.

Read More: Best Horror Documentaries on HBO Max

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