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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Based On A True Story... Whoa, Not So Fast

HorrorBlips: vote it up!

Something that has always bothered me is when movies, especially the horror genre, use the moniker "Based on a true story." This is a term that should be advertised as being used loosely, if at all.
There are many people in this world who will take whatever info they get from the TV, and in their mind, it becomes fact. You wouldn't believe how many folks I have encountered who will say things to me like, "They ever catch that guy who killed people with a chainsaw down in Austin." Of course my sarcastic nature forces me to ask silly questions, "I never heard about that." To which the response is, "Yeah, some guy who wore people's faces as a mask killed a bunch of kids with a chainsaw." Luckily this is not the norm, but it proves that some consider the TV as the bible. Why would the TV lie? So I put together a list of horror films that gained a large audience at the time of their release due to the fact that it was "Based on a true story."

Of course being mentioned in my monologue above, the first film is The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre follows the ambush and murder of a group of friends on a road trip in rural Texas by a family of cannibals. The worst of the family is Leatherface, a hulking beast of a man who wears someone else's skin as a mask and runs around killing people with a chainsaw. Even though the film is presented as a true story, it is completely fictional.

Writer and director Tobe Hooper based the Leatherface character loosely on Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein. His crimes, which he committed around his hometown of Plainfield, Wisconsin, garnered widespread notoriety after authorities discovered Gein had exhumed corpses from local graveyards and fashioned trophies and keepsakes from their bones and skin. He was tried in 1968 for the murder of Worden and sentenced to life imprisonment, which he spent in a mental hospital. The body of Bernice Worden was found in Gein's shed; her head and the head of Mary Hogan were found inside his house. Though he did commit other murders, Gein was only tried for one. So The Texas Chainsaw Massacre NEVER happened.

The Exorcist is another prime example. An elderly Jesuit priest named Father Lankester Merrin is leading an archaeological dig in northern Iraq and studying ancient relics. Following the discovery of a small statue of the demon Pazuzu (an actual ancient Sumerian demigod) and a modern-day St. Joseph medal curiously juxtaposed together at the site, a series of omens alerts him to a pending confrontation with a powerful evil, which unknown to the reader at this point, he has battled before in an exorcism in Africa. Meanwhile, in Georgetown, a young girl named Regan MacNeil living with her famous actress mother, Chris, becomes inexplicably ill. After a gradual series of poltergeist-like disturbances, she undergoes disturbing psychological and physical changes, appearing to become "possessed" by a demonic spirit. William Peter Blatty, screenwriter and author of the novel The Exorcist, was inspired by an article he read in college at Georgetown University about an exorcism performed on a 13-year-old boy in Mount Rainier, Maryland in 1949. The story's details have been muddled through the years -- perhaps intentionally so, in order to protect the family -- but the boy's actual home lay in Cottage City, Maryland, and the exorcism was performed in St. Louis. Evidence points to the boy's behavior not being nearly as outrageous or supernatural as was portrayed in the film. So even though the events may have taken place, the film took many "liberties."

One of the most widely regarded horror films thought to be true is The Amityville Horror. The movie revolves around the alleged real-life experiences of the Lutz family who buy a new home on 112 Ocean Avenue, Long Island, a house where a mass murder had been committed the year before. After the family move into the house, they experience a series of frightening paranormal events, causing them to flee the house only 28 days later.

The film is based on a self-proclaimed nonfiction book describing what George and Kathy Lutz experienced during their four weeks in the house, including disembodied voices, cold spots, demonic imagery, inverted crucifixes and walls "bleeding" green slime. Most, if not all, of the events portrayed in both the book and the movie have been called into question by investigators, and it is widely believed that the entire incident was a hoax.

This is just a small portion of films thought to be true, and I will get into the others sometime soon. To give people credit, these films did come out at a time when researching something wasn't as easy as the click of a mouse. But it also goes to show that people need to be more skeptical. You cannot go around in life believing everything you are told, especially by someone who wants to sell more tickets to their film.