Why I Hate: Horror Films Based on a True Story
Recently I have watched two horror films proclaiming to be based on true stories, and it made me realise something: I hate them. I’m not saying I hate all movies based on true stories (although it wouldn’t be far off), as Dunkirk was one of my favourite films last year, but horror films take only a fraction of possible truth and twist it in such a way that it is no longer based on a true story. Let me have a go:
In 2002 I moved into a pub/bar/tavern/place to buy beer and we were told that four old women were seen through CCTV to be in the basement but nobody was there when the previous owners went to check on it. And while my family and I were downstairs, a pair of scissors fell to the floor. As a writer, I can use this as a story: some haunted house with four new owners and four scary ghosts who move sharp objects such as knives and scissors around to scare us while they hide away in the basement, the reason they hide there is because that’s where they died in a fire due to the flammability of ales and nobody could see them through the CCTV as nobody was there, so now they only appear through CCTV as irony. When they can break free to the upstairs world they want their pub back and hate that this new family of four are living in it and start terrorising the house. It ends with the whole pub ending up in flames with my sister narrowly escaping death by jumping off the roof as a last resort from being chased by one of the ghosts. All four ghosts soon perished in the flames as they did when they were living and the pub was no more.
Notice how easy it is to take a tale and a slight unusual action and you can slap a label of ‘Based on a true story’ to it. But it’s not based on a true story. It’s based on a fabrication of a tale. Why do I use the word tale? Because ghosts and spirits and aliens haven’t ever been scientifically proven to actually exist. Let’s look at Winchester; according to the film an evil spirit managed to break free and sought revenge on Miss Winchester for owning the rifle company (a Winchester rifle killed his brothers before he killed people with one and was then shot . . . with one). The spirit can control guns, somehow, and causes the house to be in chaos by the end (and he dies by a bullet from one of the hero’s guns, strangely). The film then notes how there was an earthquake at this point. If the earthquake destroyed the house, even if it was a house that was occupied by someone who claims to speak to spirits, then A) why put that message there as it completely devalues the story you’ve just told, and B) why put it’s ‘based on a true story’ when it clearly isn’t. Inspired by true events, not as bad. But when a horror film, and it was more recently used by The Strangers: Prey at Night, uses this slogan it’s laughable to the point of being annoying. They’re not based on true stories. They may be based on stories, but not ‘true’ stories.
A Nightmare on Elm Street was brought about because a child died while having a nightmare (so the whole film is based on a true story), The Strangers is based on a story about people knocking on doors asking for names who don’t live in the house (so that whole film is based on a true story), there was even a story of an Annabelle doll that spoke, so Annabelle was soon added to The Conjuring (itself ‘based on a true story’) universe. And then Annabelle: Creation despite not much knowledge about the mysterious Annabelle doll’s creation. It’s just a lie when these studios tell us they’re based on a true story and it never bodes well when you’re going to the cinema to have the first thing you see be a lie.
Change the wording or drop it all together.