Popcorn tumbles out of the sweaty hands of movie-goers as they gawk at the phrase “based on a true story.”
Most likely, these viewers have just experienced a horror film such as “The Conjuring.” The film, like many of its genre, comes complete with a dark cellar, sinister ghosts and spiritual possession — all of which it claims are “based on a true story.”
Many horror flicks, like “The Conjuring,” market the idea that the events they portray really occurred. Some viewers are attracted to the idea, while others said they find the claim to be a reason to look for unrealistic mistakes within the movie.
“Sometimes, I’m more tempted to find flaws in the movie to see if it could be a true story,” sophomore Karen Bullinger said. “Especially with horror movies. I find that I doubt it even more than a movie that doesn’t profess to be a true story.”
The problem is, there are no actual rules or an authoritative regulation on what a producer can claim is or isn’t “based on a true story.”
“I feel like if it’s based on a true story, it means just some of the facts are true about it, and not necessarily everything is true,” sophomore Chris Edgecomb said. “I feel like it’s more of an attention grabber.”
The plotlines, facts and details of horror films don’t come from fact-checked or scientifically credible sources. They come from word-of-mouth legends, newspaper articles and personal claims.
In an interview with Cinefantastique Magazine, Wes Craven, writer and director of “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” said the film was inspired by “a series of articles in the Los Angeles Times, three small articles about men from South East Asia, who were from immigrant families and who had died in the middle of nightmare.”
Take these articles and give them the new context of American teenagers in the 1980s, and you have “A Nightmare on Elm Street: Based on a True Story.”
Films that don’t base their stories on secondary sources, like “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” often make an appeal to legitimacy by interviewing the individuals that claim to be involved in the event.
This is the case with “The Conjuring.” According to the film’s website, “The Conjuring” is “based on the true case files of the Warren family.”
During interviews and video testimonies, the Warrens stick to their story with enthusiasm — but the validity of the story still remains a question. It’s easy to embellish a narrative that no one else witnessed and change facts that no one can disprove.
For the Warrens, there is nothing to lose and a vast opportunity to gain fame by sharing their haunting narrative. The family is featured on multiple websites, has appeared in interviews with a multitude of organizations and even has its own YouTube channel.
This October, as you peruse the selection of horror movies, remember that films “based on a true story” may mean terrifying demons or even a possessed doll. They may mean nightmares for weeks. They won’t mean a validated, proven and legitimate story. ◼︎