The True Stories Behind 6 Haunted House Movies

These supernatural horror films bring terror close to home, but the tales that inspired these flicks are even more chilling.
The real-life 'Amityville Horror' house looks a little different these days.
The real-life 'Amityville Horror' house looks a little different these days. / Paul Hawthorne/GettyImages

The latter part of the 20th century was rife with paranormal activity. Throughout the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, supposed supernatural incidents occurred in homes across the globe and led to novels being written and filmmakers adapting those ghost stories into hit films.

Though all of these stories have since been debunked, there are those who still want to believe that these events really did happen. Regardless of which side you stand on, they make for some spooky tales. Here are the true stories behind six of the best haunted house movies.

1. The Amityville Horror (1979)

The 1979 film, starring Margot Kidder and James Brolin, was based on a book that chronicled the real-life paranormal activities of a Long Island home.

After moving into the house, the Lutz family discovered that, a year prior, previous occupant Ronald DeFeo Jr. had killed six members of his family (including his parents) in the home. Some disturbances they claimed to have experienced included swarms of flies in the winter, strange odors of perfume wafting throughout the house, and sounds of the front door slamming.

The Lutzes moved a month later, though successive residents of the home haven’t reported anything abnormal. Several more books were published about the happenings, along with sequels to the film (including one even centered around an evil lamp) and a 2005 remake. The house used as a stand-in in the 1979 film was sold in 2023 for just under $1.5 million.

2. The Conjuring (2013)

One of the highest-grossing supernatural horror movies of all time, James Wan’s The Conjuring depicted the true story of the Perron family, who allegedly lived in a demon-filled Rhode Island farmhouse.

Akin to the Amityville house, real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga in the film) visited the home and interviewed the family. Despite bizarre activity—like a séance causing the mom, Carolyn, to become possessed and speak a strange language—the family tolerated the home until 1980. Andrea, one of the daughters, published a book on the phenomenon, and told USA Today in 2013, “People are free to believe whatever they want to believe. But I know what we experienced.”

3. The Conjuring 2 (2016)

This 2016 sequel exchanges New England for Brimsdown, a neighborhood in the borough of Enfield, England, where the Warrens investigated a case known as the Enfield Poltergeist. Peggy Hodgson’s daughters claimed they saw a chest of drawers slide and heard knocking, but experts think they made it up. Guy Lyon Playfair published a book on the matter in 1980, titled This House is Haunted: The Amazing Inside Story of the Enfield Poltergeist.

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4. When the Lights Went Out (2012)

Director Pat Holden’s 2012 British film about the Maynard family is based on his family’s story. His aunt, Jean Pritchard, and her family—who lived at 30 East Drive, Pontefract, West Yorkshire, England in 1966—experienced a poltergeist in their home who supposedly looked like a monk, a.k.a The Black Monk of Pontefract; they named it “Fred.” The not-so-friendly ghost smashed eggs, made banging noises, and dragged Holden’s cousin up the stairs. He was too young to visit the house, which is one reason he wanted to make the film.

“I’ve always had this feeling of never quite being in the zeitgeist,” Holden told The Guardian. “And I think it was a little bit like that with the ghost. My sister was allowed to see it. My mum got to see it. My dad wasn’t that interested. I felt like I’d missed out.” Recently, a resident at the same house captured a photo of what’s believed to be the Black Monk

5. The Entity (1982)

In The Entity (based on Frank De Felitta’s novel of the same name), Barbara Hershey plays Carla Moran, a fictionalized version of Doris Bither, a woman who claimed the spirits of three Asian men repeatedly assaulted her.

The real-life events supposedly happened in Culver City, California, in 1974. Paranormal investigators Dr. Barry Taff and Kerry Gaynor visited Bither’s house, which had been condemned twice. At the house, the doctors witnessed “a green mist that formed the body of a man” and orbs over Bither’s body when photographed. Bither moved out of the house and claimed the entity continued to follow her around.

6. The Haunting in Connecticut (2009)

In 2009, the film version of the Snedeker family’s harrowing haunting was released, but according to Lorraine Warren, “The movie is very, very loosely based on the actual investigation.” Both the film and the true story involve a family in the 1980s who had a son stricken with cancer, so they moved into a house near the University of Connecticut hospital—but didn’t know that the house was a former mortuary.

While the family resided there, kids levitated and rosary beads pulled apart on their own. The Warrens invited priests over and held mass, but that wasn’t enough. Finally, an exorcist stopped by, and that seemed to calm the place. In 1992, Ray Garton wrote a book about the supernatural horror events, titled, In a Dark Place: The Story of a True Haunting. But the book and the events have come under fire as being hoaxes.

A 2013 sequel to The Haunting in Connecticut, The Haunting in Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia, is also based on a real event—a child named Heidi Wyrick allegedly attracted spirits in her home in Georgia, not Connecticut.

A version of this article was originally published in 2016; it has been updated for 2024.