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Based on a true story (sort of): part three

Updated on August 28, 2013

***Warning: Hub may contain spoilers***

Welcome to part three of this series exploring the truthfulness behind popular horror movies using the designation, "Based on a True Story". While there are literally dozens of additional movies to look at, for this last part I have selected The Entity, Child's Play, and The Mothman Prophecies, all of which are based on extremely interesting tales.

The Entity movie poster

Source

The Entity (1982)

The tagline of 1982’s The Entity boasts, “A story so shocking, so threatening, it will frighten you beyond all imagination.” Starring Barbara Hershey as Carla Moran, the movie is about a single mother who is raped by a ghost, and forced to leave her home (quite shocking, indeed). The entity follows her, and she is almost killed in a car accident. After seeing a psychiatrist, her friend witnesses another attack on Moran, they seek out answers with parapsychologists.

In 1974, Doris Bither had paranormal investigators come to her home at 11547 Braddock Dr in Culver City, CA. Bither claimed that spirits of three Asian men were, among other things, raping her. She said that the smaller ghosts would hold her down, while the largest one would commence with the rape. Her three sons corroborated her story, with one of the saying he had seen his mother being thrown around her room, and being physically attacked himself when he tried to help his mother.

There have been a lot of explanations about what actually happened to Bither, which have included psychological explanations stemming from reports of physical and sexual abuse as a child. This follows the initial explanations in the movie The Entity as a psychiatrist tries to determine the cause of her claims of rape by poltergeists. The movie itself has a lot of creepy similarities to the claims of Doris Bither, whether you believe those claims to be true or not.

Child's Play movie poster

Source

Child’s Play (1988, original)

Out of all the “true stories” behind horror movies I researched for this hub, I never thought in a million years that a cheesy eighties horror movie about a serial killer who inhabits a child’s doll and runs around killing people would be on this list. But, here it is.

In Key West in 1904, a young child named Robert Eugene Otto was given a doll, affectionately called “Robert the doll”. The woman that gave him the doll was a Jamaican nurse who, of course, dabbled in black magic and voodoo. It is said she cursed the doll as a way to get back at the Otto family. As a child, Robert claimed to say that he would talk with the doll, and neighbors reported that they saw the doll moving from window to window. The family would hear young Robert scream for help, and upon entering the room would discover furniture moved or knocked over with the doll receiving the blame.

Young Robert grew up and died in 1974. The house (with Robert the doll in the attic) was sold to a family, and their 10-year old daughter started reporting that Robert talked to her and attempted to attack her. To this day, the girl (now an adult) still claims that the doll wanted to kill her. You can view the doll at the Fort East Martello Museum in Key West, and he also has his own website at http://www.robertthedoll.org/.

Given that Child’s Play is based on a serial killer inhabiting the body of a doll, it is quite dissimilar to the reportedly true events. Yet after the doll being possessed, the reports of talking and attacking people is pretty well based on what people have said about Robert the doll. Of course, Robert the doll never killed anyone...yet. The sheer existence of Robert the doll makes the movie’s tagline, “You’ll wish it was only make-believe” all the more terrifying.

The Mothman Prophecies movie poster

Source

The Mothman Prophecies (2002)

On December 15, 1967 in Point Pleasant, WV as many cars drove over the Silver Bridge, a 700 foot bridge, the bridge itself collapsed. 46 people lost their lives in what was seemingly a tragic event. Yet, what would normally be just a footnote in the many tragedies in the world has become a sensational story in the history books of legendary creatures. In the year leading up to the disaster, the people of Point Pleasant, and in other locations around Point Pleasant, started seeing an unusual creature.

The first sighting of the so-called Mothman was in Clendenin, WV by gravediggers who saw the Mothman fly overhead. Reports of the Mothman claimed him to look like a man with wings, approximately seven feet tall with bright eyes and flying at speeds of around 100 miles per hour. The sightings of the Mothman became an international news story before the collapse of the bridge in 1967. That the sightings were reported a full year before the collapse of the bridge and that none were reported in that area immediately after the collapse of the bridge makes the story all the more alluring. Today in Point Pleasant, WV, visitors can see a bronze statue of the Mothman and enjoy the annual Mothman Festival that reminds all of the Silver Bridge collapse and the sightings of this infamous creature that made their town famous.

In 1975, John Keel wrote a book called The Mothman Prophecies, which tied the sightings of the Mothman to the collapse of the bridge. In 2002, a film of the same name was released. Starring Richard Gere as John Klein, The Mothman Prophecies starts with Klein’s wife in a car accident where she swerved to avoid hitting something in the road. After a brain scan, it is determined that she has a brain tumor. Following her death, Klein finds drawings of a black creatures with wings, the same one she described seeing the night of the car accident. Two years later, Klein ends up in Point Pleasant, WV, where people are seeing visions of the Mothman. Klein himself beings to have strange premonitions in the form of voices. The predictions all come true, and later this leads to the collapse of the Silver Bridge.

While the movie has a lot of similarities to the real life events and sightings of the Mothman, there are clearly some changes, such as the character of John Klein and his wife seeing the Mothman before her death. There are also seemingly no real-life reports of the Mothman appearing and providing someone with premonitions of disasters occurring in other places of the world. Despite this, the Mothman remains a chilling story that still frightens many today.

Summary

While the concept behind the tagline “Based on a True Story” has been used for horror movies for several decades, since the time of The Blair Witch Project, the words have become increasingly popular to use. For some moviegoers, there is an innate desire to be scared, to have their stomachs fill with butterflies and their hearts race as they bite off the last of their fingernails and condemn themselves to sleep with the lights on. Because of this, horror movies work so well, but if an audience believes what they are watching truly happened in the past, then the film becomes even more frightening. If it happened once it could happen again, even to the viewer.

By using the tagline, “Based on a True Story”, moviemakers tap into that psychological need of some to be scared. The only problem with the overuse of the phrase is that it has lost most of its original appeal because the validity of such a statement is constantly being called into question. If Hollywood expects the phrase to continue working on audiences, they should consider limiting its use to only films that truly are “Based on a True Story.”

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    • Angie Martin profile image
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      Angie Martin 4 years ago from Frazier Park, California

      Again I totally agree with you. I never cared for Richard Gere myself, except for in The Mothman Prophecies (as well as Primal Fear). Years ago, The Mothman Prophecies terrified myself and my best friend (who is my horror-watching buddy), and I've never quite gotten the movie out of my mind. Researching the real-life frightened me all over again! I, too, would love to believe all of it is true, but it's fun to know which ones are more closely based on a true story, and which ones are using the tagline as a profit-maker.

    • profile image

      hlwar 4 years ago

      Despite the fact I've never really like Richard Gere, The Mothman Prophecies was a spine-tingling, wonderful film. It was made even more enticing and eerie by the fact they tell you at the end it's based on real-life events and actual sightings, which elevates both the tales and the movie. I'm just so fascinated by stories like this, and I'd love to believe it's all true. Thanks for bringing more attention to it, and for the book link! I'll have to check it out.

    • Angie Martin profile image
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      Angie Martin 4 years ago from Frazier Park, California

      Thank you for the kind words - I see you also have just posted a horror hub and I plan on reading it :)

      "Based" is a very loose word by Hollywood standards, and it works. The sheer amount of money The Conjuring has taken in proves that. And I'm right there with you on Chucky. I grew up watching the first Child's Play so it completely freaked me out to find out there was a real doll that Chucky was based on. I knew I didn't like dolls for a reason!

    • OMGirdle profile image

      OMGirdle 4 years ago from United States

      I always bow graciously when meeting another horror fan. I agree. The movie industry has found a niche in "Based on a True Story" tagline. The newest of these would be "The Conjuring." What the typical consumer doesn't understand is the very first word..."Based." This could implicate several meanings. I've read all 3 parts of your hub on this topic and I think you did a thorough study on the topic. I had not idea Chucky was a part of this marketing ploy. Thumbs up and will pin your hub on my board. I look forward to reading more.