It’s that time of year again. Spooky stories, black cats, and so much pumpkin spice in the air. There is nothing I love more than Fall. Halloween is the cherry on top of my Autumn themed sundae. One of my favorite things to do is settle in for a good binge of real ghost stories. There are a ton of things out there that start with the disclaimer:
Based On True Events
Hell, I don’t even care if real events inspire it. Pretty much loosely related too because the director says so is good enough for me. Is there anything more ominous than thinking you are about to watch an actual ghost story? Our sick minds secretly crave the idea that they might show up in our houses to haunt us by watching a movie about ghosts. Who among us hasn’t insisted they hear or see things after watching an incredibly creepy film? Here’s a list of some of the lesser-known paranormal and supernatural movies that are guaranteed to freak you out, or at least entertain you for a night.
Genuinely terrifying, this is one of those real ghost stories that stick with you. A young Mom is terrorized nightly by an incubus who sexually assaults her. Barbara Hershey is convincing, and the whole ghost story is nightmare fuel. It is based on the 1978 novel by Frank De Felitta who adapted his book for the screen. The 1974 case of Doris Bither was the basis for both the novel and the film.
Bither was living in a rented home in Culver City, California, with her four children. All of the children’s and neighbors alleged strange sounds and occurrences in the house, adding to Bither’s story’s believability. Paranormal researchers from UCLA’s Neuropsychiatric Institute were called in to investigate Bither’s claims. Among those were an attack that the teenage son saw. When he tried to help his mother something, flung him across the room. Unseen ghosts slapped the children, things were tossed around the house, and a ghost named Mr. Who’s-it appeared frequently.
When the researchers began, even more, strange activity was witnessed. All reported light orbs and fluctuations in temperature. Bither moved with her family to Carson City, and unfortunately, the ghosts followed her. In the new home and her neighbors, the spirits flung objects and made strange noises. Throughout her life, Bither continued to move, but the violent activity followed them. Barry Taff, one of the original researchers, lost touch with Doris when she moved from Carson City but contributed to the film and wrote about her case in his book Aliens Above, Ghost Below. Even after forty years, he is hesitant to draw any concrete conclusions. Still, he does believe the possibility exists that the activity was psychokinetic activity caused by Doris or her teenage sons.
This film from 1992 was presented in England as a real-time ghost hunt complete with studio reporters and in the field agents doing battle with a ghost known as Mr. Pipes. It was filmed weeks in advance but shown as if were unfolding live. In the beginning, there was a disclaimer that this was entirely fictional, but people believed what they were seeing. It was intended as an H.G. Wells type of story blurring the lines between reality and entertainment. It was so realistic watchers called the police and the television station, and one poor soul committed suicide when he became convinced Mr. Pipes was haunting him.
There isn’t any truth to Mr. Pipes’s story invented by the BBC. There wasn’t a deranged man named Raymond Turnstall, and Pipes did not possess the BBC personalities. Pipes was imagined as an amalgamation of evil spirits who existed since time began. Turnstall was the most recent person to be possessed by the evil entity. It should have been evident that this wasn’t real. Pipes was every horror trope ever conceived. He was a child abuser, deformed by his cats eating his face after his death, and the ghost spoke in a high-pitched child’s voice.
Although not based on anything other than the Enfield Poltergeist’s loosest ties, the reaction was so strong in England it got banned for a decade. Watch it with the right frame of mind, and it is genuinely scary. This is an example of fiction becoming real by sheer belief alone.
Veronica, which was introduced to Americans via Netflix is often described as one of the scariest films ever. Or a movie so frightening you can’t finish it. I don’t know about that, but it is worth a watch. It is based on the 1991 Vallecas case in Spain where a young girl mysteriously died after using an ouija board. The movie takes place over the last three days of the girl’s life. In the end, the audience is confronted with the horrific finale in the opening moments and then layers on the dread by immediately going back three days. The tension the opening sequence creates isn’t wasted and the payoff is effective.
Veronica tells the true story of Estefania Gutierrez Lazaro, who performed a seance at school trying to contact one of her friend’s boyfriends who had died recently. Shortly after, she began experiencing hallucinations and fits of rage. She complained of evil shadows lurking in her room and was prone to scream at her family. Her parents took her to numerous doctors who found nothing wrong with her. Finally, several months after the trauma began, she attacked her sister and was taken to the hospital, where she dies that night.
There is no explanation for her death. Her parents claim after her death that they also experienced Poltergeist activity. That activity included hearing Estefania’s screams, an older man’s laughter. Inspector José Negri of the Madrid police was called in and testified to moving objects and temperature drops. It all stopped once they moved, and the new residents have not experienced anything.
39 Malasano Street
This film releasing this week on Shudder is based on the ghost itself. Uniquely told from the ghost’s perspective rather than the haunted, it is stylish and delivers a few heart-stopping chills. The films follow a ghost who scares the new residents of her Spanish flat Beetlejuice style-minus the fun musical numbers and comedy. Supposedly inspired by a real haunting, there is scant history to find. There is not a ton written(or any at all) about the real story, so that this one may be very, very, very loosely based on circumstantial reports and nothing more, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a darn good movie. This might just be one of my new favorite real ghost stories, even if I’m not convinced there is anything “real” about it. Watch for our explained piece later this week. It premieres on Shudder on October 22nd, 2020.
If you are looking for more mainstream films, The Conjuring movies, Anabelle, and The Exorcism Of Emily Rose are very good and rooted in real ghost stories. Whether you want the tried and true mainstream real ghost stories or something more obscure. October is the time to watch.
As the Managing Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre entertainment. I grew up with old-school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. My work can be found here and Travel Weird, where I am the Editor in Chief.