7 True Crime Novels to Inspire Your Next Horror Story

“Based on true events.” Four little words that have the power to heighten tension before the story even begins. Heinous crimes have long served as inspiration for genre writers, giving us works such as Room (based upon the Fritzl case), We Need To Talk About Kevin (inspired by the Columbine massacre), and The Night of the Hunter (drawn from the Lonely Hearts murders).

In order to explore the beast within man, we need look no further than notorious cases of the past. From mass murderers to demented appetites, the ugliness of the human race is a deep well, one that can be drawn from for creative fodder. The following is a roundup of non-fiction books chronicling the accounts of real-life atrocities, disappearances and unsolved deaths. Truth may be stranger than fiction, but it can also inspire it.


True Crime Novels To Inspire Your Next Horror Story - Helter Skelter 1. Helter Skelter, by Vincent Bugliosi: The former lead prosecutor in the Manson Family case, Vincent Bugliosi, provides an in-depth account of what went down in the summer of 1969. Bugliosi brings the Manson cult to life in just under 700 pages, providing character motives and a play-by-play of the trial that put you in the courtroom along with him. Juxtapositions of law and order against savage human nature give us incredible commentary on how far we’ve come as a society, and how much further we have to go.



True Crime Novels To Inspire Your Next Horror Story - Columbine 2. Columbine, by Dave Cullen: On April 20, 1999, a Colorado high school (and America, by extension) was rocked by a devastating act of violence, committed by two disturbed young men. For the next decade, author Dave Cullen remained in the area as he attempted to make sense of the senseless tragedy. In an extremely unsettling account of the events of the Columbine massacre, Cullen puts us in the classrooms with the students, hiding behind upturned desks and waiting in fear as the shooters roamed the hallways, looking for their next victim. If you’ve never felt true terror, this book provides insight into that experience.


True Crime Novels To Inspire Your Next Horror Story - For The Thrill Of It 3. For the Thrill of It, by Simon Baatz: Have you ever seen Hitchcock’s “Rope”? That story of two wealthy young men who kill a fellow student just for kicks was inspired by the chilling case of Leopold and Loeb. In 1924, Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, two graduate students from wealthy families, kidnapped and murdered a 14-year-old boy. Experts commented that the two were a toxic pair, and each would have been fairly harmless on his own. Once they put their heads together, though, they were a callous and devious duo. Does your work in progress have a killer couple? Try this book out.


True Crime Novels To Inspire Your Next Horror Story - The Crime of the Century Richard Speck 4. The Crime of the Century: Richard Speck and the Murders That Shocked a Nation, by Dennis L. Breo and William J. Martin: In the dead of night on July 13th, 1966, one of the most horrific crimes of the twentieth century unfolded. This book mostly focuses on the police procedures and court proceedings during Richard Speck’s capture and subsequent trial. Together, the authors give a gut-wrenching account of how Speck murdered eight young nurses one-by-one over a period of four hours, and how law enforcement handled the massive manhunt that followed. This story is a display of the harsh fact that for many victims of violent crime, the nightmare doesn’t end when the perpetrator walks away. Catching and convicting the bad guys is a whole new ballgame.


True Crime Novels To Inspire Your Next Horror Story - The Stranger Beside Me 5. The Stranger Beside Me, by Ann Rule: True crime author Ann Rule was contracted to write a book about an (at the time) unknown serial killer. It was revealed that the man she was writing about, the man who had dispatched at least 30 women, was a man she not only knew, but had served with at a crisis center. Ann regarded Ted Bundy as an intimate, trusted friend and struggled with the reconciliation of that image with that of the man who stood accused of so many vicious murders. This book provides a keen look into the incredibly human charisma that some of the most inhuman monsters exude.



True Crime Novels To Inspire Your Next Horror Story - Cannibal: The Maneater of Rotenburg 6. Cannibal: The True Story Behind the Maneater of Rotenberg, by Lois Jones: Imagine a Hansel and Gretel fairy tale, but with a willing victim. This extreme story introduces us to Armin Miewes, a man who has an odd fetish: he wants to slaughter and eat another human being. He meets a man online who has a complementary fetish: he wants to be slaughtered and eaten by another human being. The subsequent “dinner date” and trial are described in riveting detail (NOT for the faint of heart). Cannibal is a shrewd investigation into the nature and nuture of an unbalanced human.



True Crime Stories To Inspire Your Next Horror Story - In Cold Blood 7. In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote: 1959. Holcomb, Kansas. All four members of the Clutter family were roused from their sleep at an ungodly hour and bound. All four were shot in the head with a shotgun at close range. None survived. The killers left few clues, and there was no apparent motive for the slayings. No true crime list is complete without a nod to the classic “nonfiction novel”. In Cold Blood’s glory lies in its treatment of the subjects and its mastery of the English language. The mesmerizing prose brings the reader directly into the lives of both the prosperous Clutter family, and the feckless drifters that murdered them on a chilly fall night in 1959. If you read only one book in this roundup, let it be this one.



The inability to turn away from the horrific is a global human trait. As long as people commit heinous crimes and others wonder why, we writers will always have a story to tell. The best true crime novels show us the worst of humanity, and the best writers can draw creative inspiration from even the darkest of sources. Have you ever written a story based upon a real incident? Let us know in the comments below.

The Poughkeepsie Tapes: Movie Review

poughkeepsie - poster

Authorities find over 800 VHS tapes made by an elusive killer in and around Poughkeepsie, New York.  We the viewer – most of whom are absolutely not police or FBI agents – get to watch some of these and see what terrible things this killer did.  Awful things.  Twisted things.  Why did they let us watch these?

My thoughts:
This wasn’t as much out-and-out scary as it was supremely unnerving.  I had to keep telling myself, “This isn’t real, this isn’t real.”  I believed myself for the most part, but a little part of me knew that I’m not a smart person and was probably lying.

This movie is 86 minutes long.  There is a whole lot of life-scarring material in this movie for it being so short.  There are things in this movie I will carry with me for years.  Maybe the rest of my life.  I may pass those things down to my children.  They don’t deserve this, man.

There is a lot of stuff going on here, but a decent portion of the movie deals with the kidnapping/torture of Cheryl Dempsey.  She was a teenager when she was abducted.  She was abused physically and mentally to a terrible extent.  We see the torture.  We see her mind cracking under the strain of it all.  It’s heartbreaking.
In a particularly chilling scene, the killer videotapes himself as he approaches Cheryl’s mom, offering to help find her child.  Eventually it dawns on her mother that she is talking to the man who took her daughter.  As she is paralyzed with fear, the killer laughs and walks off.  That scene broke me down.  Of all the things I saw him do over the course of this movie, that felt like one of the worst.  It felt like someone punching me in the gut.  The torture I can take.  But that?  That’s a bridge too far, fella.

But that wasn’t the worst.  Not really.  He did some, let’s call it “creative surgery,” that was horrifying.  Just horrifying.

Both his psychological and physical torture are next level sadistic.  If this man existed in real life and was anywhere close to my town, I would have picked up and moved a long time ago.  Maybe burned my house on my way out of town for good measure.

I feel like I’m really talking this movie up.  I liked it, but it wasn’t perfect.  There are some slow moments.  There are some scares that don’t really land.  But those are small moments and relatively easy to overlook.  Again, it’s a short movie, and those moments are in the minority.  For the most part, this is an extremely well-done movie.  It used the found footage genre to perfection.

poughkeepsie - cheryl in house
If you’re looking for an unsettling serial killer movie, this is it.  It has had a troubled release history, so it’s not the easiest movie to track down, but you can find it if you search hard enough.  That aspect makes this a little creepier: it’s a movie about hours and hours of torture and murder, and it’s not easy to track down.  That aspect makes it feel a little more real.
Turn off the lights, check to make sure all your doors and windows are locked and throw this on.  You may find yourself staring at the screen as the credits roll, wondering what you have gotten yourself into.  Then checking all the closets in your house.  Just in cases, you know?

Rating: 5/5

Notable actors: Bobbi Sue Luther, a real serial killer (probably)


Chained - Poster

Review by Christopher Maynard

Directed By Jennifer Chambers Lynch
Starring Vincent D’Onofrio, Julia Ormond, Eamon Farron

Ever since Stanley Kubrick’s 1987 masterpiece Full Metal Jacket, Vincent D’Onofrio has been an actor you should pay attention to. With movies as varied as Happy Accidents, JFK, Men in Black, The Break Up and the upcoming Jurassic World, the only common thread in D’Onofrio’s work is the quality of the performances he turns in. This man has range. Even when I don’t enjoy the movies as a whole, his performances are always noteworthy.  With all that in mind, D’Onofrio is often playing smaller ancillary characters and is rarely given the amount of screen time he deserves.  Chained is not one of those films. Bob (Vincent D’Onofrio) is front and center for the duration of this film. This is his story. Well, in truth, it’s the story of Bob and Rabbit (Eamon  Farron). Bob is a cab-driving serial killer who kidnaps Rabbit at the age of 9 and holds him hostage for several years. Over  the years while luring multiple victims back to his home, Bob tries to force Rabbit into the role of protégée.

Chained has many of the trappings of family drama but is heightened immeasurably by the circumstances surrounding our leads. All of the acting in this film is superb but D’Onofrio is giving a performance on par with – if not better than – the career defining performance he gave in Full Metal Jacket.

Jennifer Chambers Lynch, who is best known for the woefully underrated film Boxing Helena, has created a near perfect film with Chained. The writing, acting, production design and camera work are all understated and grounded in reality. This film was given an NC-17; not for the gore or nudity but for how real it felt. Chances are you have seen films that more violent or sexually explicit but this is one of the more disturbing films you will see.

Despite the disturbing nature of Chained, I can recommend this film whole-heartedly.  I would even recommend this film to people who are squeamish and uncomfortable with violence in film. Not because I want people to hate me or have a bad time but simply because this is a great film that people should see.  This is not a film that placates to the audience in any way. The punches are never pulled and we feel the full impact of our characters deplorable actions.  Nothing about this one is saccharine and it in no way goes down easy, but it is a film you should experience. I hope time will be kind to Chained. It deserves to find an audience and should be spoken of in the same way people speak of  Bad Lieutenant or Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.

Chained is available for rent or purchase through all the major VOD providers and for free through Starz on demand.

The Bleeding House

Bleeding House - Poster


Review by Christopher Maynard

The Bleeding House
2011 Directed by Philip Gelatt
Starring Alexandra Chandro, Nina Lisandrello, Patrick Breen & Charlie Hewson

Leo Tolstoy famously wrote “All great literature is one of two stories; a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town.” A stranger comes to town, for some reason it is a concept that has always captured my imagination. The unknown forces that can disrupt and shape our lives have always made me lock my doors and check my closets before I go to bed. Philip Gelatt’s 2011 horror film is one these stories, one that will make me use the peep hole when someone knocks on my door and never trust a man in a white seersucker suit.

The opening shot of the film sets an ominous tone that will be slowly delivered upon for the next hour and twenty minutes. The Smith family is like most in that it has a past and would prefer to keep their uncomfortable secrets hidden; after all, “Small towns have a long memory.”  The opening twenty minutes establishes the uncomfortable nature of the Smith family. The dinner sequence is tense and hints at greater problems the family is facing. Why the hell did she lock up the knives after dinner?

When the stranger (Patrick Breen) shows up stranded, wearing a white suit, carrying a doctor’s bag and speaking with a southern accent that feels as if it were pulled from another era, they invite him in. The Stranger has arrived. That simple decision is one that will forever change the Smith family. We know where this film is heading because of that opening shot but we are waiting to discover how this group of people will get there and why?

The motivations and backstory of our characters are not given to us all at once. In fact, the way we are given information is slow and deliberate. If you are patient this film it will repay you.  This movie feels like a throwback to something from the 70’s, and I mean that in the best possible way. This movie is limited in its scope but is still a powerful character study. Some people have complained that the reveal is not worth the wait but I’d argue that the tension building up to the reveal makes it worth the wait. To speak in clichés, it’s not about the destination but the journey to get there. I had mixed feelings about the ending but I loved how we got there and that definitely counts for something.

All families are forced to deal with different levels of adversity at different times. The question that is worth examining is how much adversity can those people around you handle before they will snap? What will happen when they are truly tested?

Patrick Breen gives a performance that is nearly perfect and quite memorable. Some people might find his Tennessee Williams Serial Killer thing to be a bit too much but I, for one, loved it. His character feels like a force of nature. Our antagonist is an unsympathetic hurricane destroying the lives of the people who cross his path. Ever since Poltergeist 2, older, soft spoken Southern gentlemen types creep me the fuck out and Mr. Breen has continued in that tradition nicely.

The Bleeding House is streaming on Netflix and available on VOD