Whether there are serial killers, stalkers, rapists, or even a nuclear accident, the series are sometimes inspired (more or less freely) by true stories, more terrifying than any fiction.
American Horror Story (myCanal)
Ryan Murphy’s anthology series has repeatedly (loosely) been inspired by true stories to feed the protagonist profile. This is particularly the case for the “American Horror Story: Freak Show” season, in which a character, like the clown in “It”, was inspired by John Wayne Gacy, a man who in the 1970s liked to dressed as a clown and who was accused of killing, raping and torturing at least 33 boys. “American Horror Story: Murder House” draws on its side from the unsolved murder of Elizabeth Short, alias “the Black Dahlia affair”, an actress (played by Mena Suvari) whose body had been found in 1947 on a vacant lot, cut in two at the level of the basin.
“American Horror Stories: Coven” features Delphine Lalaurie, a serial killer who tortured and murdered nearly a hundred slaves. “American Horror Story: Asylum” focuses on a historical figure, and looks back on the war crimes of Josef Mengele through the character of Doctor Arthur Arden (James Cromwell). In “American Horror Story: Freak Show”, the character of Jimmy Darling (Evan Peters) is inspired by Grady Stiles Jr., a man with a congenital defect that he featured in freak shows in the 19th century, and who had killed his son-in-law.
Another inspiration, in “American Horror Story: Asylum” the character of psychiatrist Oliver Thredson (Zachary Quinto) comes from serial killer and corpse thief Ed Gein (the same who inspired Psychosis and Bates Motel, see below). “American Horror Story: 1984” tells the true story of serial killer Richard Ramirez through the character of the Night Stalker (named in reference to the AC/DC song “Night Prowler”, which the killer listened to while stalking his victims ). Finally, “American Horror Story: Hotel” gives Lady Gaga a role inspired by Elisabeth Bathory who had committed more than 600 murders at the end of the 16th century.
BATES MOTEL (PRIME VIDEO)
A prequel to Alfred Hitchcock’s film Psycho with Anthony Perkins, Bates Motel looks back at the early life of Norman Bates, and explores the toxic relationship between the young man (played here by Freddie Highmore) and his mother (played by Vera Farminga). The 1959 novel on which Hitchock’s film was based was loosely based on a true story, that of serial killer Ed Gein, who was convicted of killing two women and exhuming a number of body. Due to his mental state, he was eventually placed in a mental institution.
Created by Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson, Yellowjackets follows the members of a New Jersey women’s soccer team who, in 1996, find themselves in a nightmarish situation after their plane crashes in a wilderness of North America. Fighting for their survival, the high school girls gradually sink into savagery. The series is in fact (very) freely inspired by a real tragedy already brought to the screen in the film “The Survivors”, that of the crash in the Andes cordillera of a plane carrying a rugby team, and whose survivors had to eat the remains of the corpses so as not to starve.
Its realistic and rigorous reconstruction gives it an almost documentary dimension, Chernobyl gives cold sweats and leaves an indelible mark on viewers. This mini-series produced by HBO and Sky in 2019 uncompromisingly retraces the hours and days that followed the explosion of reactor No. 4 at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant on April 26, 1986. It plunges into the hell of the bowels of the gutted plant, as close as possible to those who worked there and to those who will be dispatched there, at the risk of their lives. Without ever turning into the spectacular or superfluous pathos, it imposes its terribly distressing atmosphere.
TRUE DETECTIVE (OCS)
Broadcast in 2014 on HBO (and OCS in France), season 1 of the series created by Nic Pizzolato (directed in a virtuoso manner by Cary Fukunaga) dazzled viewers and critics by following two cops – played by Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson – who remember the hunt for a serial killer, in 1995, in the Louisiana hinterland, when the case was about to be reopened. The scenario is reminiscent of a sordid affair, that of the Hosanna church in the city of Pontchatoula in Louisiana. In 2005, Pastor Louis Lamonica Jr. surrendered to the police confessing his membership in this circle which lent itself to satanic rites including animal sacrifice, torture and the rape of children and adolescents.
The police series with Michael C. Hall fascinated viewers between 2006 and 2013, before rising from the ashes with a season 9 in 2021. Its main character, an expert in forensic medicine but above all a psychopath who kills in cold blood (criminals ) with a vengeance, is largely inspired by Manuel Pardo, a Miami police officer fired in 1985 and turned serial killer. After the death of a little girl in his arms from an overdose, he had killed nine people in three months, mostly drug traffickers.
The Watcher (Netflix)
In this 7-episode miniseries by Ryan Murphy, starring Naomi Watts and Bobby Cannavale, a New York family is harassed by a mysterious “watcher” who sends them threatening letters. Although it takes some liberties with reality, “The Watcher” is inspired by a true story – told by the American journalist Reeves Wiedeman in an article published in November 2018 in New York Magazine – that of a couple, Maria and Derek Broaddus, with three children (not two as in the series), who after buying the dream house, had started to receive disturbing letters from a stranger. “For the moment, I have counted three (children, note). Are there more on the way? Do you have to fill the house with the young blood that I have so longed for? (…) As soon as I know their names, I will call them and lead them to me”, the crow had written to them in particular. Police, detectives and even a former FBI agent will look unsuccessfully to try to identify the author of the threatening missives. The hunt had ended up turning into obsession and paranoia. The Broaddus ended up moving and the case is still unsolved.
Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story (Netflix)
Acts of cannibalism, butchering or even necrophilia… His atrocious crimes inspired Ryan Murphy, who decided to devote a series to him all by himself: Jeffrey Dahmer, nicknamed by the press “the cannibal of Milwaukee”. Between 1978 and 1991 he murdered seventeen people.
Mind Hunter (Netflix)
Based on the books of John E. Douglas, an FBI agent specializing in the psychology of criminals, Mindhunter, David Fincher’s series, is inspired by real events. It focuses on retracing the journey of criminals and serial killers, and tells how the FBI created the job of profiling. Helped by Robert Ressler, another FBI agent who has also been credited with coining the term “serial killer”, John E. Douglas managed to solve many murder cases. It is in particular to him that we owe the arrest of Gary Ridgway, known for his 71 victims, or even that of the photographer Wayne Williams, to whom the police attributed 23 murders. Very realistic, Mindhunter pushes the meticulousness very far, in particular when it restores almost word for word the interviews of the serial killer Edmund Kemper, an American accused of 10 murders, including that of his own mother.
The Terror (Prime Video)
Adapted from a novel by Dan Simmons, inspired by a true story, “The Terror” reconstructs an expedition of the Royal Navy, which left in 1846 in search of a new maritime route in the Arctic Circle. In the series, the crews of the two ships find themselves trapped in the ice, and therefore confronted with extreme cold and hunger. Dan Simmons fills in the shadows of this already terrifying shipwreck story, which will see no survivors, with a touch of fantasy and the intervention of a mysterious creature, which makes the last hours of the castaways even more gruesome.
The Snake (Netflix)
This series looks back on the macabre journey of serial killer Charles Sobhraj (here played by Tahar Rahim). Born in 1944, this diabolical murderer, seducer, manipulator, poisoner, robber of tourists and globetrotter king of the run, is said to be the cause of around thirty murders. Arrested 46 years ago, the one who was nicknamed the “bikini killer”, in reference to the tourists he killed after spotting them on beaches, will be able to request his parole in 2023, at 79 years old. For now, he is being held in Kathmandu, Nepal.
Dr. Death (Lionsgate+)
Taken from the “Dr LaMort” podcast, and made up of 8 episodes, “Dr Death” tells the story of the hunt by two doctors (played by Alec Baldwin and Christian Slater) for a neurosurgeon who looks like an ideal son-in-law, but who turns out to be to be a murderous mythomaniac. The actor who plays him, Joshua Jackson (“Dawson”), delivers a perfect performance, special mention to the sequences during which his character turns into a psychopathic butcher in the operating room. In reality, this criminal in a white coat is called Dr. Christopher Duntsch. He performed complex but routine spine surgeries, and hid – to say the least – an incompetence that the American healthcare system was slow to recognize. Sentenced in 2017, he is currently serving a life sentence after being found guilty of mutilating one of his patients and injuring thirty-three others, two of whom died, and two others who have no further life. other choice than to get around using a wheelchair.
By Order of God (Disney+)
This series by Dustin Lance Black, and with Andrew Garfield and Daisy Edgar-Jones in the cast, is freely inspired by the eponymous book by Jon Krakauer published in 2003, which looks back on the tragic murder of Brenda Lafferty and her 15-month-old daughter in 1984 , in a small town in Utah. A double homicide perpetrated by two brothers, Ron and Dan Lafferty, both members of The School of the Prophets, a fundamentalist group of the Mormon Church.
THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE (NETFLIX)
This horror series by Mike Flanagan, starring Michiel Huisman, Carla Gugino and Timothy Hutton, shows the members of a torn sibling having to face the memories of terrifying events that occurred in the haunted house of their childhood. The story is adapted from the cult novel by Shirley Jackson.
To write this book published in 1959, the novelist had fed on different stories about reputed haunted places (note that the veracity of the testimonies has not been scientifically explained), including the castle of Neuschwanstein in Germany or the Mysterious Winchester House . The writer was particularly interested in the story of Charlotte Anne Moberly and Eleanor Jourdain, who recounted having met several ghosts while strolling in the gardens of the Palace of Versailles, near the Petit Trianon.
MAKING A MURDER (NETFLIX)
This Emmy Award-winning documentary series is a terrifying dive into an American legal system that crushes witnesses and suspects. Filmed over ten years, it follows the case of Steven Avery, wrongly accused of rape, cleared and then accused of murder.