'True stories' not always what they claim to be

September 9, 2012

While watching “The Possession,” I started to count all the events that took place that I either missed reading about in the news or that were shockingly never reported in the first place.

For example, you’d think a little girl regularly hacking up moths would end up on the front page somewhere, right? Or what about a living creature found in the x-ray of someone’s chest cavity? I’m pretty sure CNN would pick that up for a couple news cycles. I mean, if I’m to believe that this film is “based on a true story,” than obviously this stuff happened, right?

As it turns out, “The Possession” isn’t the only film this week that claims truth to its tale. “Lawless,” starring Shia LaBeouf and Tom Hardy, also trumpets that claim on its poster as well. And where the latter may have a little more historical accuracy, the trend for films to stake a claim in reality seems to stretch the limits of what parts of their stories are true. The leads breathe oxygen; someone perhaps purchased a strange box at a yard sale; they all have skin and hair. So, yes, that much is true. But if you checked the story of the dibbuk box, you’d be hard pressed to draw parallels between the fantastical world of the film and the rather vague, generic origins of the actual story.

Horror films, in particular, have frequently used the truth card in marketing to somehow validate their more dubious stories.

I suppose it dates back to campfire tales designed to spook others, which were made all the more frightening if there was a hint that “it could actually happen!”

So instead of reviewing this rather pale, Yiddish-tinged tale of “The Exorcist,” I wanted to look at some of the films of the genre that claim to have their toes dipped in a pool of reality and see just how close to the mark they hit.

“Amityville Horror” - The 1979 film and its remake (forget all the wretched sequels, which shouldn’t be too hard) told the tale of a family whose patriarch began to go insane after moving into a haunted house with bleeding walls, swarming flies and floating evil pigs.

The Real Deal? - The story was widely debunked by all who investigated the couple’s claims and now is viewed as a hoax by just about everyone but Hollywood executives still willing to cash in on the name.

“The Exorcist” - William Friedkin’s flick is still considered one of the scariest, and most copied, fright-fests, which follows a young girl who becomes inhabited by none other than Lucifer himself.

The Real Deal? - Writer William Peter Blatty apparently based his tale on a young boy who became “possessed” after toying with a Ouija board. After years of mental and spiritual therapy, the boy was released from a psychiatric hospital and apparently went on to lead a normal life.

“The Exorcism of Emily Rose” - A priest is brought to trial for endangering the life of Emily Rose, who, as we see in flashbacks, suffered from epilepsy and was prescribed medicine that perhaps caused her to hallucinate and hear voices.

The Real Deal? - A German gal, Anneliese Michel, also suffered depression and epilepsy, causing her devoutly religious parents to assume possession and call for a priest to intervene. Michel died from malnutrition and dehydration, weighing only 68 pounds.

Meanwhile, the priest’s 67 exorcisms all failed.

“Psycho,” “Texas Chain Saw Massacre,” “Silence of the Lambs,” countless other lesser films - all were based, in some way or another, on Ed Gein, a Midwestern small farmer who, after his ultra-religious mother died, went on a killing spree and also took the time to unearth corpses from the local cemetery. After a murder in the small town in which Gein lived, police ventured to his isolated farmhouse and uncovered a macabre treasure trove of oddities - suits, masks and furniture made of flesh, bowls fashioned from skulls and various other atrocities. Gein confessed to the crimes and died of old age in prison.