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Thanks to a somewhat suspect series of sub-genres born out of horror cinema’s tendency to descend into an exploitative pit of B-Movie mediocrity, to many the genre at large has lost its bite over recent decades. Horror fans stand shaking atop a perilous precipice, debating whether to plummet into one of James Wan’s undeniably entertaining demon infested households – littered with creepy kids and their even creepier fondness for jump-scare inducing toy antiquities – or to skip dinner and experience a Smörgåsbord of torture porn delicacies. Thankfully studios aren’t as willing to give Eli Roth money these days and this ugly trend has been somewhat curbed – minus the upcoming The Green Inferno, which, in all fairness, looks rather tasty. Also, don’t forget the wealth of found footage which lay hidden in darkened attics and dank cellars, because in an age of Hi-def, Blu-ray movies and instant streaming services, the inconvenience of pushing an archaic device such as a V/H/S tape through a plastic flap and deep into that accommodating slot of doom will eventually lead to your untimely and grotesque destruction.

However, despite its peaks and troughs, fads and phases, its crowning glories and shameful outings, the horror genre – unlike much of its subject matter – will never be entirely dead from a creative standpoint. This is partly down to the talented storytellers and filmmakers whose taste for horror – however sinisterly macabre or brutally violent – love to conjure shocks and scares for an audience. It’s also down to the fact that horror is a largely reactionary medium; it mirrors the true terrors of reality; war, disease, natural disasters, death… Horror connects with audiences not just intellectually and philosophically, but also on a primal, base level. Ultimately, we, as human beings, like to do horrible, horrible things to one another, so what better inspiration for some of horror’s finest moments than real life? Here are five pictures which are based upon such downright despicable, wholly unexplainable, and unthinkably heinous “true” stories.

Ravenous Carlyle

Ravenous – You Are Who You Eat

Inspiration: The Big Headed Cannibal

Starring Guy Pearce alongside Robert Carlyle, Ravenous is a bleak and darkly mischievous trek into an American wilderness filled with horrors not in the shape of wild beasts but a man whose depraved hunger cannot be satisfied. Set during the mid-19th century, we find ourselves sequestered amongst the thinning ranks of a group of Union soldiers holed up inside a snowed-in fort. The sudden arrival of a mysterious and element battered drifter and his ghoulish tales of his doomed travelling party, and a mad general cannibalising his way across the Sierra Nevada mountain range, results in the launch of a rescue mission. However, after discovering the nibbled and gnawed remains of said wagon of travellers, the weary soldiers realise that their new acquaintance’s story may have omitted a few key, stomach churning details.

Many anecdotal tales of stranded bands of travellers succumbing to cannibalism as a means of survival (unfortunately Bear Grylls wasn’t as big of a deal back then) are present upon the pages of recovered journals and writings. However, Ravenous’ honourless antagonist was primarily based upon real life American prospector, convicted cannibal, and multiple-time fugitive, Alfred Packer. Despite claiming he acted in self-defence, Packer was convicted of the murder of his traveling companions in 1874 – who he then allegedly proceeded to roast over a spit and eat. Upon being sentenced by Judge M.B. Gerry, Packer was loudly told “Close your ears to the blandishments of hope. Listen not to its fluttering promises of life. But prepare to meet the spirits of thy murdered victims. Prepare for the dread certainty of death.” Exhaustive investigations have been conducted into Packer’s story by experts, yet the truth remains inconclusive. However, in an ironic turn of events Packer was rumoured to have converted to vegetarianism in his later life.


Lizzie Borden Ricci

Lizzie Borden Took an Axe – Hatchet Job

Inspiration: The Borden Family Axe Murders


“Lizzie Borden took an axe

And gave her mother forty whacks.

When she saw what she had done,

She gave her father forty-one.”


Much mystery surrounds the case of Lizzie Borden. The young Massachusetts native was tried and eventually acquitted of the brutal axe murder of her father, Andrew, and her stepmother, Abby. After months of escalating tension within the wealthy yet increasingly frugal Borden household – primarily due to disputes over property and the distribution of the Borden’s wealth amongst Abby’s family instead of Lizzie and her sister – culminated in the vicious murders of the family’s patriarch and matriarch. Abby was initially struck on the side of her head with a hatchet before her killer proceeded to sit upon her back and reign down nineteen grizzly, razor-sharp blows into her back. Already paranoid after a robbery a year prior, Andrew Borden would often ensure every door in his household was locked at all times. Unfortunately Andrew needn’t have been worried about whom he was keeping out, but rather with whom he was locked in. The wealthy landowner would succumb to the same dismembered fate as his wife, getting off likely with only eleven hatchet blows to the face and body – many believing at the hands of his daughter. Despite a wealth of overwhelming evidence against Lizzie, including the discovery of the believed murder weapons and bloody rags in the family home’s basement, and several witness statements documenting her strange behaviour following the crimes, she would later escape conviction during a grisly trial which captivated much of America and became a landmark case in the history of the country’s legal proceedings. A hundred years later the murders are still “unsolved”.

lizzie borden took an axe portrait

Lizzie Borden Took an Axe is out on DVD now.

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