Too often, the fun of a creepy horror movie dissipates. Perhaps the plot unravels in a multitude of forehead-slapping ways. Maybe the monster or killer has a silly costume that detracts from the suspense. Or perhaps the acting is simply atrocious. Where fiction fails, however, the real world often succeeds.
You don't need made-up horror movies when planet Earth provides a non-stop reel of nightmarish insanity. Humans make their own evil drama on the stage of endless wars. Mother Nature offers up carnage in ceaseless survival-of-the-fittest scenarios that top any bloody screenplay.
But it's not always blood and guts that shock our collective systems. Our world is chockful of creepy mysteries and wonders that defy any sort of scientific explanation. From eerie hauntings to unexplained lights in the sky, we simply don't have all of the answers for the circumstances that befuddle us and stalk our dreams and nightmares.
So put on your brave face, grab your fuzzy security blanket and turn off the lights. Keep reading and you'll plunge into the depths of darkness — stories of our real world that put any make-believe horror film to shame.
Kentucky Meat Shower
Here's an oddly engrossing horror movie premise: bombs of meat falling from a clear blue sky. We aren't talking prepackaged sirloin steaks or frozen sausage. We're talking hunks of raw meat strewn about an area the size of a country lawn.
That's what happened during the so-called Kentucky Meat Shower in March 1876, in a town called Olympia Springs. As a woman worked outside, she described hunks of fresh meat descending from the heavens like bloody snowflakes, measuring about 2 inches (5 centimeters) square.
Reporters and locals flocked to investigate the scene. They found chunks of meat scattered through the area, stuck to the ground and fence posts. By the time they arrived, the meat was quite spoiled, but that didn't stop two men from tasting it, after which they declared it to be mutton or venison.
Months later, a man named Leopold Brandeis apparently inspected preserved pieces of flesh and declared it to be nostoc, a type of cyanobacteria that assumes a gelatinous state when exposed to rain. That theory defies reality, however, because the skies were free of clouds when the meat storm descended.
However, a more plausible explanation surfaced later. Another man observed samples and determined that the flesh was most likely a result of projectile vomiting committed by multiple vultures circling the area. Like preschoolers at a birthday party, one vulture puked and trigged the same response in its cousins, causing a meaty mess below. Makes that whole tasting thing extra gross, doesn't it?
In early spring 1922, on a quiet German farm, a weird series of events climaxed in a terrifying and unsolved mass murder. The name for the lonely farmstead was Hinterkaifeck, now synonymous with the awful events that transpired there.
The farm was inhabited by a farmer named Andreas Gruber, his wife, their adult daughter (Viktoria) and two grandchildren, as well as a middle-aged maid. All six were found April 4, 1922, beaten to death with a pickaxe.
In the weeks and days leading up to the assaults, there were numerous puzzling events. The previous maid scurried off, convinced that the place was haunted. Gruber told his neighbors that he'd spotted unexplained footprints in the snow that led from the woods to the barn, but no second set of prints leading back to the forest.
Days before the murders, the family apparently related to neighbors that their house keys had been stolen and that there were strange noises in the attic. And they found a newspaper on the grounds that none of them had purchased.
On March 31, all six of the family members were killed. Their bodies were found in the barn. The eldest granddaughter, age 7, apparently survived the initial attack. She lay next to the bodies of her loved ones, pulling out plugs of her hair until she finally passed away.
Just before the bodies were discovered, neighbors witnessed smoke billowing from the chimney. Upon entering the house, they found that someone had been eating food and caring for the livestock. Just as weirdly, a stash of easily accessible cash was left untouched.
Autopsies were performed, but forensic investigations of the time were still primitive. Speculation abounded about an incestuous relationship between Andreas and Viktoria that may have served as fuel for some sort of crime of passion, but those avenues of explanation proved inconclusive. As recently as 1986, police conducted interviews regarding the atrocities, but no one was ever tried or even arrested for the gruesome killings.
The Dyatlov Pass Incident
In February 1959, nine young adults set out to for a skiing adventure on the slopes of the Ural mountains in Russia. About three weeks later their bodies were found on a mountainside —appropriately named "Dead Mountain" in native language — amid a weirdly captivating set of clues.
When searchers finally found the unfortunate group, they struggled to understand exactly what had transpired. The victims had cut their tents open from the inside and then left the camp area wearing almost no clothes in spite of the sub-zero temperatures.
Investigators soon found two bodies near a tree line and the remains of a campfire. Three more bodies were found farther away. Authorities determined that they likely died of hypothermia.
It wasn't until that May that police found the remaining four bodies, entombed under more than 10 feet (3 meters) of snow in a ravine. Autopsies showed that these victims had serious injuries, including skull fractures and broken ribs, but no external signs of harm, except for the fact that one woman was missing her tongue.
The hikers also tested for high levels of radioactivity. Other hikers and locals reported (and continue to report) strange lights in the sky in the area.
The most likely scenario is that the hikers were caught in an avalanche while they were sleeping and then cut their tents to escape. Terrified, they ran from their campsite without proper gear. Two hikers started a small campfire while the other three tried to return to the tents for warm clothing and the other four wandered on, perhaps lost and suffering from cold-induced confusion.
The internal injuries could well have been caused by the force of an avalanche. The young woman's missing tongue could have been scavenged by animals.
But no explanation really accounts for the radioactivity. Perhaps the group happened upon a secret military testing facility.
If anyone in the Russian government knows exactly how they died, they're not saying. The case was closed and abruptly sealed by the government with a resolution, leading to long-lived conspiracy theories.
H.H. Holmes Murder Castle
These days, modern forensics and focused police work make it harder to murder people in mass numbers. But back before the 1900s, a clever killer could escape notice for years, just as H.H. Holmes did. He's considered one of America's first recorded serial killers.
Holmes grew up in a wealthy family and at an early age showed in interest in medicine. Out of curiosity, he'd perform rudimentary surgeries on animals. He was also crooked. In medical school, he stole cadavers and used them for insurance scams. Holmes eventually moved to Chicago to run a pharmacy. The business was a front for a horrific life.
He constructed a three-story brick building and lured young women inside, where they met terrible deaths from suffocation, hanging and incineration. Sometimes Holmes sold parts of the bodies to medical schools; other times he'd use them for his tried-and-true insurance fraud scams. Still other bodies were simply dumped in his basement.
Eventually, it was the fraud that did Holmes in. After capturing him and questioning several people, police decided to search Holmes house. What they found was a bizarrely constructed "murder mansion" full of dead-end staircases, secret passageways, oddly shaped rooms and other strange construction. There were also soundproof rooms and metal-covered walls equipped with blowtorches, all for torturing victims.
Holmes was sentenced to death and confessed to murder, but no one really knows the grisly toll of his crimes. Only nine murders were confirmed, but estimates range from 20 to 200. No matter the final tally, Holmes was a prolific killer with a devious imagination that led to his execution in 1896.
In 1834, New Orleans authorities responded to a mansion fire and found a female slave chained in the kitchen. What the police didn't know was that the woman intentionally set the house on fire to draw attention to the terrors inside.
The owner of the home was Delphine LaLaurie, an upper-class socialite who was known for cruelty to her slaves. Locals suspected that in the years before, she'd chased a slave child off of the roof of the house and then surreptitiously buried the body on her property.
In the attic, rescuers found imprisoned slaves who had been deprived of food and mutilated in wretched ways. Several accounts noted that the slaves were bound in spiked collars and had their limbs chained in ways to make it nearly impossible for them to move.
Their condition was so awful that ... the police thought the general public might like to see it. Officers took the tortured slaves to the local jail, which was then opened for public viewing. Thousands of people streamed through to witness the suffering that LaLaurie had inflicted.
Many of LaLaurie's neighbors had already suspected her of mistreating her slaves. Once they saw just how terribly she'd acted, they stormed and ransacked her residence. LaLaurie escaped, and historians believe she lived the rest of her life in Paris, France. She was never brought to justice.
The Gibbons Twins
June and Jennifer Gibbons were twins who grew up near a Welsh army base. They developed speech late and when they finally did speak, they spoke mostly to each other in weird, garbled language. As they aged, their odd speech patterns became so foreign that no else could understand them. For the twins, that was just fine, because they only wanted each other's company anyway. They even mirrored each other's physical actions without conscious effort.
They were black children in a white community, regularly alienated and bullied. The girls withdrew even further. Psychologists separated them in an attempt to change their behavior, but the girls simply withered without each other.
Once they were reunited they spent all of their time together, playing and writing creative stories. They also took up arson, for which they were arrested and then committed to a high-security mental hospital for 14 years, in part because people found their twin-obsessed behavior so unsettling.
In 1993, the women were finally released to another clinic. Upon leaving the hospital grounds, Jennifer died from sudden inflammation of her heart, although no cause was ever determined.
June later revealed to a therapist that the two had made a pact that upon their release, one of them had to die. The two had finally found the constant presence of the other to be overwhelming — in order for one of them to truly live, the other had to perish.
There was no evidence of foul play, and June now lives alone, near her parents in Wales.
Villisca Ax Murder House
On June 9, 1912, in the small town of Villisca, Iowa, a man with an ax entered a plain two-story house and changed the town's history forever.
The next morning, a neighbor went to check on Joe Moore, his wife Sara and their four children. What he found was a hellish and unforgettable scene. Each person had been bludgeoned to death and then hacked into pieces. The ceiling above the victims was gouged, a sign of the force that the attacker used during his rampage.
There were strange clues all over the house. A hunk of bacon was found wrapped in cloth. Every mirror and piece of glass had been covered.
The locals immediately called for investigators and bloodhounds, which were shipped in from Nebraska that evening. The dogs followed a scent (trailed by hundreds or thousands of concerned citizens) to a river, where they were stymied.
In the months and years that followed, there was a swirl of accusations and fruitless trials. Investigators tried to connect the murders to other family killings in Kansas and Colorado and elsewhere. In those events, the murder weapon was an ax, the victims were covered by sheets and eerily, each scene featured a lamp that had its wick bent to an angle to reduce illumination, giving the killer just enough light to commit his acts without waking inhabitants.
Those clues never culminated in an established pattern. No one was ever convicted of the killings.
The so called "Ax Murder House" is now a tourist attraction, and some people claim that it is haunted by the spirits of the victims. For a price, you can spend the night there sleeping in the darkness, pondering the violent events of more than a century ago.
In the swamps of the Southern U.S., there lurks a monster that's been stalking animals and people for decades. It's Two-toed Tom, a 14-foot (4.3-meter) alligator that's been called a "red-eye hell-demon," terrifying anyone who dared set foot near the bayou.
The first mention of Tom appeared in a 1934 book, but his legend went back decades earlier, when he was known to nab livestock and frighten people in Alabama and Florida. He got his two-toed nickname from the tracks he left behind. People speculated he'd lost two of his toes to the jaws of a steel trap.
As the story goes, one farmer got fed up with Tom killing his mules, so he decided to do away with the behemoth using buckets of dynamite. When the attack commenced, explosions filled the sky but Tom flanked the farmer, seized his 12-year-old granddaughter, and killed her.
The trail of livestock carnage gradually shifted from Alabama into Florida. In the 1980s, people spotted two-toed alligator tracks, reigniting the stories of the South's most infamous reptile beast.
Tom was never caught. Instead, his name lives on in the spine-tingling shadows of the swamps.
Voracious packs of zombie dogs sound like something from a hallucinogen-fueled nightmare. Thanks to researchers at the University of Pittsburg, those creepy canines are a step closer to reality.
In 2005, scientists at the school drained numerous dogs of their blood and then filled their circulatory systems with a chilled saline solution. For up to three hours, the dogs remained in this suspended state with no signs of heartbeat or brain activity.
Then, researchers replaced the blood, gave the dogs a jolt of electricity, and they came back to life. After the experiments, a few dogs showed signs of permanent physical and behavioral problems. Others, however, seemed perfectly intact.
Although the tests may seem inhumane, the results are used to find better ways to stabilize human trauma victims until they can be transported (and resuscitated) at a medical center.
Regardless of the purpose, the scenario is a little spooky. Zombie dogs probably won't escape a laboratory anytime soon, but if they do, you may want to give them something to gnaw on other than your leg.
Wherever you go, there it is ... a low, droning hum that seems to follow you at home, at work, when you're alone or with friends and family. You wear earplugs in a futile attempt to block it. You complain to others about the sound but no one else can hear it. It feels like you might just be going crazy.
It's not an episode of "The Twilight Zone." There are certain geographic areas, such as England, Scotland and the United States, where a low, mysterious hum is audible to only about 2 percent of the local population.
Those unfortunate folks complain of the noise's haunting pervasiveness. Many of them suffer headaches, nosebleeds and sleep problems. The sounds may be more noticeable at night, a constant throbbing or pulsing noise that never stops.
Sufferers are typically past middle age, but doctors rule out tinnitus (ringing in the ears). Some people become so distressed that they commit suicide.
A few hums have been traced back to specific sources, like huge diesel engines and power lines. And at least one scientists attributes the so-called Bristol Hum to seismic waves caused by ocean waves. Other hums around the world are simply unexplained, causing ceaseless stress to the afflicted.
Real life, as is obvious, is full of unsettling scenarios. Sometimes it's the dread of an unexplained sound. In other cases, it's the outright bloody awfulness of an unfathomable murder scene. But whether it's mystery or gore, sometimes the truth of our world is scarier than any horror movie. Perhaps Mother Nature is the ultimate horror show screenwriter, composing scenes of chaos and strangeness that not even Hollywood can conjure.
Sociologist Arthur B. Shostak thinks stories of hope hold a critical place amid the teachings of the Holocaust. HowStuffWorks talked to Shostak to learn more.
Author's Note: 10 Real Events That Sound Just Like Horror Movies
I grew up watching movies like "The Exorcist" and "Poltergeist," the kind of psychologically warping films that make you question the nature of reality. Like all kids, once you start to grow up, you realize that movies have nothing on reality. There are all sorts of weird and scary things happening all around you, caused by bizarre human behavior or by the strangeness of our natural surroundings. You don't really need Hollywood in order to be terrified — all you have to do is set foot outside your front door.
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