From serial killers and cannibals to disturbing cases of demonic possession, Wisconsin has no shortage of monsters, ghosts, and real life boogeymen. It’s no surprise authors and filmmakers find inspiration is the deranged stories that arise from the backwoods of our great weird state.
These three horror movies were based on real chilling events that actually took place right here in Wisconsin.
1. The Bye Bye Man
The true story of the Bye Bye Man, as recounted by author and “historian of the strange” Robert Damon Schneck, took place in Sun Prairie in the fall of 1990. While conducting experiments with a Ouija board, three college students inadvertently made contact with an entity calling itself the “Spirit of the Board.” During these sessions, the spirit told them of an albino orphan who hops trains to get around the country, murdering those who think or speak of him to add their organs to his bag of guts.
The chilling events that happened next can be found in the story The Bridge to Body Island, part of The Bye Bye Man and Other Strange-But-True Tales.
2. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
The chainsaw-wielding madman Leatherface, who wears the faces of his victims, was inspired by none other than Plainfield, Wisconsin’s notorious Ed Gein. After his mother died, Gein began digging up the bodies of freshly buried women from local cemeteries, using their skin to fashion a female suit and transform himself into a woman. The so-called Mad Butcher of Plainfield was arrest on November 16, 1957 after the gutted body of a missing hardware store owner was found hanging in his shed.
Tobe Hooper (RIP), director of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, was 14 when he got a call from his aunt in Wisconsin telling him all about the grotesque discoveries investigators found inside Gein’s house.
Of course, Gein’s story has inspired many other movies as well, most notably Silence of the Lambs and Psycho. Author Robert Bloch, who was living in Wisconsin at the time, published the story of Norman Bates and his obsession with his dead mother in 1959. The Hitchcock film adaptation followed in 1960.
American Horror Story: Asylum also borrowed heavily from the Gein story as the inspiration for the Bloody Face character, who wore the faces of his victims, made furniture from human remains, and had some serious mommy issues.
3. The Exorcist
Wisconsin is the final resting place of two famous exorcists who were involved in disturbing cases of demonic possession that inspired William Peter Blatty’s novel (and subsequent film) The Exorcist. Blatty was inspired by the story of Roland Doe, who underwent an exorcism in St. Louis in 1949. The rite was performed by Father William Bowdern, who was assisted by Father Walter Halloran. After witnessing horrific events he was never able to explain, Halloran lived out the rest of his days in Milwaukee. He died in 2005, and was interred in Calvary Cemetery, the oldest Roman Catholic burial ground in Milwaukee.
For the actual ritual of exorcism, Blatty practically lifted the scenes straight from the pages of a pamphlet published by the Catholic church called Begone Satan! Within it’s pages, the pamphlet reveals all the brutal details of a 1928 case in which Father Theophilus Riesinger from Appleton, known then as America’s foremost exorcist, faced off against Lucifer himself in the body of a troubled woman from Marathon.
Are there any other movies that should be included here? Let me know in the comments below!