We all know a horror movie or two that were so scary, they haunted us long after we watched them. As a kid, I’d have nightmares about The Ring; even now, decades after I saw it, I still think about how I felt when I watched Poltergeist. At night, when I hear a strange noise in my house, I immediately think of Paranormal Activity. It’s clear scary movies have a way of messing with our heads, especially if we aren’t in the best frame of mind. But no one expects to watch one and have their life completely changed.
Believe it or not, some horror movies actually have been accused of pushing people to do things they might never have otherwise—like the two middle school girls who plotted to kill their classmates in a cannibalistic ritual after spending the weekend binging scary movies. And in some very rare cases, these movies have even traumatized some viewers so much that they suffered from fatal disorders and developed psychoses.
These seven horror movies were so disturbing that they led to some disastrous real-life consequences.
Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1956)
On the night after his brother’s wedding, a 12-year-old boy watched Invasion of the Body Snatchers and soon began exhibiting symptoms related to restlessness and anxiety; it soon became so bad he had to rely on medication to fall asleep. He reported that he felt as if he had been “entered,” and when it became clear he needed psychiatric help, he claimed to hear disembodied voices on the bus ride to the hospital.
The Exorcist (1973)
When The Exorcist was released in theaters in 1973, it was followed by a bizarre number of reports from viewers who claimed that watching the film had affected them both physically and psychologically. Some reported sudden heart attacks and miscarriages; several people began experiencing insomnia, irritability, hyperactivity, and a decreased appetite. One young woman, who had previously had no documented mental health issues, suddenly developed severe anxiety and the fear of being alone and began having dreams about the devil with a penis in his mouth. The reaction from its audience was so notorious that psychologists had to coin a new term for it: cinematic neurosis.
In one study on horror movies by psychologist Brian Johnson, he found that the movie Jaws seemed to cause a heightened stress response in viewers compared to the other horror movies he studied, though Johnson couldn’t figure out why viewers were so uniquely distressed by the film. However, Jaws did lead to at least one well-documented case of cinematic neurosis. After viewing the movie, a previously healthy 17-year-old girl developed sleep disturbances and severe anxiety; by the next day, she began convulsing and screaming, “Sharks, sharks!” She also experienced a partial loss of awareness and had to seek psychological treatment for the episode.
A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984)
A Nightmare On Elm Street may not have led to cinematic neurosis in its viewers, but it did lead to something much more sinister: a copycat killer. Daniel Gonzales, also known as the Freddie Krueger Killer, went on a drug-fueled killing spree across London, murdering four people and injuring two others. He claimed he saw himself in Freddie Krueger and famously told prosecutors that his actions were director Wes Craven’s fault.
After watching the film Warlock 10 times in a matter of days, one 14-year-old boy murdered an unsuspecting 8-year-old child to mimic a ritual from the movie. After stabbing and bludgeoning the child, he drained the child’s blood and then cut strips from their skin to boil down—all because the movie claimed that if you drank the liquid fat of a virgin, it would give you the power to fly. The 14-year-old supposedly believed that going through the ritual would also make him a son of the devil, much as it did in the movie.
Child’s Play 3 (1991)
The Child’s Play franchise has been thought to have led to a number of violent events, such as an Australian shooting spree and the gruesome torture and murder of a 16-year-old girl who was set on fire by a group of boys who allegedly quoted Child’s Play 2. However, it was the murder of 2-year-old James Bulger that is perhaps the most well known case. Bulger was lured away from a shopping mall by two 10-year-old boys and brutally tortured at a railroad track. Though police were skeptical about the claim that the boys were influenced by the movie, there were some striking similarities between the murder and the scene where Chucky tries to kill someone under the wheels of a ghost train, including the splash of blue paint the 10-year-olds had thrown over Bulger’s body, much like how one of Chucky’s victims had been splashed with blue paint.
Scream had been attributed to a slew of copycat murders, but one in particular stands out: a 17-year-old boy in France stabbed his 15-year-old neighbor 42 times in a gruesome reenactment of the movie, even going so far as to wear the iconic Ghostface mask. Before the murder, he had even called the 15-year-old girl on the phone in a series of calls that mimicked the film. The 17-year-old boy was supposedly obsessed with Scream and had watched it the night of the attack.