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No matter how much blood and gore splatters the screen when you're watching a horror movie, you can always comfort yourself by repeating the ancient, childhood mantra of, “It's only a movie. It isn't real.”
However, life and art have a strange relationship where each is constantly trying to one-up the other. So if you were feeling safe and comfortable in the knowledge that your favorite slashers, psychos, and serial killers were confined to celluloid, you might want to stop reading now before your illusions are forever shattered. If you're wondering which is stranger, truth or fiction, then by all means keep reading!
#1: The Slasher, Jason Voorhees
The hockey-masked King of Killers needs no introduction. Responsible for hundreds of deaths, even though he didn't even appear in the first movie of his own series, Jason Voorhees is an unstoppable engine of destruction. A human chipper shredder with mommy issues, college kids go in one end, and come out the other as gristle and bones. The head counselor of Camp Blood is not someone to be trifled with, even by other slashers who fancy themselves tough enough to step the juggernaut.
While his body count is one reason he consistently comes out on top, as mentioned in "5 Reasons Jason Voorhees is One of The Greatest Slashers," there's more to it than that. A victim of abuse, and a constant outsider, part of us can see why he became what he is, even if we're still afraid of it.
Real-Life, Edmund Kemper
Scary as Jason might be, he's nowhere near as horrifying as Edmund Kemper.
At six foot nine inches, and weighing over 300 pounds, Edmund claimed the lives of at least 10 people before he was finally locked away. He killed his grandparents when he was just a teenager, his mother and a friend of hers when he was an adult, as well as six young women. That last one is what earned him the handle the Co-Ed Killer.
Kemper had a tense relationship with a mom who wasn't right in the head. An abusive alcoholic, she blamed Edmund for her troubles. He killed the family pets as a young teenager, and after he was shuffled about from one family member to another, he finally went to live on his grandparents' farm. Edmund hated it there, and killed his grandparents with a rifle when he was only 15. He turned himself in, but managed to get out of the facility he was being kept in once he became an adult. He tried to get a job as a state trooper, but was rejected due to his huge size. He was injured in a car accident, and with the settlement he found he had plenty of time on his hands to pursue his interests... which started out with hunting women, and grew into murder. Kemper's adult murders were marked by savagery, dismemberment, and more than a touch of necrophilia. Even though Kemper appeared to be getting away with his crimes, after he killed his mother and a friend of hers, he drove to a pay phone and confessed to what he'd done.
Brutal and inhumanly strong, he and Jason would have a lot to talk about in the commissary.
#2: Slasher, Jigsaw
We're all familiar with the sordid tale of John Kramer: a successful family man so embittered by the loss of his unborn child, his divorce, and his cancer diagnosis that he was eventually driven into a kind of serene madness. An insane guru out to teach people not to take their lives for granted by forcing them to make a series of harrowing choices if they wanted to survive to the end of his game. With bizarre death traps, and strange morality lessons, Jigsaw's modus operandi is fascinating in its twisted logic.
When it comes to serial killers who have built entire castles to the glory of murder and madness, though, there was someone out there who did it better. Better, and far, far more often.
Real Life, H. H. Holmes
While Herman Webster Mudgett (alias Dr. H.H. Holmes) might not have intended to teach the value of life to anyone, he is responsible for creating one of the most stunning contributions to one-man-murder that the world has ever seen.
A child of privilege, Holmes was born in New Hampshire in 1861. With an unusual intelligence, and a startling lack of empathy, Herman was drawn to medicine... and he began early by performing surgery on animals. He did attend medical school in Michigan, and he ran several scams during that time, including stealing bodies and selling them to medical colleges. His other favorite crime was insurance fraud, which he used sparingly in order to amass money for future schemes.
It was in 1885 through lying, cheating, theft, threats, cajoling, bribery, and other breaches of the law that Holmes eventually came into possession of an entire block of property in Chicago. He constructed a hotel on the property, full of secret passages, bizarre angles, soundproofing, and even a body disposal facility in the basement. While he built some of it with his own hands (and made blueprints for a great deal of the rest), Holmes was constantly hiring and firing workers so that no one knew what they were truly building. And what they built was a Murder Castle, which was the engine responsible for ending hundreds of lives in such a variety of ways that Mr. Kramer would have been left speechless.
#3: Slasher, The Pack
Whether it was Wes Craven's original film in the late 70s, or the remake that came decades later, horror fans the world over know the inbred clan-fam of mutant cannibals from The Hills Have Eyes. And whether the savage maneaters you saw got that way through hard work and determination, or they were helped along by exposure to radiation produced by government testing, they have long stood as one of the most terrifying gangs of freaks ever to grace horror films.
However, the most comforting thing about the Pack is that we know there's no one like that out there now. Outcasts who have turned their backs on society, preying on the empty roads where there's no one to hear the screams of their victims, or to see the vile, vicious acts they commit.
Now is the key word in that sentence... because there was something even worse lurking in the Scottish hills, once upon a time.
Real Life, The Sawney Bean Clan
The son of a ditch-digger and hedge-trimmer back in the 15th century (or thereabouts), Alexander “Sawney” Bean decided early on that working for a living was for suckers. He found a woman named Black Agnes Douglas who shared his views on life, as well as a sense of entitlement to anything they could take. The cantankerous couple settled into a cave on the coast of Scotland, staying far away from anything remotely resembling neighbors, and kept quite exclusively to themselves.
If they'd never bothered anyone else, that would be the end of the story. Rather than living a simple, peaceful life of hunting and gathering, though, the couple made their living by ambushing travelers on the road, stealing everything they had on them, and then just to be sure there was no evidence of the crime, eating the bodies. In time they had children, and those children had children, until 25 years had passed and the brood numbered around 45 members or so.
All of them fathered by Sawney, according to the general consensus.
Of course, feeding that many mouths isn't easy work, and people began to notice how many travelers were going missing. When the family was found, along with the grisly evidence of their crimes, justice was both harsh and swift. Sawney himself took a long drop off a short gallows, unrepentant to the end.
Eating human flesh isn't good for you (more on that in "What Does Cannibalism Do To Your Body?"), and it's unbelievable that so many went undiscovered for so long. Even if we reduce the numbers to account for time and exaggeration, though, it's clear that the Scottish do not mess about when it comes to living, breathing monsters.
#4: Slasher, Freddy Krueger
Fred Krueger, the Bastard Son of a Hundred Maniacs, has haunted all of our dreams at one time or another. A monster to the core, it isn't his bladed glove or awful one-liners that makes Freddy so scary... it's the knowledge that he's a child killer with superpowers. Even from beyond the grave he can get into your mind, and make you do things. Before he died, though, Freddy was a sadomasochist, a child molester, and an all-around example of the worst humanity has to offer.
Because deep down, it's not the dream walking that makes him frightening. It's the knowledge that the power to reach into your head, or stop your heart, is in the hands of an absolute maniac who likes to play with his prey before he delivers that killing stroke.
Real Life, Albert Fish
The Gray Man. The Werewolf of Wysteria. The Brooklyn Vampire. These were just a few of the names the infamous Albert Fish was known by. Born in the 1870s, Fish survived a troubled childhood, and grew into a deeply depraved man. He first witnessed intense violence at the orphanage he was sent to, associating pain, humiliation, and violence with pleasure. Albert always looked forward to his punishments, which reinforced rather than corrected his burgeoning, deviant hungers.
Fish began molesting, torturing, and killing children in his 20s, and he managed to live a “normal” life as a family man on the side. For a time, at least. When he got his own kids involved in his sadomasochistic games, such as beating him with a nail-studded paddle until blood ran down his legs, his wife took the children and ran.
His crimes, which ranged from garden-variety rape and murder to torture, cannibalism, and other foul acts, were eventually discovered, partly because he'd sent a letter to the mother of one victim, describing in detail how her daughter had been killed, dismembered, and eaten, though he emphasized she had never been sexually assaulted. Rather than flee, though, Fish confessed not just to the murders the police knew about, but to more than a hundred others. Though he pleaded insanity, he was sentenced to die in the electric chair at Sing Sing Prison. According to legend, Fish couldn't stop fantasizing about one last act of vile pleasure as lightning coursed through his nerve endings before he shuffled off the mortal coil.
#5: Slasher, The Firefly Family
The infamous Firefly clan, with its bizarre and colorful members who may or may not actually be related, is like what you'd get if the Addams Family had babies with the Clampetts. Living in the middle of nowhere on a huge chunk of property, no one really noticed if a few people went missing here and there. Especially in the years before cell phone towers blanketed the landscape, and when little groups of friends would head out to see what excitement they could find on America's highways and byways. Of course, their luck couldn't last forever, and the law eventually came for them. When it did, though, most of them got away... for a time, at least.
What makes real-life worse is that, when something similar happened, all of them got away. And, as far as we know, settled down in another remote corner of the country to pick up their grisly past-times once again.
Real Life, The Bloody Benders
The Bender family, made up of Ma, Pa, Johnathan (who was sometimes called Thomas), and Kate (filling the role of Baby as the vivacious young woman who drew in victims), claimed a huge amount of land near the Great Osage Trail in Kansas around the year 1870. Pa was foreign, and barely spoke two words of English. Ma was retiring, but also quiet. Johnathan was young and handsome, and his “sister” (who was more than likely his wife) advertised herself as a spiritualist and a medium. A strange bunch, they were accepted into the community without too much fuss, or too many questions. It was just nice to have new folks around, even if they were fairly colorful.
Of course with so much land between them and their neighbors, it was years before anyone really noticed that people heading down the Osage Trail near the Bender property were just vanishing into thin air.
When travelers came down the trail, heading for the wide-open possibilities of the West, the Benders would offer them food and shelter for a reasonable price. A nice, neighborly thing for enterprising folks to do. When their guests were invited inside, though, the Benders would have them sit at the head of the table. That seat had its back to the curtain that divided the living quarters from the store they ran, so the guest wouldn't be able to see when Pa or Johnathan would approach from behind, and slam a mallet into the back of their head. Once their skull had been fractured (whether or not the blow had killed the victim), they were dropped through a trap door into the basement, Sweeney Todd style, to have their throats cut. After the travelers finished bleeding out, the Benders stole anything of value on them, and went back to minding the store.
When there was a town meeting about looking for a particular man who'd gone missing (a Mr. William York, whose brothers were a senator and an army colonel), the Benders were in attendance with their concerned faces on. There was a proposal that the community should conduct a house-to-house search, and the Benders agreed with their neighbors that it was a good idea. A storm prevented the search for several days, though, and when the party came to the family's estate, the Benders were gone. Their wagon, clothes, and food were all they took, leaving behind their small home/store, and a cellar filled with gore to attest to how they'd really earned what money they had.
No one ever discovered where they went, or what became of them.