Strange Real-Life Stories Behind Cinema's Scariest Movies

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The chilling true events that inspired The Shining, Dead Ringers, Jaws, and more

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Most fans of Hitchcock's 1963 avian frightfest The Birds are familiar with the filmmaker's nod to a 1952 short story of the same name, written by British author Daphne du Maurier. The director modeled his aerial terror after du Maurier's tale about a community in England that find themselves under attack by massive flocks of seabirds. Hitchcock's story takes place in California, which happens to be the site of a similar real-life event that also inspired the auteur's famous film.

A group of scientists recently solved the unusual mystery behind a 1961 incident, in which disoriented seabirds crashed into houses—suicide-style—across California's Monterey Bay. It appears that the birds ingested toxic algae (thanks to the area's leaky septic tanks), which caused confusion, seizures, and death. Hitch studied the poisonous headlines for his thriller, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Since life is usually far more frightening than fiction, we decided to dig into several other real-life stories behind scary movies.

This post also appears on Flavorpill, an Atlantic partner site.

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