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 Now truth, as I've explained before, is what's real. If it isn't real, it isn't true, which is why a stone is better than a dream. If it isn't reality, who needs it? Or could lay hands on it, anyway? And everything on the list above really happened — oh, yes it did. All the events and persons depicted in "The Devils" are based on actual events and real persons. How do I know? Ken Russell tells me so!

And so I went to see the movie so that I, too, could ascertain that unspeakable atrocities had occurred in the 17th Century. I didn't want to be the only member of my generation unaware of the terrible events of 1634, a year that will live in infamy. Like everyone who's committed, I found it my duty to bear witness against the moral outrages of, if not my time, then at least somebody's time. You can't just sit around.

Originally Dramatization of a story Ripped from the Headlines was a simple device to add interest to a Cop Show or Police Procedural (with names changed to protect the innocent) and to provide a bit of Truth in Television.

But then there are the morbid, violent, and generally horrible stories that are put out into the world to titillate with little or no justification beyond "But it really happened."

This really is a nasty trope. Writers claiming But It Really Happened! put out anything they like, and anyone who criticizes is accused of being naive and wanting to nanny the public, shielding them from the truth. However, telling the truth is not synonymous with dwelling on the graphic details. To paraphrase a reporter at the time of the "House of Horror" case (a revolting serial-killing in England), we don't need to know exactly what was done to whom with which dildo. They could tell us the facts but spare us the gory details, but that wouldn't sell as many books or papers, would it?

Note that this trope is used for when the horror and nastiness in real life stories is portrayed as it is in order to titillate, not when it is used to serve as a warning so that this doesn't happen again, or when victims tell their stories of how they have suffered when they are asking for help.

See also Roman à Clef, for cases where "it really happened" is a fact rather than an excuse, Mondo for the related form of Exploitation Film, and Very Loosely Based on a True Story, for cases where it could be mistaken for something which happened in the dusk, with the light behind it.

If a work of fiction claims to be something that really happened, this is the Literary Agent Hypothesis or Based on a Great Big Lie. If the work is toned down, see Freakier Than Fiction. If this is invoked accidentally, it becomes Do Not Do This Cool Thing.

Examples of But It Really Happened! include:


  • Stories about concentration camps where the torture and degradation are presented to titillate. Prime example: Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS, which is Very Loosely Based on a True Story
  • This happens pretty much any time the Lifetime Movie of the Week is Based on a True Story. While it's generally considered in bad taste to insult something you didn't watch, somehow one doubts there was any redeeming value in "The Lorena Bobbit story."
  • Averted by the film In the Light of the Moon. Despite telling the story of one of the most widely referenced murderers in recent history, the movie doesn't spend much time wallowing in the disturbing details of Ed Gein's crimes, instead focusing on the utterly deranged mind that perpetrated them. Yes, you see some of what he did, but not much, and certainly not enough to titillate, as it were.
    • Ed Gein: The Butcher of Plainfield is the exact opposite.
  • Men Behind the Sun is based on the real atrocities of Japan's Unit 731 during World War II. The experiments depicted may seem over-the-top, but most of them were fairly typical of what the Unit did.
  • Even The Rain has a film-within-a-film fictional example, where the main characters are making a movie detailing Columbus' brutalities. At one point the director even says this to the local Native American women who refuse to film a scene involving them drowning their babies to keep them from a worse fate. The scene ends with the interpreter angrily telling the director "There are things more important than your movie."


  • Back in the days of whipping up anti-Catholic hysteria, confessions of cloistered nuns, both as pamphlets and public lectures were common. Actually they tended to be Very Loosely Based on a True Story "And here we see one of the very bags in which the poor, unbaptised infants, fathered on nuns by priests are carried away for incineration..." The claim was that priests were raping nuns, then killing the babies and burning the bodies to destroy the evidence. The man who created the belief brainwashed a seriously mentally ill woman into believing she had been one of the nuns. Of course, when her story was proven to be a lie, she was the one blamed, not him.
  • True crime magazines, dating back to the Newgate Calendar.

Live-Action TV

Tabletop Games

  • Repeatedly used as justification for heinous acts of sexual violation in the FATAL roleplaying game. Many of these, if given the slightest critical thought, are Blatant Lies.

Web Original

  • The notorious website had the slogan 'Can You Handle Life?' implying that if you don't want to watch public beheading or look at autopsy photos then you must be a total wimp. Now the site redirects to LiveLeak.
    • Pretty ironic, given that they were far more preoccupied with death than those repulsed by their website.


  • All those walking tours of White-Chapel that stop at the scene of every single Jack the Ripper murder so the guide can describe the state of the body in detail to the paying customers (yes, supply and demand, but still...)
    • The Ghost Walks in York do the same trick. At least, all the ghost stories are claimed to be true (supposedly there really was a little child who was bricked up and left to die in this house because of the Plague, etc). In this case, it's anyone's guess how much of it actually happened.
      • Many very famous haunted places have backstories that range from slight perversions of the truth to outright lies. Example: the Myrtles Plantation in Louisiana is famous for being haunted by the ghost of Chloe, a slave who accidentally poisoned the master's two daughters and was hanged by the other slaves. There is no record of such a person even existing. But hey, what can we say? Reality does not good publicity make.
    • Go and visit a medieval European castle, any medieval castle. If the tour guide doesn't describe at least one room down in the cellars as an oubliette or torture chamber, in grisly details, then you've been taken into a dungeon by a deranged madman posing as a tour guide. Of course, in Real Life those iron rings in the walls were most probably used to tether horses or hold torches ; that rusty brazier was most likely used for heating and lighting, not to prepare white-hot branding irons ; and those brown stains are most likely rust rather than old blood. But hey, it's dank, it's dark, it could totally have been a torture room !
      • Averted by the Tower of London. The guides mention that many of the legends of torture and beheadings are exaggerated far beyond actual history, even though both did occasionally take place there.
      • Real oubliettes incidentally don't usually have a door, or have one built later when the room's purpose was changed for something less sinister (many ex-oubliettes were converted into gunpowder storages). People were lowered down to them through a trapdoor.
    • Two words: Torture Museums.
      • A good example, as the claims of real life use of some of the worst ones are shaky at best.
  • Most news stories about murders or suspected murders, and not just in the tabloids (meaning "trashy news sources" in this case). However, these days telling tabloids from "mainstream" news organizations takes a microscope and several days' research.