Survival tales that put a very real face on horror stories

What's your definition of horror? Is it strictly slashers, supernatural tales and the like? Or do you consider thrillers, true crime and survival stories sub-genres of horror (as I do)?
Society of the Snow - Production Still Image - CR: Netflix
Society of the Snow - Production Still Image - CR: Netflix /

There are many people who have strict definitions of what constitutes “horror.” For example, some horror fans will maintain that The Silence of the Lambs and Se7en are not horror, that true crime and survival stories are not horror. I am not one of these people.

The killer in The Silence of the Lambs skins his victims in order to make himself a “girl suit”…that’s about as horrific a scenario as I can think of off the top of my head. As far as true crime goes, I don’t think there are a whole lot of things more horrible than the pain and suffering humans often inflict on other humans.

And survival stories? Don’t even get me started. If a person is kidnapped or seriously injured and alone in the wilderness (or a desolate farm, etc.), and still manages to keep their s**t together enough to make it out alive, they have been through hell and come out on the other side. That is TRUE horror.

If you subscribe to Netflix, you probably at least know about Society of the Snow, which is based on the real life story of a Uruguayan rugby team whose plane crashed in the frigid Andes mountains in October of 1972. The survivors remained at the crash site for a staggering 72 days, huddled in the broken fuselage of their plane. While there, they endured multiple blizzards, an avalanche that killed several of them, severe injuries and, of course, starvation.

If you still don’t consider that to be in the horror neighborhood, maybe the fact that they began eating their dead friends in order to survive will change your mind. The story of the Andes survivors is horrible and terrifying, but it is also uplifting and indicative of the triumph of the human spirit.

Society of the Snow 2
Society of the Snow - Courtesy Netflix /

I Survived… was a Lifetime series that ran from 2008 to 2015, and it can be streamed on Hulu. Each episode tells several different stories about survival, some of them related to robberies, kidnapping or other true crime scenarios, and others about acts of nature (stranded at sea or in a blizzard) or car crashes and the like.

The stories are told by the people who lived them, and it is riveting to observe them as they recount their personal stories. You can see on their faces that what happened to them, even if was ten or more years ago, still affects them.

Having watched the entire series, the episode that stuck with me the most was the story of Mary Vincent (Season three, episode one). As a 15-year-old runaway, she was hitchhiking when she had the misfortune to be picked up by Lawrence Singleton (later christened “The Mad Chopper”).

Singleton hit her in the head with a hammer, sexually assaulted her, chopped both of her forearms off with an axe and threw her down a cliff. He assumed she was dead and left, but the girl managed to climb up the cliff, even thinking clearly enough to coat the stumps of her arms in mud to slow the bleeding. She finally reached the interstate, and walked for three miles before a couple stopped and put her in their vehicle, delivering her to safety.

Mary said that what kept her going during the long trek back up the cliff was the knowledge that she had to stop Singleton from doing this to anyone else. She testified against him in court, where he quietly promised to “finish her off” when he was released.

That release happened after only eight years, and Singleton ended up behind bars again after he murdered Roxanne Hayes, stabbing her to death.

Taking a page from the I Survived… playbook is I Survived a Serial Killer, an A&E series also available to stream on Hulu.

Each episode is dedicated to a single story, and at least some of the real life stories were also told on episodes of I Survived…

Again, it is awe-inspiring and harrowing to hear these stories as told by the women and men who survived their ordeals; take for example, Holly Dunn. As a college student in the 1990s, she and her boyfriend Chris were abducted by Angel Resendiz, known as The Railroad Killer. Both of them were bound, and Holly was laying next to Chris when Resendiz lifted a large rock and dropped it on his head, killing him.

Resendiz proceeded to hold Holly captive, sexually assaulting her, stabbing her in the neck, then beating her repeatedly in the head with a board. Thinking she was dead, he left, and Holly managed to get up and make her way to a house.

Despite the trauma of witnessing her boyfriend’s death, Holly still managed to escape Resendiz; quite a feat when you realize that Resendiz killed at least nine people (possibly as many as 30), and Holly was the only one to survive.

These stories of survival under the most brutal circumstances show true horror, up close and personal. Give them a shot if you haven’t already.