They say truth is stranger than fiction, which may be why so many of cinema's scariest movies were inspired by real-life horror stories. From the Ed Gein killings that inspired the Hitchcock classic Psycho, the events behind the cult classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, to the actual exorcism case which became the film The Exorcist, there's a seemingly never-ending supply of true tales of terror that continue to be adapted to the big screen.
Today we're going to talk about the movie Veronica from 2017 and the real-life scares that never made it onto the silver screen Guerin.
A Game of Ouija Board Goes Terribly Wrong
Veronica is a Spanish horror movie written and directed by Paco Plaza of the Rec found-footage franchise. It tells the tale of the titular teenage girl named Veronica, who performs a seance using an Ouija board with her friends and becomes possessed by an otherworldly evil.
But this story of supernatural menace is based on a real-life mystery, an actual case of paranormal activity that had terrifying, even deadly consequences. The inspiration for the character Veronica was a teenaged girl named Estefania Gutierrez Lazaro, who lived in the Southern suburbs of Vallecas, outside of Madrid, Spain.
In 1990, Estefania was 15 years old when she developed an interest in the occult. At the time, her parents weren't concerned about Stephanie his new hobby. They considered it simply a phase their daughter was going through, much like any other girl coming of age and finding ways to rebel. If they could have seen the events that followed, they surely would have tried to nip this new hobby in the bud.
Estefania bought an Ouija board in an attempt to communicate with spirits of the great beyond. She even brought the board with her to stoner to perform seances with her friends.
According to Estefania's parents, one of her friends had recently lost her ex-boyfriend in a tragic motorcycle accident. The friend wanted to try and talk with his ghost, so Estefania and a few classmates used the Ouija board to perform a seance. But almost before they could get started, one of the nuns at the school is said to have interrupted the ritual and to punished the girls for such blasphemy broke the Ouija board into pieces.
In retrospect, this act of punishment may have led to consequences far more profane and unholy than the girl's supposed blasphemy. According to witnesses, when the nun smashed the Ouija board, it began emitting a strange white fog, which Estefania appeared to Inhale. Paranormal experts have since theorized that the smoke was, in fact, an evil spirit and demon that then possessed the teenage girl, setting in motion a terrifying ordeal for Estefania as well as for her family and loved ones.
Darkness at Home
Not long after the Ouija board incident, Estefania fell gravely ill. She experienced extreme seizures during which she would bark and scream. The teenage girl also experienced incredibly vivid hallucinations, telling her parents that she saw shadowy figures lurking throughout their home.
She said they were evil beings that would torment her day in and day out but especially at night. Her family did the best they could, taking several psychologists and medical doctors. But despite numerous examinations and tests, the professionals couldn't find anything physically or mentally wrong with Estefania. They knew she was incredibly ill, but they couldn't figure out why.
About six months later, in August of 1991, Estefania Gutierrez Lazaro would be admitted to a hospital in Madrid, where she died under unclear circumstances, in fact, the autopsy report was unable to determine a clear cause of death.
Her parents didn't know what led to their teenage daughter's untimely death, but they felt certain some type of wicked supernatural force was the cause of it. But sadly, this was not the end of their horror. This is where the reality of the events involving Estefania and the movie Veronica start to diverge.
The Nightmare Continues
Even though Estefania was dead, the Gutierrez family was not yet free of the sinister presence that had possessed and haunted their daughter to her grave. At night, they heard what sounded like Estefania screaming in terror from her room. But when family members opened the door, they found nothing, and the shrieking would suddenly halt.
Most of these paranormal occurrences would happen in the dead of night. Estefania's sister's dolls would leap off their shelves by themselves, while doors and dresser drawers would open and shut on their own. Other family members began seeing shadowy figures stalking throughout the home, similar to what Estefania had described. These shadow people would whisper to the Gutierrez family members or yell at them.
One night, Mrs. Gutierrez was attacked by one of these shadow people, grabbing her in the middle of the night with invisible hands while her husband was unable to do anything to stop the assault. Mrs. Gutierrez was so terrified by the event she reported the attack to the police and was actually quoted in the police report of the incident. She said,
I felt pressure on top of me, but there was no one around. I said to Mr. Gutierrez, there's someone here. Then I felt a pair of hands grab my feet and then grab my hand, which was uncovered by the blanket.
Supernatural incidents such as these continued inside the Gutierrez family home for more than a year after Estefania's death. But perhaps the most disturbing incident the family experienced was when a photograph of Estefania was knocked off a shelf by itself. When family members attempted to put the picture back, the image somehow combusted inside the steel frame.
Eventually, it all became far too much for them to handle, and the family decided they needed help.
The Vallecas Case
It took about a year before the police became involved, unlike in the film where the authorities are called right after the first incident and were almost immediately on the case.
Good evening, police. Look, I am Maximo Gutierrez, and it's been a few hours in my house. We are experiencing paranormal events. A strange power is moving things and causing a great mess.
This is what would lead to what paranormal researchers would call "The Vallecas Case." The chief inspector of the Spanish national police, Jose Pedro Negre, along with three officers witnessed and reported on the case, adding to the validity of the terrifying events. At the Gutierrez family apartment, the police investigated and reported on several strange and bizarre incidents.
The police found the home in shambles as though vandals had been running amok inside. The majority of the destruction was in Estefania's old bedroom. Her parents had kept it intact after her passing, leaving up to her decorations and furniture only to have the supernatural force that was haunting them destroy their lost child's belongings.
They also found that Estefania's was the most haunted room in the house, that an invisible force would roughly shove anyone who entered their late daughter's room. Posters and wallpaper were clawed up as though by an animal or monster. The officers also claimed that they witnessed a cross hanging in the room move on its own. They watched in horror as the crucifix was bent and broken before their very eyes by some unseen force, much like a scene from the movie The Exorcist. Left behind on the wall where the cross was hung was a large, red-brown stain that had the color and viscosity of blood.
Then the officers reported the stain seemed to follow them throughout the apartment, noting that the uncanny mess seemed to move on its own, spreading itself on furniture and on the floor. Doors to an armoire that had been closed had suddenly burst open on their own right in front of the startled policeman.
At another point, they heard a loud banging noise come from a porch that they discovered was completely empty. Some paranormal experts believe these incidents are telltale signs of a poltergeist. All of these bizarre occurrences were dutifully recorded by these officers and faithfully put into their reports, making this haunting as officially verified as could be.
When the media got a hold of the story, it became an instant and infamous news sensation and one of the most well-known and well-documented hauntings ever to occur in Spain. In their reports, the police described what was going on in Gutierrez's home as a situation of mystery and rarity.
A Ghost Story to Remember
Not long after the police investigation and the subsequent news sensation, the Gutierrez family moved out of their home in Valtoort to escape the haunting the tormented them. And despite what you might expect from horror movie tropes, this actually worked. The Gutierrez family experienced no further supernatural incidents at their new home, and there were no reports of any continued haunting at their former home. Whatever had been terrorizing them from beyond had ceased its torment.
But while the actual spirits seem to have been laid to rest, the ghost story surrounding Estefania Gutierrez Lazaro and the Vallecas case would live on. Due to the nature of the case and the coverage it received, it eventually became one of the most well-known urban legends in Madrid, if not in the entire country of Spain.
Eventually, it became the basis of Paco Plaza's Veronica. Released in 2017, the Spanish horror movie was an international success with a 90% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It grossed more than $6 million at the box office and eventually found an even larger audience digitally through streaming platforms.
During an appearance at the Toronto International Film festival, Plaza admitted that he took some creative license with the tail and made his own embellishments to adapt it to the big screen. He said,
In Spain, it's very popular this story because it is, as we say in the film, the only time a police officer has said he has witnessed something paranormal. and it's written in a report with an official police stamp, and it's really impressive when you look at it. But I think when we tell something, it becomes a story, even if it's in the news. You only have to read the different newspapers to know how different reality is depending on who's telling it. So I knew we were going to betray the real events. I just wanted to make a whole vision. But the whole story of Veronica, and the sisters, and Antonito, this little Marlon Brando with glasses-- it's all a vision.
While the movie Veronica was a hit, the question remains, just how much of the movie is based on fact, and how much of it is the storytelling of a talented director?
The mysterious death of Estefania Gutierrez Lazaro was a tragic loss for a family that led to a media sensation, inspired a gripping horror film, and eventually became the stuff of urban legend. It's yet another example of a true story of terror that captured the public's imagination in the news media and morphed into a horror movie that audiences across the globe can't seem to get enough of.
And though there's a divergence between fact and fiction between the movie and the story that inspired it, you have to wonder was what happened to Estefania and her family of truly supernatural origin? Or is it a simple case of tragedy turned hysteria? We may never know for sure, but it may make people think twice about messing around with Ouija boards and dabbling in the occult.
So what do you think? Is Veronica based on an actual paranormal incident of demonic possession and haunting, or is it just a horror movie inspired by a famous, convincing, and well-documented ghost story?