Contains discussion of graphic torture and abuse.

The Girl in the Basement is a true story, and it’s more horrifying than the movie itself. Girl in the Basement is part of Lifetime’s “Ripped From the Headlines” collection of feature films. While Girl in the Basement is not a true crime docuseries or documentary, it is based on real criminals and actual events. Girl in the Basement is about Sara, a teenager who gets imprisoned by her father, Don, in their home’s basement. In order to cover his tracks, Don concocts a story for his wife, Irene, about Sara running away. However, in reality, Don has been holding Sara captive, torturing and raping her, causing Sara to give birth to several children.


Like most movies or series adaptations of true crime stories, Girl in the Basement is a somewhat milder version of the real events on which it was based. In the movie, Don fools Irene into thinking that Sara, having ran away, sent her youngest son to Don and Irene, convincing Irene to take care of the boy with Don. Later, Sara escapes to tell her story to the world, and Don and Irene are confronted with the reality of Sara’s situation. Girl in the Basement is a loose adaptation of a true crime that happened in Austria. Here’s everything viewers need to know about the true story behind Lifetime’s Girl in the Basement.

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What Is Girl In The Basement Based On?

What is Girl in the Basement true story.

Girl in the Basement is a true story directed by Angel’s Elizabeth Rohm and based on the life of Elisabeth Fritzl, who was tortured and held captive by her father, Josef, in the basement of their home in Amstetten, Austria, from 1984 to 2008. Elisabeth’s ordeal began when Josef lured her into the basement, used an ether-soaked rag to knock her unconscious, and locked her up under their house. Josef forced Elisabeth to write a letter to her mother, Rosemarie, claiming she not only ran away but that she also didn’t want to be found. Beginning in 1984, Josef raped his daughter Elisabeth almost daily, and their first child was born in 1988.

The fictional basements in crime/horror stories are all loosely based on the actions of not just Josef but many other real-life criminals who successfully hid their crimes from the world using underground/soundproof spaces. In fact, a ground-floor tenant in the Fritzl home stayed there for 12 years without ever finding out that Elisabeth gave birth to a total of seven children. While three remained in captivity and were tortured by Josef alongside Elisabeth, one died shortly after being born. Josef disposed of the body using their incinerator.

Josef and Rosemarie cared for the three other kids as Josef fooled Rosemarie and the social workers into thinking Elisabeth abandoned their three grandchildren. In 1994, Josef forced Elisabeth and her three captive children to dig with their bare hands to expand their prison. Though the Girl in the Basement true story adaptation offers a slightly milder version, the movie avoids the common true crime story problem of being sympathetic to the perpetrator, as Don is a fairly accurate portrayal of the twisted and manipulative Josef. When Elisabeth’s first child got sick, he agreed to send her to the hospital, ultimately resulting in Josef Fritzl’s arrest on April 26, 2008.

Girl In The Basement Isn’t The Only Movie Based On Elisabeth Fritzl

Clara from The Chalk Line.

There have been several movies and documentaries based on the story of Elisabeth Fritzl. The most recent addition to the Elisabeth Fritzl came in 2022 with the Netflix series, The Chalk Line. The movie was not technically about Elisabeth Fritzl or her father, but it was influenced by the true story. While Girl in the Basement featured a lot about the dad (played by Judd Nelson), The Chalk Line was more about a girl who escaped a captive experience. The similarity is that the victim was found wandering the streets, fearing a monster. In the series, her only memories were being held captive, which she was since her birth.

There were also two significant documentaries about the case, with the first coming in 2008 with The Longest: Night: Secrets of the Austrian Cellar. This MSNBC documentary arrived just three months after Elisabeth was freed and saved from her captive life. The year after Josef Fritzl was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison, a docuseries titled Monster: The Josef Fritzl Story aired, consisting of interviews with family members, victims, and doctors. Room, an A24 movie that won Brie Larson an Oscar, was also based on the event, like The Chalk Line, with a fictionalized tale set in America.

Where Is Elisabeth Fritzl Now?

What happened to Elisabeth Fritzl Girl in the basement true story real crime.

Girl in the Basement is a true story and its inspiration has a bittersweet ending, as Elisabeth and her six children now safely live in an undisclosed location while being guarded by Austrian authorities. After the trial for the case was concluded, Elisabeth was given a new name for privacy. Her kids, who are now adults, not only sleep in rooms with doors that are permanently open but also undergo therapy sessions to help them process the trauma of Josef’s actions.

While the Girl in the Basement true story movie accurately depicts Elisabeth and her children’s harrowing ordeal, knowing the real story behind the movie helps in painting a full picture for audiences, which is why true crime viewers should watch documentaries and docuseries, as well. Though learning about these horrible real-life events may be disturbing for audience members, it can help in understanding how these crimes happen, how they can be prevented, and what can be done to help the victims of extreme trauma.

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