It’s that time of year again. The month of screams and scares is upon us, and we’re all looking to get our horror fix. Now you could be getting your fix of movies and TV shows. It’s understandable. Who doesn’t love a good slasher or a suspenseful tale of the supernatural? However, fictional horror can only get you so far. After a while, he begins to lose his edge; there’s no serial killer in a hockey mask coming for you, there’s no ghosts hiding in the corners of your house, there’s no boogeyman under your bed. Once you turn off the TV, those movie monsters disappear.
But what about real monsters?
After all, nothing is scarier than things that happen in real life. Many beloved horror media are even based on real events or people. So this year, add some of these documentaries to your Halloween watch list and remember that real life will always be scarier than the movies.
killer legends (2014)
We’re going to start with a documentary that tries to find facts out of fiction. killer legends is a documentary written and directed by Joshua Zeman (Cropsey, murder season). He and the researcher Rachel Mills investigate a series of urban legends, including killer clowns and Candyman. Their research takes them all over the United States to find the origin of legends and their historical basis. Zeman and Mills do a great job of connecting true crime and myth in a fascinating and more than a little chilling way. It’s a great documentary for anyone who enjoys urban legends, or anyone who is perhaps looking to learn something without straying too far from the fiction of a good horror movie.
black fish (2013)
Certainly, black fish is a bit of a controversial documentary. It centers on Tilikum, an orca from SeaWorld San Diego who has been involved in numerous injuries and deaths, and takes a very strong stance against orca captivity. The film deals with the mistreatment of marine mammals, particularly killer whales in SeaWorld parks, and how they contribute to aggressive behavior towards humans and other animals. Based on comparisons of wild and captive orcas, testimonials from former trainers (including John Hargroveauthor of Beneath the Surface: Killer Whales, SeaWorld, and the Truth Beyond the Black Fish), and interviews with professionals such as Nonhuman Rights Project Director of Science Lori Marin, black fish tells a story of abuse of socially and emotionally intelligent animals. Of course, SeaWorld refuted many of the film’s claims and insisted that their practices have since changed, but it’s worth checking out the documentary and judging for yourself.
Joshua Zeman returns to this list as the writer and director of Cropsey, a documentary centered on a New York legend of the same name. In the same way Barbara BrancacioZeman proposes to discover the roots of the legend and to take stock of the oral traditions that keep these legends alive, while linking the legend to the history of Andrew Rand, a convicted kidnapper. The film makes many interesting connections between legend and reality and how we create and use legends as tools, and the cinematography and narration keep the tone of the perfectly chilling documentary throughout. It’s another great choice for a viewer who might want a bit of fiction mixed in with their facts.
A Serial Killer’s Method (2018)
True crime fans will find method of a serial killer particularly convincing. The documentary traces the life and crimes of Israel Keyes, a serial killer known for at least three murders in 2011 and 2012, as well as numerous other crimes from 1996. Through a number of interviews with police and professionals and recreations of interrogations and other scenes, the film explains how Keyes went so long without getting caught and how he was eventually arrested. Full of facts and details about the grisly murders and the gruesome man who committed them, method of a serial killer will make you think about the danger that is often right in front of us and to which we are blind.
Dr Death: The Untampered History (2021)
Going under the knife for an operation is always a bit scary, but Dr Death: The Untampered History shows you how scary it can be when a surgeon isn’t bound by the Hippocratic Oath. The four-episode series chronicles the horrific malpractice of Christopher Duntsch, a former neurosurgeon who killed two patients and maimed many others. The series uses interviews with staff, patients and family to walk through Duntsch’s time as a surgeon and the negative impact he had on the lives of people around him. If the documentary isn’t enough for you, there’s also a miniseries simply titled Dr. Death which tells the story (although in a less informative and more dramatic way.)
Fusion: Three Mile Island (2022)
Fusion: Three Mile Island is a four-part miniseries that chronicles the partial meltdown of the Three Mile Island nuclear reactor in Pennsylvania on March 28, 1979. Nuclear power professionals, plant employees, and locals narrate and explain the event and the impact it has had – and continues to have – on the region, from environment to epidemiology. The Three Miles Island incident is the worst nuclear incident in US history, and this documentary pretty much explains the devastation caused by the event. It aims to make you think about the price of progress and how corners can be cut to save time and money, even at the cost of lives.
The nightmare (2015)
A documentary with all the sensations of a horror film, The nightmare take a look at the
sleep paralysis phenomenon. He interviews people with sleep paralysis and recreates their experiences with actors, focusing particularly on visions of shadow men and other hallucinations common in sleep paralysis. While the documentary can get a bit repetitive at times, it doesn’t take away from the unease it leaves you with when you imagine what it would be like not being able to move or speak when you see a dark figure above you.
The act of killing (2012)
The act of killing delves into the minds of the perpetrators of the Indonesian communist purge of 1965 and 1966, in particular Anouar Congo, a death squad leader. Director Joshua Oppenheimer asks Anwar to tell him about experiences from the time, and Anwar and his friends recreate their memories through movie scenes. As the film progresses, Anwar eventually has to play a victim in a recreation and can’t take his actions any longer, and Oppenheimer takes the opportunity to remind him that this is how his victims felt. the only difference is that Anwar could stop the production, but not his victims. The documentary is incredible in every sense of the word and provides insight into the motivations of mass murderers. It will not only leave you in the horror of the past, but also the present and the future as you consider the repercussions of the massacre and all the others that happened and continue to happen.