Movie ghosts and masked-slashers can be scary. But if you want true horror, you need to see the source: Real life. Although these documentaries are scary enough to be fiction, the terrifying fact that they are real is frightening.
- Let the Fire Burn (2013)
This documentary archival footage plays like a horror thriller. The story is told slowly through news footage and deposition video as a radical political group stands against the Philadelphia police department. Tensions escalate to the point that they eventually lead to a conflagration which causes three blocks of destruction in Philadelphia and 11 deaths. Let the Fire Burn doesn’t offer easy answers. No one is innocent and no one is brave. Instead, it gives us a disturbing glimpse of the extent to which authorities will go if given enough pressure. It is the true-crime documentary.
Watch on: Prime Video
- Sons of Sam: A Descent Into Darkness (2021)
This is one of two horrifying tales. Maury Terry, the writer and researcher, is correct that the Son of Sam murders were not committed by a single postal worker in some bizarre personal psychodrama. Instead, they were committed by an organized group of devil worshippers who never faced justice. It is the story of a talented journalist who becomes so obsessed with a bizarre theory that he spends his whole life trying to prove it. It’s both fascinating and frightening, regardless of the outcome.
Watch on: Netflix
- The Nightmare (2015)
Rodney Ascher, 2015’s director of The Nightmare, investigates sleep paralysis and interviews people who have nightmares that are worse than their dreams. Ascher creates these terrifying nighttime episodes with horror movie techniques. This makes the horror more real and disturbing. Two particularly frightening details are from The Nightmare. People suffering from sleep paralysis often see similar visions of “shadow persons” to the ones seen in The Hat Man’s dreams. Some people experience sleep paralysis after hearing about it. This suggests that it may be contagious. “I don’t blame you if this happens and shadow people appear. I warned you.”
Watch on: Tubi
- Wild Wild Country (2018)
A religious group or cult moves onto a ranch near a small Oregon town. With suspicion and scorn, townies meet Bhagwan Shrie Rajneesh and the Orange People leader. The ranch transforms from a utopia of long-haired hippies to a camp with heavily armed zealots who go on a poisoning spree as well as plotting to murder. It builds up a sense of fear over six episodes. The interviews with current cult members are fascinating.
Watch on: Netflix’s
- The Act of Killing (2013)
Director Joshua Oppenheimer invites mass killers from Indonesia to filmtically recreate their crimes against humanity. The Act of Killing’s killers and thugs have been alive for more than 40 years. They are not afraid of reprisals and are very open about their crimes. They seem to enjoy filming their true murders as if they were an action movie. It’s clear, even after all these years, that their innocent countrymen are still capable of doing the same.
Watch on: Hulu
- Tickled (2016)
Tickled begins as a documentary on Competitive Endurance Tickling. But it quickly descends into the darker corners of the internet, and the human psyche. The filmmakers are then targeted by a dark, vindictive tickling kingpin. The tickling iceberg is enormous, and the under-the-surface aspects are disturbing chronicles of sexual exploitation.
Watch on: Prime Video
- Cropsey (2009)
Cropsey recounts the true story about a series child disappearances that took place on Staten Island in the 1980s. This led to many suburban legends. These crimes were made to be shared around the campfire: They were pinched on Andre Rand who was allegedly found living in the tunnels beneath the Willowbrook State School’s ruins on Staten Island. It’s an already frightening story. But Rand (who is still alive but imprisoned) adds an extra layer of terror.
Watch on: Prime Video
- Gimme shelter (1969)
This horror-movie-style chronicle of the tragic Altamont Free Concert by the Rolling Stones is a classic. We know the end will be drug-fueled violence, murder and the death for hippie idealism. But, watching every mistake that led to the near-riot only increases the terror and foreboding to horror movie levels. You’ll feel like a horror movie star screaming at the screen, as musicians and concert organizers make mistakes after another. “How about you not pay the Hells Angels beer for security!”
Watch on: HBO Max
- A Certain Kind Of Death (2003)
Death is the root cause of cinematic horror. This documentary, which is quiet and easy to watch, shows people who have no one to claim their bodies. The cultural rituals of headstones and funerals are gone, so the brutal reality of death and its inevitable consequences is pushed into your brain. The state decides what happens to these remains. It first attempts to identify them and then finds someone to claim them. If that fails, it buries their bodies in an unmarked grave. Their memories are not honored and they go to sleep.
Watch on: YouTube
- Dr. Death:The Undoctored Stories (2021)
This documentary asks the question, “What if this surgeon does not know what to do?” Dr. Death’s subject was Dr. Christopher Duntsch, which had no idea what wash he doing. His arrogance were only matched by his incompetence as he failed procedure after procedure, leaving behind a trail of paralyzed patients and their loved ones.
Watch on: Peacock