It’s coming up to Halloween, so that means it’s time to break out the horror movies. I always watch a horror movie a day in the run up to Halloween but as I have discovered through my love of documentaries, sometimes the scariest stories are very real. I’ve found a bunch of documentaries that also fall into the category of horror, whether because of the way they’ve been edited or because of the stories they have to tell. I have watched every single one of these horror documentaries on this list and reviewed them here for you, so all you have to do now is enjoy.
1. Beware the Slenderman (2016)
Back in 2014, two 12 year old girls, Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier, attempted to murder their friend Bella in order to appease Slenderman. For those of you who don’t know, Slenderman is a fictional character that appears in scary stories and urban legends online known as Creepypastas, and he looks like a cross between that faceless guy from Sapphire and Steel, the Oods from Doctor Who and a Lovecraft Monster.
This HBO documentary follows the court case surrounding the attempted murder. We see interrogation footage of the girls whose stories seem to contradict each other at times, e.g. Morgan claims that Anissa said they had to kill Bella because Slenderman will kill their families, while Anissa says that Morgan told her “we have to kill Bella” so it’s not clear whose idea it was.
We also have interviews with their parents and we see the effect all this has had on them, as well as interviews over Skype with digital folklorist Trevor Blank Ph.D, Brad Kim from Knowyourmeme.com, biologist Richard Dawkins Ph.D and literary critic Jack Zipes Ph.D (who draws comparisons between Slenderman and the Pied Piper) among others. We get a brief history of Slenderman and Creepypastas, enough for you to be able to follow the documentary but it doesn’t give a lot of information.
Throughout Beware the Slenderman, we see clips of YouTube videos (such as Marble Hornets) and we begin to learn what may have driven the girls to attempt the murder, such as their obsession with Creepypastas and Slenderman, mental issues and fear for their own lives. It’s hard to believe that anyone could think this is real, but with the amount of videos and photos that claim to capture Slenderman, it’s easy to see how a naïve and mentally unstable 12 year old could fall for such a thing.
2. The Bridge (2006)
While not a horror movie per se, The Bridge is possibly the most difficult film on this list I’ve sat through, but it’s one I felt I had to include nonetheless for its brutal honesty. Inspired by a 2003 article entitled ‘Jumpers,’ the film documents the Golden Gate Bridge, but more specifically it documents the people who kill themselves by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge.
Filming 23 suicides, we literally see these people die before our very eyes, and this isn’t staged, this isn’t faked, this isn’t acting, it’s 100% real, which is what makes it such a difficult film to watch – you’re literally seeing people die before your very eyes.
Aside from this, the filmmakers talk to the family and friends of the people who killed themselves and try to figure out why, and even how, these people could take their own lives. It’s a deeply disturbing movie, to think that for some people their lives have become so bad that killing themselves seems like their only option left. But at the same time it’s one of the most honest portrayals of suicide in film. Not for everyone.
3. Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (1922)
It is debatable whether or not this silent horror classic can be considered a documentary or not. Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages is a study of witchcraft through the years and looks at how things like illnesses and mental disabilities could have lead to hysteria and witch hunts. Director Benjamin Christensen uses various techniques to do this, such as still images, models and animation.
But this is only part of the movie, and what gets it on this list is its dramatizations. Christensen blurs the line between fact and fiction to create some truly terrifying imagery. We see Satan himself tempting a woman away from her husband in the night, and an old woman is tortured into admitting her involvement in witchcraft, and we see a witch’s sabbath, including a parade of horrific demons dancing by.
Häxan’s depictions of demons, torture and nudity led to it being banned in some countries at the time, before it was re-released as a midnight movie in the late 60’s, shortened down and with added narration by writer William S. Burroughs (of course). While some parts of the film may seem tame or even silly by today’s standards, there are moments that remain truly terrifying, even now. The film became very influential in the horror genre, its use of props and set design are reminiscent of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. It’s a film that has to be seen more than once to fully appreciate it, but if you’re after an alternate horror film to watch this year, this is definitely one to put on.
4. Hell House (2001)
Can a haunted house attraction go too far? Not when done in the name of the Lord it can’t. The Hell House is a Christian alternative to the traditional haunted houses. Put on by The Trinity Assembly of God Church in Texas, Hell House draws thousands of Americans every Halloween, but this haunted house is not meant to scare people for fun, but to scare people straight.
The film doesn’t just focus on the event or performances themselves, but also the personal lives of those involved in said performances, such as the single father whose daughter is performing in the Hell House. One actor admits to coming face-to-face with the man who raped her two years prior whilst pretending to commit suicide on stage, only to forgive the man, couples talk about meeting each other through Hell House, and others talk about their family and what Hell House means to them.
The focus is mostly on the setup on the event where we meet everyone, but the reason this film is on this list is the performances that appear in the last 20 or so minutes of the movie. We see graphic depictions of suicide, abortion, murder and rape as shocked and confused onlookers are brought through to watch these events. The idea is to scare people into Christianity, we see people committing acts which lead to their death, and then we see them going to Hell for not changing their ways.
It builds up to its shocking crescendo and raises a lot of questions; we see visitors arguing with the performers and the managers of the event over a scene depicting a gay man dying of AIDS and going to Hell. Is it offensive? Does it go too far? And is traumatising people really the best way to show them the light? You decide.
5. Child of Rage (1990)
Children have always been a staple of horror movies, with films like The Omen, The Exorcist and Poltergeist focusing on children, as well as later movies like The Babadook and Mama. But while they’re all fictional horror stories, this one is real. Child of Rage, otherwise known as Child of Rage: A Story of Abuse (to distinguish it from the 1992 TV movie of the same name) tells the story of Beth Thomas, a six year old girl with behaviour problems.
The short documentary is mostly made up of therapy sessions recorded by Dr. Ken Magid, and it’s a truly chilling and disturbing film throughout. It’s hard not to be creeped out when hearing a six year old girl coldly talk about her desire to stab her foster parents with a knife. We are also treated to interviews with said foster parents who talk about instances such as Beth molesting and trying to murder her younger brother Jonathan as well as killing animals.
As the documentary goes on, we discover the shocking events that led to Beth’s condition: she was sexually abused by her real father after her mother died. By the way, she was a year old at this point. As a result, Beth had no conscience, she had no moral upbringing and her father’s abuse led to her violent and self destructive behaviour, it’s hard to believe that a girl of six could even think of such things.
Words cannot express the shocking nature of this documentary, it’s not an easy watch and definitely not for the faint of heart, but at the same time it’s heart-warming. Beth undergoes therapy and comes out a better person – it’s hard not to cry when seeing a now cured Beth burst into tears when describing what she had done in the past.
6. Hated: GG Allin and the Murder Junkies (1993)
If The Human Centipede is more of your kind of horror, then you’ll love Hated: GG Allin and the Murder Junkies. Directed by Todd Phillips (The Hangover trilogy), the documentary follows shock rocker GG Allin as he goes on tour. We see rehearsal footage of Allin and his band The Murder Junkies, live show footage and a spoken word recital by Allin which turns violent.
For those who have never heard of GG Allin, this documentary shows exactly who he was. His live shows feature loads of blood and shit. We see him mutilating himself, slicing open his own flesh before smearing his own faeces into the wounds, as well at throwing some at the audience for good measure. We see a scene where Allin drinks a girl’s urine causing him to vomit on himself, and we have interviews with Allin which reveals part of Allin’s upbringing, which may explain his behaviour.
The film, which can be found on YouTube, culminates in Allin’s funeral as he died shortly after the initial screening. In a post-credits scene we see Allin’s scantily clad shit covered corpse as his friends and family party around him and pose with the body.
7. Cropsey (2009)
Available on DVD and to stream from the movie’s website (the DVD is also listed on Amazon but last time I checked it was unavailable), Cropsey tells the story of the titular bogeyman, an urban legend from Staten Island, before telling the story of Andre Rand, a real life Cropsey.
It is explained who Cropsey supposedly was, a mental patient who lived in the tunnels underneath the abandoned Willowbrook State School. The stories said that Cropsey kidnapped and murdered children, the usual cautionary tale, however this urban legend became a reality, as Andre Rand is arrested for the murder of missing children.
The film has a Blair Witch vibe at times, two film makers explore the woods and the abandoned buildings that lie within it. They talk to different people ranging from regular citizens to police detectives and doctors, and even journalists who reported the events depicted in the documentary.
As the movie goes on things become less and less certain and the truth and urban legends mix together, and things get more complicated when the film makers attempt to get an interview with Andre Rand himself. What starts out as a documentary about a deranged killer becomes something much more bizarre.
8. The Nightmare (2015)
Sleep paralysis is a phenomenon where a person who is either falling asleep or just waking up finds themselves inexplicably paralyzed. They cannot move, they cannot speak, and worst of all they suffer from horrific hallucinations. This film follows eight people who suffer from sleep paralysis as they document the horrors that befall them every time they try to sleep.
The Nightmare uses re-enactments with actors to bring the experiences to life as well as interviews with the sufferers themselves. They all talk about feeling an evil presence within the room, often witnessing a dark, shadowy figure which the movie refers to as The Shadow Man. As well as seeing things they also hear things, sometimes they’re buzzing noises or resemble a washing machine but sometimes they hear voices.
Some of these creatures don’t take the form of shadowy men however, one man details his experience as a child when he was approached by two alien looking creatures made of static, and shows the camera a creepy looking mask he made which resembles the creatures.
The people interviewed believe there is something more going on, however. They speak of spiritual experiences and demons, they see and hear different things in different places and the illness seems to affect people just by them knowing about it (one man describes his condition to a girl and she then has the same experience).
The film uses talking head interviews and mixes it with the re-creations which use scare tactics the likes of which you’d more likely see in traditional horror movies (like jump scares) rather than a documentary, making this the perfect Halloween party movie for people who don’t particularly like or care for documentaries, except here it is real, and you could well suffer from sleep paralysis just from watching the movie.
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