In 1984, Terror in the Aisles was released to theaters by Universal Pictures. It is the oldest entry to make this list of documentaries about horror movies.
The film was a unique entity, in that its plot aspired to critically examine some of the leading horror films of the day, and better understand why they were appealing to audiences worldwide. While not wholly successful in this, it was an intriguing attempt at actually discussing films like a Halloween seriously in a mainstream setting.
Remember, 1984 puts us firmly in the heyday of the slasher film. Horror as a genre was hitting its peak for the decade, offering a mass of films being released to theaters and home video. At the time, horror was continuously dismissed for being pointless, frivolous, and potentially even dangerous.
Analysis of these films beneath the surface of level was available, but horror’s battle for the respect it deserved remained an uphill one. Terror in the Aisles was ahead of the curve.
Years later, as all of these documentaries about horror movies you can stream will show, the battle has actually improved for the genre as a whole. Terror in the Aisles is no longer a particularly unique entity. There are in fact quite a few full-length horror documentaries, offering oral histories, a deep behind-the-scenes look, critical discussion, or even a look at the impact of horror on our culture.
These are serious films that also happen to be seriously entertaining. If you want to learn more about the history of horror, particularly if you’re a fan of the best of 80s horror, this list of 10 documentaries about horror movies you can stream will be invaluable.
1. Best Worst Movie (2009)
Director: Michael Stephenson
Some people call Plan 9 from Outer Space the worst movie of all time. Others turn to the maddening mumbling ravings of Tommy Wiseau in The Room.
However, as far as the fans interviewed in Best Worst Movie are concerned, nothing tops Troll 2 (which doesn’t actually even feature or mention trolls in any capacity) for the most genuinely enjoyable bad movie of all time. A completely unrelated sequel to an earlier film, Troll 2 is a surreal hodgepodge of different supernatural concepts, wooden or absolutely odd performances, an awful script, and everything else you could want from a bad movie that’s still plenty entertaining.
Best Worst Movie explores the larger subject of cult classic movies, while providing the viewer with a significant look into the history of Troll 2 itself. Both aspects are riveting, endearing, hilarious, and surprisingly poignant at times.
Best Worst Movie is available to stream on Tubi
2. Blood & Flesh: The Reel Life & Ghastly Death of Al Adamson (2019)
Director: David Gregory
Al Adamson directed some of the very worst movies ever committed to film. Yet they maintain a dedicated fanbase of people willing to look past the low budgets, questionable scripts, and dedication to anything that could conceivably fill the running time the movie required.
Why? As a fan myself, I suppose it’s just the utter madness that permeates such films as Dracula vs Frankenstein and Brain of Blood. These were made by someone who genuinely loved making movies. They are filled with forgotten stars, bizarre twists, and a low budget energy that you can’t help but admire.
If you don’t believe me, check out David Gregory’s wonderful Blood & Flesh: The Reel Life & Ghastly Death of Al Adamson. A wonderfully written and edited tribute, the movie packs a ton of interviews with fans and associates (including the legendary Russ Tamblyn, who worked with Adamson on occasion), along with clips, archival materials, and some fascinating facts on the horrific, sudden death of Adamson himself. That death alone makes this worth watching, but Blood & Flesh is also just an incredible tribute to film itself.
Blood and Flesh is available to stream on Shudder and Tubi
3. Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th (2013)
Director: Daniel Farrands
On the heels of the massively successful, massively-long (about 4 hours) documentary on the Nightmare on Elm St franchise, a similar treatment was granted to Freddy’s juggernaut counterpart of the 1980s.
Covering every single entry in the series, including the remake, Crystal Lake Memories takes a deep dive into not only how Jason Vorhees and Friday the 13th came to dominate the 80s, but also where the appeal perhaps comes from in the first place. From Jason actors like Kane Hodder and Ted White, to the writers, directors, gore wizards, makeup artists, and everyone else who worked to make the series a creative and financial success, the documentary gives everyone their due.
Even if Paramount, much like the film industry as a whole, didn’t seem to give them very much respect.
Crystal Lake Memories is a considerable undertaking at 6+ hours. Still, if you’ve got the time, you stand to learn a lot about Jason, Friday the 13th, 80s horror, and the fandom who continue to celebrate this character in the present.
Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th is available to stream on Shudder
4. Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror (2019)
Director: Xavier Burgin
Only one entry on this list of documentaries about horror movies delves into the relationship between the history of African Americans in the United States and horror films. That’s a shame in itself, but it does heighten the enjoyment you’re going to get from watching Horror Noire.
It can’t cover absolutely everything, but Horror Noire offers a profound look into how horror movies have commented on that history, as well as how horror films have depicted African Americans in general.
No, it isn’t always pleasant, but you should go in expecting that. The history of racism in the United States can be viewed through a variety of different lenses. Featuring interviews with writers, critics, actors, directors, and others, Horror Noire offers a crash course into a very complex subject.
Many historical or sociological topics can be studied by also looking at the horror films being made at that time. Horror Noire delivers on this concept in a way everyone should experience at least once.
Horror Noire is available to stream on Shudder
5. In Search of Darkness (2019)
Director: David A. Weiner
Were the 1980s truly the best decade for horror movies? It’s very tempting to say they were.
The 1970s were perhaps more influential, and every decade has seen great horror films released. However, for a variety of reasons, the 1980s in horror remains a decade that people love to discuss, pay tribute to, or just reuse in one form or another. There is a fairly large wave of interest in the era these days.
In Search of Darkness, which covers dozens of films and subjects across its running time of over 4 hours, is one of the most appealing tributes to just how much people want to talk about horror in the 80s these days. The argument for the decade is a strong one here, with excellent production values, a deep library of titles that go up for discussion, and insights from an assortment of notable journalists, podcasters, filmmakers, actors, fans, and more.
In Search of Darkness is available to stream on Shudder
6. In Search of Darkness: Part II (2020)
Director: David A. Weiner
“Come on, man,” you might be saying, “How much is there really to talk about when it comes to 80s horror?”
“A lot,” is the answer. Enough that Part III in this series has been announced, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that wasn’t the last word on the subject either.
As Part II points out in a documentary that is even better than the first one, the 80s really were a decade in which just about any human being on the planet could make, sell, and earn a decent profit from a horror movie. Without the need to focus on the foundation of this era, Part II is able to take us through some mighty strange films that were released during the period. I’m confident that most 80s horror fans will find something new to check out.
The segments outside of the films presented, including one on the history of horror in video games, add even greater context to this fruitful period. The documentary also boasts another impressive range of interview subjects, bringing insight and humor to a decided motley crew of horror movies.
In Search of Darkness: Part II is available to stream on Shudder
7. My Amityville Horror (2012)
Director: Eric Walter
The actual story of Ronald DeFeo Jr. is worth examining, if only to enhance your wonderment at the fact that there are no less than sixteen movies in the franchise. However, the true story is also a fascinating look into one of the most brutal slayings of the 1970s.
My Amityville Horror goes beyond the films in perhaps the sincerest way I’ve ever encountered. Despite the sensationalistic title, the film gives Daniel Lutz — the child who claimed to have experienced paranormal events when his family purchased the house (the subject of the first film, as well as the 2005 remake) — a space to simply discuss his account.
Are you going to believe him? That’s up to you, but there’s no question that this time in his developmental life had a profound impact on him. The infamy surrounding his family name after the media circus began is just the tip of the iceberg.
My Amityville Horror is available to stream on AMC+
8. Room 237 (2012)
Director: Rodney Ascher
It’s fascinating that Room 237 has a fairly severe contrast between the critical and audience consensus scores on Rotten Tomatoes. While many critics found what is pretty much a collection of video essays fascinating, others found the film as a whole hopelessly pretentious, and perhaps even kind of pointless.
To be sure, this documentary’s depiction of several very different theories on the true symbolism and meanings of Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of the Stephen King classic contains some pretty wacky ideas. I rolled my eyes a couple of times.
I think there’s reaching, and then I think there’s trying to move your physical being across several dimensions simultaneously.
But that doesn’t really matter to me. As a fan of elaborate film theory, even the stuff that makes me hope I don’t live anywhere near the analyst in question, Room 237 is borderline comfort food. I also appreciate its dedication to the fact that a single horror movie can generate decidedly different perspectives.
Room 237 is in a similar vein to other entries on this list, such as Best Worst Movie. If you want to see a very powerful documentary on the subject of the life of a horror movie outside of its own celluloid existence, this is worth your time.
Room 237 is available to stream on AMC+
9. Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street (2019)
Director: Roman Chimienti, Tyler Jensen
While I don’t remember anyone ever actually saying to me as a child that A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge was a gay movie, I do remember thinking it had a stranger energy in its blood and bones than any other entry in the series.
Part of that might be the film establishing its male lead as essentially a male version of the Final Girl trope. Even so, the subtext and coded moments throughout the film eventually became a major talking point for one of the more maligned entries in the series.
Scream, Queen! is a biographical depiction of Mark Patton, who played Jesse in a Freddy Krueger movie that made a number of people uncomfortable in several ways. Patton’s life and career obviously take up a lot of this riveting documentary, but the film also digs deep into the growing fanbase around this particular entry, as well as some of the reasons why the movie was so poorly received, even by horror fans, at the time of its release.
Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street is available to stream on Shudder
10. Terror in the Aisles (1984)
Director: Andrew J. Kuehn
One of the first serious documentaries on horror films, Terror in the Aisles doesn’t have the polish or depth of some of the other horror movie documentaries we’ve covered here. Some find the scenes hosted by Donald Pleasence and Nancy Allen to be tacky, but I love these buffers in between movies and points of discussion.
Terror in the Aisles may not be perfect, but it remains a lot of fun. I’d also add that if you’re watching all of these horror documentaries, you’re probably going to appreciate this film being a historical document of a historical document.
Interesting on its own terms, the movie is also now its own article of curiosity, in terms of how it aspired to break ground in horror analysis at a time when some people wanted these films banned for good.
Terror in the Aisles is currently available to stream on YouTube, and buy on Blu-ray from Shout Factory
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