As leaves begin to fall and plastic skeletons start popping up in unsuspecting department stores, horror fans can finally rejoice with the knowledge that the spookiest season of the year is on its way. The autumn chill is also a sign that the media we consume is about to get a whole lot spookier as well, and while everyone loves a good Halloween special, I figured that it’s time to talk about an oft-neglected kind of scary movie.
Naturally, I’m referring to documentaries! Although these (mostly) grounded takes on societal issues and day-to-day life aren’t exactly the first things that come to mind when one thinks of horror flicks, there are actually plenty of documentaries concerning real-world terrors and humanity’s fascination with the macabre. That’s why I’ve compiled this list of six documentaries that I believe are sure to be appreciated by horror fans everywhere.
As usual, be sure to share your own favorites with us below! Now, onto the movies…
Historically, rodents already have a frightening (albeit highly exaggerated) reputation as filthy, plague-ridden omens of death. However, even that couldn’t prepare me for Morgan Spurlock’s unorthodox exposé on earth’s other highly-successful urban-dwelling mammal.
Featuring everything from baby-devouring swarms to cult-like rodent-worshippers, Rats is a terrifying and informative alternative to your average wildlife documentary. It’s definitely not for everyone, as I’m pretty sure that in-depth rodent dissections don’t make for an enjoyable family movie night, but one thing is for certain: this documentary is best enjoyed on an empty stomach, so squeamish viewers beware!
The American Scream
As I mentioned before, October is fast approaching, so we can’t not talk about one of my favorite staples of Fall: seasonal haunted house attractions! These elaborate homemade decorations are precisely the subject of Michael Stephenson’s The American Scream, which chronicles a handful of different families in their yearly efforts to build the best Halloween experience possible without destroying their homes in the process.
Along the way, we see the impact that this unusual hobby has on neighbors and individual family members (not to mention their bank accounts), in a surprisingly poignant look at America’s fascination with the scariest holiday of the year. If you’re looking for an atmospheric pick-me-up to get in the mood for the Halloween season, I’d recommend giving this movie a shot!
The only thing more terrifying than an urban legend is an urban legend which turns out to be true. This is why Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio’s documentary Cropsey is so damned effective, as they examine the real story behind a horrific figure thought to be the inspiration behind a boogeyman-like figure, proving that there may be a kernel of truth in even the most nightmarish of fiction.
Although the film slowly evolves from an exploration of scary stories to a true-crime investigation, horror fans are sure to be kept enthralled by a genuinely gripping main mystery and Cropsey’s connections to slasher films like The Burning (and consequently the Clock Tower games).
Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown
It’s hard to discuss modern horror without bringing up the master of cosmic terror himself, Howard Phillips Lovecraft. In Fear of the Unknown, director Frank H. Woodward gathers an impressive ensemble of Lovecraft aficionados (everyone from Neil Gaiman to John Carpenter have something to say) as he attempts to reveal the man behind the mythos, and find out why his stories are still so revered nearly a century later.
Being a hardcore Lovecraftian enthusiast myself, I’m actually prone to rewatching this documentary whenever I feel like revisiting the Cthulhu Mythos or even the Call of Cthulhu tabletop RPG. If you’re interested in exploring the possible origins of Howard’s disturbing tales and shining a light on his convoluted personal life, I wholeheartedly recommend this loving tribute to one of the genre’s greatest (and most controversial) creators.
Beware the Slenderman
Evolving from a seemingly innocent internet meme to the alleged inspiration behind a horrific attempted murder, Slenderman is one of the most fascinating (not to mention terrifying) internet phenomena in recent memory. It was really only a matter of time before a filmmaker like Irene Taylor Brodsky would attempt to delve into the internet’s obsession with this faceless creature, resulting in the HBO-produced documentary Beware the Slenderman.
While I was initially hesitant to watch this film, as it seemed to be capitalizing on a real-world tragedy only superficially related to online creepypastas, Beware the Slenderman actually turned out to be an in-depth exploration of internet psychology, storytelling and the unexpected real-world implication of viral memes. This is the spookiest that Slenderman has been in a while, and a must-watch for fans of internet horror.
Some of you may remember the media frenzy back in 2014 about a supposedly haunted house in Gary, Indiana. Naturally, the house and subsequent movie rights were purchased by Zak Bagans (of Ghost Adventures fame), who proceeded to produce the aptly titled Demon House documentary, attempting to get to the bottom of the Ammons family haunting.
While skeptics are sure to groan at several logical inconsistencies and the general sensationalized approach to the story, Demon House works exceptionally well as a surprisingly sinister piece of horror entertainment. From spooky reenactments to chilling interviews, this documentary pulls no punches in its attempts to creep you out. Real or not, the Ammons family haunting makes for a good scary movie, and this is ideal viewing material for this year’s Halloween season.