As Halloween approaches, I find myself craving that familiar feeling of wrapping myself up in a blanket, cutting all the lights, and jumping at every shadow for the rest of the night after watching a good scary movie. If you share this sentiment, here are five terrifying documentaries that prove real life can be the scariest thing of all and five documentaries/found-footage horror films that prove that fiction can be pretty damn chilling too:
Part I: 5 Terrifying Documentaries
1. Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple
Few real life events are as chilling as the Jonestown Massacre. Led by the enigmatic and surely insane Jim Jones, 912 people drank a toxic drink and died. 276 were children. While this documentary is fairly standard in its coverage of Jonestown, the event itself is terrible enough to bump it straight to the top of any horror list. Few things could ever be more horrifying than hearing the hum of the crowd grow quieter and quieter as people do as Jones says and drink from their cups.
2. The Nightmare
As a person who has experienced sleep paralysis, I can confirm that it is genuinely very terrifying. The Nightmare features real accounts from people who have experienced sleep paralysis and shows those accounts reenacted on screen as they’re being told. Sometimes the reenactments are cheesy and over the top, but when they’re realistic and well acted, they’re some of the scariest scenes I’ve ever seen in any documentary.
3. Grizzly Man
Werner Herzog’s documentary about Timothy Treadwell, a man who loved bears so much he dedicated his life to living among them until he was killed by one of the very creatures he swore to protect, certainly isn’t traditionally scary, but I would argue that it’s horrifying nonetheless. Treadwell’s mental instabilities, his untimely death, and the dread-inducing interviews Herzog chooses to include, come together to make Grizzly Man a film that’ll undoubtedly leave you feeling horrified, among about a hundred other conflicting emotions.
4. Room 237
Room 237 takes a long, hard look at the often disturbingly detailed conspiracy theories surrounding Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Because the film is about The Shining, it’s fairy scary by default. But the real horror comes from the extreme lengths obsessive cinephiles will go to in order to explain and support their crackpot theories.
5. Titicut Follies
This is probably the most disturbing movie, fiction or non-fiction, that I’ve ever seen. This controversial documentary reveals the conditions that existed during the mid-’60s at the State Prison for the Criminally Insane in Bridgewater, Massachusetts. The stark realities that are revealed through this film are disturbing in ways that cannot be described. It’s tough to watch, but you have to see this film to believe it.
Part II: 5 Terrifying Mockumentaries
1. Lake Mungo
This documentary-style horror film follows the Palmer family after the death of their daughter. Lake Mungo finds terror in everyday things. In grief, in paranoia, in doubt, and in fears of the future… Though it only has a few traditional horror moments, Lake Mungo is deeply, realistically chilling, and it’ll stay with you long after the credits roll.
When a man answers an online ad for a filming gig, he gets more than he bargained for. Creep isn’t your traditional horror movie. It does have some classic jump scares, but the majority of the fear Creep inspires is deeper than a few shocks. It’s a slow burn of tension and dread that comes to a head in a horrifying ending. The found-footage format is never distracting, and instead it adds to the terror. What happens in Creep could happen to anyone, and that’s why it’s so scary.
3. A Necessary Death
I’m hesitant to say much about this movie because to reveal too much is to ruin the experience. A documentary film crew follows a man who plans to commit suicide from preparation to the final act. This film is thought provoking and incredibly well acted. It also gets crazy horrifying. Just watch until the end.
4. The Blair Witch Project
What’s a found-footage horror list without The Blair Witch Project? Not a found-footage horror list at all. Whether you love this dread-filled, eerie film about three students trying to capture footage of a witch or you just don’t get the hype, this is a staple of the genre.
5. The Den
If you’re looking for a modern, technology-driven found-footage film done right, don’t waste your time with Unfriended. Head straight for The Den. This film follows a graduate student as she studies the behaviors of users on an online chat room. When she witnesses a murder, she gets sucked into a world she never prepared for. This riveting film will make you think twice about leaving your computer screen open or your phone camera facing up.