As any true crime fan knows, there’s nothing more satisfying—or thrilling—than an excellent true crime documentary. That’s why we’ve rounded up nine of our most chilling favorites. From deadly obsession to brutal murder, the cases at the heart of these thrilling films have all the makings of a horror movie—except they actually happened.
1. Into the Abyss (Pictured Above)
They wanted to steal a car, but ended up with a triple homicide. Death row inmates Michael Perry and Jason Burkett chat from behind the glass with director Werner Herzog for an exploration into both sides of the death penalty. Combining interviews with the convicted murderers, their families, and the families of their victims, Herzog crafts a chilling film tailor-made for his ominous narrative voice.
2. The Imposter
Ready yourself for one of the most jaw-dropping true crime tales in American culture. A blue-eyed, blond-haired 13-year-old boy from San Antonio goes missing. Three years later, he turns up in a phone booth in Linares, Spain. The family is elated–at first. Not only does their “son” look older than he should, he also has brown eyes and speaks with a French accent. The twists keep coming until the very end in this film that is truly beyond belief.
Once you enter the vile world of Cropsey, there’s no turning back. The true crime documentary sets its hooks right away, diving into the real-life urban legend of a boogieman from Staten Island who lives in the tunnels underneath a mental institution and snatches children off the streets. Your skin will crawl.
4. The Thin Blue Line
Writer/director Errol Morris is a masterful storyteller, and with this gripping true crime documentary, he quite possibly set a man free. A pulpy whodunit with a serious social message, The Thin Blue Line investigates the shooting of a Dallas police officer and the circumstantial evidence used to put Randall Adams in jail for the crime. Morris’s film turned heads in theaters as well as the courtroom. A year after its premiere, Adams was cleared of the crime and freed from prison.
5. Crazy Love
Forget roses, Burt Pugach’s idea of courtship involved psycho stalking, acid baths, and attempted murder. More confessions of a lunatic than a straightforward documentary, Dan Klores’ portrait of one obsessive relationship starts off like a love story by Nicholas Sparks–then hangs a sharp left into boiled bunny territory.
6. Capturing the Friedmans
Before he explored the bizarre life and deaths of Robert Durst in The Jinx, director Andrew Jarecki investigated an even more sordid case: Arnold Friedman and his son, Jesse, who confessed to sexually molesting boys in their basement. Yet the case is not so open and shut; an overwhelming amount of evidence points to the pair’s innocence, which Jarecki navigates with a deft directorial touch.
7. The Iceman Interviews
Ever wondered how a cold-blooded killer operates? Welcome to the mind of Richard Kuklinski, a former mafia enforcer with more than 100 kills and not a care in the world. HBO heads inside maximum security Trenton State Prison for a tete-a-tete with the man who gets his nickname from his icy method of execution: freezing the bodies of his freshly killed victims to cover up the time of death.
8. Amanda Knox
This illuminating 2016 documentary does not strive to solve the mystery of who killed Meredith Kercher as much as it aims to immerse viewers in the nightmare that was Amanda Knox’s daily life. Accused, convicted, and eventually exonerated of the murder of her roommate in Perugia, Italy, in 2007, Amanda Knox was subjected to a vicious trial by media. In this doc, featuring exclusive interviews with Knox, herself, the infamous subject of so much speculation is able to tell her own story, in her own words.
9. Who Took Johnny
It is one of the most baffling unsolved missing persons cases in American history: the abduction of Iowa paperboy Johnny Gosch in 1982. This absorbing documentary looks at the quest, pioneered by Gosch’s mother, Noreen, to find her son, and all the false leads, bizarre conspiracy theories, questionable sightings and heartache the family suffered along the way.
Featured still from "Into the Abyss" via Creative Difference