Since it first got its start in silent films, horror cinema has always been a mirror with which we reflect society. But sometimes that mirror goes both ways. What deep-rooted anxieties inspired your favorite horror flick, and which iconic scare has left a deep mark on not only the way we make movies today, but the way our popular culture has evolved? There is a wealth of well-researched horror movie documentaries that can tell you everything you need to know.
Related: Ultimate List of Classic Horror Movies Every Fan Must See At Least Once
Whether you want a deep dive into your favorite franchise or a look at how the genre itself has developed over time, there's a piece of horror history here for everyone. Check out these eight horror movie documentaries you won't want to miss.
In Search of Darkness
Clocking in at nearly four and a half hours, this in-depth documentary explores the wonders of horror in the 1980s. Moving through vital films in the genre via a year-by-year timeline, this work also offers insight into groundbreaking practical effects, the rise of home video, marketing, and poster art, budget challenges, sound design, and musical scores, the return of 3D, sexuality, and the controversy of the "final girl. This documentary provides the perspectives of actors, directors, producers, and SFX experts of the time, unraveling the massive impact the films of this decade had on cinema.
And if after all this you're still craving more, In Search of Darkness: Part II is also available on Shudder.
Halloween: 25 Years of Terror
Everybody knows the name Michael Myers. Since its premiere in 1978, Halloween has left a massive cultural impact. This documentary takes a look at 25 years of this evolving franchise, ending in 2006. Returning to the locations used in the films, the documentary sees the cast, crew, critics, and fans come together for an insightful retrospective. This unique look into the past is said to have inspired the boom in documentaries based on horror films.
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Nightmares in Red, White, and Blue: The Evolution of the American Horror Film
The broadest documentary on this list, this film focuses on the appeal and growth of horror films in America. Providing a look at American horror from its beginnings in silent shorts through the documentary's release in 2009, this work feature interviews with genre legends like Joe Dante, John Carpenter, and George A. Romero.
Related: The United States of Terror: 16 Iconic Americana Horror Movies
Texas Chain Saw Massacre: The Shocking Truth
If you've got a soft spot for Leatherface, then this documentary is a must-watch. Focusing on the production and release of the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre, this film goes behind the scenes to deliver interviews with the cast and crew. Taking us through the development of the movie scene by scene, the documentary provides gripping anecdotes from everyone from the props department to the editing team. This work also goes into detail about how the film rose to major success, cementing itself as a cult classic.
Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy
No horror movie kept us up at night quite like A Nightmare on Elm Street. This award-winning documentary traces the origins of Freddy Krueger and brings viewers behind the scenes of this groundbreaking franchise. Focusing not just on the highs, this documentary delves into the notable lows of the franchise as well, utilizing input from over a hundred people involved in the production—from directors to the cast to the makeup effects artists.
Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street
We're not quite done with the Nightmare yet. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge became an iconic staple in the gay community—but caused an uproar everywhere else. With intentional homoerotic subtext and deeply queer allusions, this movie saw closeted gay actor Mark Patton step into the role of a Final Boy only to have his own nightmare come crashing down around him after the film's release. In a time rife with homophobia, the queer-coded movie stopped Patton's career in its tracks. Now he tells his side of the story, interspersed with insights into the film's now-growing fanbase.
Related: 5 New Queer Horror Movies to Get Excited About (And 5 You Should Already Know)
Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th
Split into two parts, this love letter to the Friday the 13th franchise is nearly seven hours long. This documentary follows the hit franchise from its small beginnings at a New Jersey summer camp in 1980 to its blockbuster reboot released in 2009. There's tons of fresh content here, including rare photos, film clips, bloopers, archival documents, concept art, behind-the-scenes footage, and interviews with over 150 cast and crew members across 12 films and the television series.
After watching the first half at the link below, check out Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th Part 2.
Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror
Black creators and characters in horror haven't always gotten the respect they deserve. This documentary takes a look at the complicated relationship between Black people in America and horror films throughout history. This documentary explores race through not only tensions within the industry but by using horror cinema as a lens to view it from a historical and sociological perspective as well. Nodding at the positive changes that have occurred in recent films, the writers, critics, actors, directors, and others interviewed for this project emphasize the need for yet more positive representation.
Related: 13 Essential Black Horror Movies