Did you think fictional horror was the only place to get a good scare? Think again.
We cooked up a list of scary documentaries that examine real-life encounters with the terrifying and disturbing. Some of docs below present the heart-pounding stories surrounding iconic horror movies. Others take a deep dive into the ghost stories and urban legends that haunt our collective dreams. So dim the lights and settle in for some real-life nightmare fuel. Here are six deeply scary documentaries you’ve just got to check out.
1. The Nightmare
Where’s the line between what’s real and what’s imaginary? What does it feel like to lose complete control of your body, but remain conscious? In this film, director Rodney Ascher delves into the lives of eight people suffering from sleep paralysis.
Symptoms of sleep paralysis include the inability to move, speak or react to anything. As if this weren’t already terrifying enough, the paralysis is occasionally accompanied by disturbing hallucinations that the victim is entirely helpless against. Visually inventive, playful, and truly scary, Ascher knows no bounds when it comes to dealing with the darkest places of our consciousness.
2. My Amityville Horror
You may have known that the Amityville Horror films were based on a true story, but did you know that the Lutz son who claimed to be possessed was featured in a documentary about his case?
35 years after the events that tormented his family in 1975, Daniel Lutz tells his version of the infamous Amityville hauntings. Here, he reveals the horror behind growing up a member of a world-famous haunting. Filmmaker Eric Walter researched these accounts for years to ready himself to tackle the most personal testimony to date.
3. Never Sleep Again
Never before-seen photographs, storyboards, conceptual art, publicity materials, archival documents, behind-the-scenes footage, and more are presented to demonstrate how Wes Craven created the first Elm Street film. With extensive interviews, the documentary tells of how the cast and crew brought to life their own worst nightmares on screen. It examines the influence the franchise had on pop culture and the horror genre. Ever wondered what inspires a horror film director? Here’s your answer.
4. The Mothman of Point Pleasant
In November of 1966, a car full of young people encountered a terrifying creature they’d never seen before. In the following months, the monster, soon to become known as The Mothman, was spotted scaring unsuspecting victims again and again.
This giant winged creature with red glowing eyes was witnessed by over 100 people—but the sightings suddenly stopped when the Silver Bridge collapsed, killing 46 people. To this day, people remain unsure exactly what the creature was, but one thing is for certain, the legend of The Mothman phenomenon will remain a great fascination to anyone interested in the strange and unexplained.
5. Killer Legends
You’ve certainly heard of the legend of “The Hook”, meant to scare teens away from wandering into a Lover’s Lane. Or even “The Killer Clown”, which serves as the origin for the evil clown troupe and coulrophobia. In this doc, Joshua Zeman and Rachel Mills investigate the beginnings of these and other urban legends, like “The Candyman” and “The Babysitter and the Man Upstairs.” They’ll uncover how true stories exploded to create the legends that continue to unnerve us today, and even turn what we thought to be the truth on its head.
6. Room 237
This documentary will be loved by any Stanley Kubrick fans—and some Stephen King fans. Rodney Ascher, director of The Nightmare, directs this exploration into the inspiration behind the creation of one of the horror genre’s canon films. Told from multiple perspective voice-overs, Ascher examines the many interpretations and perceived meanings of The Shining. The film is divided into nine parts, each focusing on one theory about what the movie really means. Some of the theories are more plausible than others, but the truly weird theories are half the fun.
Featured still from "The Nightmare" via Zipper Bros Films