The scariest documentary of all time crept onto the small screen last Friday. Rodney Ascher’s sleep paralysis fever dream The Nightmare – available on VOD – takes viewers to the outskirts of madness and leaves them there to mingle with the darkness.
The release got us thinking about other scary documentaries – not chilling true crime tales , but horror doc hybrids about the things that go bump in the night. Herewith, a watch list of scary documentaries for all those who like a little creep to their reality.
Rodney Ascher is attracted to the eccentric. After getting lost in the labyrinthine theories of The Shining superfans in Room 237 (see more below), the writer/director moved on to investigating a much headier space: the twisted visions of a sleeping human brain. Through dimly lit interviews and some of the most terrifying images to ever haunt the big screen, Ascher crafts a supremely effective horror-doc hybrid that delves into the mysterious phenomenon known as sleep paralysis.
Houses don’t have memories, but those terrorized by the supernatural happenings within them do. Especially Daniel Lutz, a former inhabitant of Amityville’s infamous Dutch colonial abode in which Ronald DeFeo Jr. once slaughtered his sleeping family. It’s been 35 years since the Lutz clan fled their haunted home on Ocean Avenue, and Daniel is finally ready to dish. But as director Eric Walter probes an increasingly agitated Daniel, don’t be surprised if the tension between them bleeds into your own living room.
Did you know A Nightmare on Elm Street was based on a true story? Writer/director Wes Craven was inspired by a series of articles in the L.A. Times about a man who went to extreme lengths to stay awake. His fear? Dying in his sleep from a mysterious affliction called “dream deaths.” After Never Sleep Again’s freaky opening sequence, experts (including Craven and Freddie himself) dive into a 90-minute dissection of the allure of the nightmare that took place on Elm Street.
Wish we could tell you that watching this doc during the day would diminish your chances of a nightmare at night – but we’d be lying. No matter the hour, the Discovery Channel film reenactment of the demonic events that occurred in the Snedeker family’s house from hell is just plain bone-chilling. The creepy tale eventually made its way to Hollywood, but this made-for-TV original has the silver screen version beat.
Creeping around an abandoned looney bin believed to be the lair of a notorious child killer just wasn’t enough for Cropsey filmmaker Joshua Zeman. For his next doc, Killer Legends, Zeman and his partner, Rachel Mills, investigate the roots of urban legends. Subjects include Hookman, Candyman, phantom clowns, and, our personal favorite, the babysitter and the man upstairs. Lock your doors.
6. Room 237
Sure, you’ve seen Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining with your eyes wide open. Watching Room 237, however, will allow you to see the film in a weird new light. Ascher’s documentary about the intricate and obsessive fan interpretations of the Kubrick classic snakes its way through the Overlook Hotel, uncovering every wicked Easter egg – real or imagined. Told in nine parts, the film uncoils scene by scene as film buffs play a creepy game of I Spy. Just settle in for a cinematic maze with more twists and turns than the snowy labyrinth that lures Jack to his frigid death.