It’s the spooky season, which means many people are filling their streaming queues with horror movies. But it can be tiring to revisit the same slasher films and ghost stories every year, especially when the news is scarier than anything David Cronenberg or Jordan Peele could conjure. As an alternative, here are some documentary films and series dealing with horror themes and/or real-life creepiness to spice up your Halloween.
Streaming on Shudder
The horror-centric streaming service Shudder compiles classics of the genre alongside original programming. Their five-part docuseries Cursed Films looks at behind-the-scenes stories of “cursed” film productions. Many horror films have garnered such a reputation through a combination of real-life tragedies, urban legends and word-of-mouth retellings.
The series looks specifically at The Exorcist, The Omen, the Poltergeist series, The Crow and the “Time Out” sequence of Twilight Zone: The Movie. Featuring interviews with creatives behind the original films (including Exorcist star Linda Blair and Omen director Richard Donner), guest commentators (critic and screenwriter April Wolfe, Fangoria editor-in-chief Phil Nobile Jr.) and real-life “exorcists” and “black magicians,” Cursed Films takes what could be trashy, exploitative material and turns it into a thoughtful look at pop mythology and the whole notion of “curses” without ever skimping on creepiness.
Streaming on Netflix
Most kids who were cognizant between 1987 and 1997 were afraid of Unsolved Mysteries. Just hearing the theme music or the voice of host Robert Stack from the TV in the next room was enough to trigger nightmares. Netflix revived the series in July 2020, releasing six new episodes earlier in October.
The rebooted series is more tasteful and less sensational than the original and ditches hosting duties altogether, opting instead for a documentary style more in line with recent true-crime trends. But the subject matter is still sufficiently creepy, ranging from missing-persons cases to the downright supernatural. Highlights include an unidentified corpse in an Oslo hotel room who may be a secret agent and a string of UFO abductions in Berkshire, Mass.
Streaming on Amazon Prime Video
Many people grew up with their hometown’s regional version of a boogeyman, unfounded urban legends about escaped serial killers or a murderous hermit in the nearby woods, snatching away children.
Kids in Staten Island, New York grew up with the legend of “Cropsey,” a supposed “escaped mental patient” living in the tunnels beneath the abandoned Willowbrook institution. But as directors Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio investigated their local boogeyman, they learned that “Cropsey” was, to some extent, real. Zeman and Brancaccio utilize a Blair Witch-y aesthetic to expose how Willowbrook hid true tragedy and housed a real-life killer.
Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street
Streaming on Shudder
A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge was radical for its time. The original Nightmare introduced audiences to dream-killer Freddy Krueger, but its 1985 sequel acted as a metaphor for the experience of a closeted gay teenager in the Reagan era.
The groundbreaking film was rejected by homophobic audiences and critics of the time. The production itself was equally problematic: the straight filmmakers inadvertently outed its then-closeted star Mark Patton at the height of the AIDS crisis, a move that destroyed his career. Scream, Queen! explores Patton’s experiences on the set, the trajectory of his life, his own battle with HIV and the film’s shifting reputation from maligned sequel to queer horror masterpiece.
Published in Volume 75, Number 07 of The Uniter (October 29, 2020)