Horror is one of the most popular mainstream genres the movie world has to offer – but what happens when truth is scarier than fiction?
Over recent years, a number of highly unnerving and compellingly creepy factual films have emerged, examining everything from disturbing psychological phenomena to seemingly supernatural occurrences and thoroughly evil human behaviour.
With much talked-about factual flick The Nightmare hitting UK cinemas this week, we take a look at eleven documentaries that may give you sleepless nights.
Deep Water (2006)
In 1969, amateur sailor Donald Crowhurst entered an unprecedented, dangerous round-the-world boat race – and rapidly found himself out of his depth. This extraordinary story, brought to us by the same company behind Touching The Void, is a haunting account of Crowhurst’s ill-fated journey, and his dark descent into madness as a result of fear and isolation.
Devil In The Room (2013)
Conceived by writer/director Carla MacKinnon as part of the ‘Sleep Paralysis’ project, this short experimental movie combines insight into the history and cultural impact of the frightening night-time condition, with re-creations of aspects of it on film. All within just 8 minutes. If you’ve ever had an extremely vivid nightmare where you were unable to move, and a monster attacked you in your bed – this is for you.
Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio’s journey to discover the origins of a New York urban legend uncover creepier and creepier facts and revelations, as they connect the local folklore that kept kids scared of a monstrous snatcher to real-life missing children’s cases. Supremely eerie.
Killer Legends (2014)
Exploring similar territory to Cropsey, Zeman’s follow-up piece delves into the history and possible origins of a number of different, widespread urban legends – with the uncomfortable premise that many of our campfire stories and childhood sleepover tales are actually strongly connected to reality. Poisoned sweets being handed out on Halloween? Babysitters being stalked by nefarious killers? Turns out these might not just be myth after all.
The Act Of Killing (2012)
Joshua Oppenheimer’s Oscar-nominated film tracks down some of the men directly responsible for some of the most horrific large-scale massacres of the 20th century – and asks them to pretend to re-create their crimes on camera. Watching these former gangsters-turned-genocidal-killers bragging about their atrocities, before being confronted by the sheer magnitude of them, is as chilling as it is powerful.
Countdown To Zero (2010)
The kind of movie that will leave you with a profound sense of existential dread, Countdown To Zero looks not just at the previous near-misses of man-made armageddon we’ve experienced in the past, but also examines how likely it is that the ongoing geo-political climate and large numbers of nuclear weapons in circulation will result in global annihilation before long. The answer? Very likely.
The Imposter (2012)
You should make sure you go into this chilling, universally-acclaimed masterpiece with as little prior knowledge as possible. To divulge anything in the way of story detail here would be to give away too much. All you really need to know is that it is a genuinely haunting tale of cold, calculating manipulation that ultimately goes to dark and unexpected places – with some truly disturbing implications surrounding it.
Interview With A Cannibal (2011)
In 1986 – five years after walking into a Paris park carrying suitcases packed with human remains – Japanese national Issei Sagawa walked out of Tokyo’s Matsuzawa Psychiatric hospital, and has been a free man ever since. The self-confessed cannibal talks matter-of-factly about his crime and obsessions, and the bizarre cult of fame that now surrounds him, in an ominous and skin-crawling character study.
Jonestown: The Life And Death Of Peoples Temple (2006)
Stanley Nelson’s journey into the dark heart of the infamous cult, and its notorious 1978 mass suicide, is an uncomfortable but vital insight into the personality of leader Jim Jones, and the circumstances that compel people to follow such a figure. Revealing interviews with former members provide some of the most frank and thought-provoking moments.
My Amityville Horror (2012)
Everybody’s heard of ‘The Amityville Horror’, a supposed real-life suburban haunting that has spawned countless books and at least nine movies. But what about the people who actually lived through the experience that inspired the fiction? Daniel Lutz, a boy throughout the events in 1975, guides us through his own untold and unsettling account of the time.
The Nightmare (2015)
A smash-hit on the festival circuit, this extremely well-made exploration of sleep paralysis speaks to sufferers about their experiences, and aims to put us directly in their shoes through terrifying, atmospheric reconstructions. The trailer should give you a panic-inducing teaser of what to expect. Sweet dreams.