One of the great things about the horror genre is that it is never-ending. Just do a quick Google search for ‘horror movies and TV shows’ and you will find a huge wealth of material that you’ve probably never seen (maybe never even heard of).
From the early days of cinema through to today, the horror genre has continued to create new and exciting stories which capture the imagination and terrify the senses. But how do you keep track of the films and learn about the genre at the same time?
Well, one of the best ways to learn about horror is to check out some of the horror documentaries that offer a greater insight into these macabre movies. There are many great documentaries out there, you just need to know what to look for.
Documentaries range from real-life horrors, such as Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer (2003), to docs about key horror movies such as and The Making of the Frighteners (1998). But what are the docs I recommend you check out?
Below I’ve highlighted 18 must-watch documentaries, which every budding horror buff should delve into. These docu-films/docu-series will give you a greater appreciation of the genre and will fill you in on some significant milestones and cult oddities.
Let’s get started…
A History of Horror with Mark Gatiss (2010)
First up is the excellent, A History of Horror with Mark Gatiss.
Split into three parts, this BBC documentary series (which can usual be found on YouTube) covers the entire history of horror, from the early days of the genre in ‘Part 1: Frankenstein Goes to Hollywood’, through to the Hammer years in ‘Part 2: Home Counties Horror’ and beyond. The final chapter – ‘Part 3: The American Scream’ – focuses on all the major icons of horror.
For those new to the genre, this docu-series is a horror bible. Plus, host Mark Gatiss is a huge fan of horror and that really helps to bring the stories to life.
The American Nightmare (2000)
Directed by Adam Simon, The American Nightmare takes a look at the relationship between independent horror directors and the social and political climate that shaped their movies. This docu-movie focuses on key players in the industry, including such legendary names as Wes Craven, John Carpenter, and Tobe Hooper, and offers a fascinating insight into the way in which the world has shaped the genre.
Birth of the Living Dead (2012)
Birth of the Living Dead is a documentary about the legendary zombie horror movie, Night of the Living Dead. Directed by Rob Kuhns, the film takes a look at the original movie, as well as its legacy, and includes unput from the likes of Gale Anne Hurd and Mark Harris, as well as Night of the Living Dead director, George A. Romero.
A slight change of pace here, as Cropsey is a docu-film which takes a look at a real-life American urban legend. The Cropsey is a supposed boogeyman from New York, and this movie explores the myth and legend surrounding this character, as well as the possible connection between the legend and some missing children from the local area.
Nightmares in Red, White and Blue (2009)
Why are horror movies so appealing? That is the question at the heart of Nightmares in Red, White and Blue – a film which explores the evolution of American horror movies. Featuring interviews from Joe Dante, Darren Lynn Bousman, Larry Cohen, and many more, Nightmares in Red, White and Blue provides a fascinating look at the continued popularity of the horror genre, and the way in which it changes to reflect the changes in society.
My Amityville Horror (2012)
My Amityville Horror is an intriguing docu-film centred around Daniel Lutz – a former resident of the infamous Amityville house. Daniel was a child during the Amityville Haunting of the 1970s and this movie looks at his childhood story, exploring his experiences, as well as the psychological scars it has left him with.
Best Worst Movie (2009)
What is the worst movie ever made? Well, I’m pretty sure most people will have their own suggestions, but the general consensus on the internet is that Troll 2 (1990) is the worst of the worst.
If you’ve never seen Troll 2, don’t worry, all you need to know is the film is truly terrible! However, it has provided the inspiration for Best Worst Movie – a documentary exploring the popularity of this appalling horror film.
This documentary follows a key cast member, and his journey through the highs, lows, highs… and more lows of being in an awful horror film. Troll 2 has a cult following, and this documentary shines a spotlight on this corner of fandom and why it has risen in popularity since its release.
Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy (2010)
And now on to a corker!
One of the most popular horror series of all-time is the Nightmare on Elm Street series, which originally ran from 1984 to 1994. Think you know all there is to know about the films? Well check out Never Sleep Again to double check your knowledge.
Running over 4-hours in length, Never Sleep Again is an extensive documentary, which is truly entertaining. The doc covers all the films made with Robert Englund and includes input from all the major cast and crew.
Whether you know everything about the Nightmare films, or you are a complete novice, this documentary is unmissable.
Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th (2013)
Similar to Never Sleep Again, Crystal Lake Memories is an extensive, exhaustive, and invaluable look at the other enduring horror series of the 1980s – Friday the 13th. The film discusses all of the movies in the franchise, with cast and crew interviews from the entire series.
If you’re a fan of the Friday the 13th movies, then Crystal Lake Memories is a must-see. And even if you’re not a devotee to this particular horror series, Crystal Lake Memories will fill you in on all the gory details.
Room 237 (2012)
Directed by Rodney Ascher, Room 237 takes a HUGE deep dive into Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 horror classic, The Shining. And when I say HUGE deep dive, I mean it!
Think you know everything about The Shining? Think again. Room 237 looks at all of the minute details about the movie, as well as Kubrick’s back catalogue of pictures, to present a mind-boggling account of all the hidden meanings within the picture.
Is this revealing stuff about an iconic motion picture or simply fantastical theories brought to life? That’s for you to decide.
Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau (2014)
In 1996, The Island of Dr. Moreau arrived in movie theatres. The film – which starred Val Kilmer and Marlon Brando – was directed by John Frankenheimer, and was a critical and commercial disaster.
But did you know that before the movie made it to the big screen it had a long and difficult development, under a completely different director? Well, if you watch Lost Soul you will find out all of the bizarre and yet engrossing details about this troubled sci-fi horror movie.
Mark Kermode’s Secrets of Cinema – Horror (2018)
Mark Kermode is one of the UK’s leading movie critics and in his documentary series, Mark Kermode’s Secrets of Cinema, Kermode uses his expert knowledge to look at different genres. Various genres are covered throughout the series, but it is the episode on horror which is the one to watch.
Eli Roth’s History of Horror (2018)
As a director, Eli Roth has put his names to multiple horror movies, but here he oversees a docu-show about the entire horror genre. Divided into a collection of 60-minute episodes, Eli Roth’s History of Horror digs deep to look at all the facets of the genre, from vampire movies to slasher flicks, creature features and more.
Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror (2019)
Directed by Xavier Burgin, Horror Noire places the spotlight on the African-American actors and African-American stories that have helped to shape and define horror. Featuring interviews from Jordan Peele, Keith David, Loretta Devine, Ken Foree, and Tony Todd, amongst others, this docu-film is an insightful watch, which places emphasis on an area of cinema often overlooked.
Halloween: The Inside Story (2010)
Halloween is one of the best-loved and most enduring horror movies, and this documentary does exactly what it says in the title – it provides the inside story about this classic movie. This docu-film includes various facts, titbits, and behind the scenes stories about the film which continues to thrill audiences.
Beware the Slenderman (2016)
Another change of pace here, moving away from movies to the horror of the real world. Directed by Irene Taylor Brodsky, Beware the Slenderman looks at the real-life case of the Slender Man stabbing – an incident in which two school girls attempted to murder one of their friends to appease a fictional monster.
The story is bizarre, yet so compelling. Horror doesn’t just terrify the big screen, it is lurking in suburban neighbourhoods.
Curse of the Blair Witch (1999)
Curse of the Blair Witch is a brilliant faux documentary which originally aired on the Sci-Fi Channel in 1999 – a few days ahead of the theatrical release of The Blair Witch Project. The purpose of the ‘documentary’ was to further the belief that the events of the (then) forthcoming film were real.
How did it attempt to pull this off? By utilising clips from the movie, mixed with soundbites from supposedly ‘real people’, as well as input from (fake) family members of Josh, Heather and Michael – the three characters at the centre of The Blair Witch Project.
Everything in the documentary is a total fabrication, but it works very well when watched in conjunction with The Blair Witch Project. It demonstrates that not everything we are told is real, and adds even more weight to one of the greatest horror hoaxes.
Why Horror? (2014)
And finally, why do you love horror? Not sure? Maybe this docu-film can provide you with the answers.
Directed by Nicolas Kleiman and Rob Lindsay, Why Horror? delves into the reasons why we love watching horror movies. The film includes input from various industry insiders, including John Carpenter and Eli Roth, with Elijah Wood providing narration.
I hope you have found the above information useful. To save you scrolling back up, here is a list of all the best horror documentaries to add to your watch list.
- A History of Horror with Mark Gatiss (2010)
- The American Nightmare (2000)
- Birth of the Living Dead (2012)
- Cropsey (2009)
- Nightmares in Red, White & Blue (2009)
- My Amityville Horror (2012)
- Best Worst Movie (2009)
- Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy (2010)
- Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th (2013)
- Room 237 (2012)
- Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau (2014)
- Mark Kermode’s Secrets of Cinema – Horror (2018)
- Eli Roth’s History of Horror (2018)
- Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror (2019)
- Halloween: The Inside Story (2010)
- Beware the Slenderman (2016)
- Curse of the Blair Witch (1999)
- Why Horror? (2014)
Thank you for stopping by It’s A Stampede! to read this post about the best horror documentaries. Watching horror docs is a great way to learn more about the genre, and broaden your understanding about what makes horror so appealing.
I hope the information proves useful, and not too horrifying. And for more horror-related posts, be sure to check out the recommended reads below.
- What is the best order to watch The Exorcist movies?
- 120 best horror movies you must watch
- Review: Don’t Listen