If you’re like me, when October rolls around and your friends start suggesting Halloween horror movies for your night in, you can’t help but groan. You like the creepiness, but the jump-scares make you so terrified that the idea of watching the movie loses all appeal. Maybe then, like me, you’ve become fascinated with true crime documentaries. While horrifying, the stories are so captivating that they keep my attention like no other genre and so I’ve made my way through a fair amount of documentaries that Netflix has available. Due to this, I would consider myself well-versed enough in the topic to share my (kind of) spoiler-free recommendations for true crime documentaries to watch this spooky season.
Recommended if you like: less gore, more social critique
While this documentary might not have been the most suspenseful or shocking, it was fascinating because of how frustrating it was. It centres around the wrongful conviction of Amanda Knox, an American woman who was accused of murdering her roommate while in Perugia, Italy, and was slandered in the media during her trial. The police had their minds set on Knox being the murderer from the start, and journalists twisted the story to describe her in horrible ways in the media, disregarding her feelings and profiting off her trauma. She described the physical and verbal abuse she received by Italian officials and her fight to appeal her conviction in an interview-style documentary. However, there was still enough evidence against her to make me wonder if she did do it and was trying to win back supporters through the film, which made it more interesting.
The Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer
Recommended if you like: in-depth investigation processes
The Night Stalker describes the horrifying murders that took place on the West Coast in 1984 and 1985. It captures the hysteria that the public experienced at that time due to the Night Stalker’s unusual quality – he had seemingly no consistent victim profile. This was so terrifying because that meant that nobody was safe, which put even more pressure on Detectives Gil Carrillo and Frank Salerno to crack the case. While I did enjoy this one a lot (specifically the interviews with the detectives and victims), this documentary focused less on the man who was the Night Stalker and more on the detectives, their lives and their process. This style of documentary is different from many serial killer documentaries that often delve into the backstories and lives of the perpetrators.
Crime Scene: The Vanishing at Cecil Hotel
Recommended if you like: mysterious or controversial cases
This one took the internet by storm when it was released in February of this year and it was one of the most intriguing documentaries I had seen in a while. It centres around Eliza Lam, a UBC student who went looking for adventure in Los Angeles. Due to her low budget, she stayed at one of the cheapest hotels she could find without doing extensive research: Stay on Main, a new hotel within the existing Cecil Hotel. This addition was an attempt at rebranding to save the reputation of the building, which locals associated with suicide and crime. When Lam mysteriously vanished one night and was later found deceased in a water tank located on the roof of the building, and the puzzling elevator footage from the night she disappeared was released, the internet became fixated on the many ambiguous facts of the case and didn’t believe the police’s ruling of her death as suicide. I loved this one because there was so little evidence available, so there seemed to be countless possibilities as to what happened.
The Sons of Sam: A Descent Into Darkness
Recommended if you like: gory, scary serial killer documentaries
This is the classic, terrifying, captivating and shocking serial killer documentary that many of you know and love. In my opinion, it was interesting because it focused on two parallel stories: the obsession that the main narrator, journalist Maury Terry, had regarding the details of the case and the Son of Sam killings that took place in New York City in 1976. Terry’s theory about the convicted killer seems plausible enough to intrigue the viewer, and it was fascinating to me because I could make my own conclusion about the case (by siding with either Terry or the police). Terry’s investigation examined every loose end that the viewer could be wondering about, and that made this one of the most captivating documentaries I’ve ever seen.
While I don’t recommend watching these documentaries at night or if you’re prone to nightmares, I believe these films are well done and most definitely worth the watch. Enjoy... but watch at your own discretion.