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Top 5 Horror Documentaries: Truth Is Scarier than Fiction

As lurid and grotesque as ghouls and ghosts can be, there’s something extra disturbing about real-life horror. Here are five documentaries guaranteed to make your skin crawl.

This list has something for everyone, but there is one thread that ties all these documentaries together. They ask the hard questions and examine societal ills. 

*All of these films are triggering, you've been warned. 

1. 'The Cannibal that Walked Free' (2007)

This bloodcurdling documentary is about Issie Sagawa, a confessed murder, necrophiliac, and cannibal who evaded punishment. Not only did Sagawa never pay for his crimes, but he also profits off of them to this day.

This film keeps outdoing itself constantly providing you with new shocking things to be horrified by. First, there’s the sadistic murder, then the gross miscarriage of justice, and finally Sagawa’s macabre and twisted celebrity status. 

I would say that the most horrifying thing of all is Sagawa’s lack of remorse. He has the gall to complain about how difficult this whole experience had been for him!

“Spooky Trivia”: Known cannibal Issie Sagawa has written restaurant reviews for the Japanese magazine Spa.

2. 'Titicut Follies' (1967)

Titicut Follies gives you a look at the inner workings you never wanted into the Bridgewater State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. Because of the documentary’s unflinching portrayal of the intimates’ lives, it wasn’t released until 1991. 

This chilling and claustrophobic film makes American Horror Story Asylum look silly and benign. By the end, you'll be filled with horror, disgust, and rage. 

“Spooky Trivia”: Titicut Follies was screened for the cast and crew of Shutter Island (2010) before they began production. 

3. 'Cropsesy' (2010)

Urban Legend meets Courtroom Drama 

Growing up on Staten Island, filmmakers Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio were inundated with spooky tales of "Cropsesy," a local boogeyman who preyed on children and haunted the abandoned buildings of the old insane asylum. Some say he’s a deranged axeman. Others insist that he’s a mental patient with a bloody hook for a hand.

In 1987, the urban myth became too close for comfort when 13-year-old Jennifer Schweiger vanished without a trace. The true "Cropsesy" was Andre Rand, a former custodian at the infamous Willowbrook State School. Even after he’s been exposed and convicted, he remains mysterious and leaves you searching for answers.

Zeman and Brancaccio examine the eerie case that has haunted the tight-knit community for decades.

“Spooky Trivia”: The Willowbrook State School is the subject of another award-winning documentary Willowbrook: The Last Great Disgrace (1972). 

4. 'Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer' (1992)

This film will make you question everything you thought you knew about Aileen Wuornos. From her negligent and shockingly incompetent lawyer to her adopted mother, everyone is more interested in selling her story than helping her. 

Wuornos is utterly captivating; rage and pain radiate from every atom of her being. You can feel the damage that years of unimaginable abuse have done to her psyche. Throughout the film, an already broken Wuornos completely unravels before your eyes. You wouldn’t be able to look away. 

“Spooky Trivia”: During the filming of Monster, Charlie Therzon would watch clips from this documentary between takes. 

5. 'The Jeffrey Dahmer Files' (2013)

If you’re going to watch My Friend Dahmer (2017), I’d recommend watching this documentary as well so you get the facts, along with the Hollywood myth.

This engrossing film gives us new insight into a familiar subject. It does have re-created scenes, but instead of gore reenactments of Dahmer’s gruesome crimes, we get unnerving glimpses into his everyday life. These seemingly mundane scenes are filled with tension as the audience silently begs the oblivious bystanders to intervene. The focus of the film isn’t Dahmer’s crimes, but the terrifying fact that he managed to blend in and evade capture for so long.

“Spooky Trivia”: Detective Patrick Kennedy gave Dahmer the striped shirt that he wore for his courtroom appearance. Kennedy had bought the shirt for his teenage son but he didn’t want it.  

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