The interwebs have been abuzz with stories of the Cecil Hotel, with both Ghost Adventures: Cecil Hotel on Discovery Plus and Crime Scene: Vanishing at the Cecil on Netflix drawing hordes of obsessed fans. It seems like people have gotten a sudden thirst for supernatural and true crime documentaries. Maybe the quarantine has gotten so boring that we need some thrills, or maybe in the face of something as terrifying as Covid, it’s nice to be frightened in a smaller, more manageable way. Either way, streaming services are bringing them hard and fast. If you are thirsty for more, here are some recommendations for creepy docs you can stream right now:
Even though a more recent episode of Shock Docs, “The Exorcism of Roland Doe,” has dropped this month, the episode on everyone’s mind is The Amityville Horror House. Perhaps it is the connection to a real-life massacre, or the fact it was one of the first detailed, nonfiction accounts of murder and haunting to hit mainstream culture that makes this story continue to fascinate and terrify the nation. The most frightening thing about this collection of old photos, videos and interviews is the Lutz family interviews. You can hear the fear in their voices, and it feels very, very real. The house was also investigated by esteemed paranormal researchers like Hans Holzer and Ed and Lorraine Warren , giving it plenty of paranormal cred.
Ted Bundy is infamous for his charm, good looks, and absolutely brutal murders. This docuseries tries to get into the mind of a killer and answer the eternal question of why he committed the atrocities he did. The interviews conducted with Bundy while he was on death row might not answer that question, but it does give you some insight into his complexities and contradictions as well as nightmare fodder for weeks to come.
Celebrity Ghost Stories is a good show to watch along with someone else, so you can bag on some of the hilarious parts, like the wig worn by “Dee Snyder” in the re-enactment of his ghost story. Also, you might not want to watch it alone because it’s scary as shit sometimes. The editing is skillful, switching between the storyteller and the re-enactment at just the right moment to up the fear factor. There are five seasons dating back to 2009, and there is even a British version, so you won’t run out of episodes anytime soon. The show was rebooted in 2020 by A&E with a different format that takes celebrities back to the scene of their paranormal experience. My favorite old episode? Rowdy Roddy Piper, of course.
Forensic psychiatrist Dorothy Otnow Lewis is a pioneer in researching the reasons serial killers kill. She posits that it is a combination of trauma and brain abnormalities. Some of the abnormalities are caused by child abuse. She is a strong believer in Dissasociative Disorder, formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder, which is a controversial diagnosis. Whether you believe or not, her conversations with killers like Ted Bundy and Arthur Shawcross are riveting. Warning: there are two shocking crime scene photos.
You have to love Lieutenant Joe Kenda, who discusses the numerous homicide cases he solved during his career in Colorado with a Dragnet-style directness. He is intense, but has charming turns of phrase, like, “Here is a guy without an alibi. Well, I’m looking for one of those.” The editing is fast, with witness interviews and commentary from their regular group of experts interspersed with re-enacted crime scene vignettes. There are 10 years of episodes, which will thrill any fans of CSI.
This six-episode docuseries may catch your eye because of the connection to comedian Patton Oswalt, but that is actually the least interesting thing about this show. The series follows the hunt for the Golden State Killer through the eyes of the late reporter (and Patton Oswalt’s first wife), Michelle McNamara. Based on her book of the same name, I’ll be Gone in the Dark uses interviews with survivors and detectives, evidence, and crime scene photos, plus taped interviews conducted by McNamara and tapes of her visiting the crime locations with a detective. The stories are heart-wrenching, and the community approach to crime-solving is fascinating. The first episode can be confusing and even a bit overwhelming, because the Golden State Killer, who committed at least 50 home-invasion rapes and 12 murders, had different names, criminal methodology and hunting grounds. The following episodes explain everything in a much more clear, chronological order.
Netflix practically invented binge-watching with its compelling true crime documentary series. “The Keepers,” will have you glued to the screen with the still-unsolved murder of Sister Cathy Cesnik, a beloved Catholic nun and high school teacher who was abducted and murdered in Baltimore in 1969. The story is further complicated in the early 1990s, when one of Sister Cathy’s former students comes forward with allegations of sexual abuse by Father Maskell, the chaplain of the all-girls Catholic high school where Sister Cathy had taught. “Jane Doe,” as she was known, also made the astounding claim that Maskell took her to see Cathy’s dead body in order to keep her quiet about the abuse. Using old films, stills, and recent interviews, the documentary follows Gemma Hoskins and Abbie Fitzgerald Schaub, two of Sister Cathy’s students, as they try to piece together the events leading up to Sister Cathy’s murder and the revelations that followed. At the end of the series you may remain unsatisfied, because unlike fiction, the real world doesn’t tie up all of the loose ends with a neat little bow. You may be left with the growing suspicion that the institutions that are supposed to be protecting us might be selling us out for their own nefarious purposes.
When you think about Louisiana Cajun country, most people think of Zydeco music and crawfish boils. But there is at least one small Cajun town by the name of Jennings that hides a dark side. Between 2005 and 2009, the bodies of eight young women were found discarded by the side of the road and in the swampy water of drainage canals. It might seem the work of a serial killer, but as this five-part documentary, and the book it is based on, dig deeper, an even more troubling likelihood exists. What could possibly be worse that a serial killer? A conspiracy amongst a group of men in the town, and a code of silence in the local police department. These eight women knew each other, and all of them struggled with drug addiction. Predators appear to have taken advantage of their poverty and weakness, even feeding them the drugs to keep them co-operating. Their situation is permeated by a hopelessness. The victims often knew what was coming, but seemed powerless to do anything about it. Sometimes the people who are supposed to rescue you are actually the bad guys. This documentary will stay with you for a long time after the last episode.
This four-part in-depth docuseries follows the hunt for the killer that held the L.A. basin in the grip of fear during the mid-80s. The footage includes everything that was happening in the police departments, on the streets and even from the air. There is inclusive footage of the preliminary hearing and the trial. If you are unfamiliar, the crimes are shocking and pretty gory. There have been other versions of the Richard Ramirez story told, but none so complete. And so chilling.
It seems like every British serial killer is likened to the infamous Jack the Ripper. But if anyone ever deserved the moniker, it’s this guy, who made enough of a mark on the culture to inspire songs from such disparate bands as Siouxsie and the Banshees (Night Shift), Throbbing Gristle (Leeds Ripper) and Thin Lizzy (Killer on the Loose). Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper, murdered 13 women and raped countless others in the County of Cork between 1975 and 1980. The documentary takes the view that the police department dropped the ball with their disorganization and misogynistic assumption that the victims were prostitutes. Reporter Christa Ackroyd opines that labeling the women as prostitutes victims and caused the police and the public to disregard the murders in the public eye and gave the public a false sense of security. It is gratifying to watch him get caught and finally put on trial.
This series combines William Shatner’s melodramatic narration with serious researchers and reporters discussing mysteries from the curse of the Hope Diamond to the Winchester Mansion and Mothman. From the same producers as Ancient Aliens, these one-hour episodes include “Evil Places,” “Strange Creatures,” “Bizarre Rituals,” and “Deadly Cults.” it. New episodes air Fridays at 9 P.M.