12 Of The Scariest Documentaries On Netflix

Watch these with the lights on.

by Kayleigh Hughes and Arya Roshanian
Originally Published: 

There are plenty of notorious horror movies, designed to scare the living daylights out of viewers — but at the end of the day, they’re still just fiction. By their nature, documentaries are often much more terrifying. Indeed, some of the scariest movies out there are actually some of the scariest documentaries (and docu-series) — particularly when it comes to what’s available on Netflix.

You’re probably safe from the threat of monsters under your bed or zombies ready to eat your brain, but there absolutely are evil serial killers, bank robbery bombings, modern-day exorcisms, and many other terrifying true tales out in the real world. Netflix, known for its wide array of documentary fare, offers plenty in the way of scary true stories, both historical and contemporary.

If you want to stare in the face of a murderer, you've come to the right place. These are the 12 scariest documentaries on Netflix right now.


Night Stalker: The Hunt For a Serial Killer (2021)

This four-part docu-series explores Richard Ramirez’s (aka the “Night Stalker”) reign of terror in California during the mid-’80s. Told with interviews from the detectives on the case, as well as surviving victims or their family members, Night Stalker: The Hunt For a Serial Killer is one of the most chilling true crime documentaries on any streaming platform.

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Abducted in Plain Sight (2017)

With Abducted in Plain Sight, director Skye Borgman explores the multiple abductions of Idaho teenager Jan Broberg, who was kidnapped by family friend Robert “B” Berchtold. What’s most disturbing is not just the abductions themselves, but how Berchtold coerced the Broberg family into trusting him.

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Conversations With a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes (2019)

What makes Ted Bundy so unsettling is not just scale of his killing sprees, but that he was able to charm those who knew him. Not even his girlfriend at the time of his arrest, who knew something was amiss, was fully aware of his sadistic nature. Conversations With a Killer recounts Bundy’s crimes through archival footage and real recordings of his confessions from death row.

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Interview With A Serial Killer (2009)

This is exactly what it sounds like: a jailhouse interview with serial killer Arthur Shawcross, aka the Genesee River Killer. He talks about his crimes, and yes, it is terribly creepy — but also darkly compelling.

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Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel (2021)

One of the most infamous unsolved cases in modern history is the death of 21-year-old Elisa Lam, who went missing in February 2013 during her stay at L.A.’s seedy Cecil Hotel. From the unsettling elevator video that went viral to the discovery of her body in the hotel’s water tower, the four-part docuseries explores the question on everyone’s mind: what happened to Elisa Lam?

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Unabomber: In His Own Words (2020)

Courtesy of Netflix

Ted Kaczynski — better known as “the Unabomber” — had one motive: “revenge” against “the system.” Unabomber: In His Own Words recounts Kaczynski’s life and crimes, using the first (and only) interview he ever gave on the record.

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Wild Wild Country (2018)

The six-part, Emmy Award-winning series explores the Rajneeshpuram commune in northern Oregon. What was supposed to be a peaceful religious community soon turned violent, as leader Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh manipulated his followers into carrying out his violent schemes.

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The Keepers (2017)

Unsolved murders will never not be terrifying. The Keepers is a sweeping seven-part series that delves into the mysterious death of beloved schoolteacher Sister Catherine Cesnik. It’s widely speculated that her murder was covered up to protect a priest and fellow teacher against sexual assault allegations. Though the killer was never apprehended, journalist Tom Nugent says: “There is an on-the-record public story of what happened to Sister Cathy, and then there’s the world beneath.”

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Belief: The Possession of Janet Moses (2015)

There are films that fictionalize exorcisms or demonic possession — and then there is Belief: The Possession of Janet Moses. In 2007, 22-year-old Janet Moses died after a three-day mākutu lifting ceremony in a Wellington, New Zealand suburb. Told through interviews and reenactments, the film not only investigates the chilling incident itself, but also delves into Indigenous Māori practices in the time of colonization.

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Evil Genius: The True Story of America’s Most Diabolical Bank Heist (2018)

The events surrounding the death of Brian Wells — otherwise known as the “pizza bomber case” — could be viewed as an elaborate whodunit. Others are convinced the heist was conceived by mastermind Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong. Evil Genius aims to debunk some of the mystery behind the chilling case, in which Wells, allegedly against his will, robbed a bank while wearing an explosive collar around his neck. Wells was killed when the bomb detonated, but who was really behind the plot?

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The Devil Next Door (2019)

Ukrainian-born John Demjanjuk was living in Cleveland when he was accused and tried as “Ivan the Terrible,” the notorious Nazi prison guard known for committing sadistic crimes during the Holocaust. Though Demjanjuk was indeed a Nazi guard at multiple concentration camps, he wasn’t the notorious Ivan Marchenko. The Devil Next Door shows viewers the hearings of this infamous case, but the identity of the real “Ivan the Terrible” remains mostly a mystery.

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American Murder: The Family Next Door (2020)

Shannan Watts was pregnant when she was murdered — along with her two daughters — by her husband Christopher in August 2018. While Christopher originally feigned innocence, he later failed a polygraph test and eventually confessed to killing his wife, kids, and unborn child. With the permission from the victim’s family, American Murder delves into the case, and asks the inevitable question: who can you trust?

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Editor's Note: This article has been updated from its original version.

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