The scariest movie you will ever see will not be a horror film, it will be a documentary. Truth is always more terrifying than fiction, and that's what makes scary documentaries so satisfying and so effective: knowing without a doubt that the horrors described in them are real makes it impossible to pretend they don't exist. If, like me, you're weirdly fascinated by true-life horrors and want to scare yourself even more, check out the below 17 scary documentaries from the past 20 years. But be warned, you might never sleep again.
As a general rule, true crime documentaries tend to be the most terrifying and the most satisfying. But depending on what you find personally scary, murder stories might not send a chill down your spine the same way a religion documentary might, or a documentary on climate change. From true-crime to religion and climate change, the scariest documentaries released in the past two decades have covered it all with terrifying editing, music, and distressing accuracy. Whether you're into urban legends, murders, or corrupt criminal justice, there's a scary doc for you. Here are 17 super scary documentaries from the past 20 years guaranteed to give you nightmares. Watch at your own risk.
Watch an urban legend come true in Cropsey, a documentary about five missing children and the scary tall tale that emerged from their mysterious disappearance.
2'My Amityville Horror' (2012)
Uncover the true story that inspired the Amityville horror series in My Amityville Horror. Watching Daniel Lutz detail the horrors he witnessed as a young boy, it's impossible not to believe in hauntings.
3'The Cheshire Murders' (2013)
The Cheshire Murders explores the events leading up to the home invasion and murder of a mother and her two daughters in the town of Cheshire, Connecticut. True crime lovers, this one's for you.
4'Going Clear: Scientology And The Prison Of Belief' (2015)
Going Clear starts out as an informational documentary on Scientology and quickly spirals into a terrifying expose of alleged corruption and crimes against members.
5'Capturing The Friedmans' (2003)
Capturing the Friedmans will have you doubting everything you know, like how sure you are that you're not related to child molesters.
6'The Jinx: The Life And Deaths Of Robert Durst' (2015)
If you didn't watch HBO's The Jinx, you're missing out. Not only is Robert Durst's life story way stranger than fiction, but the looming question of whether or not he's a murderer will keep you up at night.
7'Jesus Camp' (2007)
Jesus Camp is about what happens when Bible camp becomes so intense, it dips into indoctrination.
8'Albert Fish: In Sin He Found Salvation' (2007)
Learn the true story of Albert Fish, a man who killed children, was a serial killer and cannibal. So, you know, just some light horror.
9'Killer Legends' (2014)
Like Cropsey, Killer Legends explores the real horrors behind urban legends and ghost stories.
10'Welcome To Leith' (2015)
Welcome to Leith isn't about murder, but it's still incredibly terrifying. The documentary follows the story of the town of Leith, which was almost overrun by white supremacists — in a completely legal way. It's a scary portrait of what can happen when hatred is organized.
11'An Inconvenient Truth' (2006)
If you care about the future of the planet, then An Inconvenient Truth is probably the scariest documentary of them all.
12'Dreams Of A Life' (2011)
Joyce Vincent died alone in her London apartment in 2003. Her body wasn't discovered until 2006. Dreams of a Life tells the disturbing story of how a woman can disappear quietly, without anyone coming to look for her.
13'Hell House' (2001)
You might think that a documentary about a religious haunted house might not be scary, but keep in mind the fact that the people putting the titular Hell House together actually think that we're all going to hell.
14'Amanda Knox' (2016)
Amanda Knox is more tragic than scary, but the film presents us with two awful scenarios: either Knox is guilty and escaped justice, or she's innocent and was brutally vilified. The question is, which option is scarier to you?
15'Mr. Death: The Rise And Fall Of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr.' (1999)
Errol Morris' documentary on Fred A. Leuchter, Jr., an execution specialist who also happens to be a Holocaust denier, will chill you to your core.
16'Boy Interrupted' (2009)
What makes Boy Interrupted so frightening isn't any murder plot or extreme cruelty, but the helpless nature of mental illness that caused 15-year-old Evan Perry to commit suicide in 2005.
17'The Central Park Five' (2012)
Sometimes there's nothing scarier than being confronted with the harsh realities of modern government and society. The Central Park Five will keep you up at night, thinking how did we let this happen?
Good luck with your nightmares.