9 best Halloween true crime and documentaries

Daisy Phillipson
Still from West of Memphis, Beware the Slenderman, and Wrinkles the ClownSony/HBO/Magnet Releasing

While there are plenty of horror movies and TV shows to get into the Halloween spirit, here’s our roundup of the best documentaries to watch this spooky season. 

Halloween is just around the corner, and as the chilly winds of October begin to blow and the leaves take on their amber hues, many of us find ourselves drawn to tales of the macabre. If you’re looking to get your spooky season kicked off with some scares, be sure to check out our definitive ranking of the top 30 horror movies of all time

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But there’s another realm of horror to tap into this season, one that’s arguably even more chilling: true crime. Within these real-life narratives, the monsters are not supernatural entities but rather humans whose actions are all too real. 

So, get comfy, grab some popcorn, and settle in as we give to you the top nine best documentaries to check out this Halloween, as well as where to watch them. 

Beware the Slenderman (2016)

What it’s about: Beware the Slenderman, a 2016 documentary film directed by Irene Taylor Brodsky, dives deep into the infamous 2014 case in which two 12-year-old girls from Waukesha, Wisconsin, attempted to murder their friend, claiming they did it to appease Slenderman – a tall, faceless figure popularized online. This fictional boogeyman has its origins in digital folklore, starting as a meme on the ‘Something Awful’ forums. The documentary intricately interweaves the details of the crime, interviews with the families, and insights from psychologists.

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What we think: It’s a worthy Halloween watch, not just because it covers a haunting real-life event but because of the unsettling examination of how modern digital folklore can have genuine consequences. Beware the Slenderman delves into the blurred lines between fiction and reality in the internet age, highlighting the vulnerability of young minds.

Where to stream: Max

West of Memphis (2013)

What it’s about: Directed by Amy Berg and produced by Peter Jackson, West of Memphis examines the controversial convictions of Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley, and Jason Baldwin, collectively known as the West Memphis Three. In 1994, they were found guilty of the murders of three young boys in West Memphis, Arkansas. The prosecution argued that the crimes were part of a satanic ritual, capitalizing on the wave of Satanic Panic sweeping the nation in the late 20th century. The documentary methodically examines the case, presenting a wealth of evidence suggesting the innocence of the three accused, uncovering grave injustices in their trial, and touching upon shocking revelations related to the Hobbs family and a secret that could potentially alter the direction of the entire case.

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What we think: I’d go as far as to say West of Memphis is one of the finest true crime documentaries ever made. It’s both a riveting and deeply disturbing watch, highlighting the terrifying consequences of prejudice, misinformation, and a flawed justice system. The fact that Satanic Panic played such a pivotal role in shaping the narrative and conviction is a harrowing reminder of how societal hysteria can distort the pursuit of truth. As for why it’s a Halloween recommendation, the “Hobbs family secret” still rattles me to my very core. 

Where to stream it: On-demand

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Don’t F**k with Cats: Hunting an Internet Killer (2019)

What it’s about: This gripping and deeply disturbing documentary series, directed by Mark Lewis, delves into the manhunt for Luka Magnotta, a man who initially caught the world’s attention by posting a video of himself killing two kittens. A group of internet sleuths who were troubled by the footage banded together to identify and track down the person behind the heinous act. However, their online hunt takes an even darker turn when Magnotta escalates his crimes to include the murder of a young man, which he also films and posts online. 

What we think: There’s no denying Don’t F**k With Cats is an uncomfortable watch from start to finish, but it’s a compelling one nonetheless. While there’s three episodes, each an hour long, not a moment feels wasted, with the cat-and-mouse chase that unfolds playing out like a horror thriller. This isn’t just a tale of a deranged killer; it’s a commentary on our modern era, where virtual actions can lead to very real and terrifying consequences. 

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Where to stream it: Netflix

The Nightmare (2015)

What it’s about: Sleep paralysis is a phenomenon where an individual, upon waking up or falling asleep, finds themselves unable to move or speak, often accompanied by hallucinations of menacing figures or sensations. The Nightmare presents this phenomenon through a series of personal interviews intertwined with chilling reenactments based on the experiences of eight individuals who suffer from this condition.

What we think: As someone who gets sleep paralysis on the regular, I can vouch for the authenticity of how the phenomenon is portrayed in Rodney Ascher’s 2015 documentary. But even those who are lucky enough to be inexperienced in this realm will find this film terrifying, with the horror-esque reenactments designed to evoke the raw fear and vulnerability one feels during an episode of sleep paralysis. It makes the boogeyman look like My Little Pony. 

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Where to stream: Shudder

Wrinkles The Clown (2019)

What it’s about: Step aside, Pennywise – Wrinkles the Clown, directed by Michael Beach Nichols, focuses on the internet sensation and urban legend of the same name that emerged in Florida around 2015. The story goes that parents could hire Wrinkles to scare their misbehaving children, and the legend was backed by unsettling footage and voicemails that did the rounds online, amplifying the lore. As the documentary unfolds, it examines the man behind the creepy clown mask and explores the modern-day viral phenomenon surrounding this mysterious figure. 

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What we think: Before It: Chapter One, there was the killer clown craze. And at the center of all this was Wrinkles the Clown. This documentary features all of the creepiness you’d expect from a creepy clown case, while also masterfully interweaving elements of folklore and digital culture. While viewers are introduced to the reality behind the Wrinkles phenomenon, the film also prompts reflection on the larger, more pervasive fears that grip communities. A mix of real interviews, creepy voicemails, and online footage make this a haunting exploration of modern urban legends and their powerful hold on the public’s imagination.

Where to stream it: Amazon Prime Video

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The Imposter (2012)

What it’s about: Directed by Bart Layton, The Imposter recounts the astonishing true story of Frédéric Bourdin, a French con artist who in the late 1990s convinced an American family that he was their 16-year-old son who had disappeared three years earlier. Despite obvious discrepancies like a different eye color and a French accent, the family seemingly accepted him as their lost son. The documentary meticulously unravels this bizarre tale, interweaving interviews with Bourdin, members of the family, and the officials associated with the case. 

What we think: Though not a horror documentary in the traditional sense, The Imposter elicits a sense of eeriness, not just from the audacity of Bourdin’s deception but also in the reactions and acceptance of the family – and the knowledge that they have a stranger in their home. As viewers are drawn into the labyrinthine narrative, they’re forced to grapple with unsettling questions about how well we really know our loved ones and how easily we can be deceived – or even deceive ourselves. This truly is a stranger-than-fiction tale, elevated by Layton’s atmospheric direction and compelling narrative style.

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Where to stream it: Peacock

Room 237 (2012)

What it’s about: Rodney Ascher’s Room 237 is an intriguing exploration into the myriad interpretations and conspiracy theories surrounding Stanley Kubrick’s classic horror film, The Shining. The documentary examines various fan theories and deep analyses, suggesting hidden meanings and subtexts within Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s novel. From assertions that the film is an allegory for the genocide of Native Americans to beliefs that it conceals clues about the faked moon landing theory, Room 237 presents a kaleidoscope of perspectives, shedding light on the intense fascination of the film’s most devoted fans. 

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What we think: The documentary’s strength lies in its ability to provoke thought, making viewers wonder about the mysteries of artistic intent and the lengths to which the human mind can go to find meaning, even in the most obscure details. It’s a compelling, unusual deep dive into obsession and interpretation, one that may just add another layer to one of Kubrick’s many great works. As for why it’s ideal for spooky season? It’s centered on one of the best horror movies ever made, of course.

Where to stream it: On-demand

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Cropsey (2009)

What it’s about: Directed by Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio, Cropsey looks at the titular boogeyman figure, long told to spook children on Staten Island, New York. According to local lore, Cropsey was an escaped patient from a nearby abandoned mental institution who would snatch children off the streets. But what started as a childhood tale turned disturbingly real when children actually began to go missing in the 1980s. This documentary traces the story of Andre Rand, a real-life figure who became the prime suspect and embodiment of the Cropsey legend, as the filmmakers attempt to unravel the blurred line between myth and reality.

What we think: The haunting visuals of the decaying Willowbrook institution and the surrounding woods, coupled with an eerie soundtrack, sets a tone that rivals conventional horror films. But the true terror in Cropsey arises from the realization that beneath the layers of urban myth lies a disturbing reality. Viewers will find this isn’t just the recounting of a tale; it’s an immersion in the palpable fear that gripped Staten Island for all those years, combined with the chilling story of a real-life boogeyman. 

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Where to stream it: Amazon Prime Video

The Devil on Trial (2023)

What it’s about: Chris Holt directs The Devil on Trial, about the “Devil Made Me Do It” case, which culminated in the first and only time “demonic possession” has been used as a defense in a US murder trial. Featuring firsthand accounts of those involved, including two people who claim to have been overtaken by evil entities, this documentary film is a terrifying trip into a case that’s still difficult to comprehend. 

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What we think: Not only were Ed and Lorraine Warren involved in the “Devil Made Me Do It” case, but it went on to inspire The Conjuring 3. Holt does the story justice, with the Netflix documentary playing out like a horror movie, including chilling reenactments of what David Glatzel claims to have experienced as a child. It’s also to the point and told well. Our one and only recommendation if you do decide to give The Devil on Trial a watch this Halloween: maybe leave the lights on. 

Where to stream it: Netflix

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Most of these documentaries can be bought or rented digitally on Amazon Prime. You can sign up here, and you check out our other Halloween content below:

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About The Author

Daisy is a Senior TV and Movies Writer at Dexerto. She's a lover of all things macabre, whether that be horror, crime, psychological thrillers or all of the above. After graduating with a Masters in Magazine Journalism, she's gone on to write for Digital Spy, LADbible and Little White Lies. You can contact her on daisy.phillipson@dexerto.com