The horror fan has excellent choices when it comes to documentaries about the genre. There are certain titles that examine horror films or an entire subgenre as a whole. Examples of this approach are: Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film, The American Nightmare, and Nightmares in Red, White, and Blue. They analyze the cultural and societal effects that attract audiences to the horror genre. The list below spotlights documentaries that pertain to specific franchises. Read on for our top picks!
This production clearly had a small budget. Despite the low production values, this labor of love directed by Rob Galluzzo is full of interviews by cast and crew from the Psycho franchise. A portion of the interviews utilize archival footage of essential cast members like Anthony Perkins and Janet Leigh. Fans of the films are treated to tidbits and anecdotes of the times on set and afterwards.
My Amityville Horror
This entry isn’t explicitly tied to the feature film franchise but its inclusion is still warranted, as it discusses, in great detail, the events that inspired the first installment in the Amityville franchise. Even as the oldest son finally has his turn to speak, there is still no validation for the Lutz family. After a series of novels, movies, and remakes, most horror audiences are familiar with the iconic Dutch Colonial located in the Amityville neighborhood of Long Island. This documentary focuses on Daniel Lutz and his life since the events took place. He has grown into a nervous, agitated, and sensitive middle-aged man. His eyes sparkle with innocence that soon change to cynicism. Especially, with any mention of his former stepfather, George Lutz. Like all the media before, this documentary proves no more definitive clarification on the infamous claims surrounding the house. Nevertheless, there is interesting background information given on those involved as the viewer gains insight through the eyes of a now grown up Daniel Lutz.
Document of the Dead
Fans of the “Dead” series should look to this intimate documentary by Roy Frumkes showcasing the work of George Romero. There is an examination of Romero films such as Night of the Living Dead and Martin while the main thread takes the audience through the behind-the-scenes of Dawn of the Dead. Romero walks through the deserted shopping mall as he discusses the filmmaking process from stunts to storyboards. Viewers also get the chance to watch artist, Tom Savini, work on both sides of the camera. He creates the gruesome make-up effects and then performs a risky stunt. An absorbing glimpse of a director able to so profoundly dissect human nature in, arguably, the most socially aware of all horror series.
The Halloween franchise has a few documentaries for the horror fan. Halloween: 25 Years of Terror and Halloween: The Inside Story, mainly focus on the original film. I opted to go with a documentary short about Danielle Harris. Jamie’s Story is a brief, but revealing look at why she was recast in the sixth film. In less than ten minutes, the viewer gains an understanding on how the behind-the-scenes of Hollywood works for a young actress. There is insight given to her relationships to the Akkads and her replacement, J.C. Brandy. Harris’ contributions to the series have been immeasurable. Check out any of the Halloween documentaries for information on the franchise. Look to Halloween 5: On the Set and Jamie’s Story for understanding on how crucial Danielle Harris is to these films.
Dario Argento: An Eye for Horror
The master of Italian horror. Dario Argento is an auteur director that has cemented his place firmly alongside the best of the best of all horror film creators. The Three Mothers trilogy has significant focus in the program. The trilogy was unfinished at the time. Argento encapsulates a specific style that connects each of his horror films to the other. The style links the films even if the plot lines do not. This documentary showcases his contributions to the genre. These contributions are supplemented with interviews from other renowned directors such as John Carpenter and George Romero. Items observed are his succinct choices in music, and his relationships with actors. Particularly interesting to watch in this program are his relationships with former collaborator, Daria Nicolodi, and daughter, Asia. Any fan of the surreal, dreamlike quality of his work will find plenty of stimulation in this documentary.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Shocking Truth
One of the most frightening horror flicks of all time, the filming of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was no less ghastly to make. The feature includes interviews with Tobe Hooper, Marilyn Burns, Gunnar Hansen, and numerous other cast and crew members from the original movie. The documentary explores the influence of Ed Gein, all the way through to the mafia connections of the film’s release. One gathers that those involved are proud of what they achieved while at the same time remember clearly the difficult conditions they faced at the time. One humorous moment is when Burns and Paul A. Partain discuss the persnickety behaviors of the character of Franklin Hardesty. In addition, there is also behind-the-scenes information about The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 and the following sequels.
Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th
Daniel Farrands is the driving force behind this 2013 documentary. He was also involved in the earlier, but less in-depth His Name was Jason. He utilized Peter M. Bracke’s book, Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th, to produce a thorough detailing of the franchise. Clocking in at six hours and forty minutes, Crystal Lake Memories is full of fun for any horror fan. The hefty run time includes dozens of interviews from cast and crew members. Corey Feldman played Tommy Jarvis in two installments of the series and is the aptly chosen narrator for the documentary. The range of this feature includes the films as well as comics, crossovers, and the Canadian television series. Farrands was also behind Never Sleep Again, and the extent of his fandom is well appreciated by the horror fan.
I am Nancy
Heather Langenkamp takes center stage in this documentary named after the character she played in three Nightmare on Elm Street films. This picture dissolves from self-aware comedy to a powerful message praising the unsung hero willing to face his or her fears. Initially, the idea is to analyze why Nancy does not receive the same recognition as Freddy. Similar to a sequence in Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, Langenkamp is overshadowed by the frenzy surrounding Robert Englund as Krueger. The lacking fan recognition and nonexistent Nancy memorabilia highlight the unequal balance. Her search for answers brings validation for Nancy. Wes Craven and Englund give thoughtful responses to her questioning. An insightful and poignant conversation with Jessica, Craven’s daughter, is particularly interesting. Additionally, there are both comedic and touching interviews with fans of Nancy.
This must-see 2012 documentary is an examination into Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation of Stephen King’s novel, The Shining. Room 237 is an amalgamation of theories surrounding Kubrick’s true intent in making the feature ranging from Native American genocide to faked moon landings. These ideas arise due to the ways Kubrick deviated from King’s original source material. The author’s negative feelings regarding the adaptation are common knowledge. However, Kubrick may have used King’s book as a vehicle to convey subconscious messages to audiences. Whether or not one believes them to be true, certain notions do line up eerily well. The strongest theory constructed surrounds the documentary’s title. Again, it becomes up to the viewer to choose what he or she will believe. Any good documentary gives the audience pause to think a little deeper.
Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy
Released from 1428 films, this is the definitive example of how a horror documentary should be produced. The feature is narrated by A Nightmare on Elm Street’s original final girl, Heather Langenkamp. Fun and relevant stop-motion graphics transition between features. Each segment contains a plethora of interviews, graphics, and goodies to satiate all Freddy fans. Never Sleep Again is almost four hours in length in order to accommodate interviews from cast and crew from each film. Wes Craven, Robert Englund, and Robert Shaye are just some of the essential interviews.
There are people notably absent such as Patricia Arquette and Johnny Depp. Nevertheless, an abundance of heart went into this production clearly made by fans of the franchise. The feature begins with the origins in Craven’s memories coupled with the development of Robert Shaye’s New Line Cinema. There are appropriate contributions to every section of the original films. Also covered is Freddy’s Nightmares, comics, original scripts, and the crossover, Freddy vs. Jason. The end titles contain an enjoyable sequence where all the actors say their favorite line from the franchise. Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy is the ultimate experience in horror documentaries.