Creepy paranormal documentaries that will make you question everything

There's no shortage of horror films in this great wide world of ours, and if you want to be scared sleepless by haunted dolls, masked murderers, werewolves, sexy vampires, or ghostly chatrooms, you can find them all in some format or another. But sometimes these aren't enough to scare you because that fourth wall of fiction protects you.

You know Freddy Krueger won't get you because he's just Robert Englund in a mask. You know werewolves aren't real, and sexy vampires just want to play baseball and make sexy vampire babies with you. You know Unfriended couldn't happen because it's impossible that a Skype chat with that many people could go that long without crashing.

What you need in your horror is that tang of the real, that soupçon of verisimilitude that comes from first-hand witnesses, expert interviews, and corny reenactments. You want a spooky documentary, but maybe not like true crime? That's a little too real. You want that happy medium between unreal and too real.

Great news. Here are real-life documentaries about ghosts, cryptids, and aliens to wind you up when you're making bad late-night decisions. A few of them might even not be hoaxes. Happy viewing!

The Nightmare

The Nightmare is a 2015 documentary that is ostensibly about sleep paralysis, but as you watch it, you'll quickly realize that this is not a movie that focuses on the causes behind the terrifying phenomenon in which some people find themselves awake but unable to move, suffering strange and often terrifying hallucinations. In fact, not a single doctor or scientist is interviewed throughout the film's 90-minute runtime.

Instead, the movie sees eight different individuals who have experienced sleep paralysis describe their experiences, which are then reenacted to horrifying effect. While there are a handful of types of dreams and hallucinations experienced by the various interviewees, the one that will really stick with you and linger in your mind's eye is the shadow people. Looming silhouettes with glowing eyes who stand over your bed while you lie helpless to watch their machinations is enough to inspire a few nightmares of your own, whether you experience sleep paralysis or not.

The absence of doctors and scientists means there's more room for the sufferers to offer their own personal explanations for what's happening to them. This might mean that rather than boring but accurate talk about dysfunctions during REM sleep, you can hear how these shadow people are actually invaders from another dimension. Then again, maybe you find that more comforting. However, if you've seen the director's previous effort, Room 237, you know it's not the most ridiculous explanation he's caught on film.

Killer Legends

In 2009, Joshua Zeman made Cropsey, a documentary about an urban legend bogeyman who proved to be all too real. It is generally regarded as one of the scariest documentaries ever made; you should watch it if you're in the mood to be terrified by real-life murders. However, as it's about an all-too-human killer and not about haints and spookums, it falls a little outside the purview of this list.

His 2014 follow-up, Killer Legends, skews a little closer to paranormal content while still keeping a foot in the arena of your basic, everyday human murderers. This documentary examines for different well-known urban legends – razor blades in Halloween candy, the babysitter and the killer upstairs, the killer with the hook, and scary phantom clown sightings – and looks for real-world origins behind them. While such legends have been the inspiration for horror movies, such as When a Stranger Calls, the film's possible explanation for the story of the hooked killer delves into the history of the real-life Phantom murders that directly inspired the film The Town That Dreaded Sundown. And while killer clowns may remind you of Stephen King's It, the documentary is quick to reassure you that ancient shape-shifting monsters aren't real, but John Wayne Gacy definitely is. So even though the film may help calm fears somewhat about supernatural killers and otherworldly clowns with devious intentions, it will definitely make you more nervous about the seemingly normal humans around you.

My Amityville Horror

Chances are, you're at least nominally familiar with The Amityville Horror. You might have read the 1977 book by Jay Anson or seen the 1979 film or its 2005 remake or its truly staggering number of sequels. Or maybe you're a cool, smart, good-looking person who read about it on our list of the most famous ghosts in American history.

However it is you know about the infamous haunting of the Lutz home, there is, like Jell-O, always room for one more interpretation, right? Have you ever watched the classic film up to the scene where the buzzing of the flies drives the priest crazy and he runs out of the house and said to yourself, "Dang, I wonder what the kid in this family will have to say about this 35 years from now?" Well, buddy, is there ever a film for you.

My Amityville Horror came out in 2012 and is an account of the Amityville haunting from the perspective of the now-adult Daniel Lutz, who was only a child at the time of the haunting. While the movie does look at the haunting from his point of view, it's also a look at the way being associated with a notoriously famous haunting since childhood has affected Daniel psychologically. 

While it is certainly the most personal version of the Amityville haunting to date, given how prolific the franchise is, hang on for a minute and they'll probably release a version from the perspective of the pig monster.

A Haunting in Connecticut/A Haunting in Georgia

In 2002, the Discovery Channel released two feature-length specials, A Haunting in Connecticut and A Haunting in Georgia, that would launch its ongoing paranormal documentary anthology series, A Haunting, as well as the pretty execrable fictionalized theatrical release The Haunting in Connecticut and its sequel, the improbably titled The Haunting in Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia.

The original TV documentaries recount experiences with hauntings from the perspectives of the victims, mixing reenactments with narration and interviews in order to recreate the events for the viewing audience. Connecticut deals with a family moving into a house that was formerly a funeral parlor where the children begin seeing ghosts, including a demon they refer to as "the Man in the Suit." One child's behavior becomes increasingly erratic and violent, and sending him out of the house only makes things worse. Things got so bad that they had to call in noted charlatans Ed and Lorraine Warren. (You know, from The Conjuring and those two scary doll movies. Holy crap, they made two of those?)

Meanwhile, Georgia deals with a family who moves into a mysteriously abandoned home only for their 4-year-old daughter to begin communicating with a series of imaginary friends: first, the kindly old Mister Gordy, then the bandaged and bloody Con, and finally the terrifying hooded "Dark Figure." In short, if creepy kids and their spooky imaginary friends give you the wiggins, the two pilot episodes of A Haunting are probably just what you're looking for.

The Pantry Ghost Documentary

The "pantry ghost" phenomenon began with a series of YouTube videos in 2007 in which a man claimed there was a ghost inhabiting his pantry, obviously. While the interaction began just with a vision barely caught in the background of an unrelated video, the man soon found that his pantry door opened every night at the same time, 12:34 a.m. As your Paranormal Activity-trained instincts have probably suggested to you, the phenomena only escalate as he continues to film and interact with the spirit until he and his family are forced to move out of his house and his marriage dissolves.

The authenticity of these videos has been hotly debated in the decade since they first appeared, and the 2013 documentary about the pantry ghost with the pretty on-the-nose name The Pantry Ghost Documentary, is not likely to quell those debates. The film adds interviews with each member of the family involved, giving the background of how the original videos came to be made and what happened to the family afterward. Depending on who you are, these interviews and reenactments may lend added verisimilitude to the story for you, or they may have you shouting "That girl is a terrible actress!" at the screen.

Either way, there's no debate that the alleged ghost footage in this film is pretty shocking, and it'll definitely have you questioning how it was done, whether by human or inhuman means.

Ghosts on the Underground

If you ever wanted a succinct example of the differences between British and American cultures, you could do worse than to follow up The Pantry Ghost Documentary with 2005's Ghosts on the Underground as a study in contrasts. While Pantry Ghost fills its time with sensational ghost footage, reenactments, and a video effects expert assuring the viewer that there were definitely no edits made to that film, Underground looks positively sedate by comparison.

Ghosts on the Underground is a series of interviews with workers from London's subway system, the oldest in the world, in which the workers calmly and clearly explain the strange things they have seen and experienced in their time working on the "choob." No composited footage of what a ghost might have looked like, no actors, just real people with real stories. The closest the film comes to offering visual evidence of ghosts is a man in an electric chair that eerily and without immediate explanation appeared in the background of a photo of a little boy.

In the interest of impartiality, however, the documentary presents a man in a reflective vest with a little handheld machine ready to attribute every ghostly encounter to infrasound. "Cheer up, lads! It wasn't really a ghostly woman in white walking down the tracks! It was just ultra-low frequency vibrations!" That said, the film does regularly intersperse title cards into the film reminding you just how many people have actually died down there, which is plenty spooky.

Out of the Blue

Maybe you're not into ghosts, though. Maybe you think ghosts are for little babies. Maybe you chew up shadow people from another dimension and spit them out like the pap they are. Maybe you've been flying through this list getting increasingly irate and shouting into the ether, "When will they get to that good good alien content that I crave?"

Well, shout no more. The aliens have arrived. Or have they? That's the question posed by the 2002 TV documentary Out of the Blue, a feature-length film that calls itself "the definitive investigation of the UFO phenomenon." Its reputation backs up that bold claim, as it is generally regarded as perhaps the best UFO documentary ever. Heck, it's got a 7.7/10 rating on IMDb, which, if you browse IMDb regularly, you know is basically equivalent to a 117 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.

This film is packed with interviews with experts, from scientists to eyewitnesses to high-ranking military officials in an attempt to prove both that some unidentified flying objects actually may have alien origins and the means by which the government has attempted to smother public belief in extraterrestrials, including derision of those who claim to have experienced close encounters. If alien encounters and government conspiracies are more your cup of tea than ghostly little girls hiding in the kitchen or eerie footprints in the train tunnel, then Out of the Blue and its sequel I Know What I Saw are probably for you.

Invasion on Chestnut Ridge

Most documentaries would be satisfied telling you about aliens, as you have seen. Or they might feel they had done their duty telling you all about a Bigfoot. Not 2017's Invasion on Chestnut Ridge, however. It won't be content until you've been spooked by both UFOs and Bigfoots. (Bigfeet? Big … feets?)

Anyway, Small Town Monsters is a series of documentaries about, well, it's right there in the title. Previous installments have featured Bigfoot-like boys in Ohio, upstate New York, and Arkansas, as well as one about a spooky dude you'll see more about in a second. And Invasion on Chestnut Ridge has no shortage of lurking hairy woods beasts, but as the title suggests, there's a little more to it. What if large-footed monkey men actually came from outer space? If you believe the various eyewitness interviews in this film, this theory might be more likely than you think.

If you didn't know that southwest Pennsylvania is basically Spooktown Central, USA, you will after watching this documentary. Following a high-profile UFO sighting and alleged military cover-up in Kecksburg, Pennsylvania, in the 1960s, the area also experienced a huge upsurge in Bigfoot sightings in the 1970s, which have been followed by more aliens, ghouls, dogmen, unearthly thunderbirds, and even more. This film traces the history of such sightings across the decades, supported by various first-hand accounts.

Besides, you know you really, really want to hear what this guy has to say, right?

The Mothman of Point Pleasant

Mothman is a little different from other cryptids. While most regionally known and occasionally sighted spooky creatures — like your Bigfoots and Loch Ness monsters and chupacabras and what have you — have little more narrative meat to them than just, "I was out in the woods one time and this big gorilla fella strolled up and started drinking all my beers!" the Mothman has a whole story arc that climaxes in an actual tragedy.

Over the course of 13 months in the 1960s, the small West Virginia town of Point Pleasant was home to numerous sightings of a strange, winged creature that some witnesses described as looking like a flying man with 10-foot wings. After over a year of sightings, the region suffered a catastrophic loss in the form of a deadly bridge collapse, which has led many people to believe that the appearance of the Mothman was a warning. Tack on alleged appearances by UFOs and men and black, and you have a genuine spooky mystery.

The events of this story have been dramatized in various films, including perhaps most famously 2002's The Mothman Prophecies, but the 2017 documentary from Small Town Monsters, The Mothman of Point Pleasant, takes a personal look at the events of 1966 and 1967 from a first-hand perspective with various eyewitness interviews and reports. The movie is a deep dive into the fascinating and frightening phenomenon that has become a point of pride for the people of Point Pleasant, inspiring a statue, a museum, and an annual festival.

The Blackwell Ghost

Most of the documentaries on this list will have you questioning things. "Have we been visited by UFOs?" "Are ghosts real?" "Do Bigfoots come from outer space?" On the other hand, 2017's The Blackwell Ghost will have you asking a completely different question: "Is this even a documentary?"

The answer is, "Almost definitely not." A critical eye while watching will reveal some small inconsistencies and coincidences that should get your skepticism sense tingling. However, all the promotional text associated with the film swear up and down that it's an authentic documentary and not just another found-footage horror film. So if you take this movie at face value and accept that it's a real documentary, what do you have?

Well, there's a filmmaker whose name is never revealed who takes his wife to stay in a haunted house in order to try to determine whether ghosts are real. And, as happens in the similarly suspect Pantry Ghost, the activity increases the longer he stays and the more he antagonizes the ghost with his filming until he finds himself fully tormented by a spectral murderer.

If, as it claims, the footage is authentic (it's not), then what this movie catches on tape is truly shocking. If it's just a horror movie trying to market itself with some Blair Witch-style buzz, it's still pretty good, but if you want to check out a horror mockumentary, you might do better to point your peepers at Lake Mungo.