The darkest true crime documentaries on Netflix

Any Goth worth their bat-emblazoned signet ring will tell you that darkness doesn't come in just one shade. In fact, if darkness were ice cream, the True Crime Documentaries section of Netflix would be a veritable Ben and Jerry's of morbid deliciousness — with everything from the Neapolitan elegance of your detailed forensic procedural to the wild Tutti-Frutti excess of a rabid historian's personal crusade to right a half-century-old family injustice. Grab a spoon, and dare to sample two of the darkest, strangest, most dangerously binge-inducing true crime documentaries lurking on Netflix.

As a documentary series, The Keepers works on a variety of intertwined levels, but there's one bitter element this show's audience will taste repeatedly: anger. And not just a mildly angst-ridden case of the grumpies. This story leaves an angry rage-residue that doesn't come out in the wash. Over seven episodes, the story charts the unsolved murder of Cathy Cesnik, schoolteacher, nun, and genuinely nice human being. One reason The Keepers burrows so deep into the cerebellum is that this is not just a story about a senseless murder. Behind layers of tangled testimony, a darker realization creeps in that the audience is witnessing an elaborate, decades-old cover-up — and the real evil influence lurking behind the tale never faced justice. It stings to see a good person's life cut short, but it burns the bones to see the systemic and absolute lack of karmic comeuppance at the heart of it all. This documentary involves issues of abuse and is not for everybody.

From injustice to obsession

Interviewed by Vanity Fair, documentarian Errol Morris describes his true-crime documentary, Wormwood, as "a series of Russian nesting dolls — stories inside stories, inside stories." Set in the fifties, the series explores the death of CIA scientist Frank Olson, a man who likely knew one too many government secrets. Conspiracy theories, ruthless machinations, and some desperately unlikeable characters all contribute to this documentary's obsidian story beats, but that darkness is magnified to demonic doll dimensions by the parallel story of Eric Olson, Frank Olson's son. Eric's obsession adds a stark emotional dimension to Frank Olson's murder because we realize we're not just exploring facts about a murder. We're seeing the defining moments that will shape a secondary victim's unhappy life. It's probably also worth slapping a sticky note on how "un-documentary-like" this six-part series feels. Morris bends the genre, leaning on re-enactments, dramatic music and generally cinematic flair to drive his story home. The effect is unusual — even unnerving. It's easy to forget that we're seeing real events here — and most likely, a very real desire to bring some kind of catharsis to someone in pain. And when that realization hits anew, the darkness gains a new and razor-sharp edge.

Perhaps it's odd. Maybe it'd be a tad awkward if we ever had to explain the urge to a crew of visiting alien anthropologist overlords. But as a species, it seems we're drawn to savoring the many flavors of darkness — from serial killer sobriquets to lessons on mortality from an oversized fictitious avian. Wherever it comes from, these documentaries will scratch that guilty itch.