When it comes to horror and cult fandom, documentaries tend to be one of the last things on most people’s minds. But for those of us who have delved into the great selection of horror and cult movie documentaries available, it can be just as enjoyable as watching the movies themselves. You’re also likely to find a decent amount of unfamiliar films that you’ll want to add to your ‘to be watched’ list.
Personally, I usually choose to watch a documentary that covers a genre, subgenre, or other segmentation as a whole, rather than documentaries that focus on single titles or franchises. That being said, there are plenty of great documentaries that focus on specific movies, so I’ve included a separate list of those below.
10 Best Horror and Cult Movie Documentaries
10. Screaming in High Heels (2011)
Screaming in High Heels addresses the scream queen era of the 80’s and 90’s, amid the switch from drive-in theaters to VHS home video. This change in the way people viewed movies was one of the most important evolutions in the film industry. It allowed for shoestring budgets and a vast increase in the quantity of movies available. This documentary focuses on the three leading scream queens of that era: Linnea Quigley, Brinke Stevens, and Michelle Bauer. There are plenty of clips of the obscure films that these three worked on, together and separately. Fans of movies like Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers (1988), The Slumber Party Massacre (1982), and Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama (1988) don’t want to miss this entertaining look at that era and the people behind that type of film. But be warned, if you already have a lack of faith in modern horror, this documentary will only perpetuate that opinion.
9.Schlock! The Secret History of American Movies (2001)
Schlock! The Secret History of American Movies is a light-hearted look at many of those movies that tend to be classified with a “so good it’s bad” label. The films discussed span a good 60 years, but the majority of the focus tends to be around the classic schlock of the 50’s and 60’s. It opens on clips from the classic Reefer Madness (1936) and mixes it with clips from a recording of the musical version live on stage. There’s a great focus on the influence that many of these ‘bad’ movies have had, despite their lack of traditional film quality. The title really does say it all, if you enjoy schlock horror and sci-fi, you’ll love this documentary.
8. The American Nightmare (2000)
Despite the poster above, this is not a documentary about peeping toms or the resiliency of the press. The American Nightmare is an IFC documentary on the tradition of American horror films. There’s a focus on the influence that horror movies have had on society, but equally as much as horror has always reflected the current state of society or the direction it may be headed. There are some top-notch interviews and tons of great clips in this documentary that you won’t want to miss. And on a personal note, this was the first horror movie documentary I ever watched, and it definitely had a huge influence on my current state of complete obsession.
7. Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel (2011)
One of the unquestioned leaders of cult film is Roger Corman, who knows how to stretch just about any size budget into a money-making movie. Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel gives the inside look at Corman’s methods, and possibly madness. It’s very interesting to hear the thoughts and stories of many of the cast and crew of Corman’s films. And of course there are plenty of clips from the vast collection of his body of work. Any cult film fan will find a lot to love about this documentary, and will learn a lot about Roger Corman, both the good and the questionable.
6. Nightmares in Red, White and Blue (2009)
It’s probably safe to say that most people here in the States that may be just getting in to horror movies will find this documentary to be a perfect introduction. Seasoned horror addicts may not be introduced to anything they aren’t already aware of, but Nightmares in Red, White, and Blue is still a very entertaining look at American horror. It spans nearly a century of film history, and balances well. It’s also packed with some fascinating interviews from Larry Cohen, Mick Garris, George Romero, and plenty others. I must admit that though I’m personally not that much of a fan of most of his movies, Darren Lynn Bousman gives some incredible input during his interviews.
5. Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film (2006)
Going to Pieces details exactly what the title indicates: ‘the rise and fall of the slasher film’. There’s a good balance between addressing the popular slasher franchises like Friday the 13th and Halloween while also bringing up the less popular slashers like Don’t Answer the Phone! and The Boogey Man. There are also some spectacular interviews with those at the forefront of the slasher boom (ie: John Carpenter, Wes Craven, Tom Savini), and a look at films that were precursors to the traditional slasher (like A Bay of Blood and Psycho). It goes without saying, but this an essential documentary for slasher fans. However, I must point out how disappointing the poster is.
4. Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide (2010)
If you’ve delved deeply enough into the world of horror films, you’ve probably at least heard of the Video Nasties. Headed chiefly by social activist Mary Whitehouse, a list of films was compiled and tried under the Obscene Publications Act. Whitehouse coined the term ‘video nasty’ for the movies on that list. Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide takes a look at the social and political influences and results of that action, as well as the natural cult value that it added to each movie that was tried. It’s a truly fascinating documentary that is essential viewing for anyone interested in the Video Nasties.
3. American Grindhouse (2010)
American Grindhouse is basically a concise history of exploitation films, segmented by sub-genre and time period. It ranges from the very beginning of film (because as pointed out in the movie, exploitation began with film itself) to modern day. There are so many movies featured and mentioned in this documentary that it’s nearly impossible to keep track of them on a single viewing, but that just means more for your ‘to watch’ list. Among the segments are some great looks at cautionary films, ‘nudie cuties’, ‘roughies’, splatter films, blaxploitation, and much more. Anyone with any form of interest in exploitation film will want to get a hold of this documentary as soon as possible.
2. Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation! (2008)
Considered to be one of many sub-genres of exploitation film, ozploitation refers to trash cinema from Australia (basically horror, action, and erotic films). Not Quite Hollywood takes a detailed look at this slightly overlooked corner of cinematic history. It begins mainly with 70’s sex comedies and moves through the history of action films like Dead End Drive-In and Mad Dog Morgan and horror films like Patrick and Strange Behavior. I think it’s safe to say that, at least in America, most of these films (aside from Mad Max) are all but unknown. For an entertaining and truly fascinating documentary, and for a huge list of new movies to watch, make sure to give this one a shot.
1. Machete Maidens Unleashed! (2010)
Although the title may not initially reflect it, Machete Maidens Unleashed! is a history of genre film in the Philippines. One of the most intriguing elements of this documentary are the stories about the cast and crew behind each movie. There were no health and safety regulations, so this was attractive to American filmmakers looking for a cheap place to shoot, but it also made for some crazy stories. For example, one of the statements that stands out in my mind is that stuntmen would just throw themselves off cliffs into water or light themselves on fire, run around until it hurt, and then douse the flames. What it allowed for was some vastly entertaining drive-in movies like The Big Doll House and Savage Sisters on a very small budget. Cult movie fans, do not miss this documentary.
Great film or franchise-specific documentaries
Best Worst Movie (2009)
As far as loving tributes to specific films goes, Best Worst Movie takes the cake. It’s a lighthearted and fun look at the cult impact that Troll 2 has had on audiences.
Halloween: 25 Years of Terror (2006)
The Halloween franchise is one of the most important in horror history, and this documentary gathers cast and crew to take a look back at the influence it had.
His Name Was Jason: 30 Years of Friday the 13th (2009)
This is a great look at the extensive Friday the 13th franchise, with plenty of interviews from actors, directors, and fans.
Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy (2010)
This four-hour long documentary goes to extensive depths to cover what it aptly calls ‘The Elm Street Legacy’. There is no more information you will ever need on the Nightmare on Elm Street films.
Still Screaming: The Ultimate Scary Movie Retrospective (2011)
Still Screaming takes a look at the original Scream trilogy, with interviews from nearly everyone involved and plenty of behind-the-scenes stories and footage.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre: A Family Portrait (1988)
This is the oldest documentary on this list, from 1988, and a great look at the classic film with interviews from the cast and behind-the-scenes photos.