10 Most Disturbing Documentaries That’ll Leave You Horrified!

Documentary fans would attest to this: true crime is far, far more horrifying than fictional horror stories can ever be. Mark Twain once said, “Truth is stranger than fiction.” And our dear friend Mark didn’t need to have access to all the gruesome Netflix documentaries that are at our service. No, Mark was just smart like that. So when I ask you to trust Mark on this, you must. With so many OTT platforms to choose from, there has never been a better time to be alive for the average film enthusiast. But True Crime isn’t for everybody. At least not for people without a reasonably strong stomach. So before you proceed, I, like the well-meaning friend-person that I am, must warn you to only watch these disturbing documentaries at your own risk. 

1. Dreams of a Life

A thriving socialite in her thirties, Joyce Vincent was a vivacious woman who had a huge circle of friends. People remember her as the belle of the ball, the life of the party; Joyce was a confident young woman who had so much to look forward to – until she did not. For some reason, months before her death, Joyce left her job. She cut off all contact with friends and family. She registered herself as a victim of abuse, and lived in a shelter meant for such victims. Nobody from her past life could tell where she lived – and nobody could tell when she died. Joyce’s decomposing body was discovered years after she had died. The TV set in her drawing room was still on, like it had been for years. But how did it come to this? Dreams of a Life would try to answer some of these burning questions. 

2. Cropsey

When it comes to urban legends, one finds comfort in knowing that they are, most likely, untrue. Saying Bloody Mary! thrice at night while looking into the mirror will probably not summon a demon named Mary. And neither is a Boogeyman going to jump out of the shadows while you’re on your way back home – except that it might. After all, there are people in this world far scarier than the Boogeyman. With Cropsey, this is exactly what happened. To the kids in Staten Island, Cropsey was a madman who had escaped a mental facility. Cropsey lived in a tunnel, and came to take away children at night. Cropsey was a legend. A fantasy. Until it was not. 

3. The Killing of America

Well, it’s no secret that like hot dogs and fried mozzarella sticks, serial killers are kinda America’s thing. In fact, according to statistics, America has the largest number of serial killers in the world – over 3000, which dwarfs the numbers in the UK, the second entry on the list, with only over 150 serial killers. In the second half of 20th century, America had an especially bad run with serial murderers and “Sex Killers” – murderers who’d also sexually abuse their victims. With lack of advancement in forensic science, it was extremely difficult to connect one victim to another, which is why it took so long to get hold of any of these criminals. In a particularly notorious case, the Golden State Killer, who had killed more than 10, raped over 50, and had robbed on 120 separate occasions, was caught in 2018 – more than thirty years after he had committed his last murder. The Killing of America chronicles what directors believe is the degeneration of the American society – beginning with the assassination of former American President John F. Kennedy and ending with the murder of musician John Lennon in New York. 

4. Dear Zachary

When it comes to cold-blooded murderers, one is likely to imagine an odd man in a drab looking sweater vest with a crazy look in his eyes. You’d usually imagine these men to be dysfunctional in some way – drop outs, losers, nobodies. But Andrew and Zachary’s murderer did not fit the bill. She was a doctor. She was a she. And by all accounts, she was mentally unstable. The fact that she had a somewhat decent career in medicine is surprising in itself. When I went down the true crime rabbit hole earlier this year, Dear Zachary came up multiple times in threads and conversations. For those who had watched it, this was easily one of the most disturbing documentaries they had watched – so much so that some would even call it emotionally devastating. And one can see why – one only has to watch Dear Zachary. 

5. Shoah

Shoah. A seemingly innocent word that probably means nothing to an English speaker, actually means ‘Catastrophe’ in Hebrew. But due to events in the 20th century, the word took on a completely different meaning – the Jewish genocide. While English speakers use the word ‘Holocaust’, which is Greek for sacrifice by fire, Shoah became the standard term for this dark moment in history for the millions of Jews who spoke Hebrew. The documentary Shoah, of course, details the horror that thousands of Jews went through in Chelmno concentration camp in Poland. With interviews involving not just survivors but also perpetrators and enablers, Shoah has been called a masterpiece by critics as well as viewers. 

Also take a look at: The 10 Best Documentaries On Netflix You Cannot Afford To Miss! before you move on to the rest of our list of disturbing documentaries.

6. Imposter

When thirteen-year-old Nicholas Barclay went missing, and did not come back for years, his family had absolutely no hope of finding him again. For most people who go missing, the chances of recovery while alive start to recede alarmingly after the 48-hour mark. But when Nicholas came back three years later, well and alive, his family seemed to be overjoyed – so overjoyed, in fact, that they did not realise that instead of a teenaged Nicholas, the person living with them was a 23-year-old man. The imposter, a French man named Frédéric, at one point believed that the family did in fact realise that he was not Nicholas, but decided to simply play along. Why would they do that? Imposter delves deep into this strange tale. 

7. American Murder: The Family Next Door

A week before Chris Watts’ two daughters were about to go to school, the unthinkable happened – Bella, 4, and Cece, 3, along with their pregnant mother, Shanann, went missing. Shanann’s disturbed friend, Nichole, was the one to alert the cops – after Shanann had failed to take her calls and missed an important doctor’s appointment. When Chris was informed by the cops, he came back home, only to find his wife’s wedding ring by the bed, and her phone still at the house. By the next day, Watts was appearing on thousands of television sets, urging viewers to help him find his wife and children, as police dogs barked in the background. What happened to this seemingly perfect family? The answer might be too disturbing for the average viewer. 

8. Abducted in Plain Sight 

For parents, one of the most terrifying situations to be in is one that puts their children in danger. For the Brobergs, these fears materialized when their 12-year-old daughter, Jan, was abducted by a family friend, Robert Berchtold – not once, but twice! In many ways, the Brobergs’ behaviour would make the viewer scratch their head – were people in the 1970s actually as naive as the Brobergs seemed to be, or were things much more convoluted than they seemed to be on the surface? Abducted in Plain Sight peels the Broberg case like an onion. It will frustrate you and enrage you, and more than anything, it will make you feel terribly sorry for a young girl who lost her innocence way too soon. Abducted in Plain Sight is one of the most disturbing documentaries you can find on Netflix. 

9. House of Secrets: The Burari Deaths 

When it comes to disturbing Documentaries, nothing quite comes close to the horror that unfolded one morning in the capital of India when 12 people of a single family were found hanging in a single room, like branches of a banyan tree. The Burari story is so horrifyingly otherworldly, that it almost seems too strange to be true – however, maybe even the most creative of storytellers could not have come up with something so gruesome. House of Secrets doesn’t go into the gory details of the mass suicide. Instead, it sticks to forming a larger narrative – one that ultimately finds the reasons that made this happen – the patriarchy, the society, the media. 

10. The Man Who Made a Family Vanish

For most middle-class Indians, going abroad is the dream. The pride one takes in while informing relatives that a son or a daughter has been successfully exported to an Amrika or a Canadda, or some fancy European city, is what keeps the average Indian parent going. While this is not to judge those who value a future abroad, The Man Who Made a Family Vanish is nothing short of a nightmare for anyone who wishes to settle abroad, away from home. Amarjit Chohan was the ultimate success story: he had a company that was valued at over a million dollars, he had two young sons with a beautiful wife, and to top it off, he lived in a gorgeous Bungalow in suburban London. When in 2003, Onkar, Nancy’s brother, stopped receiving calls from his doting sister, he decided to pay her family a visit. His mother, in fact, had been staying with Nancy for a while, helping her around the house after she had given birth to a son only four weeks prior. When Onkar arrived in London, he was horrified to find the entire family of five missing. And if it hadn’t been for him, the cops would have never started looking. The Man Who Made a Family Vanish is one of the most disturbing documentaries you’ll ever watch as an Indian who dreams of moving abroad. It’ll fill you with a sense of helplessness that you cannot shake off. 

If you do watch any of these suggested distubing documentaries, tell us in the comments below which one you found the most unsettling and why!

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