Scary Studies: The Best Documentaries for Halloween

Halloween is a popular holiday for people of all ages — the costumes, the candy, the creepiness! But Halloween isn’t just about spooks and Snickers — the holiday is steeped in rich history and invokes conversations about infamously scary moments in history, from the Amityville Horror House and the Salem Witch Trials to the terrifying reign of Joseph Stalin and the horrors of mental hospitals.

Here are 14 documentaries that are equally thrilling and educational about scary movies, hauntings, witches and more.

The Haunted History of Halloween
(History Channel)

This documentary looks back on the 3,000-plus year history of the holiday and is appropriate for various different age groups. For many, Halloween is a highly commercialized holiday that rarely nods to the rich historical past associated with the day itself. This documentary delves into how Halloween began as a pagan holiday and retained its dark roots.

The Happy Haunting of America

This documentary contains interviews with various horror movie icons and pokes fun at the horror movie industry and the horror culture in general. It features 40 of the greatest horror attractions in America and is a mix of laughs and screams.

The Salem Witch Trials Documentary (History Channel)

This hour-long documentary is available on YouTube and delves into the history behind the infamous Salem Witch Trials. Complete with a creepy voiceover, the film manages to educate and scare via facts and dramatizations that describe the events that led up to the burning of women at the stake in Salem, Massachusetts.

My Amityville Horror (Lost Witness Pictures)

Filmmaker Eric Walter did extensive research into the history behind the haunting of the famed Amityville house, and his documentary puts the spotlight on a relatively new figure. Daniel Lutz, child of George and Kathleen Lutz (the authors of the now infamous book regarding their experiences while living in the house), tells his own personal story of the trials and tribulations of living in a house steeped in violent history.

Halloween: 25 Years of Terror

Halloween and scary movies go hand in hand, and the Halloween films are some of the most popular horror movies to date. This documentary looks back at the creation of the films and includes interviews with the actors and crew, as well as a town visit where the movies were filmed.

Vlad (The Impaler) Dracula Documentary (Discovery Channel)

This Discovery Channel documentary follows the life of the feared “impaler,” Vlad Dracula. His reputation for impaling his enemies preceded him, and he spread terror throughout Europe in the 1400s.

The Most Evil Women in History (Discovery Channel)

This documentary series follows the lives of two infamously evil women throughout history —Mary Tudor and Elizabeth Bathroy and the fear they instilled in the people they ruled.

Jack the Ripper: Phantom of Death

This 1995 documentary from the Biography Channel follows the story of the anonymous serial killer who terrorized England in the late 1880s and who was never caught or brought to justice.

Kings Park: Stories from an American Mental Institution

Veteran filmmaker Lucy Winer revisits the Kings Park State Hospital that she was committed to against her will in the late 1960s at 17 years old. The film was part of the official selection list for myriad film festivals and documents the history of mental health care and its inadequacies in our country.

Nightmares in Red, White and Blue: The Evolution of the American Horror Film

This documentary explores the history and growth of the American horror film and contains interviews with many famous horror movie directors.

Most Evil Men in History (Discovery Channel)

Not one to discriminate against gender when it comes to malevolence, the Discovery Channel has a series of documentaries on the most evil men in history, as well. The men highlighted for their evil ways include Rasputin, Pol Pot, Ivan the Terrible, Nero and Joseph Stalin.

Halloween Journeys

This documentary follows the story of a unique festival held by parents, teachers and students that takes place in the Rocky Mountains. The goal of the festival is to celebrate Halloween in a non-traditional manner — sans the plastic pumpkin buckets and scary monsters and with an emphasis on embracing spirituality.

The American Nightmare

This film focuses on the content of 1960s and 1970s horror films and how such content mirrored the state of society at that time. Interviews with directors as well as historical experts are included.