HALLOWEEN HORROR: TRUE CRIME EDITION 

HALLOWEEN HORROR: TRUE CRIME EDITION 

Content warning: this post discusses murder, sexual assault and other violent crimes that may be disturbing or triggering to some. 

Listen up, noobs! While you’re busy watching Night of the Living Nightmare of the Lambs again this Halloween, you’re missing out on the real scary shit. I’m talkin about the stuff that gives me horrible, realistic nightmares about being kidnapped and murdered on an almost nightly basis and the reason I’m paranoid about living alone….say it with me—TRUE CRIME.

That’s right. The subgenre of documentary film and tv dedicated to kidnappings, murders, cults, and all the other fucked up shit that humans are capable of. But wait! If this stuff gives me nightmares, then why do I love it? Well, first of all, the nightmares can’t be blamed on true crime entirely—I’m sure the massive dog piles of food I eat at 11pm every night have something to do with that. Aside from that, I’m not really sure! But I figure it can be attributed to a few factors:

-I love solving mysteries. I dig logic puzzles, riddles and other trickery that require me to put pieces together in a productive way to find a solution. This is also why I make a great leader in an office setting and deserve a raise.

-Violent criminals scare me and I like to see them get caught. I am not a violent person. The only time I’ve ever really hit someone was when I headbutted a friend in the face during a really bad acid trip/drinking binge combo five years ago and I wanted to kill myself afterward. People who hurt other people fucking suck and I like to see that shit handled. 

-Violent criminals fascinate me because they are so wildly irrational and in addition to being an armchair investigator and armchair forensic scientist, I am also an armchair psychiatrist. One of my favorite pastimes is watching crime documentaries and guessing which personality disorders the perp is afflicted by. I have so many skills and I’m fun to hang out with. 

-I find it cathartic to externalize my anxieties about death, injury, loneliness, the dark and other people in general by observing my worst nightmares. It also puts my stupid, nonsense worries in perspective by reminding me that I’m living in an ocean of psychopaths so it might not be the worst thing in the WORLD that no one laughed at my joke earlier. 

-The justice system can’t be trusted either and I want to stay woke. A lot of the time these are stories where initial investigation was handled poorly, tainted or deeply biased in some way. And that’s not even mentioning the docs that surround a case where a specific person was unfairly targeted or even framed with no honor of presumed innocence to begin with.

Yes, true crime is ethically slippery. Some argue that it makes a spectacle of the victim and what happened to them. I can’t completely disagree with that. I do think, for what it’s worth, that most true crime fans watch out of concern, fascination and the desire to be in-the-know, and not as just superficial entertainment. Does that make it ok? I don’t know man I just live here!

For those who do choose to watch, I encourage you to think critically about the biases not only in the storytelling but also in the case itself. I never take a documentary’s conclusion at face value, and I don’t think you should either. No one ever knows for sure what really happened, and no one is qualified to make that decision except the jury. And even they get it wrong sometimes. So I’m just saying, maybe don’t start a Burke Ramsey Did It blog or become BFFs with Amanda Knox just because you saw some TV show. That’s all I’m saying! 

But by all means, watch the hell out of that shit. 

Anyway, without further ado…

ALL THE BEST TRUE CRIME I CAN THINK OF IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER 

Forensic Files


Aka the longest running true crime series of all time! At least they used to say that. I don’t know if it’s still true. I have seen almost every episode of Forensic Files. Peter Thomas the God narrates as experts in ballistics, DNA, blood spatter, and pretty much anything you can think of track down an obviously STUPID person who committed a heinous crime and left evidence behind. Because of the science, I feel confident they usually catch the right person, and that helps me sleep at night. The reenactments can be really fuckin bad but who doesn’t love that?

Making a Murderer


Almost every millennial alive has to have seen this by now, but if you haven’t, now’s the time. The Netflix original series follows the case against Steven Avery for the murder of Teresa Halbach, all the holes in the prosecutors’ argument and the fucked up police work of the Manitowoc County cops, and how that may have led to one (or more!) wrongful convictions. This documentary sheds light on the rampant abuse of power in our justice system and how folks of low income and poor education are disadvantaged and manipulated. Side note: What happened to Steven Avery happens to people of color every day so maybe Netflix can make a doc about that next #blacklivesmatter

The Jinx


Robert Durst! Now there’s a character for ya. Basically this series is about a (possible mentally ill) super super rich dude who may have killed his wife and two other people (or was it 3?) in the wild ride that’s been his life. This series is the flip side of Making a Murderer: when you’re rich, no matter how guilty, your lawyers can work all KINDS of magic. This show is riveting as hell and also happens to have one of the greatest television endings of…all time, probably. 

Cropsey


Legend has it a child killer named CROPSEY lived in the woods somewhere in New York and would take kids who were bad….it was essentially just boogeyman lore, but these documentarians wanted to see if it held any truth in its origins. In their investigation, they come across the story of Andre Rand, a convicted kidnapper. There’s a lot of fucked up details in this doc, the worst of which in my opinion is the archival footage of the deplorable mental asylum at which Rand was a patient. You remember in American Horror Story season 2 when Sara Paulson’s character tries to film an exposé of the conditions at Briarcliff? This footage is so much like that I believe they based the AHS storyline on it. I actually recommend fast forwarding through that part.

Killer Legends


When you’re done with Cropsey you can hop on this one by the same director. It tells the true stories that inspired famous urban legends. “The Hookman,” “The Candy Man,” “The Babysitter and the Man Upstairs,” and “The Killer Clown.” Recognize any of these? This Halloween, the story of “The Candy Man” is especially relevant since, as you’ll find out, the urban legend of the poisoned Halloween candy went a little different IRL than we were told…

OJ Made in America


This colossal five-part 30 for 30 special has a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. And that’s because it’s got EVERYTHING. Not only is it chock full of the drama, gore and media frenzy the murders of Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman are infamous for, but it goes above and beyond to tell the story of OJ Before The Murders–a man my generation never really knew. It also explores in depth the social climate both nationally and in LA from when OJ was born all the way to the 90s, and how being black shaped, or didn’t shape, his identity as a celebrity. This context for the crimes is essential to put into perspective the divisive national reaction to the tragedies. I’m still in the middle of this one, but I can’t wait to finish it. (Note: This documentary contains disturbing crime scene photos and video footage of police brutality. All the docs on this list contain graphic images to a degree, but I felt the need to mention this one specifically because I was extra affected by it.)

30 for 30: The Price of Gold 


This one isn’t a murder, but it’s one of my favorite stories ever: Tonya Harding vs Nancy Kerrigan. This crime is pretty famous, so I think you know how it goes. But what I love about this documentary is its insight into Tonya’s childhood struggles, her abusive mom, the cycle of abuse that continued into her adult life, and the role it played in the crime itself. Y’all, I just love figure skating. The outfits are so good. And skaters are so god damn graceful. So you can imagine why the world couldn’t help but gawk when an ice princess basically turned into a mob boss before their eyes. Fascinating. Just fascinating. Oh, and just a reminder, this happened TWO WEEKS after the OJ murders. Which I’m pretty sure was the same month I fell and scraped my knee in the parking lot of my family’s town house. And I like, have a scar from that. The summer of ’94 was so crazy!

Team Foxcatcher


You tired of delusional athletes yet? No? Great! This one is about John du Pont, just your average kajillionnaire with a few mental illnesses. He was so obsessed with wrestling and other olympic sports that he decided to open a training center/compound dedicated to athletic training. Was he actually an athlete? Nope not really. He was just a rich guy with delusions of grandeur. Delusions that ended up driving him to…you guessed it…a murder. Of husband, father and actual athlete Dave Shultz. It’s a sad story that serves as a reminder that rich charming people are scary and can’t be trusted. At least that’s what I gathered from it. 

Crimes of the Century


The DC snipers, the Unabomber, Waco, Oklahoma City and more…this miniseries takes you back in time to the crimes that rocked the 20th Century. I was either not alive or in single digits when all of the occurred so it was good to get the details. These don’t follow the typical true crime model of the Sneaky Scary Mystery You’ve Never Heard Of. They’re more the Giant Crisis Covered Ceaselessly by the Media variety. Everyone should know about them, so worth a watch. 

Crazy Love


If you’re considering being in a relationship, this documentary will change your mind! It’s about a woman whose psycho boyfriend hired men to throw lye in her face when she least expected it, causing permanent scarring and blindness. Why would he do such a thing? Well, she didn’t want to be with him anymore. What was he supposed to do, just move on with his life like a normal person and not disfigure this poor woman? C’mon. The twist, of course, is that the two get back together. How, why, and the circumstances of which I will let you find out on your own. 

Amanda Knox


This documentary, released on Netflix last month, is more about the media sensationalism and unfair trial that led to Amanda Knox’s and Raffaele Sollicito’s stints in Italian prison than it is about about the murder of Meredith Kercher. Maybe you remember this case – I was a freshman in college at the time when Amanda and Meredith, also in college, were studying abroad in Perugia, Italy. When Meredith was murdered, all fingers pointed to Amanda as the killer. But why? Well, there were a lot of factors at play. An obsessed DA, shoddy police investigation, and some seriously irresponsible journalism…just to name a few. The documentary lets Amanda tell her story, from the time of the murder through her trial, jail time, acquittal, retrial and appeal, and shows just how terrifying and helpless it feels to be presumed guilty by the entire world. Was she completely innocent of any and all crimes relating to the murder of Meredith Kercher? I mean, who’s to say?! Like Making a Murderer, this documentary seems to be less about proving someone’s total innocence than it is about the fairness of the case, so don’t get too carried away. I will say, it sure is a lot scarier of a story if she didn’t do it. Because then it could happen to any of us.  

The Case of JonBenet Ramsey


The JonBenet case is one of the most famous cold cases certainly of my lifetime, but possibly of ALL time. You must remember her pretty face plastered on the cover of every National Enquirer in the late 90s and beyond, but if you don’t know what happened, 6 year old JonBenet was murdered under some seriously suspicious circumstances on the day after Christmas in 1996, and it really, really looked like the parents were involved. But they were never charged, and the case was never solved. By the end of Part 1 of this two-part CBS documentary, it’s clear who the producers believe is the murderer, and their argument is pretty convincing. Do I believe this documentary is the highest form of journalism? No. While it features no shortage of expert criminologists, it’s so heavily produced and often corny that at times I was embarrassed for the hosts. Aside from the wacky bullshit factor, this is still the best documentary I’ve seen on the case. This is one of the most interesting murders I know of, and I really want it to be solved. But after watching this, that feels like kind of a longshot. 

The Imposter


This is far and away one of my favorite true crime documentaries. The story is so crazy I don’t even want to tell you what happens. Without saying too much, a Texas family’s son goes missing, and years later he returns…but is it really him? This doc will give you chills at what people’s brains are capable of, and leave you speculating HARD on what really happened to poor Nicholas Barclay in 1994. I know I have a theory. Share yours with me when you’re done. 

If you’re not already too freaked out, you should have your Halloween weekend fully planned by now. Just add Chinese food, keep wikipedia open on your phone, and prepare to solve some freakin’ crimes. But beware, the true crime obsession is a slippery slope. And you may never sleep again. 

13 Horror Movies to Watch and Talk Shit About This Halloween

13 Horror Movies to Watch and Talk Shit About This Halloween

Every October it’s tradition that I attempt to watch one horror movie for every night in the month. And every year, this one included, I make it about halfway down the list. I really tried to do better, but like most people I’m limited to after-work hours and weekends, and it turns out it’s pretty hard to watch a movie every single day. I did my best.

Because I was limited what I could stream on Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon, find on demand, or purchase using someone else’s itunes account, not every movie I watched had excellent ratings. In my house, we’ve established a general rule is that if the rating on Rotten Tomatoes is over 70%, then the movie is worth watching. If it’s free AND we’ve heard of it, you can’t really ask for much more than that.

Here are the 13 horror movies I watched this month. Some great, some not so great, all fun to talk during.

1. The Babadook, 2014 (Rating 98%) Ok, this one is kind of cheating because technically I watched it in September when James and I were in the Catskills. If you can find one, a log cabin in the woods is the perfect setting to watch this Australian movie about an exhausted single mother and her son who are both struggling emotionally to deal with their shitty lives (and each other) so much that they become haunted by a mysterious children’s book (or is it?) This movie is a nice combo of jump scares, suspense and psychological thrills. The scariest part, though, was after the movie ended, when James woke me up in the middle of the night by saying “Baba…dook…dook…dook” in his sleep. Here’s hoping that doesn’t happen to you. The Babadook is currently on Netflix

2. 28 Days Later, 2003 (Rating 87%)I first saw 28 Days Later in ninth grade and proclaimed it “the scariest movie I’d ever seen.” This wasn’t saying much as I was only 14, but it wasn’t saying nothing either as at the time I was  very much horror-obsessed. I’d pretty much been raised on the John Carpenter Halloween films and had seen every installment of the Friday the 13th franchise by the time I was 8 years old. I was even familiar with zombie movies, but they were the slow, dragging Night of the Living Dead variety and not the animalistic, spitting/growling/running faster than humanly possible breed you see in this movie. Watching it now, I’m way more desensitized to the whole zombie thing (thanks, better part of the last decade) so it hardly feels as shocking as it did at the time. But it’s still pretty darn intense. And the whole Cillian Murphy bewitching eyes/luscious lips combo doesn’t hurt either. 28 Days Later is currently on Netflix.

3. Scream, 1996 (Rating 78%)This trilogy is classic as fuck, which is why they make up three of the movies on my list. Again, they were films I hadn’t seen since the days I used to crush Blockbuster VHS. Re-watching them today, I was legitimately confused that something with so many levels of irony could have ever been parodied as much as it was. But what do you expect from the Wayans brothers, I guess? Scream is so meta that of course it’s Wes Craven, although maybe you didn’t know he was the man behind it all (I didn’t either until recently). If you haven’t watched them recently, give them a revisit. At least the first one, if for no other reason than to watch Rose McGowan be perfect, even while being bisected. She should really be on this poster.

4. Scream 2, 1997 (81%)

 A killer is haunting your fav teens again, but this time – they’re in college! AND SARAH MICHELLE GELLAR IS HERE. And a movie called Stab just came out about the murders in the first Scream movie. And maybe that movie is inspiring the current murderer?! What do we do?? I guess we just lol in awe that Portia de Rossi is in this movie and we never knew!

5. Scream 3, 2000 (36%)
This one is shittier than the others, but is still fun and goofy. Plus, my all-time love Parker Posey has a main role as the actress that plays Gale Weathers in the on-screen movie version of the movie. How could I not at least give it a chance? That, and sometimes you just have to watch a movie to remember what the year 2000 looked like. Wow, and we thought we were so advanced.
All three Scream movies are currently on Netflix. 

6. Rob Zombie’s Halloween, 2007 (25%)

Fuck this movie. Obviously since it had terrible reviews anyway I shouldn’t have expected to enjoy it. But I was drinking and Hannah was bleaching Reid’s hair in the kitchen so it’s possible I was affected by the fumes. Rob Zombie’s Halloween is a bastardization of the original that focuses more on grotesque, violent images, and fucked up drama than anything truly scary or even suspenseful. The whole time I was like “I just want everyone in this movie to die,” except during the painfully long, gratuitous rape scene, when I myself wanted to die. I think I watched this on Amazon Prime, but it doesn’t really matter.

7. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare1994 (77%)
If you’ve already seen Scream and the original Nightmare on Elm Street, you know what Wes Craven is about. In the same vein, New Nightmare plays with the blurred lines between reality, fiction, and the world in our dreams. While this movie is hilariously dated and ridiculous, I could see how it may have been somewhat groundbreaking (no pun intended – there’s an earthquake in the film!) in pre-Scream days as a self-referential horror. Heather Langenkamp plays herself, as the actress who starred in the original Nightmare, trying to fight off Freddie Kruger – who’s escaped from the movie world and is haunting her and her son IN REAL LIFE! It’s definitely got some layers to it, and almost enough camp to excuse the melodrama/all the pickled oak in that damn house. New Nightmare is currently on Netflix.

8. It Follows, 2015 (96%)
Widely regarded the best horror movie of the year/in fucking ever, It Follows is the story of a teen who contracts a SEXUALLY TRANSMITTED HAUNTING. It’s a pretty unique story, the actors are great, and it’s beautifully shot. The concept is so thrilling, in fact, that my brother and I stopped the movie halfway through to hypothesize on how the mystery would be solved. Without spoiling anything, the end didn’t exactly meet our expectations. Or the whole third act, really. But plot holes aside, I was legitimately terrified almost the entire time, and very visually stimulated. And that’s pretty much what makes a horror movie great. It Follows is on iTunes, aka you gotta pay. But it’s worth it.

9. The Nightmare, 2015 (71%)This “horror movie” is actually a documentary on night terrors (and the big, faceless monsters that attack you during them). It’s a concept that, even after watching the movie, I don’t really find all that scary. It kinda seemed like most of the people they interviewed were a little out of touch with reality to begin with, some positing that they were observing another dimension in their terrors or being actually visited by aliens – and the director, who suffers from these nightmares himself, validates these concerns. Cue a lot of eye-rolling on my part. One thing I found pretty strange/interesting though is how common these visions are, and how similar they are from person to person. Some of these hallucinations are even thought to have inspired horror movie conventions, like the mysterious scary man in a hat that comes out of the shadows (Freddie Kruger? The Babadook?) or the alien face (you know the one. It’s identical to a 90s temporary tattoo). The Nightmare is available on Netflix

10. Honeymoon, 2014 (70%)

I can’t tell you too much about what this is about without giving anything away. Suffice it to say, two newlyweds go on their honeymoon to a cabin in the woods, and one of them starts acting…real weird. It seems like an intense indie drama until towards the end, when you find yourself yelling “WHAT THE FUCK! WHAT THE FUCK!” I actually really liked this movie, and thought Rose Leslie (Game of Thrones) was super captivating and great at being strange as hell. Watch this one, if just for the shock factor. Honeymoon is available on Netflix

11. Oculus, 2013 (73%)

This one is about two siblings seeking revenge on an antique mirror that possess people. The movie begins by unloading the backstory and exposition in a tangled mess, and flips between past and present so much that James and I kept calling it Oculus 2. I get what they were trying to do, and there’s a substantial amount of jump scares with a few solid mindfucks here and there, but they aren’t held together with enough logic for me to call the movie “good.” Still, I recommend watching it because it’s SO fun to make fun of (I mean, what’s up with the main characters’ hair?). Then afterward you can watch a very satisfying youtube video that lists all the things wrong with the movie: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tV4MnmOi5KI 

Oculus is available on Netflix

12. Let the Right One In, 2008 (98%)

Finally, something actually worth it’s weight in good reviews. Let the Right One In is a Swedish movie partly about vampires and partly about young love, and somehow manages to handle these both in a non-corny way (can you believe it??) In some ways, it’s more of an indie drama/love story than a “scary” movie, however, it has some pretty badass attack scenes and one spontaneous combustion, so it served up the excitement I craved. Also, it’s just freakin’ gorgeous to look at. Best enjoyed with a bottle of red wine. Let the Right One In is currently on Netflix

13. We Are What We Are, 2013 (85%)

Ugh, gotta love a horror that centers around hyper religious psychos. As a fan of cult stories and talented young actresses, I loved this movie about two sisters trying to escape their family’s…unconventional…tradition of cannibalism. It was tough to watch at times, but I couldn’t wait to see how it ended. And I wasn’t disappointed. Also, Julia Garner and Ambyr Childers are mesmerizing and I want them to be my new best friends. Hooray for human meat! 

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So, tomorrow night after your Halloween party inevitably disappoints, take off your wig, plop down on the couch and queue up one of these spooky movies. Then call me up after so we can make fun of them! 

Happy Halloween!