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The Top 5 Horror Movie Documentaries: Crystal Lake Memories, Document of the Dead, More

June 30, 2020 | Posted by Bryan Kristopowitz
Crystal Lake Memories

The Top 5 Horror Movie Documentaries


The new documentary Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street, about A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge star Mark Patton’s life since starring in Freddy’s Revenge, which you can see on Shudder, has been getting great reviews since it debuted. I recently watched it and liked it quite a bit. It’s a fascinating examination of Patton’s life, his time as an actor, and, to a certain degree, the gay rights movement in the late 1970’s and 1980’s. It’s definitely worth watching (watch that instead of that Kane Hodder documentary, To Hell and Back: The Kane Hodder Story, which is just a mess).

Watching Scream, Queen! got me to thinking about horror movie documentaries. There seem to be so many of them out there (feature length documentaries, documentaries done for DVD’s and Blu-rays, documentaries done for television). Which ones are the best, at least of the ones that I’ve seen? And that’s what this week’s Top 5 is all about. Of the horror documentaries that I’ve seen, which ones are the best?

And so, without any further what have you, here are my Top 5 Horror Movie Documentaries:

Honorable Mentions:

Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy: This four hour documentary delves into the A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise and is amazing. Every movie and the TV show gets time. Since New Line Cinema, for reasons that have never made any sense to me, has no interest in making special edition DVD’s/Blu-rays for each movie, this documentary is the next best thing.

Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film: This documentary, which I first saw on the Starz cable channel, provides a nice primer on the history of the slasher film. Features some great interviews with, among others, John Carpenter, Wes Craven, and Amy Holden Jones, who directed Slumber Party Massacre. This documentary could have been longer but, again, it’s a good primer on the genre.


5-Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th: If you’re doing a Top 5 list on the best horror movie documentaries you absolutely have to include Crystal Lake Memories. This is an absolutely epic near seven hour examination on the entire Friday the 13th franchise, including all eleven movies, the syndicated TV show that only shared a name with the movie franchise, and the classic Freddy vs. Jason team up. Each movie gets ample time with interviews and behind the scenes stories, all held together by franchise participant Corey Feldman (his link segments are funny and well done), and it’s all amazing stuff. You get the sense while watching that the producers likely could have done a two hour segment for each movie and the TV show, or, at least that’s how I felt while watching it. The documentary is also an odd companion to the coffee table book of the same name, which is also amazing but in a different way. Everyone interviewed in the documentary seems to love the fact that they were in the franchise, but if you read the book, very few of the people seemed to like being a part of it. It was “just” a job, at best. Still worth watching.


4- Birth of the Living Dead: This is a wonderful documentary about the making of Night of the Living Dead and was directed by Rob Kuhns. There isn’t anything necessarily new in this documentary in terms of the actual making of NotLD, but the various interviews that Kuhns put together are all well done and fascinating, especially the main interview with Romero. You get a real sense of the overall impact of the movie in cinema culture, not just the horror genre. The documentary is also just well-made and slickly produced. I’m still amazed that Kuhns and producer/interview subject Larry Fessenden were able to put together such a watchable and entertaining documentary on such a worn over topic. And if you get the DVD, you have to check out the extended interview segments with Romero. The bits and anecdotes here are terrific.


3- The American Nightmare: I first saw this documentary on the IFC cable channel, back when the channel actually made an effort to show independent films. It’s a documentary that examines the major horror movies of the late 1960’s and 1970’s, talks with the directors, and how those movies were likely influenced by the social and political events of the times. George A. Romero (Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead), Tom Savini (Dawn of the Dead), Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre), John Carpenter (Halloween), Wes Craven (Last House on the Left), and David Cronenberg are interviewed about their movies (the inclusion of Canadian Cronenberg is a little weird because, you know, he’s Canadian and the movie is called American Nightmare, but the section the doc does on his movies is excellent), and there are various talking head professionals who provide analysis and it’s eye opening stuff, the way they connect the movies to the events of the times. Savini talks about his experience in Vietnam here, the first time I ever heard anything about that. And one of the talking heads (I don’t remember which one) offers up the best analysis, which is essentially “Horror movies show us that the apocalypse is ongoing, it’s something you have to deal with all of the time.” I don’t think IFC shows this documentary anymore (it used to show up around Halloween). It might be on DVD. Definitely track this down if you haven’t seen it.


2- Apocalypse Soon: The making of Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger IV: This documentary was included with the DVD release of the fourth Toxic Avenger movies, Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger IV. When I first saw it listed on the DVD case I was stoked that there was a feature length behind the scenes documentary about the making of a Toxic Avenger movie. What the hell was that kind of documentary going to be like? Just what were we going to get to see? Would it be a puff piece about Troma and Lloyd Kaufman or would it be something else? It’s something else. It shows you, in a fly on the wall sort of way, the absolute madness that is making a Troma movie. It’s just a perpetual fucking shitshow from the second Kaufman and company start shooting, at times hopelessly disorganized, and it’s truly amazing that anything ever gets done. And yet a movie does get made. I’m amazed that Troma allowed you to see just how messed up their moviemaking process is. It shows you, just in case you weren’t aware, that low budget movie making is not glamorous at all. A must see.


1- Document of the Dead: This is the now classic documentary by Roy Frumkes about the making of George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. I first saw this documentary on IFC, too, right after The American Nightmare. Well, I saw a version of it. There are at least three different versions of the documentary (I could have sore that there were four: the original 62 minute one, the one that appeared on IFC, about 90 minutes, one that appeared as part of the Ultimate Edition DVD set from Anchor Bay that was longer by a few minutes but I could be wrong about that, and the one labeled The Definitive Document of the Dead). Anyway, the doc takes place over a long weekend of the Dawn of the Dead shoot inside the Monroeville Mall and we get to see plenty of behind the scenes footage of what it was like in the mall during that time. There are plenty of great interviews with Romero, producer Richard Rubinstein, cinematographer Michael Gornick, Tom Savini, three of the actors. The documentary also takes a look at Romero’s moviemaking career up until that point, examining elements of his moviemaking style. In another version of the doc you see Romero on the set of Two Evil Eyes, where Romero and Savini are having issues with a special effect and Romero does an interview where you could say he’s almost defeated (indie moviemaking is just getting harder and harder. Romero can’t get “a million bucks” and a “fair deal” because there are fewer and fewer companies making movies). And in the Definitive version we see Romero working on his last three zombie movies and how Romero influenced so many people, either directly or indirectly (there’s a great bit here with director William Lusitg). Every version of this doc that I’ve seen is utterly fascinating and are must see movies for all Romero fans. You will learn so much. I mean, I think I did by watching them all.


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