Content Warning: The following article contains discussions of sexual violence, child abuse, pedophilia, torture, animal abuse, and murder.It was early 2020, the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, and lockdown had left everyone thumbing their remotes for something to watch. Suddenly, true crime documentaries were the fastest-growing genre across all streaming services. The phenomenal attention the Netflix docuseries Tiger King received, reaching a cool 64 million households, was just a drop in the ocean when it came to satisfying viewers’ thirst for gritty content. Morbid enthusiasts have embraced the mainstream attention and subsequent content boom, but what happens when you’ve wrung dry your go-to steaming services and are left thirsty for more? You find yourself scouring the web, ready to explore some under-the-radar stories.
The most disturbing true crime cases continue to prompt filmmakers to capture these atrocities and their effects on the small screen. There are numerous anticipated true crime docuseries this year, but in the meantime, viewers can check out some of the more incredibly disturbing yet underrated true crime documentaries already out there.
12 ‘The Betrayed Girls’ (2017)
Director: Henry Singer
Known as the “Rochdale Grooming” case, over 1400 vulnerable children were systematically abused by gangs of men between 2005 and 2013. In The Betrayed Girls, they speak to survivors, explore why only nine men were convicted, and most of all, how this was able to happen for so long without police intervention.
Britain’s racism and classism were on full display in the mishandling of early reports, and this film does a great job of getting to the core of what should have been focussed on from the start: exploitation. The survivors are incredibly brave when speaking about what they went through, but viewers will find it disturbing, to say the least. The thrilling BBC limited series Three Girls is a phenomenal dramatic retelling of these events if you’re strong enough for more.
Watch on YouTube
11 ‘Abused by My Girlfriend’ (2019)
Director: Niamh Kennedy
While the title – Abused by My Girlfriend – isn’t necessarily attention-grabbing, this true-crime documentary is very good. Viewers are introduced to Alex, who recounts the horrifying abuse he suffered at the hands of his ex-girlfriend, Jordan.
The combination of hearing a man’s experience with domestic abuse (something not often platformed), and he and his ex being typical, young, good-looking people make this film pack a punch. Alex shows incredible strength in his vulnerable retelling, and viewers will find themselves emotionally invested. Abuse stories are devastating but as a community, viewers can only hope that sharing his experience helps Alex heal and that the more these stories are told, the less there will be.
Watch on BBC iPlayer
10 ‘Uncovered: The McMartin Family Trials’ (2019)
Director: Missy Hughes
Spanning seven years, it was the longest and most expensive trial in US history. In 1983, a woman named Judy Johnson called the police to report that her young son had been molested by his father, Ray Buckey. Buckey also happened to be a preschool teacher and Johnson’s estranged husband. Buckey was swiftly arrested, and a letter was sent home with every child who attended the preschool, encouraging their parents to question them about their own experiences with Buckey. What followed can only be described as mass hysteria with devastating consequences.
Uncovered: The McMartin Family Trials does a fair job of presenting all the facts and allowing the viewer to consider the possibilities, but the simple fact remains: The trial resulted in no convictions. Tying in with the Satanic Panic experienced by the West Memphis Three, the claims from children as young as three were so outlandish it’s impossible for today’s audience not to critically reflect on how much fear can override logic.
Watch on Fubo
9 ‘Goodnight, Sugar Babe: The Killing of Vera Jo Reigle’ (2013)
Director: J. David Miles
Billed as a small-town mystery, Goodnight, Sugar Babe did itself no favors when released, although it can be said that this was long before the true crime genre hit mainstream media.
There is a reason this harrowing tale hasn’t been picked up by any other streaming platform, though — it’s too disturbing compared to other murder documentaries, and there’s no happy ending. Featuring themes of child sexual abuse, incest, and the torture and murder of a young mother with an intellectual disability, Goodnight, Sugar Babe is not for the faint-hearted or weak-stomached. Consider yourself warned.
Watch on Hoopla
8 ‘Capturing the Killer Nurse’ (2022)
Director: Tim Travers Hawkins
Based on the novel The Good Nurse by Charles Graeber, Capturing the Killer Nurse tells the spine-chilling story of the serial killer nurse Charles Cullen. His name may already be familiar to viewers who have seen the 2022 film adaptation, which stars Eddie Redmayne as the title nurse and Jessica Chastain as the health worker who boldly exposed him.
Capturing the Killer Nurse delves deeper into Cullen’s heinous methods and explains how he was able to get away with his crimes for so long. It’s especially scary as it reminds audiences that murderers can be lurking in health institutions, waiting for their next victim.
Watch on Netflix
7 ‘Monique Olivier: Accessory to Evil’ (2023)
Directors: Christophe Astruc, Michelle Fines
Michel Fourniret is a notorious name in France, known for his horrific slayings from 1987 to 2003. The five-part Netflix docuseries Monique Olivier: Accessory to Evil turns the spotlight on his wife, who was a seemingly innocent and stereotypical submissive partner at first. As time went on, however, authorities learned that Monique Olivier may have been more involved in the crimes.
The 2023 documentary explores proof that the serial killer’s wife is actually guilty and was an accessory to the murder of multiple victims. A chilling reminder not to judge so quickly, Accessory to Evil is both a fascinating and scary must-see that will make viewers question their own acquaintances.
Watch on Netflix
6 ‘I Am That Girl’ (2018)
Director: Louise Milligan
It was the trial that got Australia talking about consent. In 2013, Saxon was 18 years old, a virgin, and on her first night out in Sydney’s Kings Cross. She kissed a young man on the dance floor, who turned out to be the owner’s son. He led her outside to an ally; upon realizing his intent, she stopped. He didn’t.
In a country where 1 in 6 women has been sexually assaulted, it’s clear that there is a fundamental issue with violence against women, and what constitutes consent. Saxon bravely represents the women of Australia in I Am That Girl. Be prepared to get angry, as unfortunately, the handling of this case and the consequences for the perpetrator are woefully unjust, as seen in one of the most disturbing true crime documentaries out there.
Watch on Apple TV+
5 ‘An Open Secret’ (2014)
Director: Amy J. Berg
A film that deserves a lot more attention, but whose home on Vimeo is unfortunately fitting, is An Open Secret. Amy Berg bravely released this Hollywood sex abuse exposé. While it mostly focuses on child stars’ experiences with predator management teams, it does delve into the drug-fuel parties some studios threw for teenage boys in the 1990s, and worse.
Those interested in doing a deep dive on the topic should check out The Goonies child star Corey Feldman‘s story. Regardless of his reliability as a source, there’s no denying the tragedy of his best friend and fellow child star Corey Haim‘s sudden death in 2010 (due to pneumonia) after battling drug addiction. The two briefly disclosed their abuse on their reality show The Two Coreys, and in 2020 Feldman released an explosive self-made documentary titled (My) Truth: The Rape of 2 Coreys.
Watch on Vimeo
4 ‘Tickled’ (2016)
Directors: David Farrier, Dylan Reeve
Filmed in 2016, what begins as a tongue-in-cheek attempt at a glimpse into the competitive endurance tickling community soon takes a turn for the sinister in Tickled.
Led by New Zealand journalist David Farrier, also known for his Netflix series Dark Tourist, Ticked is a documentary-turned-exposé that uncovers abuse suffered by some participants at the hands of their producers. In a message that stays with audiences long after the credits roll, Farrier reminds the audience that not everything is as innocent as it may appear, even in the fetish community.
Watch on Fubo
3 ‘Don’t F**k with Cats: Hunting an Internet Killer’ (2019)
Director: Mark Lewis
What’s more disturbing than a murderer? A murderer who also tortures and kills animals for Internet points, perhaps? That’s precisely what Don’t F**k with Cats portrays, as it’s centered on the infamous case of Luka Magnotta. Magnotta manages to enrage a group of talented online sleuths who track him down after he killed two kittens. Unsurprisingly, he’s later found guilty of murdering an international student later on.
The deeply disturbing content of the Netflix documentary is delivered in a satisfying way, especially since it follows a sort of police procedural format, except it’s centered on amateur detectives and not actual law enforcement. The entire situation highlights how far people will go to bring criminals to justice, potentially preventing future cases in the process.
Watch on Netflix
2 ‘Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes’ (2019)
Director: Joe Berlinger
One of the most popular Netflix original series, Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes provides a unique glimpse into the twisted mind and crimes of the notorious titular serial killer. Ted Bundy was responsible for the deaths of over 30 women and scared an entire nation before he was finally captured.
Through interviews with Bundy, his victims, and law enforcement, the documentary paints a chilling portrait of the murderer’s legacy. It’s arguably the best and most disturbing documentation of his case to date, and introduced the criminal to those who are unfamiliar with his actions in a terrifying yet honest way.
Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes
- Release Date
- January 24, 2019
- Joe Berlinger
Watch on Netflix
1 The ‘Paradise Lost’ Trilogy (1996 – 2012)
Creators: Joe Berlinger, Bruce Sinofsky
Considering the West Memphis Three’s place in true crime lore, it’s surprising how many people haven’t seen the documentaries that started it all. Bible Belt 1993 and in the throes of Satanic Panic, there were more than three victims at the heart of this case.
To understand calls for overhauling the current US justice system, one needs to look no further than the Paradise Lost trilogy, one of the best crime documentary series ever. Filmed openly enough for the viewer to make up their mind on the guilt of the aforementioned Three, Paradise Lost consists of raw footage from the investigation and subsequent trial. The following two films, released in 2000 (Paradise Lost 2: Revelations) and 2012 (Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory) are equally important viewing. You’re in for a long, distressing story.
Rent on Apple TV
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