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10 Gritty True Crime Documentaries You Need to Watch


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One great thing about documentaries is that they allow the audience to get close to things that we wouldn’t want to experience in real life. Case in point: the subjects of the following stellar docs, which brutally depict some of the grisliest crimes you’ve ever heard of. Before you get the facts in the case presented in Documentary Now!‘s “The Eye Doesn’t Lie,” check out some gritty must-see true crime documentaries.

10. The Iceman Tapes (1992)

When a cold-blooded killer finally gets put away, sometimes they want to share their accomplishments with the world. Richard Kuklinski was a hitman for the Gambino crime family who claims to have snuffed as many as 250 people, earning the nickname “The Iceman” for freezing his victims after death. In this horrifying documentary, he covers his dirty deeds in intense detail. Kuklinksi also inspired the 2012 crime thriller The Iceman starring Michael Shannon in the title role.

9. Just, Melvin: Just Evil (2000)

There are few documentaries that immerse you in their world as well as James Whitney’s 2000 documentary about his abusive grandfather. Melvin Just’s trail of violence and perversion spreads across the family like a bloodstain, and the film’s bizarre, nonplussed tone as it exhumes these old bones makes for one-of-a-kind viewing.

8. Crazy Love (2007)

This insane doc gets you closer than you would like to the relationship of New York lawyer Burt Pugach and his girlfriend Linda Riss. Why is this on a list of true crime movies? Because in 1959, Pugach hired a trio of hoodlums to throw acid in Linda’s face when she got engaged to another guy. He went to jail for 14 years and when he got out, he and Linda… got married? It’s a weird peek at a very odd couple.

7. Deliver Us From Evil (2006)

Crime gets even more horrifying when it’s perpetrated by people you trust, and Amy Berg’s startling documentary Deliver Us From Evil brings the shocks home. Exploring the case of Oliver O’Grady, the Catholic priest who abused dozens of children from his pulpit, it reveals how the Church was cognizant of his behavior and the crimes of others like him and did nothing to remove them from office.

6. The Cheshire Murders (2013)

In July of 2007, one of the most inexplicable and violent crimes in Connecticut history shocked the nation. A pair of men broke into the home of Dr. William Petit with the intention of robbing it and ended up murdering Petit’s wife and two daughters. The documentary by Kate Davis and David Heilbroner pores through the events in detail, looking at the tragic case from all sides to try and understand what would motivate people to commit such a brutal and unnecessary crime.

5. Cropsey (2009)

Part true crime, part urban legend, this 2009 documentary delves into Staten Island stories about a mysterious maniac who haunted the ruins of an insane asylum. Here’s the twist: there was a real-life psycho who kidnapped and murdered at least five kids there in the 1970s. The flick expertly weaves truth and fiction to create something greater than the sum of its parts.

4. The Imposter (2012)

When a 13-year-old boy named Nicholas Barclay goes missing from his Texas home, you think you know what’s happening next. But in this mind-bending documentary, the twists come fast and furious. Barclay is found in Spain and returns home, but it’s not him — rather, it’s a French man in his twenties named Frédéric Bourdin who has made it his life’s work to impersonate children. His twisted compulsion – and the reaction of Barclay’s family as they realize the hoax – will keep you glued to the screen.

3. The Thin Blue Line (1988)

One of the most amazing things about the documentaries on this list is how they can take cases that the establishment thought closed and cast them in a completely new light. Errol Morris’ 1988 masterpiece The Thin Blue Line — which Documentary Now! pays homage to with “The Eye Doesn’t Lie” — puts a Texas murder case under the microscope and reveals police put a man on death row for a crime he didn’t commit. It’s an incredible, uncompromising film that is a landmark work in the true crime genre.

2. Dear Zachary (2008)

When you start watching Kurt Kuenne’s gripping documentary about his friend Andrew Bagby, it seems like an innocuous set of home movies about two California teens made for Bagby’s family to watch. Then things take a brutal turn when Bagby is found mysteriously dead and the prime suspect is his girlfriend Shirley Turner, who was pregnant with his son. What follows is one of the most emotionally painful films you will ever watch, with a deeply tragic ending that will leave you breathless.

1. Paradise Lost Trilogy (1996 – 2011)

The gruesome murders that took place in West Memphis, Arkansas took the life of three children. But were they motivated by Satanic ritual sacrifice, or something more sinister? The teens who were the prime suspects were obviously railroaded into confessions, and they’ve languished in jail while the actual killers have roamed free. The three Paradise Lost film brought new attention to the “West Memphis 3” case and the trio were finally released in 2011.

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Weird Roles

Anthony Michael Hall’s Most Rotten Movies

Catch Anthony Michael Hall in Weird Science on Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Universal/Everett Collection

Anthony Michael Hall was the quintessential ’80s nerd. We love him in classics like The Breakfast Club and National Lampoon’s Vacation. But even the brainiest among us has his weak spots. In honor of Weird Science airing this Rotten Friday, we analyze Hall’s worst movies.

Weird Science (1985) 56%

A low point for John Hughes, Weird Science is way too wacky for its own good. Anthony Michael Hall’s Gary and his pal Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) create the “perfect woman.” Supernatural chaos ensues. The film costars a young Bill Paxton, floppy disks, and a general disconnect from all reality.

The Caveman’s Valentine (2001) 46%

This ambitious drama starring Samuel L. Jackson couldn’t live up to its rich premise. Jackson plays Romulus, a Juilliard-educated, paranoid schizophrenic who lives in a cave. Hall co-stars as Bob, a rich man, who wants to see Romulus play the piano. The plot centers around Romulus investigating a murder, but with so much going on, the movie never quite finds its rhythm.

All About the Benjamins (2002) 30%

Ice Cube plays a bounty hunter who teams up with Mike Epps’ con man to catch diamond thieves. Hall plays Lil J, a small-time drug dealer. It’s definitely a role we’ve never seen Hall in, but overall the movie isn’t funny or original enough to justify its violence.

Freddy Got Fingered (2001) 11%

This showcase for Tom Green’s goofy gross-out comedy is often hailed as one of the worst films of all time. Green plays Gord, a 20-something slacker, who dreams of having his own animated series. Hall is Dave Davidson, a CEO of an animation studio who eventually helps Gord find success. Too bad Tom Green wasn’t so lucky.

Johnny Be Good (1988) 0%

Hall plays against type as Johnny Walker, a star quarterback. Robert Downey Jr. is his best friend and Uma Thurman plays his devoted girlfriend. Despite the support of a future A-list cast, the movie lacks central conflict and charm. Or, as TV Guide put it, “Johnny be worthless.” Ouch.

Catch the “Too Rotten to Miss” Weird Science this Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Season 6: Episode 1: Pickathon

Binge Fest

Portlandia Season 6 Now Available On DVD

The perfect addition to your locally-sourced, artisanal DVD collection.

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End of summer got you feeling like:

Portlandia Toni Screaming GIF

Ease into fall with Portlandia‘s sixth season. Relive the latest exploits of Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s cast of characters, including Doug and Claire’s poignant breakup, Lance’s foray into intellectual society, and the terrifying rampage of a tsukemen Noodle Monster! Plus, guest stars The Flaming Lips, Glenn Danzig, Louis C.K., Kevin Corrigan, Zoë Kravitz, and more stop by to experience what Portlandia is all about.

Pick up a copy of the DVD today, or watch full episodes and series extras now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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Byrning Down the House

Everything You Need to Know About the Film That Inspired “Final Transmission”

Documentary Now! pays tribute to "Stop Making Sense" this Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Cinecom/courtesy Everett Collection

This week Documentary Now! is with the band. For everyone who’s ever wanted to be a roadie without leaving the couch, “Final Transmission” pulls back the curtain on experimental rock group Test Pattern’s final concert. Before you tune in Wednesday at 10P on IFC, plug your amp into this guide for Stop Making Sense, the acclaimed 1984 Talking Heads concert documentary.

Put on Your Dancing Shoes

Hailed as one of the best concert films ever created, director Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs) captured the energy and eccentricities of a band known for pushing the limits of music and performance.

Make an Entrance

Lead singer David Byrne treats the concert like a story: He enters an empty stage with a boom box and sings the first song on the setlist solo, then welcomes the other members of the group to the stage one song at a time.

Steal the Spotlight

David Byrne Dancing
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Always a physical performer, Byrne infuses the stage and the film with contagious joy — jogging in place, dancing with lamps, and generally carrying the show’s high energy on his shoulders.

Suit Yourself

Byrne makes a splash in his “big suit,” a boxy business suit that grows with each song until he looks like a boy who raided his father’s closet. Don’t overthink it; on the DVD, the singer explains, “Music is very physical, and often the body understands it before the head.”

View from the Front Row

Stop Making Sense Band On Stage
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Demme (who also helmed 1987’s Swimming to Cambodia, the inspiration for this season’s Documentary Now! episode “Parker Gail’s Location is Everything”) films the show by putting viewers in the audience’s shoes. The camera rarely shows the crowd and never cuts to interviews or talking heads — except the ones onstage.

Let’s Get Digital

Tina Weymouth Keyboard
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Stop Making Sense isn’t just a good time — it’s also the first rock movie to be recorded entirely using digital audio techniques. The sound holds up more than 30 years later.

Out of Pocket

Talk about investing in your art: Talking Heads drummer Chris Frantz told Rolling Stone that the members of the band “basically put [their] life savings” into the movie, and they didn’t regret it.

Catch Documentary Now!’s tribute to Stop Making Sense when “Final Transmission” premieres Wednesday, October 12 at 10P on IFC.

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